The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition
Beer, History, America and Homebrew
America's beer roots lead back to the brewing traditions of the "European Old World." Although most of the beer Americans drink is a quality-brewed product, the variety and style have evolved and been dramatically altered. Nevertheless, the factors that have influenced the taste of American beer and that of beer throughout the world haven't changed for over 4,500 years!
In the beginning of beer history, the household was the primary source of beer, followed by the small-town brewery. Eventually today's large breweries evolved. Much has been gained, though much has been lost.
There is a groundswell of interest in America, beginning with a surge in homebrewing, in rediscovering, perhaps, the lost truths about beer.
Let's take a closer look at some of the things that have been lost and why most beer tastes the way it does.
A Long, Long Time Ago
It all began at home.
Historians have surmised that long, long ago, in the early days of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures, the first beer was brewed. It was homebrew!
Barley was one of the staple grains of the various Mediterranean cultures. It grew well in that climate and was used as the main ingredient in various breads and cakes. People soon discovered that if barley were wetted, allowed to germinate and subsequently dried, the resulting grain would taste sweeter, and be more nutritional and less perishable. This was probably discovered quite by accident when some inattentive member of a household left a basket of grain out in the rain and then tried to salvage the mess by drying it. Inadvertently, what was made was malted barley. It wasn't such a mistake after all. As a matter of fact, it made for more pleasant breads and porridges.
It was inevitable that someone would leave their porridge, malted barley flour or bread in the rain. The dissolved sugars and starches were fair game for yeasts in the air. Soon, the yeasts began to ferment the "malt soup." When the mysteriously bubbly concoction was consumed, it was with pleasant surprise that the household felt a mysterious inner peace with their surroundings. Furthermore, the fermentation process added nutritional benefits to the diet. However crude the process may have been, the first "beer" had been brewed.
This mildly alcoholic beverage soon became a significant part of the culture of the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, while other native societies simultaneously discovered the joy of naturally fermented drink. Alcohol was not understood. Neither was yeast. But magically these beverages bubbled and made people feel, perhaps, godlike. It is not surprising, then, that religious significance became attached to these gifts of visions. One can easily imagine the ceremonial significance that fermented beverages played in such cultures as the Egyptian, Aztecan and Incan. Rice beers, millet beers, barley beers, honey beers, corn beers ... even the Eskimos had a mildly alcoholic fermented reindeer's milk.
It all began at home, and throughout the world households brewed their own for thousands of years. But as towns and cities developed, homebrewing activity began to diminish, especially in Western cultures.
As towns developed, good drinking water became scarcer. Beer, with its mild alcoholic content, was one of the few liquids safe to drink and thus in great demand. At the same time small-town brewers began to relieve the household of the essential task of making beer.
"Variety and Style"
Because of the development of the small-town brewery, distinctive beers became indigenous to a region, rather than to every household. Slowly, the variability of climate, agriculture and human activity began to express itself more profoundly. During this transition from household to small brewery, modern-day beer came into historic perspective. The centralization of brewing served to consolidate regional trends.
Let's take a look at some of the factors that influence the taste of beer. To a great extent, indigenous ingredients and climate give beers throughout the world much of their distinctive regional character. Different strains of barley and the availability of other grains influence the character of each region's beer. Yeast strains indigenous to an area greatly affect the product brewed. The availability of herbs or hops also characterizes regional beers. For example, beers brewed in those areas with an abundance of hops have a more pronounced hop character. The delicate style of the original Pilsener Urquell from the Czech Republic may be attributed to the character of the water as well as to the native ingredients. There are literally hundreds of styles of Belgian beer, and for many "it's not the water" but a variety of yeasts that are allowed to naturally introduce fermentation to each brewery's beer. The result? Distinctive flavors that are difficult to reproduce elsewhere in the world. Agricultural and climatic conditions surely must have influenced a style of beer called wheat beer, brewed in Germany and now (thanks to homebrewers) in the United States.
Human activity has a significant influence on beer styles. For example, bock beer is a strong beer that originated in the German town of Einbeck. It was a beer that gained favor with royalty and was transported great distances for their pleasure. Its high alcohol content prevented the beer from spoiling. It was very different from the low-alcohol beverages often brewed for local consumption. Likewise, India Pale Ale was a style of strong ale brewed in Great Britain for the purpose of providing the British troops with good ale while they occupied India. It was and still is a beer that is high in alcohol and hop content, both contributing preservative qualities to beer. Consequently, human activity warranted the brewing of stronger beers, in order to help preserve it during long transports.
Throughout history, other human factors, such as economics and shortages of ingredients, have influenced styles of beer. When wartime priorities were given to feeding troops, a shortage of grain resulted in a shortage of beer and/or a more diluted product ... The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third Edition
. Copyright � by Charles Papazian. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.