Beer is one of the world’s oldest beverages, with the history of beer dating back to the 6th millennium BC, and being recorded in the written history of Ancient Iraq. The earliest Sumerian writings contain references to beer. A prayer to the goddess Ninkasi known as “The Hymn to Ninkasi” serves as both a prayer as well as a method of remembering the recipe for beer in a culture with few literate people.
As almost any substance containing carbohydrates, mainly sugar or starch, can naturally undergo fermentation, it is likely that beer-like beverages were independently invented among various cultures throughout the world. The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization.The earliest chemically confirmed barley beer to date was discovered at Godin Tepe in the central Zagros Mountains of Iran, ca. 3400-3000 B.C. (Chalcolithic/Late Uruk Period).
Beer may have been known in Neolithic Europe as far back as 3000 BC, and was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.
Beer produced before the Industrial Revolution continued to be made and sold on a domestic scale, although by the 7th century AD beer was also being produced and sold by European monasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved from artisanal manufacture to industrial manufacture, and domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century. The development of hydrometers and thermometers changed brewing by allowing the brewer more control of the process, and greater knowledge of the results.
Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries. More than 133 billion liters (35 billion gallons) are sold per year—producing total global revenues of $294.5 billion in 2006.
Britain is one of the great brewing nations of the world. More than 1,200 different beers are brewed in Britain and each is unique. The United States is not only Britain’s largest beer export market, but also one of the oldest. In 1697 it is recorded that 7,308 barrels were exported to ‘America’ and by 1800 this had grown to 21,522 barrels. Today more than 1 million barrels of beer make the journey across the Atlantic from Britain to the United States every year.
Bitter, Best Bitter, Strong Bitter, Mild, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, Scotch Ale, Old Ale, Light Ale, Lager and Specialty Beers are all brewed in Britain. Porter, once the dominant beer style in Britain, all but disappeared, but in recent years has made a significant revival. While lager has been brewed for over a hundred years; ale is the distinctive traditional style of beer in Britain. Ale differs from lager in that it is top-fermenting, the yeast used to ferment the beer does so at the top of the beer, as opposed to the bottom-fermenting yeast which is used to make lager. Top fermenting yeasts usually impart a distinctive fruitiness to the beer.
British ale styles captured the imagination of the craft brewing revolution in the US more than those of any other country. Much of this may owe to the close cultural ties between the US and Great Britain; though a large factor is undoubtedly that British ales lend themselves relatively easily to home brewing, which was the starting point for many of today’s successful brewers. High quality home brewed Germanic or Bohemian lagers are a rare species.
The brewing traditions of England and the Netherlands (as brought to New York) ensured that the colonies would be dominated by beer drinking rather than wine. Until the middle of the 19th century, ales dominated American brewing. This changed when the recently developed lager styles; brought by German immigrants, turned out to be more profitable for large-scale manufacturing and shipping.
Names such as Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz became known through the breweries they founded or acquired, and many others followed. Czech and Irish immigrants also made their contributions to American beer. The lager brewed by these companies was not the extremely mild lager now associated with modern US mega-breweries. Instead, the classic American pilsner was a significantly stronger beer, both in flavor and alcohol.
All American brewing came to a halt when Prohibition was imposed, though the temperance movement had already reduced the number of breweries significantly. Only a few breweries, mainly the largest, were able to stay in business by manufacturing near beer, malt syrup, or other non-alcohol grain products, in addition to soft drinks such as colas and root beers.
Production and shipping of alcohol was largely confined to illegal operations, which could deliver compact distilled beverages — smuggled rum and domestic moonshine — more efficiently and reliable than bulkier products such as beer.
Before the American beer industry could re-establish itself, World War II began. This further inhibited the re-emergence of smaller breweries, and pushed brewers to use lower-cost ingredients that were not rationed. For more than fifty years after the end of Prohibition, the United States beer market was heavily dominated by large commercial breweries, producing beers more noted for their uniformity than for any particular flavor.
Beers such as those made by Anheuser-Busch and Coors Brewing Company followed a restricted pilsner style, with large-scale industrial processes and the use of low-cost ingredients like corn, or ingredients such as rice that provided starch for alcohol production while contributing minimal flavor to the finished product. The dominance of the so-called “macrobrew” led to an international stereotype of “American beer” as poor in quality and flavor.
Ring the bell and prospective beer drinkers reflexively reach for cases of light or premium American lagers. They associate yellow, fizzy pilsner derivatives with beer. Consumers are conditioned to reach for these beers through calculated campaigns for big brewers. Without belaboring the point or further stretching the tortured Ivan Pavlov analogy, the association between macro-produced lagers and the greater classification of beer is well-embedded in American alcohol culture.
The process of getting the barley ready for brewing. Each step of the malting process unlocks the starches hidden in the barley.
The cracking of the grain which the brewer chooses for the particular batch of beer. Milling the grain allows it to absorb the water it will eventually be mixed with (in order for the water to extract sugars from the malt).
Mashing converts the starches, which were released during the malting stage, to sugars that can be fermented. The milled grain is dropped into warm water in a large cooking vessel called the mash tun. In this mash tun, the grain and water mix to create a cereal mash. Because water is such a vital part of the brewing process, the water itself is a key ingredient. This sugar rich water is then strained through the bottom of the mash and is now called wort.
The wort now goes to the brew kettle where it is brought to a boil. The boiling stage of brewing involves many technical and chemical reactions. During this stage, important decisions will be made affecting the flavor, color and aroma of the beer. Certain types of hops are added at different times during the boil for either bitterness or aroma.
The wort is transferred quickly from the brew kettle through a device to filter out the hops, and then onto a heat exchanger to be cooled. The heat exchanger basically consists of tubing inside of a tub of cold water. It is important to quickly cool the wort to a point where yeast can safely be added, because yeast does not grow in high heat.
After passing through the heat exchanger, the cooled wort goes to the fermentation tank. The brewer now selects a type of yeast and adds it to the fermentation tank. This is where the “real magic” of brewing happens-where the yeast ferments the wort sugars into alcohol.
During this phase, the brewer moves, or racks, the beer into a new tank called the conditioning tank. The brewer then waits for the beer to complete its aging process.
The last step in the brewing process is filtration, and then carbonation. Next the beer is moved to a holding tank where it stays until it is bottled or kegged.
Malting is the process of getting the barley ready for brewing. Each step of the malting process unlocks the starches hidden in the barley.
(Step 1) Steeping:
The grain is added to a vat along with water and allowed to soak for about 40 hours.
(Step 2) Germination:
The grain is then spread out on the floor of the germination room for about five days where rootlets begin to form. The goal of germination is for the starches within the grain to break down into shorter lengths. At the end of this step, the grain is called green malt.
(Step 3) Kilning:
The green malt now goes through a high temperature drying in a kiln. It is important that temperature increases are gradual so that the enzymes in the grain are not damaged.
After kilning, the result is a finished malt. There are different types of malts: pale malts are dried at a low temperature; mild ale malts are kilned to a slightly higher temperature and produce a deeper color in the final beer. The highest temperatures are used to produce very flavorful and aromatic malts. Some other malts are caramel, dark, crystal, black patent, smoked, light, Vienna, Marris Otter, and many other malts. The different malts impart different colors, flavors, sweetness, mouth feel, and after taste.
Each beer starts with a base malt and usually accounts for a large percent of the total grain bill, with darker-colored specialty malts accounting for 10 to 25% of the grain bill. The only exception is wheat malt, which can make up to 100% of the total grain bill in brewing wheat beers. Base malts and, to some extent, light-colored specialty malts provide most of the enzymatic (diastatic) power to convert starches into fermentable sugars.
The base malts provide the highest extract potential. Dark-colored specialty malts, caramelized malts, roasted malts, unmalted barely, and other malted grains are added in smaller quantities to obtain darker colors and to enhance flavor characteristics. Depending on the style of beer brewed, the brewer may use only one or two types of barley malts, or as many as seven or eight. Other grains used in brewing include corn, rye, and oats.
Humulus Lupulus (hops) are the flowering cone of a perennial vining plant and a cousin of the cannabis variety (sorry no THC in this stuff) that typically thrives in climates similar to the ones that grapes do. Hop plants are dioecious, meaning the males and females flower on separate plants — and the female cones are used in the brewing process. Hops are the age old seasoning of the beer, the liquid gargoyles that ward off spoilage from wild bacteria and bringers of balance to sweet malts. They also lend a hand in head retention, help to clear beer (acting as a natural filter) and please the palate by imparting their unique characters and flavors. Basically, hops put the “bitter” in beer.
The following is a growing list of different hop varieties:
Ahtanum, Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Columbus, Cluster, Crystal, Fuggle, Galena, Golding, Hallertau mf, Horizon, Liberty, Magnum, Mount Hood, Northern Brewer, Nugget, Perle, Saaz, Satus, Simcoe, Spalt Select, Sterling, Tettnang, Tomahawk, Ultra, US Fuggle, Vanguard, Warrior, and Willamette
The popularity of hops has been ever increasing. Many brewers have tried to pack more and more hops into their beers. The measurement of the bitterness from hops is measured in International Bittering Units (IBUs). Recently there has been a friendly competition between East Coast and West Coast brewers to see who has the “hoppiest” beers. These competitions have brought the brewing industry new innovations such as: “Sir Hops-a-lot”, a continuous dry hopper, “Pliny the Elder”, a strong IPA from Russian River Brewing, “Randle the Enamel Animal”, a wet hopping device that beer flows through when the beer is poured, “Imperial” or “Double” IPA, an extra strong and extra bitter version of the IPA style, and many more.
In a not so distant past, beer was brewed with an extended and varied array of botanical ingredients. The rural and monastic brewers of the Middle Ages used all kinds of “vegetable” additives, in order to give their beers a characteristic taste, combined with other specific attributes.
These additives varied widely with local preferences and traditions, and the availability of raw materials. Some examples of different flavorings are various fruits (especially berries), salt, herbs, spices, juniper berries, pine needles, and many other ingredients available to the brewer. The concoction of herbs and other plants used to provide taste and in some cases, preservative character, was known as grut or gruit. This was a particular feature of beer brewed during the Medieval period.
Today however, beer is almost exclusively brewed with only one single herb addition: Hops.
Most beer historians seem satisfied with the general idea that at one point in history, brewers finally discovered once in for all that Hops was the perfect, unchallengeable beer herb. All the others herbs and spices that went into Gruit simply faded into oblivion, unable to compete with the multifunctional and delicious Hops. Although today many brewers are picking up on these old ideas and making some interesting beers.
Wheat beer is a beer that is brewed with a large proportion of wheat.
Back in the middle ages, the Germanic tribes began to brew much paler ale than usual. Their beers were much lighter because they used wheat grain and barley. The use of both to brew one beer brought the inception of the Weissbier – weisse meaning white. There are sources that believe Weissbier to be one of the oldest styles of beer. Some say that the world’s oldest established brewery, Brauerei Weihenstephan (the oldest brewery in the world) in Freising, Germany, brewed similar styles as early as 1040 AD.
Today, there are four main styles of Weissbier: Southern German Weissbier, Berliner Weisse, Belgian Witbier and American Wheat beer. The Southern German Weissbier, more commonly known as Weizen or Hefeweizen. Simply broken down, Hefe (yeast) Weizen (wheat) is of German origin and traditionally means an unfiltered wheat beer with yeast in it. It is often referred to as “weissbier mit hefe” (with yeast). Traditional German Hefeweizen yeast-strains yield phenolic smells and flavors, which are sometimes medicinal and/or clove-like. Fruity esters, higher alcohol contents, bubble-gum, vanilla and the trademark fruity banana flavors are also by-products of the yeast’s handiwork.
Now a true German-style Hefeweizen is a big contrast in flavor when compared to its Americanized brethren. For instance, American Wheat beers more commonly use a neutral American yeast strain, which will emphasize the malt character a little more and have a much cleaner flavor. Some of the other differences between the two are the use of hops and malt. German Hefeweizens are barely touched with hops as not to bring harshness to the delicate balance of esters and phenols (fruity fusel alcohol and a medicinal by-product), and the fermented wheat flavor.
Some American brewers deem it necessary to make a mark and hop the Wheat beer like any other ale they brew, not too bitter but certainly noticeable. As for the malt, usually American Wheat beers will mash with American malts, though they have been known to throw in some tradition, especially when trying to brew the real thing, and use German malts. Obviously, German Hefeweizens use German malts and generally the percentage of wheat is higher versus American Wheat beers.
Take pause and marvel at its greatness before you partake of it. Raise the beer in front of you, but don’t hold your beer to direct light as this will dilute its true color. Describe its color, its head and its consistency.
Swirl your beer gently in the glass. This will pull out aromas, slight nuances, loosen and stimulate carbonation while testing head retention.
90-95% of what you experience is through your sense of smell. Breathe through your nose with two quick sniffs; then with your mouth open; through your mouth only (nose and mouth are connected in the experience). Let olfaction guide you. Agitate again if need be, and ensure that you are in an area that has no overpowering aromas. Enjoy its bouquet.
Now sip the beer. Resist swallowing immediately. Let it wander and explore your entire palate. Let your taste buds speak. Note the mouth feel, the consistency of the liquid’s body, and breathe out during the process of tasting. This process of exhaling is called “retro-olfaction” and will release retained stimulations at the mucus and mouth feel level, but at a higher temperature. At times this will be the same as the olfactory process if not different and complimentary. Try to detect any sweetness, salty flavors, acids and general bitterness. Explain what they are, or what they are similar to. Also, try tasting the beer after it warms a bit (just a bit mind you). Really cold beer tends to mask some of the flavors. As a beer warms, its true flavors will pull through, becoming more pronounced.
When analyzing a beer, you can’t just swill it down, burp and say “it’s great” or “it’s crap.” Even though tasting is an individual art, there are a few steps, when followed, will take your beer tasting to a blissful level.