We love beer, and if you’re reading this, odds are, so do you, but how much do you really know about beer, what goes into it and how its made? It’s time to take an in-depth look at how our favourite drink comes to life.
What is beer?
At its simplest, beer alcoholic beverage made with a combination of malt, hops, yeast and water.
How is beer made?
The brewing process isn’t complicated, but it does take a whole lot of time, attention to detail and creativity. First, malted grains (commonly called malt) are heated in water to create a mash. The mashing process converts starches in malt into simple sugars. Next, lautering happens, in which the mash is strained to capture the sugary liquid, called wort. Wort is then boiled with hops until the desired flavour is achieved. This Wort is then cooled before heading into fermentation, where yeast is added to convert the sugars into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The fermentation process takes on average a week, and then beers are cooled further and conditioned a minimum of 2 further weeks before being packaged.
What is malt?
Malt is made when grains (usually barley) are germinated just long enough to release enzymes and then heated to stop seed growth. These sprouted grains are kiln-dried, or roasted, to bring out their natural sugars, which add sweetness to the resulting brew and provide food for the all-important yeast.
Once in a kiln, Malt acts like your morning toast: The longer it’s heated, the stronger and darker its flavours become. A short time in the heat yields pale malt, which creates light-coloured, delicately toasty beers while a long roast creates flavourful dark brown or black brews. Due to this process, there are a large varieties of malts, each with their own profiles, contributing flavours and aromas of crackers, bread dough, caramel and chocolate and coffee.
Which grains go into beer?
The majority of brewer’s malt is made with barley, but other grains are also used to create different flavours and add body. These include:
Oats, for a creamy mouth feel
Wheat, to add smoothness and a rich, full-bodied mouth feel
Rye, for complexity and subtle spiciness
Rice, to brighten flavours
Corn, for sweetness
What are hops?
Hops are pine-cone like buds of a climbing plant called humulus lupulus. Hops are commonly associated with bitterness in beer, but that’s not all they’re good for. Before there were refrigerators, hops acted as a natural preservative. The brewers of yore ended up liking the herb-like tastes and aromas hops’ essential oils, or terpenes, gave to brews, so they kept on using them.
Hops are usually added to beer at the boiling stage, but the craft beer revolution sparked new techniques such as dry-hopping, where hops are added to the fermentor to impart vibrant hop aromas without the bitterness.
What is yeast?
The same thing that makes dough rise also makes beer fizzy — and adds alcohol to the mix. Yeast is made up of single-celled organisms that feast on sugars, creating carbon dioxide and alcohol in the process.
There are many strains of yeast, and each imparts a signature flavour, including banana, cloves and peppercorn. Brewer’s yeast is divided into two broad camps:
Ale yeasts like a warm environment and add typically fruity, spicy or earthy flavours.
Lager yeasts need to be in a cool environment to lend their crisp, clean, complex flavours.
Although there is a third category that is essentially a sourdough equivalent in the beer world. Typical of farmhouse ales brewed in Belgium, such as lambics or saisons, these beers are left out in the open for wild yeasts and friendly bacteria to colonize and work their magic. The resulting brews are funky, and sometimes sour, and often blended with fruits.
What flavourings can be added?
Germany once had a law called the Reinheitsgebot, which mandated that beer be made only from the malt, hops, yeast and water, but these days anything goes. The most common flavourings are orange, lime or lemon peel, honey, fruit juices or purées, espresso and spices, but brewers are constantly pushing the envelope and testing out new ingredients. In our own brews we’ve used many Trinidadian ingredients included Sorrel and Julie Mango.
What’s the best water for beer?
Water is the main ingredient in beer by volume, so it makes sense that good water makes good beer. Water should be free from any scents, and needs to have the right amount of calcium and acidity, so brewers often adjust the mineral content to achieve ideal levels. Some brew styles would have developed to suit the local water supply, so brewers may adjust the mineral profile to replicate Dublin’s water for a stout, or Munich’s water for a Marzen.
How many types of beer are there?
Beer is divided into two broad categories: ales and lagers. These categories are further subdivided into more than 80 different styles, which are organized by factors including alcohol percentage, bitterness level and physical characteristics, such as colour, taste or aroma.
What is an ale?
Ales are generally full-bodied, often with complex earthy, fruity and spicy flavours, created by yeast during the fermentation process. Wheat beers, IPAs, Belgian dubbels and tripels, saisons, porters and Irish stouts all fall under the ale heading.
What is a lager?
Lagers are typically crisp, clean and refreshing. Lager yeasts work slowly and at colder temperatures resulting in a clean fermentation with little to no additional flavours added by the yeast. This long fermentation period gives lager its name, as lager is German for “storage place”. Pilsners are the most widely known lagers, but lagers can also be dark and roasty like Baltic Porters or Schwarzbiers.
Although the above descriptions are typical, ales may be light and crisp (Kolsch) and Lagers may be dark and full bodied (Munich Dunkel).
What is a microbrewery?
It is exactly what it sounds like: simply a small-scale brewery. Depending on the country Micro breweries are defined by a certain production level.
What is craft beer?
The term craft beer is loosely associated with products made by smaller breweries. To us however, craft beer is defined by the intention. Craft brewers set out to push boundaries and to make the best beer possible, regardless of cost.
What’s the best way to serve beer?
Beer is about personal enjoyment, so if you prefer drinking from a bottle or can, do it!
However, we always recommend pouring into a glass to allow for the best experience, as our sense of smell is responsible for about 80% of what we taste. Here are some tips to maximize beer enjoyment.
Use a glass…any glass!
Much like wine, different beer styles are traditionally served in specialized glassware. For a detailed rundown on glassware, checkout our Beer Glass Guide, but in general, pilsners and other lighter beers are served in tall slender glasses which enhance carbonation and head retention, while richer dark brews are often served in tulips or snifters to concentrate aromas.
There’s no denying that the right beer in the right glass looks amazing, but the fact is, any clean glass will do! Residual fat or grease on a glass can kill beer foam, which hurts the beer’s aroma and appearance.
Store and pour right
Heat and light are not friendly to beer, so make sure your brews are stored in a cool, dark location. Keep bottles vertical so yeasts stay put at the bottom.
Now it’s time for the pour, and if you pay attention to anything, it’s this! The correct way to pour a beer will result in foam, and sometimes a lot of it, but that’s ok. Foam turns into beer, and pouring a beer vigorously allows co2 to be released in the glass which results in a more vibrant aroma, a more stable foam, and less gas in your belly.
For the perfect pour, hold your glass at a 45-degree angle from the beer. Aim the opening of the bottle or can at the side of the glass near the bottom of the glass and pour away, leaving some room between the edge of the glass and the bottle. Then, once your glass is about halfway full, turn it straight up and finish pouring in one smooth motion. If you see a nice, foamy head, you know you’ve done it right. If there’s too much foam don’t panic, allow it to settle then top up the glass with the remaining beer from the bottle or can.
Cold, but not ice cold.
Drinking ice-cold beer may sound like the perfect thirst quencher, and it is, but this cold temperature masks many flavors and aromas, and enhances qualities like bitterness, dryness and carbonation, which may make for an unpleasant experience for some beer styles.
Although there isn’t one temperature ideal for all beers, there are some simple rules to get you started.
- All beers should be served between 3-12° C.
- Lagers are served colder than ales.
- Stronger beers are served warmer than weaker beers.
- Darker beers are served warmer than lighter beers.
- Serve beers a few degrees colder than the target temperature, to accommodate for warming from the glass and the drinker’s hands.