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BeerDomestic, Imported, and Home Brewed
By Eve Adamson
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Eve Adamson
All right reserved.
All About Beer
Say "beer" and most people know what you mean: that golden, fizzy stuff that goes so well with burgers, or maybe that dark, malty drink suited to cozy British pubs. "Beer" is an umbrella term that encompasses light lagers, dark rich ales, specialty beers flavored with coffee or fruit, porters and stouts, lambics and barley wines, even (arguably) nonalcoholic malt beverages. In other words, the term "beer" encompasses a much larger universe than can be summed up by the question, "Light or dark?" although color is one important aspect in the evaluation of a beer. Beer can refer to a cloudy pale wheat beer scented with orange peel and coriander, a rich chocolaty porter that almost tastes like a dessert all on its own, hearty bronze-burnished Scottish ales, and complex, multilayered Trappist ales with lingering flavors of banana, nutmeg, licorice, or honey. And that's just a beginning!
Learning about, tasting, even brewing beer will expose the curious to a wide range of flavorful, interesting, nutritious beverages brewed from that original staple of the human diet: grain. Trickier to make than wine but more versatile to pair with food, beer can potentially match any food orstand on its own as an aperitif, a thirst-quencher, an after-dinner drink; the stuff that warms and cheers a group of friends, stimulates the minds and palates of connoisseurs, or simply relieves that deep-down thirst that comes from a hard day's work.
Beer is one of the original sources of human nutrition. In fact, some people argue that the desire to brew beer was the single driving force that created agriculture, since many of the first crops consisted of barley, a grain not conducive to baking bread but ideal for brewing beer. Beer has long been an integral part of northern European culture, where it evolved from a hearty, dark ale to the pale lagers so popular all over the world today. But over the past few decades, beer has continued to evolve by circling in some ways back to its roots: ales, some from ancient recipes, have become popular again, and beer has blossomed into a multitude of forms -- sour, sweet, heavy, light, grainy, malty, viscous, bitter, floral . . . the list goes on, and so do the types of beer that beer connoisseurs can now sample and enjoy, not to mention brew themselves. The recent profusion of home brewers, microbreweries, and beer connoisseurs forming clubs, societies, classes, and tasting events is further evidence that beer is back in a big way and better than ever. The appreciation of the vast and diverse world of beer may be a recent trend in America, but the pleasures and subtleties of beer are nothing new. Just ask anyone from Ireland, England, Germany, or Belgium about the beer "trend." In these countries, beer has been a primary source of nutrition and life-sustaining force for thousands of years. In fact, archeological evidence suggests that humans have been brewing beer pretty much since we discovered how to live together in organized societies and grow our own grain.
But what is beer, exactly? What goes into beer? How do you make it? What are the different types? How do you taste it, and how do you know what's representative of different styles? How can you tell if a beer is "off," and how can you tell when a beer is really, really good?
Understanding more about what beer really is will help you to better appreciate the evolution of beer all over the world, not to mention that pint glass sitting in front of you. Does it taste like a pilsner should? Is it a good example of a stout? Does it go with pretzels? Here's what you need to know.
What Is Beer?
Beer, quite simply, is a beverage made from four basic ingredients: grain, yeast, hops, and water. More specifically, most beers fall under one of two categories: ales or lagers. The difference between an ale and a lager has nothing to do with alcohol content or color or sweetness versus bitterness. The only difference is in the type of yeast and brewing method used. Ales use a certain species of "ale yeast" that traditionally fermented on the top of the beer at warmer temperatures. Lagers use a different species of "lager yeast" that traditionally fermented at the bottom of the beer vat, under colder temperatures. Lagers need to ferment and age longer than ales and were once aged in caves during the summer months to stay at the cool temperatures lager yeasts prefer.
These two subcategories -- ales and lagers -- are only the beginning of the vast variation of styles of beer possible with those four basic ingredients. The American Homebrewers Association publishes a detailed list of beer styles (go to beertown.org to find this information and lots of other fascinating beer lore) that breaks down beer varieties far beyond their designations as ales and lagers. Later chapters in this book discuss the qualities and characteristics of many of these varieties of beer that come from different countries and regions, but here is a brief overview. It may take you a while to learn how to distinguish ales and lagers purely by taste, but here are some basics, to show you which varieties fall under which type:
- Pale ale
- India pale ale (IPA)
- Bitter and extra special bitter (ESB)
- Gold or blond ale
- Wheat beer (including hefeweizen, dunkelweizen,
- Red ale
- Scotch ale
- Belgian ale, including dubbel, tripel, Trappist, and
- abbey ale)
- Brown ale
- Stout (dry, sweet, oatmeal)
- u Biere de garde
- Anything labelled helles or dunkel
- Bock (including Maibock, eisbock, and doppelbock)
- Rauchbier (smoked beer)
- Light and low-carb beers
- Dry lager
- Malt liquor
Other types of beer combine ale yeasts with lager brewing techniques or vice versa to create a third "hybrid" category of beer that includes the German styles kolsch and altbier. Some use different strains of yeast, including lab-cultured yeast or the naturally fermenting wild yeasts often used in the fruity and sour lambic, gueuze, faro, and saison styles. Some add unusual flavorings.
Excerpted from Beer by Eve Adamson Copyright © 2006 by Eve Adamson. Excerpted by permission.
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