"Beer: The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems" -- Homer J. Simpson
Ahh, sweet glorious beer. Known as Ambrosia to most, and beeah to us from Massachusetts, beer is a beverage that's best served chilled, and either in an appropriate glass or straight from the bottle. Whether it be college kids doing keg stands, a wedding, or long time friends telling stories at the pub, beer can be found at almost any social function. But what is beer? Where did it come from? And why the hell is American beer like sex in a canoe?
In The Beginning:
"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." -- Benjamin Franklin
Beer is a drink that has survived the test of time. Tablets unearthed in what once was Mesopotamia depict brewers at work, and give recipes for an early, hop-less version of beer (believed to taste better than Budweiser, but our experts are still working on their conclusion). The tablets are approximately 6,000 years old. Mesopotamians also cultivated barley, which is a grain that's bad for breadmaking, but good for beermaking. Hammurabi, ruler of ancient Babylon, passed several laws that protected the quality of beer. Brewers caught diluting beer would be jailed in their own brewing vats. Beer is also mentioned in Chinese documents dated back to 2300 BC.
Perhaps the greatest advancement in the art of the brew occurred in the 8th century CE. During this time the hops plant was added to the brew. The pairing went together like milk and cookies, and was a delight to all drinkers. The addition of hops added a bitter taste to the beer which balanced out the sweeter flavor un-hopped beer normally had at this time. There's more on hops below, in the ingredients section.
In the middle ages, beer was a truly religious experience. Bishops oversaw brew productions while monks designed thicker, heavier brews, oft referred to as liquid bread, for ceremonial times of fasting. Monks also discovered that beer kept longer if stored in cool, dry places, such as mountain caves. The English king, Henry II, passed the Saladin Tithe, the first of many taxes on beers. The Saladin Tithe was passed to help fund the Crusades. During the middle ages, and up to the industrial revolution, it was the woman's duty to brew beer. The word bridal comes from bride ale, a special brew made exclusively for weddings1. Beer was also drank, as opposed to water, as the alcohol helped to keep the beer clean, which was important as water supplies were often contaminated, mostly with human excriment.
In the fifteenth century, the most important beer related law, save constitutional amendments 18 and 21 was passed. William IV, of Bavaria, passed the reinheitsgebot, or the German purity law. The law stated that beer was to be brewed with malt, yeast, water and hops. Nothing else. No chemicals, additives, fruits, vegatables, leftovers, dirt, small dogs or barnyard animals. Many microbreweries, as well as some commercial beers, like Becks, still follow this rule today, however, the majority of commercialized, mass-produced beers do not. They rely on chemicals to alter the flavor, head and color of their brews.
Beer and the New World:
"You can't be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer."
-- Frank Zappa
As the European nations expanded their borders across the world, so did beer. Several British merchants sold bad brew to pilgrims traveling to the new world, as they would never cross paths again. This caused several deaths as the beer was tossed overboard, and crews were forced to drink bad water. Spanish explorers that traveled to Mexico and what is now the southwestern United States found that many natives brewed a maize based beverage, similar to beer. Brewing was almost non-existent in the north-eastern part of that continent until Dutch and English settlers set up residences in New Amsterdam and New England.
Beer also had an important role on the Mayflower, specifically where the boat landed. The boat was originally supposed to land at the mouth of the Hudson River in modern day New York. However, the sailors were running low on beer, and decided to change their plans, and navigated to the closest point of land, Cape Cod. That, or bad weather.
The first commercial brewery opened on lower Manhattan in 1623. It was owned by the Dutch West India Company. When Harvard University was established in 1636, students could opt to pay their tuition in malt. The first president of Harvard lasted only three years. This was partly due to his wife, who often made bad batches of beer. Othertimes, there would not be enough beer for all the students during lunchtime, which upset many students and sometimes lead to confrontations.
On April 7, 1785, The Times, a London newspaper, ran a story on Messers. Meaux and Co's newest brewing facilities. The company just installed a new vat that could hold 20,000 barrels of porter. 29 years later, on April 7, 1804, the largest act of alcohol abuse occurred. The metal rings on the vat corroded and gave way, unleashing all 20,000 barrels to flood the streets of London. This beer flood resulted in 8 deaths and many sad Londoners.
Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were beer lovers. Mr. Washington had porter shipped to him by the gross. Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, started out a lover of wine, but he fell in love with the "wine of the grain" later in his life. Samuel Adams is probably thought of a lot as a lover of beer from this period, but that's not entirely true. Adams inherited his brew pub from his father, and was only moderately successful. Instead, he spent the majority of his time on the revolution. Even the advertisements for his brew were political statements. They tried to persuade colonists to drink beer brewed in the colonies as opposed to British beer. Patrick Henry took this one step further by organizing boycotts of British brews.
The Dark Times:
"The problem with the world is that everyone is a few drinks behind."
-- Humphrey Bogart
Beer consumption had steadily been on the rise in the newly formed United States of America. As more states were admitted into the nation, the more pubs arose. With the start of The Great War, things changed. An anti-German wave rode over the states. This included beer. The amount of beer consumed per capita dropped by 9 gallons from 1910 to 1917. More groups sprang up who were opposed to beer, as it was associated with Germany, not to mention the debauchery found in saloons. On January 16, 1920 the Volstead act was passed, ratifying the 18th amendment into law. This prohibited sale of beer with more than half a percent of alcohol, commonly known as non-alcoholic beer or near beer today. Some brewing companies switched to selling root beer or other soda. Others sold barley, malt and hops to consumers, as small scale homebrewing was still legal. This lasted until December 5, 1933 when Utah became the 36th, and final state necessary, to repeal prohibition.
What Is Beer?
"Sweet, glorious beer" -- Homer J. Simpson
When you go out to the store, how do you make your beverage selection? Do you buy St. Pauli Girl because she's kinda cute, in a beer label sorta way? Do you buy Budweiser because everyone else does? Or Miller Light, cuz you like them Twins? Each style of beer is different. Every beer is brewed with a different amount of ingredients. There's a reason why Guinness is very dark, and has a coffee/chocolate taste to it, as opposed to Keystone Light, which is nothing more than beer flavored water.
Barley has a hard husk, contains a small amount of protein and is high in starch. European barley has two rows of seeds, as opposed to the American version which has six. Barley, save for the possible later addition of fruit, has the highest effect on the flavor and odor of the beer.
Hops is not a grain, but a flower. Hops grows very similarly to a vine, and hops plants have been known to climb up to 20 feet in height. Hops is in the order of Cannabicea, and is a relative of Cannibis Sativa and Cannibis Indica, the two main types of marijuana plants. Like marijuana, only the female plant is commercially cultivated. Germinated plants do not taste as good, and are avoided at all costs. Without hops, beer would be sweet. Hops provides a bitterness and balance to the beverage.
Two types of yeast are used extensively, saccharomyces cerevisae, the ale yeast, and saccharomyces uvarium, the lager yeast. The biggest difference between the two yeasts is the ale yeast floats on top of the brew as it goes to work converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, whereas the lager yeast sinks to the bottom. In Lambics, the beer is opened up to the outside world and the free-floating yeasts therein. In any other style of brew this would be a horrible catastrophe.
Adjuncts are unnecessary in the brewing process. They are used to add differences in flavor, or to produce the product more cheaply. Some popular adjuncts are corn, rice, oats, rye and wheat. With the exception of wheat, adjuncts give beer a skimpier, shorter lived head. Head stabilizers and foaming agents are usually added to the brew to counteract this.
What seems like an unimportant ingredient in the brewing process is actually very important. You might not think there's a great difference in water around the globe, but there is. Different water sources contain different amounts of minerals. Some water is "Burtonized", to make it similar to water found in Burton-on-Trent, in the English midlands. Beer is about 90% water, so the water used has a high impact on the flavor.
The Art Of Brewing:
"Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer."
-- Dave Barry
Brewing beer can be a difficult process. It is harder than tossing some grain into water and adding yeast. It is a science. In commercial brewing, the following stages 1-4 are often done by a commercial malter, and the brewery continues the process from step 5 onward. Other breweries do every step themselves, as it should be.
- Step 1: Steeping
The barley is placed inside a steeping tank. The tank is filled with water and the barley soaks for about two days.
- Step 2: Germinating
The water is drained from the tank and the barley is spread upon the floor six inches deep. The barley dries and the seeds begin to grow, creating amylase, which turns some of the natural starch into sugar. This step lasts about a week.
- Step 3: Kilning
The grains are put inside a giant kiln, or oven, and are slowly dried out. This is done to arrest the growth of the sprouts, and so they don't use up all their sugar. The longer the kilning process, the darker, sweeter, and fuller flavored the beer.
- Step 4: Milling:
The dried barley malt is put through a sieve, so to remove the sprouts. It then goes into a mill machine to facilitate the extraction of sugars and other solubles. The end result is called Grist.
- Step 5: Mashing:
Hot water is added to the milled barley malt in a mashing tun. Adjuncts, such as wheat, rice, corn, etc are added at this time, after they've been cooked, of course. The mixture is then cooked at 150°F for several hours. It's then filtered and known as wort.
- Step 6: Boiling:
The wort is put in the copper, a kettle used for brewing. Water is added and the mixture is boiled. Flavorings and hops are added at the beginning of this process. After an hour or two, the hops is filtered out and the hot wort is rapidly cooled using a special refrigeration device.
- Step 7: Fermentation:
The now cool wort is put inside a large fermenting tank, along with yeast. The yeast feeds on the sugar and not only multiplies, but makes alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation for lagers lasts between 8-12 days at temps of 35° to 49°F. Ale ferments for 5-6 days at 53° to 69°F. The mixture, now known as "green beer" is filtered and sent to the maturation tank.
- Step 8: Maturation:
The compounds in the beer begin to mesh together. During the maturation process, the beer gains its distinct color, odor and flavor. Lagers can mature for a few days or several months. Cheap beers usually opt for shorter amounts of time. Lagering temperature is around 32°F. Ales, on the other hand, don't need a long time to mature, and are usually ready by a week or two. Their maturation temperature is 40°-45°F.
- Step 9: Racking, Canning and Bottling:
Traditionally, beer is taken directly from he maturation vat into barrels or kegs and racked. However, most beer has to be pasteurized. Pasteurization kills beer-spoiling microorganisms. Most bottled and canned beer is pasteurized with the tunnel method. Sealed containers of the beer travel down a tunnel where they are warmed to 140F by hot water jets, and then cooled again. This process takes about an hour. Another method is Flash Pasteurization, where the beer is heated to 185°F for 20-30 seconds.
So Many Beers, So Little Time:
As several variations can be made in the above brewing process, adjuncts could be added, different water used, different types of yeast, etc. there are several different types of brew. This list is by no means comprehensive in any way shape or form. It exists to provide an idea of the similarities and differences between brews.
Porter was created in London, England during the Industrial revolution. It is made with a mixture of malt for pale and dark ales. It got its name after the London Porters, who drank it by the pitcherful. It is a dark and hoppy brew, and slightly lighter than a stout.
- AMERICAN-STYLE PALE LAGER:
A common joke is, "How is American beer like having sex in a canoe? They're both fucking close to water!" (BA-dump ching!) While this is funny, it is also sadly true. Mass produced, commercialized American beers are known for their pale color, their clarity, low amount of alcohol and complete lack of flavor. These beers use lots of adjuncts as the companies are more concerned with profit than making a decent beer. This, in turn, means additives such as foaming agents and head stabilizers. This beer sells due to marketing only, as it has almost no flavor. Some beers taste more like than the can than a beer. My recommendation is Budweiser out of a bottle, of course. As far as this bland, flavorless beer goes, Bud is the best, but that's not saying much. Pabst Blue Ribbon is a close second.
- BERLINER WEISSE:
Called the white beer due to its full white head and pale body, Berliner Weisse is usually brewed with a 1:3 wheat to barley ratio. It is low in alcohol and infused with lactic acid during the brewing process. This gives the beverage a dry, sharp flavor. A dash of schuss, a flavored syrup, is usually added to these brews.
- ICE BEER:
Ice beer is brewed the same as normal beer save for one step. Ice beer is cooled to a point between -173°F and 32°F. The water turns to ice and chunks are removed. This gives the beer a higher alcohol to water ratio. This also gives the beer a more bitter flavor. Ice beer is usually more bitter than "normal" beer. You have been warned.
Literally a double bock style beer. Doppelbocks are aged for months and have a high amount of alcohol, usually over 8% alcohol by volume. Doppelbocks usually have names that end in the suffix "-ator" like the original doppelbock, Salvator.
One of the most interesting beers. Lambic (pronounced Lam-beek) is a brew similar to Champagne, in the sense that true lambics come from the Payottenland region of Belgium, as true Champagnes only come from the Champagne region of France (otherwise they're technically considered sparkling white wines). Lambics have one major difference in the normal brewing style. The yeast is not added directly into the brew, instead, the beer is brewed in vats inside a barn or structure with large windows. The windows are opened and the natural yeasts in the area are allowing to come in and ferment in the beer. Lambics usually have fruit added to them to cover up their harsh natural flavor, such as black cherries, blueberries or raspberries. Due to this fruit cover-up, lambics do not taste similar to normal beers. The flavor is almost more of a dessert-beer, as the fruit covers most of the usual bitterness that comes with a brew.
Originated in the town of Pilsen, the modern capitol of West Bohemia. Pilsners are pale, golden-hued beers with a dry, crisp malty taste to them. The beer is distinct due to the soft water found in the Pilsen region.
Once Porters became popular, the Irish took it one step further by brewing Stout Porters. Stouts are a darker, richer, fuller-bodied, maltier, hoppier and more alcoholic brew than porter. Guinness is a prime example of a stout beer, and receives Davidian's Golden Star for Supreme Tastiness. No other stout compares to Guinness, which is really an extra-stout.
- IPA(INDIA PALE ALE):
British soldiers in India were upset. They were upset because all the beer they received from England had gone stale and flat by the time it reached them. Geoffry Hodgson designed a new brew, one with more hops and more alcohol, as they were natural preservatives. The soldiers were happy that the brew they were now receiving tasted more like beer. IPA, as it's commonly known, is still brewed today.
Davidian's Ameri-centric Beer Recommendations:
For drinking games: You'll want a lighter beer. Keystone light is cheap and very watery, so it works well. If you have the cash, I suggest Bud light, Miller light, or the greatest bad beer ever, Pabst Blue Ribbon. The idea with drinking games is to get schwilly, usually very quickly, so save your hard-earned and buy quantity, if you can find the 55 of Bud Light, then by all means, go for it.
For total beer enjoyment: I recommend Guinness and Hoegaarden. Guinness is very thick and tasty. I enjoy the thickness because I cannot drink it as fast as I can, say, a light ale or lager. Hoegaarden is a Belgian Weisse beer and has an almost indescribable taste. I could live my life happily on just Guinness and Hoegaarden (as well as food and water, of course). Any other beer with a robust flavor I find an enjoyable experience. Most Magic Hat brews (sorry for those of you not near Vermont) have a great flavor. Other microbrews are usually good for a try, although some can be pretty darn bad.
For the ladies: A lot of ladies I know are not beer drinkers; if they are, it's light beer only. I have yet to see a lady sip on some Guinness and enjoy it, not too sure why that is. Anywho, I recommend lighter beers, or even malt beverages like Sublime Hard Lemonade, Mike's Hard Lemonade, or Skyy Blue. I've also found that Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde works well too, as it tastes like strawberries, obviously. If you going to buy a drink for a lady, ask first, or take an educated guess as to what she'd like.
Before I get any more nasty /msg's about this, I'll clarify the above statements. My dealings have been with American sorority girls in the Midwestern United States, more specificly, Ohio. There the women like their beer light. However, cool women do exist, and enjoy a darker brew as well. I should have known such a general statement would get my ass into trouble. So to you cool-ass women who drink a Guinness instead of a high-protein, uber-vitamineralized sludge power drink, I salute you.
Light Beer: On a holiday down in North Carolina, I became re-acquainted with a very tasty brew, Southpaw. Unfortunatly, Southpaw only seems to be local to the "Mid" southeast. I'm not too sure exactly where this beer can be found, but I know it is in the Carolinas. It is worth a taste. The flavor was like a "normal" beer, not watered down like some other light beers, but full, not weak like other light beers. Drink a Sam Adams, then a Sammy Light, the only other remotely respectable light beer I've come across, and you'll see what I mean.
Fruit-Flavored Beer: Why buy a beer that tastes like a fruit, when you can buy beer and have a peach later? Some fruit flavoring is necessary only in a small amount of brews, like Lambics. Other brews tend to toss in fruit flavoring and overdo it. Magic Hat's Number 9 has just the right amount of apricot flavoring to make it stand out, yet not flood your mouth with apricots. The aforementioned Pete's Wicked Strawberry Blonde also provides a nice balance of berry and beer, although it leans more towards the berry and has a sweeter, less beer-y flavor. Be careful when purchasing any beer with fruit flavoring, as it can be bad beer with fruit syrup flavoring (ICK!). Lambic's tend to be really sweet, and taste more like fruit than beer.
Storing Your Beer: or How To Be A Beer Snob:
It is best to make like the monks of yesteryear, and store your brews in a dark, cool place. I suggest a refrigerator. Do not store beer in the fridge door, however, as the repetitions of opening and closing the door will agitate the beer, damaging flavor. Also, do not store bottles on their side, as the beer picks up a slight metallic taste from the caps. If you bothered to buy bottles, and not cans, why make the beer taste metallic? Never ever store your beer in direct sunlight. Light will skunk your beer, making it taste horrible. A keg of beer should be stored in a kegerator. If no kegerator is available, place the keg inside a trashcan full of ice. If not empty, be sure to add ice to the trashcan to keep the beer cool. Be sure to have a proper sized trashcan availible. One with ~30 gallons of volume should be more than enough.
"Now let's all get drunk and play ping pong!" -- Patrick Stewart, as a stone cutter on The Simpsons.
Drink beer socially, as it's more fun that way. There are plenty of drinking games to play, such as asshole, Beirut, flip cup, etc. Never ever drive a car after you've had 3-6 beers. That is just plain dumb for you could easily hurt yourself or others. If someone is drunk and attempting to get into their car, stop them and call a taxi, or give them a ride home yourself. Other than that, beer is meant to be enjoyed with friends. Be sure to have a good time when you drink, as no one likes an angry drunk. And finally, booting and rallying is not as cool as it sounds.
1: The wise Mr. The Foetus brings up a valid point about this factoid. He claims that it's more a folk definition than a real definition, stating that the -al suffix is commonly used for adjectival forms of words. While Mr. The Foetus has a point, I leave it in as I did read it in one of my sources. But please, take this information with a grain of salt, or barley, whatever you prefer.
The Gourmet Guide To Beer, by Howard Hillman. Facts on File Publications: New York, New York 1987
The Good Beer Book by Harper, Timother and Oliver, Garrett. Berkley Books, New York 1997
All About Beer By Porter, John. Doubleday and Company Inc. Garden City, New York 1975
And Personal Experience, of course