Beer is produced in mass quantities around the world and is drunk in equally mass amounts. It is bought in bulk and downed in bulk at parties often dubbed as ‘keggers.’ During the mass consumption of beer one must wonder if the beverage is being enjoyed or if it is merely creating a travel and health hazard. Unfortunately, much beer is not enjoyed the way it should be and seems to be brewed in lower quality to accommodate this fact.
It is unfortunate that a complex and enjoyable beverage such as beer would undergo such abuse and equally unfortunate that its misuse has given it a bad name in many circles. In reality, beer has as unique and rich a history as its distilled cousin, wine. In order to better appreciate the beverage it often helps to understand the process and care that goes into its creation.
The Ingredients in Beer
The primary ingredients of beer are water, malt, hops, and yeast. First, water (also known in the industry as liquor) accounts for the majority of the brew and contains six component salts essential to a good brew: bicarbonate, sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, and sulphate. Though water is often not thought of as a primary and important element of beer, the brewing industry has gone through great lengths to ensure the quality of their water.
Malt is what gives the beer its body. Often made from barley, the grain must go through several steps in its preparation to become part of the beer. First, the grain is soaked intermittently in cisterns of water for two to three days. Next, the grain spends about five days on a germination floor before being baked. Baking the malt often is a determining factor in the final flavor of the beer. After baking, the roots of the barely are removed and what is left is a flavorful grain with a nutty texture. Depending on its preparation time, malts fit into one of the following categories: pale malt (which is the standard for most beers), amber and brown malts, crystal malt, chocolate malt, and black malt.
Hops were originally used in beer as a preservative, but now the bitter flavor of the hops has become a part of beer’s identity. Hops are grown quickly and in a variety of regions and where hand picking hops was once a labor intensive job, they are now cultivated very quickly with machines.
Yeast is what turns the beverage concoction of water, malt, and hops into an alcoholic beverage. At one time yeast was a very difficult substance to work with and many batches of beer were ruined by unmanageable yeast. It was French scientist Louis Pasteur who discovered the function of yeast in the 19th century and enable brewers to brew more consistently.
The Enjoyment of a Beverage
The complex process of combining water, malt, hops, and yeast all correctly and skillfully should earn beer as much respect as a fine wine. Beer is often downed very quickly and the drinker does not stop to appreciate the intricate flavors, minute subtleties, and rare qualities of the beverage. Some breweries have been refining their craft for centuries only to see their hard work disappear in seconds. When one holds a beer in their hands they are holding one of the oldest and most respected traditions in the history of alcohol. When enjoyed respectfully, one will find that they have access to a beverage that is marvellous and elegant.