Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Introduction to Beer
In the beginning beer was, well, just another drink. However ancient man knew that this drink made him feel good inside. Some cultures even used beer as a drink in which to connect with the gods. Today however we know that the complex science of combining water filled with fermentable sugar and other spices with yeast causes a biological reaction to produce carbon dioxide bubbles and alcohol. Because of our better understanding we have been able to create many different styles of beer that allow people of different tastes to enjoy.
To begin in the most general sense there are two different families of beer; the lagers and the ales. The main difference in these families comes from the type of yeast strain that is used to produce them. Lagers are produced using bottom fermenting yeast that require colder temperatures to ensure that they are functioning at optimal levels. Whereas ales like more moderate temperatures and are top fermenting yeast. For this reason most home brewers brew ales because the moderate temperatures that they require generally are found in a closet in their home. Lagers require refrigeration units that can run up the typical home brewer’s energy bill throughout the fermentation period.
Ales (not to put down lagers, I will get to their strong points) are the more complex of the two when talking about the different notes that are accompanied with them. Generally there can be more pronounced hop notes and spice notes which cause for most people to say that they are the better of the two styles. The downside of ales can be that they overload your senses. I am a strong believer of the statement that most of the beer drinking world is not a fan of the “hop head” revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that hops have their place in a beer, but if the only thing that you can taste in your beer is that floral bitterness of hops, you have not truly crafted a great beer.
Lagers tend to be crisper and more refreshing than its brother the ale. Another benefit of the lager is that it does not fill you up as much. Not filling you up as much leads to the ability to drinking of more beer, more beer means more alcohol and ultimately feeling better inside (until the next morning of course). For an example let us look towards Ireland; At Irish bars they are known for their heavy stouts (which are ales) and their whiskey. Coincidence? I think not! Heavy stouts are hard to knock back (I once heard a stout being compared to drinking a steak in a can) so these drinking professionals have devised a clever way to increase their intake of alcohol. While drinking their deliciously heavy stouts, they take shots of whiskey! Brilliant!
That is the most basic entrance into the realm of beer styles, but it is an important starting place. Within further postings we will begin to dissect these two families and ultimately understand this amazing beverage further.