Beer Class With Cueball, Beer 101

History of beer

Let’s skip the history lesson of beer through the ages from the Babylonians until now, and just say where there have been humans there has been some type of grain based fermented beverage that resembles what we call beer.  If you really have a need to learn the Song of Ninkasi (the Sumerian Goddess of Beer) follow the link.

How beer is made

OK, now that the history part is done, let’s go to how beer is made.  At its essence beer is a relatively simple drink to make.  There are four ingredients:  water, malted barley, hops, and yeast.  The last of these ingredients to be added to the recipe are the hops.  Hops were originally used as a preservative, but the taste it adds became part of the total beer experience.  Humanity went through many rounds of finding the fourth ingredient to add taste before settling on hops, bog myrtle anyone.

All you do is boil the water, malt, and hops for 60 minutes or so, cool the wort (un-fermented beer), add the yeast, and let it ferment for a couple of weeks.  Then you should have something that passes for an ale, lagers take a little longer to ferment.  I wouldn’t drink it because it probably tastes like crap, but it would be beer.

How does all that work?  Well, boiling the malt breaks down all the sugars into their simplest form for the yeast to feast upon during the two-four weeks it is allowed to ferment.  The hops add flavor and preserves the wonderful liquid.

Ale vs. Lager

Ales and lagers are the two types of beer and they are differentiated by the yeast used in the fermentation process.  Ale yeasts ferment faster and at higher temperatures then lager yeasts.  Ales also have a wider range of esters and aromatics then most lager yeasts.  That combined with the faster fermentation and the ability to ferment at temperatures close to room temperature makes ale yeast the more widely used of the two in the homebrewing and craft brewing worlds.  Ale yeast is just easier to work with.  Lager’s have to be (if you go further in craft beer you will find there are no “have to” rules) fermented in a controlled refrigerated environment while ales can be fermented in a cool dark closet in your house.

If you go to a craft brewer or a bar that has lots of craft beers, mostly what you will see are ales.  However, lagers are better selling of the two styles for a simple reason:  all the best selling beers are a form of lager called a pilsner.  Budweiser, Miller, and Coors all make multiple iterations of pilsners.  While craft brewers and their ales are the fastest growing segment of the beer market, they still only make up a small fraction of the total market.

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