Beer, glourious beer. Just like we did with bourbon, we at RhoMania are here to give you a very brief 101 on the most highly consumed alcoholic beverage on planet Earth, and the third most popular drink worldwide (tea and water get the first and second place trophies). So, without further ado, let's delve into a bit of useful and practical information on the ingredients and overall character that make beer the loveable, highly quaffable, and deliciously foamy beverage that we all know and love!
Beer, whose history stretches far back to primitive examples from 9500 BC, is composed of 4 major ingredients: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. Each of these basic ingredients provides its own very special and important role in what we finally get as the finished product. In no way is the production of beer a simple procedure, but rather an art form perfected and expanded over thousands of years.
Our first ingredient is water. Since beer is mostly water, just like coffee, this is really the backbone for the entire beverage. Hard water is suitable for certain styles, while soft water is geared more towards others. For example, the water that is used in English pale ales (also called bitters) brewed in Burton, England, is high in calcium sulfate, making that type of water instrumental to this specific type of beer.
Our second ingredient is barley. Barley is the starch that undergoes a process known as saccharification, which then produces the resulting sugar which is used for fermentation by the yeast. Barley undergoes a process known as malting, wherein the barley is steeped in water to begin the process of germination, then is dried in a kiln.
Malt, apart from adding to a beer's lucious flavor and character, lends color to a beer; the darker the malted barley, the darker the beer. The dispels the common myth that the darker the beer, the higher the alcohol content. In no way is this true, and a great example is Guinness and a Belgian powerhouse of a beer known as Beelzebub. Guinness, since it uses darker malts, has a brooding, dark ruby color (not black) but only clocks in at 5% abv, while Beelzebub uses a pilsner malt to give it its rich, golden-amber color, but rockets upwards on the abv scale to 15%. Of course, there are many dark beers with high alcohol contents like Russian Imperial Stouts or American Double Stouts, and many pale ales or lagers with low abv's.
Our third ingredient is yeast. Yeast is what takes the sugars produced by the saccharification of malted barley and converts them into CO2 and alcohol. Early brewing methods, and those still used today to ferment beers such as lambics and wild ales, involve exposing the wort (unfermented beer) to airborne yeast strains, or Brettanomyces.
Yeast also gifts the beer with particular flavors and aromas, thereby enhancing the overall character of the finished product. A particular German yeast strain, known as Torulaspora delbrueckii, is used in the production of German weissbier (or wheat beer). Judicious amounts of wheat can be added to the brewing process in addition to malted barley to craft this popular style. Fans of a category of weissbier known as hefeweizen will be all too familiar with the lip-smacking banana and clovey nuances that this yeast strain gives to the style.
Our fourth and final ingredient is hops (or humulus lupulus). The cones cultivated for the brewing process are the flower of the plant and are used to provide a balancing bitter flavoring to a beer, as well as acting as a preservative. Hops are the seasoning, giving beer the zip and zest that can come in varying degrees and intensity, depending on the amount used and the variety of hop chosen.
Examples of European hops would be the Hallertau mittelfrüh and Saaz, while two popular English varieties are the Fuggle and Kent Golding hops. American varieties include the Cascade, Warrior, Tomahawk, Columbus, and Simcoe varieties, just to name a few. Fans of the Cascade hop will recognize the sharp, citrusey, and piney-floral character it lends to such beers as Anchor Liberty Ale.
So, whether you're gleefully cracking open a frosty 'Ahrn City to watch the Stillers' or the Pens, or swirling a double stout around in a footed tulip glass, don't forget all the great ingredients that worked together to bring you this fantastic beverage.
By Max Stein
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