Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Here's to Beer!

I have been writing about beer casually for quite some time now and I have decided to switch to a slightly more formal, organized medium. I was inspired to begin this blog after continually observing how much beer and beer culture is misunderstood in our nation. A good place to start is by asking the question "Just what IS beer"?

American Heritage Dictionary defines beer as:
  1. A fermented alcoholic beverage brewed from malt and flavored with hops.
This is a good place to start. In the traditional German sense beer consists of 4 main ingredients:

1) Water - By volume, beer is primarily made of water. Water allows for the sugars in grain and the acids in hops to be easily extracted into the beer.

2) Malted Barley - This is the backbone and skeleton of beer. It gives beer it's color, body, and alcohol. It can be referred to as "barley malt" or often simply "malt". This term is derived from the fact that barley grain is allowed to germinate, bringing out the sugars which are the "food" contained in the grain. The barley is then dried. Additionally barley can be toasted, roasted, smoked, and processed in various ways to yield varying colors and/or flavors.

3) Hops - Contrary to popular belief hops are not the primary ingredient in beer and are used in relatively small amounts. The fact that they are so sparingly used has gifted these flowers with the moniker of the "spice" of beer. Hops are one of the most recent ingredients in beer and have only been regularly used in the last 600 years. They give beer its aroma, flavor, and bitterness. The bitterness aids in balancing the sweetness of the malt and lending beer a crisp, quenching finish.

4) Yeast - This small, single-celled, fungal organism is the great X-factor in beer. Without yeast, the young unfermented beer would simply rot and spoil. Yeast churns the sugars in malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide giving beer its kick and its carbonation. In the early years of beer, yeast was not fully understood. Beer was fermented by whatever wild yeasts happened to be floating in the air in a particular region. Overtime yeast strains were cultivated and nurtured. Yeast strains play a vital role in the flavors perceived in the finished beer. Some strains are not as hard working (attenuative) as others and thus fail to ferment as many sugars (resulting in a thicker, sweeter, less-alcoholic final beer as opposed to a drier, stronger brew). Some yeast produce fruity and spicy notes in beer, everything from bananas, to cloves, to citrus, to smokiness.

There you have it, the holy tetralogy that results in the gold-->amber-->black elixir we affectionately term "beer".

1 comment:

holcare said...

I love beer esp. brewed by a Holman