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Beer has been popular throughout humanity’s history. It’s fairly simple and inexpensive to make, and has certain health benefits, even if drinking too much beer definitely comes with risks.
A Short History of Beer
One of the world’s leading beverage archeologists, Dr. Patrick McGovern, believes that “booze helped make us human.” He claims that beer helped develop human social systems, language, and even certain medicines.
Beer has been a staple of almost all societies throughout history, and ancient literature often contains mentions of beer, going back to some of the first English stories from Chaucer.
Early beer-makers used all sorts of unique methods to create and flavor beer. Modern brewers go to great lengths to repeat those processes, in order to taste something as close as possible to the original versions of the beverage.
The four basic ingredients of beer are grains (usually barley), water, yeast, and hops. Fruit peels, herbs, spices, and lactic and citric acid are sometimes added to beers for flavoring.
How is Beer Made?
The basics are simple. One chemical process is responsible for all beer, and involves the reaction between the sugars in hops combined with barley, wheat, corn, rice, or oats over time. The grains are steeped in hot water, which is called the mash. The water is drained which results in a mixture of sugars and starches from the grains, called the wort, which is then boiled while hops are gradually added.
The next step is fermentation. The wort goes into a vat with fresh water and yeast. Over a few weeks, yeast breaks down the sugar in the grains and hops and creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. The product is then bottled, canned, or kegged for distribution.
Dictionary of Beer
There’s a lexicon of language associated with beer, befitting the beverage’s ancient roots. Here are some of the key terms that are helpful for anyone who drinks, talks about, or sells beer.
Domestic Beer: Beer produced in the country in which it’s carried.
Imported Beers: Beer that’s traded into other countries.
Craft Breweries: Small and independent breweries that, according to the Brewer’s Association, pride themselves on maintaining local brewing traditions while cultivating unique flavor profiles.
Hops: Humulus lupulus is the female plant whose soft cone-shaped flowers are used for flavoring beer. Hops have a bitter, floral flavor.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV): This refers to the amount of alcohol in a beer, usually represented in a percentage by volume. Beer’s ABV ranges from 2.5% to 25%.
International Bitterness Unit (IBU): A measurement that assesses the milligrams of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer to determine how bitter the beer is. Beers range from 5-70 IBU.
Dark and Light: These aren’t types of beer so much as they are descriptors for certain categories of beer. Lots of mass-produced beers have a light version that might have fewer calories or a less intense flavor. Dark beers are usually darker in color, full-bodied, and flavorful.
Types of Beer
The type of beer is usually determined by a unique part of the brewing or fermentation process. For instance, a certain type of hops or amount of yeast will result in a different flavor profile and a different kind of beer.
Ale is defined by the type of yeast that is used in the process of fermentation and is typically brewed without hops. Top fermenting yeast—yeast that floats on the top of a brew—and warmer temperatures are unique characteristics of ales brewing process. Ales are lighter in color and flavor, featuring sweet and fruity flavor profiles.
Amber beers or ales are medium strength and a light caramel color. They use American-variety hops, which give the product sweet, woody, and citrusy flavors.
The brewing process for Bock originated in Germany, and utilizes bottom-fermenting yeast and light hops, and has 6-7% ABV. Bock beers have dark, rich, malty, and chocolatey flavors.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPAs are hoppy pale ales that were popularized during the English colonization of India. While contemporary IPAs are popular for their relatively high ABV, traditional IPAs did not have more alcohol when compared to the other brews of the eighteenth century.
There are many different varieties of IPAs in America, such as Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and New England IPAs – which can be Hazy or Juicy-- but they all share a characteristically hoppy, nutty, and bitter flavor profile.
Kolsch comes from a brewing process native to the Cologne region of Germany. But that doesn’t stop brewers around the world from making Kolsch. The process utilizes either ale yeast or lager yeast. Kolsch is light, fruity, and sweet.
Pale ale is an English style brew that utilizes top fermenting ale yeast. Pale ale is darker than a pilsner but it is lighter than IPAs and porters. Confusingly, amber ale and pale ale are sometimes used interchangeably. Pale ales have sweet, floral, and citrusy flavor profiles.
Pale lagers are typically lighter than pale ales. The process was developed when German brewers influenced Spanish lagering techniques in the nineteenth century. Pale lagers are golden in color with a mid-range body and light, floral bitterness.
Pilsners are a type of pale lager brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast. When the pale lagering techniques made their way to Bavaria, a brewer there created the lighter, sweeter pilsner. Some pilsners are brewed with fruit to add flavor.
Porter is a dark malt beer similar to (but lighter than) a stout. The brewing process for porters utilizes bottom-fermenting lager yeast. Porters usually have a higher than average ABV, as well as milky, nutty, and rich flavor profiles.
Lager is a class of beers brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast. This produces beers that are crisper, mellower, and smoother than ales. Lagers can range from low to high ABV.
Sour beers, including German gose and Belgian lambic, are intentionally acidic and tart, a result of allowing the bacteria from wild yeast into the brewing process. Sour beers are often also brewed with fruits that add flavor and acidity. Sour beers have a mid-range ABV.
Irish stouts are some of the darkest beers around. The brewing process originates from English ales. Stouts have chocolatey, milky, and bitter flavor profiles and a relatively high ABV.
Wheat beers (unsurprisingly) incorporate wheat into the mash. They tend to be hazy, grainy, and slightly bitter, with a robust texture.
There’s a standard method of serving beer from a bottle or keg, that ensures just the right amount of frothy “head” ends up on top of the beer in the glass. Aim the stream of the pour as low as you can into the side of the glass. As the glass fills, slowly tilt it so that the stream remains just above the level of the beer. The carbonation in the beer will escape less, and you won’t end up with an inch or two of foam on top of your beer.