Some Americans may assume that beer-drinking is a modern American tradition. However, the origin of beer dates back thousands of years and is rooted in a rich cultural heritage that far predates America”s relatively newfound taste for the beverage.
Historians believe that the Chinese, Egyptian and African cultures each invented beer independently over 8,000 years ago. Beer caught on in the region that we now know as Germany around 1200 A.D. In 1506, beer was given a makeover when the German Purity Law made it mandatory for beer to have only four ingredients: water, barley, wheat and hops.
Although many different types and styles of beer exist today, most standard brews only contain four key ingredients:
- barley: Barley is a key ingredient that adds a certain amount of color and flavor, depending on the roasting time. Barley is responsible for the sweet taste in beers.
- hops: Hops comes in several different varieties. The type used, as well as the length of time it”s included in the brewing process, affect the bitterness, aroma and flavor of the beer. Hops are called the “spice” of beer.
- water: Water may be flavorless, but this main ingredient”s chemical components often affect the final flavor of the beer. Hard water produces bitter ale, while softer water produces a bitter lager.
- yeast: Yeast comes in various strains and affects the flavor and aroma. This ingredient converts the sugar in the malt into alcohol.
Beer is usually categorized by its style. A beer”s style is determined by factors such as aroma, flavor, appearance and color, as well as its ingredients and brewing method.
There are over 20,000 brands of beer worldwide that can be grouped into about 180 styles. While thousands of different beer brands pepper the world, the two most common types of beer are ales and lagers. The distinction between the two is made from the fermenting temperature and the species of yeast used to make the beer.
Ales use a yeast strain called saccharomyces cerevisiae. This top-fermenting yeast gives ale a higher alcohol content than other styles of beer. Both ales and lagers are fermented for an average of one week. Ales are fermented at temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This warm temperature allows the beer to produce esters (acidic chemical compounds) and other substances that develop the flavor and aroma. This process yields a flowery, fruity beer, with a variety of possible aromas, including those of:
Different types of beer that are classified as ales include:
- amber ale
- brown ale
- pale ale
- wheat beer.
Ales are considered to have a robust and hearty flavor.
Lagers are fermented at temperatures between 45 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit and then are stored at temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The word lager actually originates from the German word, lagern, which means “to store.” This second stage is key to making a lager. During this time, ranging from six to ten weeks, the beer clears and mellows. The cold temperature at which it is stored also keeps acids and other byproducts from forming, producing a crisp-tasting beer.
Lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast, known as saccharomyces carlsbergensis. This produces a smooth, elegant and clean flavor. This yeast strain also produces a more quality-consistent beer. Popular lager types include:
- American-style lager
- Vienna lager.
Common European brands of lager include:
- Stella Artois.
The Buzz on Beer
Different types of beer are bountiful and easy to obtain. Visit a brewery to learn more about the different types of beer and how the brewing process can vary. At-home brewing kits are reasonably priced and easy to find. Beer-tasting can be a fun alternative to the more popular wine-tasting on a weekend, and can lead to a new appreciation of beer”s diverse flavors and aromas.
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Hall, M. (2007) Beer types. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Drinking Beer Web site: http://drinkingbeer.net/BeerArticles/Beer_Types.php5.
Samuel Adams Staff. (n.d.) Encyclopedia of beer. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Samuel Adams Web site: http://www.samueladams.com/world_of_beer.aspx.
Did You Know? Staff. (n.d.) More than 20,000 brands of beer. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Did You Know? Web site: http://www.didyouknow.org/beer.htm.