The craft beer revolution brought both a blessing of choice and a burden of options. We remember the days when beer was just beer, and choices were limited to mass-produced regional light lagers.
Sadly, many overwhelmed beer lovers have committed to a monogamous relationship with a brand because it was “safe”, closing themselves off from the wide and wonderful world of beer.
This simple, three-step process allows you to enjoy new beers:
- Decide if you like it, yes, or no?
- If yes, continue on.
- If no, stop and find another.
That’s it. You could stop reading here and enjoy the rest of your beer enjoying life judgment-free. That’s all you really need to know about beer. However, if you’re willing to learn some beer basics, continue reading to learn what you like and why you like it.
What is Beer?
The literal definition of beer reads that beer is a carbonated, alcoholic drink made from malted cereal grains (usually barley) and flavored with hops. In a philosophical sense, beer is a tool that delivers the experience of flavor. Merely by drinking a beer from a different country, we can instantly be transported to another place and another time. For some, the experience of a German lager will take them back to Munich where they experienced Oktoberfest or a Mexican lager taking you back to the beach or a summer party..
Ales vs. Lagers - What's the difference?
Ales are beers made with ale yeast (think WLP001 California Ale Yeast®). Ale yeast tends to produce more yeast driven flavor forward beers. These expressive strains make classic beers like pale ales, stouts and hefeweizens.
Lager beers are made with lager yeast (think WLP800 Pilsner Lager Yeast). These strains prefer cooler temperatures compared to ales which allow low yeast expression accentuating malt and hop character. Due to the lower temperatures, metabolism is slowed making these beers longer to make.
Ingredients and How They Cultivate Flavor
Water is the main ingredient in beer by far. The only time you’ll notice any flavors coming from water will usually be undesirable from too much chlorine, metals or other contaminants. Water profiles replicated from famous beer regions can recreate classic beers for a local consumer.
Barley malt is barley seeds that have been sprouted, dried and kilned for flavor and color much like toasted bread. Malt is what gives beer a flavor reminiscent of bread, cereal, honey, caramel, toast or roasted coffee and chocolate. This malt also acts as the carbohydrate source for yeast to convert to flavor and alcohol.
Hops are flowers used to add bitterness and flavors to beer ranging from citrus to pineapple to grass and herbal qualities. They grow on a bine that can grow 30 feet tall on a trellis.
Yeast is a single-celled organism related to fungus. In brewing, yeast is used to convert sugars from the malt into alcohol and flavor and aroma compounds while contributing or affecting over 500 flavor and aroma compounds!
How Beer is Made
- Malt is milled down and put into hot water where it will steep to enzymatically convert starches into sugars. This liquid is called “wort”.
- After all the sugars are available from the malt, wort is separated from the grain and boiled in a kettle for about an hour.
- Hops are added to the boiling wort at different intervals. If hops are added at the beginning of the hour-long boil, it will add bitterness, much like steeping tea for too long. When hops are added at the very end of the boil essential oils bring out flavors of tropical fruits, citrus, apples, herbs and flowers. West coast IPAs are defined by the hops at the beginning of the boil, while Hazy, New England IPAs are defined by the flavor of the hops at the end of the boil.
- Next, the liquid is chilled down to room or cellar temperatures to create a desirable environment for the yeast to do their work. When the liquid is at the right temperature, brewers will transfer it to a fermenter and add yeast to begin the fermentation process. It’s often said that brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.
- Once fermentation is completed the beer is conditioned, carbonated and packaged for your enjoyment!
Understanding how beer is made will better guide you to better selecting the perfect beer and knowing where the flavors you enjoy come from!