Written by Jack Ries
It’s time once again to talk about one of my favorite topics
ever. The last time we did this, we discussed a brief history
of brewing and talked with a local brewer about the current
state of micro brewing in the US. This time around, I’d like
to offer up some information about beer in general, and
possibly help you, the reader, to expand your beer horizons
when choosing what you’d like to drink the next time you’re
enjoying a night out.
First off, let’s go over the basics. Beer is traditionally made
of just four ingredients. In fact, there’s even a law in Bavaria,
made in 1516, called “Reinheitsgebot” (or beer purity law, to
us) that states that beer may only be made with these four
ingredients; although it’s not really enforced anymore. The
four ingredients are water, malt, hops, and yeast. Let’s break
those down, shall we?
I think you know what water is, so we’ll skip that one.
Malt comes from barley. Un-malted grains like wheat, corn,
rye, and rice are also often used in brewing. To make malt, the
grain is hydrated, which begins the process of germination.
In the first stage of germination, the seed begins converting
water into sugars, which is what the seed would live off
of until it grows a seedling plant above ground. We want
those sugars because that’s what gets turned in to alcohol
during fermentation, so the seed is frozen in this state of
germination by drying it. Malts lend the bulk of the flavor
to most beers, as well as the color. They can be light, dark,
sweet, bitter, or anything in between.
Next, there’s hops. Hops are a variety of flower that is very
bitter and aromatic. They are used in beers to add flavor,
and balance the sweetness of the malts. There are many
different varieties of hops which can lend flavors and
aromas ranging from floral, to , to citrus, but all of them
maintain a varying level of bitterness.
Finally, there is yeast. The yeast is the smallest
ingredient, but does the biggest job in beer brewing. Yeast
will consume the parts of the sugar molecules that they
need to survive and reproduce. What’s left of the molecule
is ethanol. That’s the consumable alcohol in all fermented
alcoholic beverages. As a bonus, the byproduct of the yeast
consuming the sugars is carbon dioxide, which is how
naturally carbonated beers get their fizz. Just like malts
and hops, there are many different types of yeast. They
will ferment at different temperatures, have a shorter
or longer fermentation time, and lend subtle or strong
flavors to the beer.
Now that you have a basic knowledge of what’s in the world’s
favorite beverage, let’s go over some tasting notes. Just an
FYI, I’ll be using the acronym “IBU” in these notes. This is
short for International Bitterness Units. The higher the
number, the more bitter the beer. Some bitterness can
come from malt, some can come from hops. Keep this in
mind when you are trying different beers, and if you order
a sampler, I recommend starting with the lower IBU beers,
so as not to ruin your palate. If you start out with a 70 IBU
India Pale Ale, all you’ll taste after that is hops.
Please remember that the notes and IBU ratings below
are generalized. With the level of creativeness that goes
into modern craft brewing, you can (and will) find beers
in these styles that don’t match my notes. Also, there are
many more styles than these, so don’t be afraid to go out
and try them.
Lager: One of the most popular and diverse beer types.
Lagers can be pale yellow to deep brown in color, and
feature a nice malt flavor with a dry, crisp finish. This
finish comes from the cold temperatures that lager
yeasts must be kept at during fermentation. 10-40 IBUs
Pilsner: These are usually light and straightforward,
flavor-wise. A very drinkable beer type, good for
beginners and occasional beer drinkers. 20-40 IBUs
Red/Amber Ale: This type of beer is usually a little
heavier on the malt. They use amber and light malts
to get a nice, full, yet drinkable, flavor profile. They are
usually not very hoppy. 20-40 IBUs
Pale Ale: This is the first one on this list where the
hops are going to be more noticeable, shaping the
flavor of the beer more so than the malt. They are
slightly sweet, but usually have a dry and slightly
bitter finish. 20-50 IBUs
India Pale Ale (IPA): Arguably the most popular beer
among craft brewers, this beer is bold and hoppy. The
flavor of the beer is almost entirely determined by the
type of hops used. They feature very strong hops flavors
on both the palate and finish. 30-70 IBUs
Porter/Stout: These are the opposite of IPAs. The flavor
is completely dependent on the malts in the beer. Many
times, there aren’t even any hops used in porters or stouts.
They can still maintain high IBU numbers though, from
the darker more bitter malts used in making them. They
will have a very dark brown or black color. 20-90 IBUs
Wheat Beer/Hefeweizen: These are beers that use
wheat as the main grain. They are traditionally light,
sweet, flavorful, and unfiltered. This style of beer gets a
lot of its flavor from the yeast used to ferment it. Many
hefeweizen yeasts add flavors like black pepper, clove,
and even banana. 0-20 IBUs
Lambic/Sour/Farmhouse: These are the sour beers. If
you’re going to try one for the first time, you may need
to brace yourself. They use long fermentation with
wild strains of yeast to impart a tart flavor to the beer
that can range from slightly to extremely sour. They
are usually not hopped, but often feature natural fruit
flavoring. 0-5 IBUs
Imperial/Double: This designation can be added
to any type of beer, but usually IPAs and stouts. This
denotes that the amount of malt and hops in the recipe
is doubled. These aren’t always a good choice for the
casual beer drinker, as they are big in flavor and intensity.
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re drinking (or
could be drinking), go out and give them a try! Perry Street
Cellar (at the Railroad House), McCleary’s, Shank’s Tavern,
Pig Iron Brewing, and Bully’s Restaurant & Pub are all great
local bars which feature a large and constant rotation of
many different craft beers, both in bottles and on draft.
I think that’s all that I have room for in this issue, so until
next time, sit back, relax, and have a beer. Cheers!