Still, I Keep Coming Back To Beer

I haven’t written about one of my favorite things in a while.  That would be beer.  More precisely, that would be craft beer.  I should have my second tasting notes up by the end of the day, but this is more about my general love of the combination of water, malt, hops, and yeast.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drink a couple of products from one of the big beer companies.  They shall remain nameless.  As I drank what at this point really does taste like fizzy water to me, I was reminded again how hard it is to make bad beer.  Not that it is hard to make beer that intentionally tastes bad, but how hard the act of making any beer is and how hard it must be to make the same beer millions of times in hundreds of places around the globe.

One of the hardest things about homebrewing is consistency.  Most homebrewers can make a good tasting beer with their set up whether it is an extract or all-grain brew.  I like everyone else who homebrews have learned that making a beer that tastes the same across batches is the hardest part of the hobby.

Now magnify that for your favorite craft brewery.  Take Lagunitas Brewing.  By comparison to the brewers-who-shall-not-be-named, they are a small operation.  By small, I mean they brewed around 600,000 barrels of beer last year.  Yet, each bottle of their IPA, Pale, or Hopstoopid taste close if not the same as the last bottle.  That takes a commitment to the mechanics of the craft of beer making that takes commercial brewers and homebrewers years and many failed batches to perfect.

Now, expand that out to thirty breweries on separate continents all making the same watery beer.  As hard as it is to believe, it is hard to make that fizzy water taste the same every time.  That is the thing that amazes me about beer.  Everyone who brews essentially follows the same recipes and processes to make their beer.

Brewing ingredients have evolved over time to give us our basic water, malt, hops, yeast recipe.  However, some older traditions don’t use hops.  They weren’t used in brewing until around 1079 and they didn’t become the dominant flavoring mechanism until around 1400 when they displaced the herb concoctions known as gruit.

Also, it wasn’t until the 1400’s that the role of yeast in beer was understood and German brewers started to intentionally use it to create lagers.  However, yeast has always been a part of beer.  It was just thought to be the magic that turned water into beer.

The point remains, however, that the basic recipe for beer has not changed since the Sumerians first wrote the Hymn of Ninkasi to the Goddess of Beer and saved their beer recipe which they began brewing sometime around 3500-3100 BCE.

Again, this is what amazes me about beer.  If you read the hymn, the basics of the brewing process are all there.  That makes brewing kind of like humanity.  We all have the same basic DNA.  The things in that DNA that make us look and act different are not that great.  Yet, the variance in hue, size, and shape is amazing.

The differences in ingredients across beer styles are actually quite minute.  Usually it is in the change of one malt or one yeast strain, but those small differences create beers of different colors, aromas, mouth feel, and tastes.  Something fun to do is to line up four beers of the same style and taste them.  The differences in what you see, smell, feel, and taste can be amazing.  And that is what keeps me coming back.

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