A lot of things that go into beer, that happen in the making of beer, and that are a byproduct of the process, that are bloody interesting.
But before we dive in, if you love craft beer, this article is not for you. You should turn away now, lest you feel the need to talk about how little this Patrick Effeney bloke knows about beer.
Okay, they all gone? Sweet. So, to the rest of everyone, let’s learn about beer, and more specifically, the brewing thereof…
1. A lot of beer has a lot of random stuff in it
Bud Light is brewed with rice. XXXX Gold is brewed with sugar. Other bizarre ingredients – including high-fructose corn syrup, all kinds of sugars, molasses, and even shellfish – find their way into beer.
The likelihood is if the ingredients list doesn’t just read “barley, water, hops and yeast”, there’s something in it other than barley, water, hops and yeast.
Some of it is bad for flavour. Rice is added to Bud Light almost exclusively to not add flavour. You can taste the difference between a full-flavoured, Munich-brewed lager to Bud Light. the character, texture and malt presence is entirely different.
However, not all adjuncts are bad. You don’t need to follow the Reinheitsgebot to make a tasty – or even a traditional – ale or lager.
Most Belgian beers, considered among the best in the world, are brewed with some amount of sugar. Generally this is a sugar syrup of varying darkness, which imparts flavour onto a base light beer.
It also makes beer lighter, more digestible, and more potent; a fantastic combination that makes lunch beers way more problematic for the rest of your day than you might have initially thought.
So don’t be afraid of sugar, even in macro lagers. It’s all part of the game.
2. Brewing lager is much harder than brewing ale
A vast – and I mean vast – majority of the beer we drink is lager, which is surprising given lagers are way more complicated to brew than ales.
Pilsners, bocks, helles, dunkels and all associated lagers have one thing in common – they take longer to brew, and are done so at a lower temperature than their darker counterpart.
While ales are generally stored at around room temperature to keep the yeast healthy, lagers crank away at around 10 degrees Centigrade, just as they did in the 1600s in cold caves.
Lagers then need a period of slowly declining temperature until they reach about freezing, where they’re kept for another two weeks or so.
To confuse you further, lagering ales is very common. But they don’t become lagers if you lager them, they remain ales.
Brewing lager is a long process that takes plenty of skill and equipment, and is just generally more of a pain in the butt than brewing ale.
Also, if you ferment lagers at too high a temperature, they taste like volcanoes or really bad farts. Not cool.
So give those macro-lager breweries a break – at least they don’t brew fart beers.
3. If it’s green or clear, don’t go near. If it’s brown, drink it down
I’m talking about bottles here, so stop what you were just starting to do.
Light is the enemy of all beer. Specifically sunlight, but more generally the rule is don’t risk any kind. If it’s in a lit-up fridge, you could be doing damage to your beer.
Beer from a green or clear bottle is almost certain to have some level of taint in it.
Brown bottles are much better at keeping the light monsters at bay, so you should have no qualms about buying those.
4. India pale ale was not designed to go to India
Beer connoisseurs will tell you fanciful tales about hoppy, malty beers lasting longer in a bottle or barrel. Thus, they say, the India pale ale was born – to survive the long, hot journey to India.
Then you learn that everything you ever thought you knew was a lie, and that Darth Vader was Yoda’s father.
Don’t believe the hype people. Do your research – beer scholars, who are much smarter than the bloke smashing pints at 3pm and calling it ‘work’, know their stuff, and it ain’t about hoppy beers being shipped to India.
The lesson of all this? Drink your IPAs fresh.
5. Beer is the stuff of life
I won’t go as far to say that beer is the only thing that made the world what it is today, but the role of beer and beer-like drinks goes back pretty much to the very origin of farming.
Clever people from the Middle East and Asia invented barley and wheat farming all those millennia ago, and needed a way to store their excess grain.
Beer and bread were just two of the recognisable results still around today.
Stick barley in water, boil it (or don’t) and let wild yeast ferment it.
It’s not quite the same process as we see today, but it still makes a beverage that is reminiscent of beer. All of these early beers, chichas, cauims and other drinks or slurries contributed to the building of our great world.
So raise a glass to beer!
And, as a bonus…
6. Craft brewers are generally friendly people who like drinking and talking about beer
It’s kind of what they do. So next time you see one, go talk to them!