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Beer and Ale

Ah, beer. The cause of and the solution to all of life's problems.” – Homer Simpson

Beer is the world’s oldest alcoholic tipple, and falls short of only water and tea as the most widely consumed beverage on the planet. Beer is part of the culture of us beer-drinking nations, more than thirty five billion gallons of beer are sold each year, earning revenues of nearly one hundred and fifty billion pounds a year.

Beer has been around so long it’s not possible to exactly date its beginnings – the Mesopotamian people and the Ancient Egyptians both had prayers and songs referencing beer as far back as 9000BC. China has references in its writings of a rudimentary rice beer from as far back as 7000BC. It’s thought that beer was spread through Europe mainly by the Germanic and Celtic tribes around 3000BC, and was even at that time brewed on a domestic scale.

However this was not the beer we know and love today – it might contain honey, plants, fruits, spices or even narcotics! It was not until around 822AD in Europe that a Carolingian Abbot first wrote of the use of hops to enhance the flavour of beer. The industrial revolution refined and extended the process enormously – with the development of thermometers and hydrometers brewers began to have a much better control over the process, and were able to gain insights into how minute changes to the brewing method affected the ultimate flavour of their beer.

Almost all beer is made from four simple ingredients - water, starch, yeast, and hops. The exciting thing about the brewing process is that tiny changes to each of these four ingredients and how they are manipulated can affect the final outcome enormously. For example beer is mainly consistent of water – Dublin is a city that has very hard water, great for making dark stouts like Guinness, whereas the city of Pilzen in Germany has very soft water, which lends itself to making excellent pale lager, such as Pilzner. The starch source is the key determinant in the strength and flavour of the beer.

Most beers use malted grain soaked in water and dried in a kiln. Different roasting times and temperatures produce vastly different colours of malt from the same grain. The yeast used also plays a part in influencing the flavour – the most obvious example is where the use of ale yeast will produce ale, whereas lager yeast will produce lager. Hops have no other commercial use than to flavour beer and are now grown simply for this purpose – they were first found by monasteries around 822 to have the perfect bitter taste for their beer. Some brewers also add a clarifying agent, which tends to make the beer look bright and clean, rather than its natural cloudy texture.

Types of Beer

Ale : A sweet, full-bodied beer, a favourite in England
Bitter : Also known as pale ale, tends to be around 3-7% abv and a dark amber to golden colour
Stout : Which uses roasted malts or barley to create a very dark or brown beer
Lager : Beer which is given a second, cooler fermentation period resulting in a ‘cleaner’ tasting beer
Wheat : Brewed with a large proportion of wheat, wheat beers have a wide range of styles
Lambic : Beer brewed using wild yeasts

Health effects of Beer

Beer is surprisingly good for you – as with anything it should be drank in moderation, but the brewer’s yeast is a rich source in important nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, selenium and B vitamins. Recent studies have even shown that beer may possess strong anti-cancer properties.

 

 
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