We all know that beers come in different strengths. The most common way is to control the amount of barley versus the amount of beer being brewed.
As craft beer becomes a more mainstream product, restaurant and bar owners need to prepare their staffs for a new customer demographic, the educated beer drinker. When wine exploded in the 1990s, there was a demand for educated wine professionals in the service industry. Restaurants began to build thoughtful wine lists of popular items that paired will with the food on offer. As craft beer continues to surge throughout the United States, restauranteurs are again faced with building their businesses based on their customers' interests or being left behind as others grow.
Not every restaurant has to be a "beer bar". That knee jerk reaction to the growth of craft beer has produced a few success stories, but has also led to an overabundance of 100+ tap pubs with no passion for the products they serve. I think this stage of growth is one where we can look to the wine industry for support and a clear path. Incorporating and integrating beer into the overall restaurant experience is a far more achievable and rewarding goal than out-competing one another for "most taps".
This integration is where beer education comes into play. As restauranteurs become more knowledgeable about beer, they will make better decisions for their businesses. Choices will be made based on the food menu rather than on what the distributor had on special.
Once the beer is in house, knowledgeable staff will do a much better job describing flavors and making recommendations. This product knowledge will result in more sales and greater revenues for the restaurant. Proper presentation and draft system maintenance will enhance the appearance that the establishment is proud of its offerings.
BREW-ed was established to help restaurants with this transition into the world of craft beer. Through on-site staff training to consulting services for business owners regarding products, menus and equipment, BREW-ed is able to help prepare for the continued growth of craft beer.
Most beers are made up of four main ingredients: Water, barley, hops and yeast. Throughout the Basics of Beer series, I will address each of these topics individually. Last time, the discussion was about the differences between ales and lagers and an overview of what happens during fermentation. Over the next two posts, I will talk about barley and what it lends to finished beer. This post will give an overview of how barley is processed before it makes it to the brewery. This process is called malting.
The basic idea of malting is to take raw barley, allow it to germinate to a certain point, and then stop it before it turns into a new barley plant. Brewers want the starches and sugars of the barley grain, as well as enzymes that will help break them down once the malted barley enters the brewery. Very few brewers still malt their own barley, though historically it was not uncommon. Through the following steps, specialized producers called maltsters create the wide range of barley products used by brewers to add fermentable sugar, color and flavor to their beers.
Steeping is the first step in the process. After the maltster receives raw barley from the farm, a large drum called a steeping tank is filled with cool water. The raw barley is added and over the next two to four days the barley will soak up the water, increasing the moisture content in the grain. This begins the germination process, and the same reactions that happen to the seeds in nature are happening inside that steeping tank.
Raking is the next step in the process. Once the moisture content of the seeds has hit the desired level, oxygen must be introduced to continue germination. The barley is dumped from the steeping tank onto the floor of the malt house where it will sit for several days. By raking the barley around on the floor, the maltster is getting oxygen to the seeds. During this stage, natural enzymes in the barley seed are breaking down the endosperm of the seed to make starches that, if left alone, would become the nutrients for a new little barley plant. Heat is also produced during this process naturally, and there are stories from the old days of piles of wet malt bursting into flames on the floor.
As soon as the first rootlets, called chits, appear at the ends of some of the barley seeds, the maltster must stop the germination process. If allowed to continue, all those starches that were just created would turn into roots and stems and barley plant parts. The process is stopped by drying out the malt very quickly in a large kiln. The moisture content is brought from 45% to around 3% percent within 2-4 hours. This low moisture content is what makes barley shelf safe for up to a year.
After the barley has been dried, the maltster will kiln it further to make a wide variety of products. In the kiln, the barley is heated to different temperatures and held at those temperatures for different amounts of time. Maillard reactions are happening in the kiln. Maillard reactions are a browning reaction that is also responsible for making toast. If you were to put a piece of white bread into a toaster for a few seconds it will come out a little yellow and taste a bit different. If you leave it in longer, it will turn brown and taste very different. If you leave it in for a really long time, it will turn completely black and taste VERY different. These same reactions occur in the maltster's kiln. The different amounts of time and temperature that are applied to the barley will create different malts that will add different flavors and colors to the finished beer, later. The range of malt flavor can be from biscuity or cracker-like (very lightly kilned malt) to toffee or nutty (more highly kilned) all the way to burnt or coffee-like (very highly kilned). As the malt is being kilned, the enzymes that the brewer needs to finish the sugar creation process in the brewery are slowly being denatured, or made inactive. Generally, as the malt is darkened in the kiln its extract potential, or the amount of sugars it can yield when brewing, is diminished.
Once this final step is complete, the maltster will ship the different products out to breweries where they will be chosen in the right proportions to make any one of the tremendous variety of beer styles.
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I spent a lot of time working behind bars and would have the following interaction at least once a week:
Customer: "What's good?"
Me: "What do you think you're in the mood for?"
Customer: "Well... I like ales and I like lagers..."
At this point I always thought about suggesting they just point at something, because ALL BEERS ARE EITHER ALES OR LAGERS*. (If you're thinking "What about hybrid styles?", we'll get to that later).
The differences between lagers and ales only have to do with the yeast used to ferment them. Other variables like color, alcohol strength and flavor have nothing at all to do with whether a beer is a lager or an ale. This is one of the most common points of confusion for consumers, so I want to make sure that everyone understands the difference. This article will address what happens during fermentation and how lagers and ales are different. Finally, we'll confuse matters a bit by talking about hybrid styles.
An old saying goes that, "A brewer makes wort, but yeast makes beer." What this means is that everything that the brewer does on the hot side of the brewery where the kettle and mash tun are is production of wort. Wort is the sugary, bitter liquid that the brewer has prepared as a hospitable environment for yeast to feed and reproduce. While the yeast are doing that, we get the bonus of them making us beer.
Simply stated, fermentation of beer is the process by which yeast consumes simple sugar molecules and produces nearly equal parts of ethanol (the tasty kind of alcohol) and carbon dioxide. That's all the yeast does. It doesn't care if the wort is light colored, dark colored, etc. It will eat the sugars and make alcohol and CO2. When it's done doing this it falls asleep and falls to the bottom of the fermenter, just like after Thanksgiving dinner.
So, what makes an ale an ale and a lager a lager?
Ales are fermented with different strains of the yeast family sacchromyces cervisiae or literally "beer sugar fungus". Within this family there are different strains that have different characteristics. Some strains are very tolerant to alcohol while others are not. Some of these yeast strains produce fruity smelling esters or spicy phenols while they eat those sugars and make ethanol and CO2. Some of them are capable of eating longer chain sugar molecules than others. Though they have their differences, they are all considered to be the same species and they all share certain characteristics.
Temperature is the biggest common shared trait and the biggest contrast to the family of lager yeasts. Ale yeasts like to eat sugar at temperatures between 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, though some ale yeasts might even do the job at slightly cooler or slightly warmer temperatures. Ale yeasts cannot withstand very cold temperatures and most will go dormant below 48 degrees Fahrenheit.
Time it takes to get the job done is another shared trait that is different from lager yeasts. Ale yeasts will typically take about 7 days to finish the primary fermentation of a beer, though they can take up to an additional week or more to completely finish the job. Lager yeasts, as we will discuss, take considerably longer. This is the main reason why many of your favorite craft beers are ales. Small breweries typically don't have the fermenter space to produce lagers on a regular basis.
Ester production is another way ale yeasts differ from lager yeasts. If you've ever smelled banana, pear or juicy fruit gum coming off of your beer, those aromas and flavors were produced by the ale yeast strain that fermented it. Belgian beers are especially known for their fruity and spicy aromas and flavors. These are produced by strains of yeast that Belgian brewers employ that produce a lot of esters and phenols. Lager yeasts are not known for producing many esters.
Often the term "top fermenting" is also used to describe ale yeasts. This goes back to the days before people really had an understanding of how fermentation happened. Before the rise of the microscope in the 17th century, yeast was a bit of a mystery. However, brewers knew that if they took the bubbling krausen from the top of a fermenter of an actively fermenting batch of beer and put it onto another batch of wort, that wort would start fermenting also. Therefore the beers were considered to be "top fermenting". In fact, there are yeast all throughout the wort fermenting it from the top to the bottom. The krausen is simply a visible cue that fermentation is happening. Because ale yeast ferment wort rather quickly, the release of carbon dioxide is visible and gets trapped in wort proteins and hop resins to create a frothy layer of foam on the top of the fermenter.
Historically speaking, most ancient beers were produced as ales, as this yeast strain thrives in the same temperature range as humans do in most of Europe. It wasn't until much more recently that lagers were produced.
Lagers are fermented with yeast belonging to the family sacchromyces patorianus, sometimes referred to as sacchromyces carlsbergensis after the Carlsberg brewery where the yeast was first described. Lager yeast is believed to be an ancient hybrid of a wine yeast known as sacchromyces bayanus and the ale yeast sacchromyces cervisiae. Within the lager yeast family we see a lot less variety than in the ale family. Lager yeasts are also capable of consuming some sugars that ale yeasts cannot, such as melbiose. Lager yeasts are generally described as "cleaner" than ale yeasts in this respect, and that "clean" character is sought after among lager producers.
Temperature is again of utmost importance to the successful fermentation of a beer with lager yeast. Lager yeasts like to work at much cooler temperatures with the primary fermentation taking place below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The warm temperatures of an ale fermentation would be detrimental to the health of the lager yeast.
Time becomes a factor after the primary fermentation. The beer is typically cooled to just above freezing and held at that temperature for 6-8 weeks. It is this process that earned the beer family the name lager as lager literally means "to store" in German. It is for this reason that most small breweries do not produce lagers. Small business owners can't afford to take up valuable tank space for nearly three times as long to produce a batch of beer. Unfortunately, consumers are not willing to pay three times as much for a glass of lager as for a glass of ale.
Ester production is minimal to nonexistent in well produced lagers. The cooler temperatures of the lager fermentation keep the yeast from producing esters or adding any real character of its own to the beer.
In contrast, "bottom fermenting" is often used to describe lager beer fermentation. What this really is is a result of the cooler fermentation temperature. Yeast metabolism is like many other processes in nature in that the warmer the temperature is the faster it goes and vice versa. Lagers ferment more slowly and though the same materials that create krausen on top of a batch of ale are being produced, they are not as abundant because it is happening so much more slowly. To the brewers who worked before yeast was better understood, it seemed logical that the fermentation was happening at the bottom of the fermenter. This is also where they would find the yeast at the end of the fermentation to be used in the next batch.
The history of lager production is much more recent than that of ales. Though there were some lagers being produced before the 16th century, a 1553 amendment to the famous Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 outlawed brewing in the warm summer months. City leaders were concerned that the beers produced during the summer often tasted sour (due to increased bacteria levels in warm environments). The solution was to only allow beer to be brewed from September 29th to April 23rd each year. Though they didn't know it yet, they accidentally legislated that only lager yeast could ferment beer in Bavaria, as it was too cold for ale yeast to do well in those months.
I told you above that I was going to muddy the waters a bit at the end, but even hybrid styles each technically fall into one of the above categories. Hybrid styles are those that use one species of yeast (ale or lager) but are processed like the other species.
For example, Kolsch style ales are native to the region around Cologne, Germany. They are fermented with an ale yeast strain that likes the cooler end of the ale temperature spectrum and are then lagered for several weeks before they are packaged. The result is a crisp, clean, clear beer with very few esters.
On the other hand, the California Common style, popularized by Anchor Brewing of San Francisco, California, is produced with a lager yeast fermented at the cooler end of the ale temperature range.
From the discussion above I want to make abundantly clear that there are a wide range of ale and lager styles. Some ales can be very light in color and low in alcohol like the American Cream Ale, and some lagers can be very dark and high in alcohol like the Baltic Porter. Americans typically think of lightly colored, low alcohol beers when we think of lagers, because the beers of the larger commercial breweries in the US are all lagers and all fit that description. However, all of the contributing factors that make a beer dark or high in alcohol are done before yeast is added to the wort. The species of yeast used and the way the beer is fermented determine whether or not the beer is an ale or a lager, nothing else.
* If you were thinking about beers fermented with Brettanomyces, that will be covered in another post.
As craft beer continues to gain popularity, more and more businesses are trying to cash in on the new demand. Anyone reading this has likely noticed beers from smaller breweries popping up in previous unlikely places like chain restaurants and big box discount stores. How can you, as the consumer, make sure you're spending your money on something you'll enjoy? Follow these five tips to buying better beer, and you'll never be disappointed by less than brewery fresh beer again.
1. Check The Date
Beer is a perishable food item, just like anything else you might buy at the grocery store. You wouldn't buy a gallon of milk without checking the date. Give your beer the same respect. Most breweries will put some kind of "packaged on" or "best by" date on their bottles and/or boxes to help consumers know they're getting fresh beer. Checking these dates isn't always easy though. Fresh Beer Only is a great site that helps take the mystery out of beer date codes. As a general rule of thumb, beer is freshest within 120 days of packaging. After that, it will likely not taste how the brewer intended.
2. Avoid Brightly Lit Coolers
Beer has two mortal enemies. One of them is light. Most breweries do their best to package their beers in a way that will keep them free from light as much as possible. However, a lot of times, stores don't show the beer the same respect. If the beer is kept under bright florescent lights, its flavor might be affected through a process called "skunking". Green and clear bottles are especially susceptible to this. Brown bottles block most of the harmful light, and cans provide total protection from harmful UV light. "Skunked" or lightstruck beer smells just like it sounds: like a skunk. Obviously, this is not a good thing. The worst part is that beer can become lightstruck in a matter of minutes! Whenever possible, buy beer that isn't kept under bright UV lights, or at least grab yours from the back of the cooler where it is normally darker.
3. Buy Cold Beer
Not only is cold beer ready to drink when you buy it from the store, its freshness is also being helped by the colder temperature. Beer's second mortal enemy is oxygen. Brewers put a lot of effort into keeping oxygen out of their packaged beers, but inevitably some miniscule amount will find its way inside. Once it comes in contact with the beer, it starts the slow but steady process of making that beer stale. First, your hop aromas and flavors fade away. Next, your malt flavors become muddled, and finally you have a bottle of something that tastes kind of like wet cardboard.
Warm temperatures speed up this oxidizing process. Beer that is shipped and stored cold will last longer than beer that is left to sit out on a warm shelf. Better beer stores will have plenty of cold storage for their beer or will work to keep the temperature of the entire store low to help slow oxidation. Also, keep in mind where the beer was before it was on that shelf. Many big box stores have storage areas or warehouses that aren't climate controlled. If they are receiving huge shipments of beer to a centralized location, it could spend months in a hot place before being moved to a cold refrigerator case.
4. Consider the Source
If you find your favorite specialty beer in a remote gas station in the middle of nowhere next to expired beef jerky and think it's your lucky day, take a moment of pause. How much of that beer do you think that gas station sells each month? Do you think they've kept it under the best conditions?
The same goes for stores that offer a ridiculous variety of beers. Some do a very good job of monitoring their inventory to give consumers the freshest beer possible. Others just pride themselves on having a whole lot of stuff. Some of it might have been sitting there since the day they opened.
5. Use Common Sense
Buying fresh delicious beer is a lot like buying anything else. Use common sense and you will get good results. Much like buying seafood, there are places you should and should not buy from no matter how appealing the offer might be. If you walk into the supermarket in July and see your favorite Christmas seasonal, it is not a wonderful treat from the beer gods. It is old beer. You shouldn't buy it any more than you should a container of egg nog that mysteriously winds up on the shelf at the same time of year. Follow these basic tips and you should be much happier with the beers you buy.
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Every craft beer bartender should know some basics about beer. Learn five things that'll make you a better bartender
It's the middle of summer and many beer drinkers are turning to lighter more refreshing beers to beat the heat. One summertime favorite of many is the Hefeweizen, a light refreshing ale style that is a great thirst quencher on a summer day.
Modern Hefeweizens have their origins in Bavaria, the region surrounding Munich in the southeast corner of Germany. Hefeweizen literally means "yeast wheat" and they are characterized by their cloudiness from still suspended yeast and their tartness from a large proportion of wheat used in the mash. Traditional German styles require at least 50% of the grain used in the beer to be wheat to be labelled a Hefeweizen, though American brewers aren't as restricted.
Colorwise, Hefeweizens are typically a deep golden color with some showing light shades of orange. A separate beer style, the Dunkelweizen or "dark wheat," will range from deep copper to a muddy brown depending on the example.
The aromas of Hefeweizens are reminiscent of banana and clove, though neither is used in the brewing process. Those characteristic aromas are natural byproducts of the yeast chosen by the brewery during fermentation.
With respect to flavor, Hefeweizens are light on the palate, slightly tart from the use of wheat and can often carry the banana and clove aromas into the taste experience. They are often highly carbonated and leave the drinker refreshed and wanting more.
The traditional glassware for serving a Hefeweizen is called a vase and it very much looks like one. Personally, I've been known to use Hefeweizen vases to hold flowers on occasion and they do a fine job.
The first noticeable trait of the glass is its size. It is considerably larger than a standard 16 oz pint and the reason for this is to allow for a beautiful layer of foam, or head, to rest on top of the beer. In the US, consumers often operate under a fear of being taken advantage of and expect a beer to be filled to the brim, When ordering a Hefeweizen it should be expected that at least two to three inches of foam will sit on top of your beer. I assure you that your bartender is not trying to pull one over on you.
Next, you will notice the curvature of the glass. Hefeweizen glasses typically have narrow bases that open to larger bowls before tapering back in near the rim. The reason for the narrow base is to limit the transfer of heat from the drinker's hand to the beer. The wider bowl and slightly narrower rim allow aromas to be trapped in a way similar to a wine glass and also allow for great head retention. Without this inward taper, that beautiful layer of foam would quickly dissipate.
So, the next time you're looking for a summer refresher, check out an authentic German Hefeweizen, and if you really want the full experience pour it into a vase.
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Today we take beer for granted as being a refreshing adult beverage to enjoy in our leisure time, and as consumers we are particular about what styles and brands we choose based on our personal preferences. In the very early days of human civilization however, beer was much more. Beer was the source of life for our ancestors and was a necessity as much as food and shelter.
The act of brewing beer coincides directly with the first archaeological evidence of people getting together and living in larger groups. In fact, many argue that there appears to be a 'chicken or the egg' scenario where it is hard to decipher whether people developed agriculture and beer just happened to be one of the first products produced, or if agriculture itself came out of the desire to have more ingredients to brew beer. Either way, cereal grains including emmer and barley were among the first crops raised by humans and both were fermented to make beer.
In the cradle of civilization near present day Iraq, the Sumerians were brewing beer by 4000 BC. A cuneiform tablet containing a lyric text known as the 'Hymn to Ninkasi' was dated to around 1800 BC and contains a crude recipe for brewing beer. Ninkasi was the goddess of beer to the Sumerians and held an extremely important role. Though there is still some debate as to the particular processes involved, many agree that barley was malted, natural enzymes were used to mash the barley and extract sugars, and the final product was fermented for some period of time with wild yeast.
By the time of King Hammurabi of Babylon, beer was such an important part of life that laws needed to be developed to protect its purity and to make sure people were getting enough. Hammurabi ordered that workers receive 2 liters of beer a day, civil servants got 3 and administrative officials and high priests were given 5 liters of beer PER DAY! For those who aren't metrically inclined, there are 3.8 liters to the gallon. That's a lot of beer! Hammurabi also wrote that tavern keepers who were caught cheating their customers on a pour of beer would be thrown into the river... He also codified the first beer styles guidelines differentiating styles from each other. He was serious about his beer.
Why all of the fuss about beer in these early days? It's because for these early civilizations, beer was a source of life. Our ancestors figured out fermentation long before they figured out sewer systems, and because of beer they were able to survive the squalor that was rampant in these early cities. In those days, your neighbor would dump his chamber pot into the river upstream in the morning and you would collect your drinking water for the day downstream. Obviously, the water supplies were contaminated and water-borne illnesses were devastating until better systems were developed. Beer, however, was boiled during its making, thus sanitizing the water, and then it was fermented to create alcohol which kept the bacteria at bay after fermentation was complete.
As you can see, though these early city dwellers didn't know exactly why, they definitely learned that those who drank a lot of water got terribly sick and those who drank a lot of beer stayed healthy. And it helped that the beers of those days were not the six and ten percent craft creations we love today but very low alcohol beers that had limited intoxicating effect. Also, beer was a great way to store the year's barley harvest. While barley would rot in a short amount of time after picking, beer would store the nutrients and calories of the barley in a form that lasted longer. This idea is similar to that of raising livestock. Animals become a savings account for the year's crops. Beer was likely used the same way.
So, next time you feel like having a beer, take pride in choosing a beverage that helped create the world in which we live. And if you'd like to learn more about the early days of beer, join me on a BREW-ed Brewery & History Walking Tour
When people think of the birth of craft beer in the US, many brewery names are thrown around. Heads will be nodded in the directions of Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer (Sam Adams), Anchor Brewing and a few others. One name that is often left out of the conversation is New Albion. Though the brewery ceased operations over thirty years ago and never got beer into markets farther than a day's drive from their Northern California location, New Albion and its founder Jack McAuliffe earned the title of first craft brewery in the US since the repeal of prohibition.
In 1976, Jack McAuliffe, a former Navy man, opened a small and ultimately unsuccessful brewery in Northern California. He didn't have much money, but he did have the ingenuity and mechanical skills to take old dairy equipment and other salvage yard items and turn them into a brewery capable of producing great beer. The name New Albion was a reference to the name Sir Francis Drake gave to Northern California when he explored its coast. The logo on the bottles was of Raleigh's ship, The Golden Hinde. The beer inside the bottles was the first American Pale Ale. Bright citrusy hops grown near the brewery were used for flavor and aroma in a way that brewers hadn't used them before. The result of McAuliffe's work was well received but a lack of financing kept him from being able to produce enough beer to turn a profit. Investors at that time didn't know what to think of a man who slept in his own brewery and made a product that no one had seen before. It was difficult to convince people that though he had no intention of competing with the big brewers in St Louis and Golden his hand crafted product could be profitable. New Albion ran out of money and closed its doors in 1982.
In those six years though, New Albion helped pave the way for other craft brewers. First, one of the major obstacles to New Albion's success was legislation in California that prevented McAuliffe from selling his beer on the premises of the brewery. He had to sell it to a retailer who would then sell it to customers. Working with Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing and with many vineyards throughout the state, McAuliffe successfully petitioned the state to change the law making tasting rooms for wine and beer possible. Still today, many small breweries rely on the higher profits of on premise sales to fund their operations.
Also, McAuliffe's brewery was an inspiration to those who visited and continues to be used as a model for underfunded brewers starting in the business. One of those underfunded visitors was a young man named Ken Grossman. He visited New Albion several times and used it as a model to start a brewery called Sierra Nevada. In fact, the pale ale Sierra Nevada brews was inspired by the one Grossman had at New Albion.
Though personally unsuccessful, New Albion's legacy sparked the craft beer movement in America. When the brewery's name came up for auction several years ago Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company bought the rights. This past year Boston Beer brewed a recreation of New Albion's pale ale and packaged it with the same logo McAuliffe used thirty years ago. Not only did Koch bring this craft ancestor back from the dead, he is working toward making sure that it doesn't disappear again.
Though McAuliffe now lives off the grid somewhere in Arkansas, his daughter Renee DeLuca is working to revive her father's brand. Interestingly, it was only recently that she found out that McAuliffe is her dad. After finding out that McAuliffe had an heir, Jim Koch contacted her and gave her the rights to the New Albion name. In a final interesting twist, DeLuca is in talks with Mendocino Brewing, the company her father went to work for after New Albion closed, to contract brew New Albion beer for her until she builds her own facility. If you would like to keep up with the future of New Albion, DeLuca runs a blog called The Brewer's Daughter.
The story of Jack McAuliffe and New Albion is one that I love to tell. That ingenuity, determination and creativity is still alive in craft breweries all over our country. Also, the collaborative efforts of brewers around the country for the betterment of the whole is rare in this competitive, undercutting business world. Koch's offer to give a valuable name to De Luca wouldn't happen in many other industries. I am constantly inspired by the kindness and generosity of those I meet in the beer world.
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