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What is Beer?

Ahhh…The Golden Nectar that finishes a day perfectly or is enjoyed amongst friends!

We all love a beer but do you know what a beer actually is and the history of how beer came about?

….well, then read on!

Beer is an alcoholic drink that is primarily brewed from malted Barley, Hops, Water and Yeast. In addition, other sources of fermentable carbohydrate (e.g. corn, wheat, rice) and other natural ingredients may be added to create different styles and flavours.

Barley: Barley is to beer as grapes are to wine. It is the primary ingredient in making beer. Barley grains are low in fat and protein but rich in starch. Starch is the grain’s food reserve that is made up of chains of sugar molecules. In nature this would feed the growing barley plant but in brewing we hijack the starch for a better purpose – to make beer! Malting starts the process of releasing the sugar and making it available for brewing. Brewers use specially selected varieties of barley that are particularly suited to being malted and making high quality beer.

Hops: Hops are a vine like plant that can grow to a height of over 6 meters. A little known fact is that hop’s closest botanical relative is Cannabis! The cones of the hop plant contain resins and essential oils which give beer its distinctive bitterness, flavour and aroma. Hops are used in making beer like a spice would be used in cooking. They are typically picked in the late summer and then dried and compacted into pellets and vacuum packed in foil, like coffee, to preserve their freshness.

Water: Good quality water is essential to the beer brewing process. The particular salts and minerals naturally dissolved in water in different regions of the world are particularly suited to brewing and that explains why traditionally you will find clusters of beer breweries together. Contrary to popular belief you cannot brew beer with distilled water or water that is low in salt in minerals as these are required by the yeast in the fermentation of the beer.

Yeast: Yeast is a microscopic member of the fungus family. The Latin name for brewing yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae – which literally means “beer sugar yeast”. Yeast grows on sugar with by products being alcohol and carbon dioxide in a process called fermentation. Yeast also produces a vast array of flavour compounds and much of the subtlety of beer flavour comes from the yeast strain and the fermentation conditions. Brewers use different strains of yeast to produce the distinctive flavours of particular beers.

A Bit of Beer History…

Over 5,000 years ago…. Beer was an integral part of the daily diet of Egyptian Pharaohs. Back then, beer was made from baked barley bread, and was also used in religious practices. Historical documentation also show that around 5,000 years ago, ancient Chinese civilizations were brewing a beer-like substance known as kui.

3100 – 3500 BC…. There is clear evidence of beer being made from circa. 3100 – 3500 BC at the site of Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. It is thought beer may have been brewed in Neolithic Europe as far back as 3000 BC on a domestic scale.

2500 BC…. The discovery in 1974 of the Ebla Tablets in Ebla, Syria, which date to 2,500 BC, reveal that the city produced a number of beers, including one that appears to be named “Ebla” after the city. Early traces of beer and the brewing process have been found in ancient Babylonia as well.

2100-2000 BC…. The Babylonian king Hammurabi included regulations governing tavern keepers in his law code for the kingdom in 2,100 BC. Beer drinking accessories, such as mugs, have also been found in Israel, and date back to nearly 2000 BC.

What is Beer? 2

500-450 BC…. Confirmed written evidence of ancient beer production in Armenia can be obtained from Xenophon in his work Anabasis (500 BC) when he was in one of the ancient Armenian. Based on historical evidence, it appears that the Egyptians taught the Greeks the beer brewing process. The Greek writer Sophocles (450 BC) discussed the concept of moderation when it came to consuming beer in Greek culture, and believed that the best diet for Greeks consisted of bread, meats, various types of vegetables, and beer or zythos as they called it.

The process of brewing beer grew tremendously during the rise of Christianity. This was primarily because of the roles that monks had in the production of beer. Monasteries were some of the first organizations to brew beer as a trade. Monks built breweries as part of their efforts to provide food, shelter and drink to various travellers and pilgrims.

770 AD…. Emperor Charlemagne, the ruler of the Christian kingdom around 770 AD considered beer to be an important part of living, and is often thought to have trained Christian brewers himself.

1040 AD…. In 1040 Weihenstephan (Bavaria) abbey brewery obtained the brewing rights from the nearby town of Freising in 1040. They are the world’s oldest operating commercial brewery.

1256 AD…. In 1256, the Aldobrandino of Siena colourfully described the nature of beer in the following way:

“But from whichever it is made, whether from oats, barley or wheat, it harms the head and the stomach, it causes bad breath and ruins the teeth, it fills the stomach with bad fumes, and as a result anyone who drinks it along with wine becomes drunk quickly; but it does have the property of facilitating urination and makes one’s flesh white and smooth.”

Hmmmm….sure….whatever you say!

1300-1400’s AD…. Hopped beer was perfected in the towns of Germany by the 13th century, and the longer lasting beer, combined with standardized barrel sizes, allowed for large-scale export. This type of production spread to Holland in the 14th century and later to Flanders, Brabant and reached England by the late 15th century.

Laws to enforce the use of hops in beer were introduced in England in the 14th century, and later similar laws were introduced in other countries. In England, these laws led to peasant uprisings, since it was considered to spoil the taste, but these uprisings were brutally put down. In 15th century England, an un-hopped beer would have been known as an ale, while the use of hops would make it a beer.

1516 AD… In 1516, William IV, Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food regulation still in use through the 20th Century. The Reinheitsgebot passed formally from German law in 1987. The law ordered that the ingredients of beer be restricted to water, barley, and hops. Yeast was added to the list after Louis Pasteur’s discovery in 1857. To this day, the law is considered a mark of purity in beers.
Most beers until relatively recent times were top-fermented (ales). Bottom-fermented beers (lagers) were discovered by accident in the 16th century after beer was stored in cool caverns for long periods.

1857 AD…. The discovery of yeast’s role in fermentation in 1857 by Louis Pasteur gave brewers methods to prevent the souring of beer by undesirable microorganisms.

1869 AD…. The Caledonian Brewery was founded in 1869, Edinburgh, Scotland. Following significant improvements in the efficiency of the steam engine in 1765, industrialization of beer became a reality. Further innovations in the brewing process came about with the introduction of the thermometer in 1760 and hydrometer in 1770, which allowed brewers to increase efficiency and attenuation. Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily dried over fires made from wood, charcoal, or straw, and after 1600, from coke. An even earlier reference to such malt was recorded by William Harrison, in his “Description of England”, 1577.

1817 AD…. The invention of the drum roaster in 1817 by Daniel Wheeler allowed for the creation of very dark, roasted malts, contributing to the flavour of porters and stouts. Its development was prompted by a British law of 1816 forbidding the use of any ingredients other than malt and hops. Porter brewers, employing predominantly pale malt grist, urgently needed a legal colourant. Wheeler’s patent malt was the solution.

1920 AD…. Prior to Prohibition, there were thousands of breweries in the United States, mostly brewing heavier beers than modern US beer drinkers are used to now. Beginning in 1920, most of these breweries went out of business, although some converted to soft drinks and other businesses.

1945 AD…. Bottling beer began in a modern Australian facility in 1945.

1953 AD…. In 1953, New Zealander Morton W. Coutts developed the technique of continuous fermentation. Coutts patented his process which involves beer flowing through sealed tanks, fermenting under pressure, and never coming into contact with the atmosphere, even when bottled. His process was introduced in the US and UK, but is now used for commercial beer production only in New Zealand.

Today…. Breweries, both large corporations and micro now brew many different types of beer, ranging from ancient styles such as the spontaneously-fermented lambics of Belgium, the lagers, dark beers, wheat beers, stouts, milds, pale ales, bitters and golden ales. Every year there seems to be a new variety of beer available and beer will continue to evolve as time marches on. Long live the golden amber ale!

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