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How is beer made?
One of the world’s oldest known alcoholic beverages, beer was brewed as early as 4,000 years ago in ancient
Beer is essentially fermented, hop-flavored, malt sugar tea. There are four basic building blocks needed to make beer: water, malted barley, and hops. Yeast is used to ferment the tea into an effervescent liquid with an average of between three and seven percent ethyl alcohol by weight.
Water - More than 90 percent of beer is water, and therefore has a great effect on the taste of the final product. Brewers can, and do, chemically adjust any water to create the exact ‘style’ of beer desired.
Malted Barley - Barley, a basic grain, must be ‘malted’ before it can be used in the brewing process. Malting is the process of bringing grain to the point of its highest possible starch content by allowing it to sprout roots, then heating the grain to a temperature that stops growth. Once ‘malted,’ barley is high in the enzyme diastase, which converts into a rich sugar called maltose. This sugar is metabolized by the ale or lager yeast to create carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. Portions of this malted barley are then heated at higher temperatures to roast it. This roasted malted barley no longer has the active enzymes needed to turn the starches into sugars, but it does take on characteristics that add to the flavor of the beer.
Yeast - Yeast is the organism that metabolizes the sugar (maltose) into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). The fermentation process is done in two steps. The ‘primary’ fermentation converts most of the maltose to ethyl alcohol and CO2. The ‘secondary’ fermentation finishes metabolizing the remaining sugar into the CO2 necessary to give the beer effervescence.
In traditional beer-making there is also ‘priming’ that restarts the last of the fermentation in the bottles or kegs. This priming ensures that the beer has natural carbonation. In mass produced commercial beers and ales, the carbonation is injected into the beer when it is bottled or kegged.
Hops - This herb is actually the flower of a perennial vine. Different brewers use different varieties of hops. Each variety has a particular bitter flavor as well as aroma and the two characteristics are important to remember when tasting a beer. The combination of the bitter flavor and floral aroma from the hops, when combined with the sweet and, sometimes astringent, flavors of the malts used in the beer are also influenced by the flavors created by the specific yeast used to ferment the beer.
Additional Ingredients - Although malt and hops are the main contributors to the flavor of beer and ale, in some cases there are additional flavors. Depending on whether you are drinking lager or ale, you may also detect flavors that are created by the yeast during fermentation. The ale yeast creates esters that smell like apples, bananas, pears and oranges. Lager yeast creates much fewer esters, mainly those reminiscent of new-mown hay or, in some cases, citrus. These esters are the exception rather than the rule because lager yeast ferments the sugars much more thoroughly than ale yeasts. Lager yeast takes at least 32 days to complete fermentation, while ale yeast takes a week at most.
What’s the difference between lager and ale?
Although there are essentially only two types of beer (ale and lager), there are a number of styles that fall under the two categories.
Lagers - The word lager is derived from the German verb ‘lagern,’ which means ‘to store’. During the late middle ages, before the days of refrigeration, fermentation was a hit-or-miss affair, especially during the hot summer months. To ensure a supply of beer for the summer, brewers in the
Ales - Although the term 'ale' covers a fascinating variety of styles, all ales share certain characteristics. Top-fermentation and the inclusion of more hops in the wort give these beers a distinctive fruitiness, acidity and a pleasantly-bitter seasoning. All ales typically take less time to brew and age then lagers and have a more assertive, individual personality, though their alcoholic strength may be the same. Ales are best enjoyed at room temperature or slightly warmer.
What are the different types of beer and how do they taste?
The following lists styles of beer, generally from the most delicate flavored to strong flavored ‘specialty’ brews. The essential difference in beer is the content of the brew. Just as each winery has a "signature" that wine connoisseurs can readily detect, certain geographical areas also provide "signature" brews that are just as distinct. The basis for different styles is usually found in the basic ingredients of the brew that are indigenous to a specific area.
American Light Lager - This style of beer is the result of the growth of national breweries, and their ability to brew a beer with wide appeal and a competitive price. It is essentially a pilsner-style lager, brewed with significant quantities of grain other than barley malt; a slightly sweet, lightly hopped, straw-colored, effervescent beer.
Pilsner - A light-straw colored, full-bodied, lagered, bottom-fermented beer named after the town of
British Bitter - This top-fermented classic ale style offers a deep, rich brown or ruby color with a malty, very lightly hopped flavor. True bitter is only lightly carbonated.
Pale Ale - Pale ale, another classic British top-fermented ale style, has more hop flavor than the bitter style, but not as much as
Indian Pale Ale -
Brown Ale - Brown ale is a traditional British, top-fermented ale, similar to pale ale, but sweeter and darker.
Scottish Ale - This is a high-alcohol brew made with Scottish malted barley. The flavor includes hints of caramel and smoke, and less hops taste than English brews.
Strong Ale - Also called Old Ale, this high-alcohol brew is noted for its dark color and sweet flavor.
Barleywine - Barleywine is very dark, almost opaque ale. The term ‘barleywine’ is fairly new - once called ‘Strong Ale,’ this is the most alcoholic style of beer. The addition of a healthy amount of hops forms a powerful flavor triad of sweet malt, bitter hops and warm alcohol.
Bock Beer - Similar to strong ale, this style uses bottom fermenting yeast and is ‘lagered’ (aged) for at least a month.
Porter and Stout - Whether dry or sweet, flavored with roasted malt barley, oats or certain sugars, stouts and porters are characterized by darkness and depth. Both types of beer are delicious with hearty meat stews and surprisingly good with shellfish. The pairing of oysters and stout has long been acknowledged as one of the world's great gastronomic marriages.
Other specialty beers…
Wheat Beer - This top-fermented beer contains more than half wheat. Hallertau hops are used for both bittering and aroma. Lager yeast is used and the beer is allowed to lager for approximately two to three weeks at just below freezing temperatures.
Steam Beer - In the 19th century ‘steam beer’ was a nickname for local beers that were fermented with lager yeast, at ale yeast temperature, producing beers with ale-like character. It may also have been common practice to ‘top off’ kegs of beer with beer that had not finished its first fermentation. The result was an in-keg fermentation that produced high levels of natural carbonation. With no refrigeration to control this fermentation a freshly tapped keg would produce copious amounts of foam or "steam."
Herbed/Spiced – Herbed beers use herbs and spices (derived from roots, seeds, fruits, vegetables, flowers, etc.) other than or in addition to hops to create a distinct (ranging from subtle to intense) character, though individual characters of herb sand/or spices may not always be identifiable. Under hopping often, but not always, allows the spice or herb to contribute to the flavor profile. Every year, since 1975, Anchor has brewed a Christmas Ale. It is produced in small quantities and is available only from late November until early January. Each year the recipe is changed and there is a special label designed around the tree, a traditional symbol of renewal. Properly refrigerated, this beer remains drinkable for years.
Octoberfest - A fairly strong beer, Paulaner Marzen’s brew starts with a two-mash process using dark- and light- colored brewing malt from two-row Bavarian summer barley. Hallertau hops are used for both bittering and aroma. Lager yeast is used and the beer is allowed to lager for approximately four weeks at just-below-freezing temperatures.
What about Belgian beers?
Lambic - Lindeman's Kriek, a good example of the style, is a top-fermented cherry flavored Lambic (70 per cent malted barley and 30 per cent unmalted wheat), with a rose color. It has an aroma of cherries and is sparkling, with a dry finish. The acidic flavor of the Lambic blends well with the cherry flavor.
Belgian Strong - Brewed by the Moorgat brewery in
Trappist Dark - Brown with a ruby hue, three types of Trappist beers are produced by Chimay: Premier Chimay (red), Cinq Cents (white), and Grand Reserve (blue). The red, as well as the blue, has a fruity taste, with a soft, full, deep body. The white Chimay has a stronger hops flavor and a drier finish, with a quenching hint of acidity. It also has a paler color, more amber than ruby red.
IBU – The International Bitterness Units scale, or simply IBU scale, provides a measure of the bitterness of beer, which is provided by the hops used during brewing.
Craft Brewery – A microbrewery, or craft brewery, is a brewery which produces a limited amount of beer. The maximum amount of beer a brewery can produce and still be classed as a microbrewery varies by region and by authority though is usually around 15,000 barrels a year. A brewpub is a type of microbrewery that incorporates a pub or other establishment that offers food.
Dry Hopping – Refers to the process of introducing hops to the wort after the boil. Dry hopping significantly increases the hops character of the aroma and flavor of the final beer without increasing the bitterness or IBUs.