The Basics of Beer
A Brief History
There is no exact date or time that concisely nails down when the first cold brew was discovered or enjoyed. It is believed that approximately 12,000 years ago, when humans first began to develop farmland to produce staple crops like wheat, corn and rice is when the process of fermenting these crops into a beverage began. Beer made it's way to our tables and taste buds even before bread. It is believed that the first product humans learned to make from combining grains and water together was beer.
Beer has been an integral part of many civilizations for centuries, including Babylonian, Egyptian, African and Inca cultures. In Babylonian times (4,000 years ago) when a marriage took place, it was the duty of the bride's father to supply his new son-in-law with as much beer as he could drink for the entire first month after their wedding. The Babylonian calender was based on the cycles of the moon. The first month after a new marriage was referred to as the "honey month", which eventually evolved into "honeymoon." During this time, beer was such a valued commodity that it was also used to pay workers in lieu of their daily wages.
Ale, Lager or Guinness?
A trip to your local Beer & Spirits store can leave a rookie beer drinker overwhelmed and confused by the variety of choices. Ales? Lagers? Guinness? For most beer drinkers, the difference between an ale and a lager is a matter of personal taste. Ales generally have a fruitier, more bitter taste and are best enjoyed at room temperature. While lagers are more carbonated, which lend to a more crisp "clean" tasting beer. Lagers are best enjoyed at colder temperatures.
Guinness is classified as a Dry Irish Stout, which is part of the Ale family.It is made with much the same ingredients as ales & lagers (yeast, water, hops, malted barley) In your glass it looks almost black, but if you take a closer look you'll find that Guinness is a dark ruby red colour. This is because they roast the malted barley before using it in the beer making process. A step that is left out of the process when making lagers and ales. This process of roasting the barley first is what distinguishes a regular ale or lager, from a "Stout" beer.
So what exactly makes a beer a lager vs. an ale you ask? Well more than just the taste, it has to do with the way the beer itself is brewed and the yeast that is used.
The yeast that is used to make Ales is called a "top fermenting" yeast. This means during the fermenting process the yeast will settle at the top of the barrel. This yeast also ferments better at warmer temperatures, which is why Ales are best enjoyed at room temperature.
Alternatively, while making Lagers, the yeast used is called a "bottom fermenting" yeast. This means the yeast will settle at the bottom of the barrel during fermentation. This yeast ferments better in a cooler environment, which is why we enjoy lagers at cooler temperatures.
Ale vs. Lager. What's the difference?
More robust in taste
Has a lighter, smooth taste
Have a fruity, aromatic taste
Highly carbonated, crisp taste
Generally more bitter
Has a more subtle,clean taste
Best enjoyed warm
Best enjoyed cold
Additive: Enzymes that brewers add to either simplify the brewing process or preserve self life.
Alcohol by weight: Amount of alcohol in beer, measured in terms of the percentage weight of alcohol per volume of beer (ex. 3.2% alcohol by weight equals 3.2 grams of al. for 100 centiliters of beer.
Ale: Beer that is distinguished by the use of top fermenting yeast- Ferments at warmer temps.
Barley: A cereal grain that is malted, which is used in the grist that becomes the mash in brewing beer.
Beer: Alcohol-containing beverage, produced by fermentation of grains, specifically malt and flavoured with hops.
Cask: Closed, barrel shaped container for beer to ferment in.
Ester: Flavour compound naturally created during fermentation; often fruity, flowery or spicy.
Fermentation: Conversion of sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, through the action of yeast.
Hops: Herb added to fermenting beer to impart a bitter aroma and flavour.
Keg: Refers to one half a barrel, or 15.5 U.S gallons.
Lager: Beer produced with bottom fermenting yeast.. Made in a cooler environment than ales.
How Beer Is Made
So now that we know how to distinguish between an ale and a lager. Let's take a look at the process of making beer. The process of brewing beer is a relatively simple one. Beer is made by taking four main ingredients (barley, hops, water and yeast) and following a five step process.
Step #1: Malting
This first step in making beer is to harvest the grains (typically this grain would be barley) and put them through a process called "malting". This means they heat, and dry out the grains. (In the case of Guinness and other stout beers, an extra step in this process would be to roast the barley once it's been malted) The purpose of malting the grains is to isolate the necessary enzymes which are needed for the next step in the brewing process.
Step #2- Mashing
This process is kind of like making a giant, barley tea. After the barley has been malted, it is left to sit in hot water (typically this takes about 60 minutes). The purpose of this step is the hot water will cause the enzymes we talked about in step one to begin to break down and release their sugars. These sugars are needed to help with the fermentation process. The result is a sticky liquid, that is known as wort.
Step #3- Boiling
Brewers will then take the wort and boil it again for another hour. This is when brewers will add their own spices according to the flavour of beer they are making. This is also when hops are added to the mixture. The hops are naturally bitter, which is used to help even out the natural sugary taste in the wort.
Step #4- Fermentation
After the wort has boiled and cool, brewers will then strain it and filter it. This is the point when the liquid will be put into a vessel to ferment it (a barrel for example). The brewing process is over at this stage. This is when the yeast will be able to help create the final product. Yeast is added because it will "eat up" all of the sugar that was created in the wort. During the process of "eating up" the sugar, it creates CO2 and alcohol.
Step #5- Aging & Bottling
You now have tasty alcoholic beer, however it is flat and needs to be carbonated. The beer is bottled and artificially carbonated (kind of like soda) or it can be left to be "bottle conditioned" . Which means it will be left to age further, and allow the yeast to continue to do what it does best: create CO2 and alcohol. Depending on the brewery, brand, flavour and alcohol content they're after, they can leave the beer to age for just a couple of weeks or a few months. It is then bottled and ready to be enjoyed.
Beer Brewing in action
Make Your Own GF Beer
Gluten Free Beer.. It Does Exist!
Gluten is a protein composite that is common in most cereal grains, the biggest offenders being wheat, rye and barley. Barley is one of the main ingredients in beer. Unfortunately for beer lovers who have found themselves needing to give gluten the old heave ho, this means that most of the commercially available beers need to be removed from their diet. Today, over two million people suffer from some form of gluten intolerance (i.e Celiac disease), that's potentially a lot of thirsty beer lovers.
But fear not, beers lovers! There are now many companies and craft breweries producing excellent gluten free beer. The array of ingredients used in gluten free beer depends on the brand and type of flavour of the beer, but some of the more popular ingredients found in gluten free beer include: Corn extract, sweet potatoes, molasses and of course, the traditional hops and yeast.
The most commercially available gluten free beer is Redbridge Beer, which is produced by Anheuser-Bush. (The guys behind Budweiser) It is made with sorghum which is a grain that is safe for those with allergies or intolerance's to wheat and gluten. With the help of The Gluten Free Beer Association, gluten free beers are growing in popularity and beer lover's who have gone gluten free now have a platform to encourage other breweries to produce a product they can enjoy.
Another great way to ensure your brew is gluten free: Brew Your Own at Home! The company Brewer's Best now offers a Gluten Free Home Brew Beer Kit.
If you would like more information about other brands of gluten free beer available in your area, check out The Gluten Free Beer Association.
Storing & Pouring Your Beer
Storing Your Beer
How To Prevent Getting "Skunked"
Many beer drinkers believe that keeping a beer in the fridge for too long, or subjecting it to colder than warmer temperatures (or vice versa) will cause the beer the become "skunked" (A term that refers to the taste and smell once the beer has gone bad. It smells just like the term implies) This is inaccurate. It is not temperature that causes a beer to become skunked, but rather the amount of light it is exposed to. One of the ingredients in beer, hops, is light sensitive. It contains compounds called Isohumulones (these are what give the hops the bitter taste), which begin to break down quickly when exposed to natural light. (Artificial light also jump starts this process, but not nearly as quickly). When these compounds begin to break down, they end up leaving traces of sulfur compounds in the beer, which results in the skunky taste and smell. This is why beer is packaged in green or brown bottles, as well as cans. Beer that is packaged in cans will hold up longer, brown bottles come in second place. Beer that is packaged in green bottles will become skunked faster.
To prevent your beer from going bad, keep it stored in a cool, dark place. The refrigerator, in a bottom drawer, furthest away from the light or in a cold storage room, if you have one. Once a chilled beer has become warm, your safest bet is to drink it up. Don't try to refrigerate it a second time, as this will speed up the "skunking" process.
How To Properly Pour A Beer
Pouring A Perfect Pint
Many brewers, bartenders and beer enthusiasts will tell you that a perfectly poured glass of beer is a thing of beauty. It is recommended that you always drink your beer out of a glass, rather than straight from the bottle or can. The instructional video is from the Labatt Beer Institute demonstrates wonderfully how to pour beer from tap, as well as the technique to use when pouring beer into a glass at home. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for your next glass of beer:
Always use a clean glass.
Any detergent or residue that has been left behind from other beverages can alter the taste of your beer and affect the amount of "head" on the top of your glass. ("Head" refers to the amount of foam that sits at the top of your glass. Ideally you want the head to be as thick as two fingers)
Hold the glass at a 45 degree angle when pouring.
You want to aim your pour for the middle of the slope in the glass. Once the beer has been poured halfway, bring your glass up to a 90 degree angle for the remainder of the pour and continue to aim for the middle of the glass.
For a great run down on which type of glass to pair with different beers, check out The Beer Advocates Beer Glass Tutorial.
The Beer Boot
The Legend of the Boot
The first beer boot made it's appearance about 100 years ago. The legend says that this tradition is rooted in military history. It is widely accepted that a Prussian general promised his troops he would drink beer out of his boot if they achieved success in battle. When the troops were successful, this clever General had a glass blower create a boot from glass so that he could fulfill his promise, without having to drink his beer with a side of toe jam.
It is also said that during World War I German soldiers would pass around a leather boot filled with beer, as they were lacking the proper glasses with which to drink. The Beer Boot has become a symbol of good luck to soldiers. The tradition is still practised today with the German Military (with glass boot, not leather!) and for American troops who have been stationed in Germany.
Drinking from a beer boot has long been a tourist favourite when visiting Munich and Bavaria. They have gained popularity in North America in recent years after being featured in the popular movie BeerFest. The Trick to drinking from a beer boot is to point the toe to your left or ride sides to prevent air bubbles from forming in the toe as you tip the boot up to drink.
Fun Beer Facts
- Along with his animals, some biblical historians believe that Noah had a large provision of beer on the Ark. Some also theorize that Noah himself might have been a beer trader. In those times, water was not safe to drink and many people drank water that had bread fermented in it. The alcohol killed the pathogens in the water, making it safe to drink.
Source: Bread, Beer and the Seeds of Change
- The hops that is used in beer are also good for you. The antioxidants found in hops help to fight cancer causing cells better than red wine.
- Vikings believed that there was a giant goat who had udders that would provide them with a never ending supply of beer waiting for them in Valhalla (Viking heaven)
Thanks for Stopping By!
Thanks for taking the time to stop by and learn a little bit about beer! I hope you enjoyed your read and found it informational. If you have any questions, concerns, words of wonderful praise ;) feel free to post in the comments section below!
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