For those of you new to the craft beer scene the following is information about what makes all of these different beers the way they are. This is just the basics so don’t think you’ll be an expert after reading this. There will be no test after this but you may learn something that your friends don’t know so you can pull it out of your pocket and surprise them at a future gathering.
All beers are made up of four main ingredients: grain – which is malted to release sugars in the grain; yeast – which converts those sugars to alcohol; hops – which was originally used as a preservative for the beer but has become over time a major factor for the flavor; and finally good ole H2O also known as water. These four main ingredients combined in certain combinations will not only give you your alcohol content but the aroma and flavor of the beer.
The most common grain used is barley, but wheat and rye can be added as well. There are many varieties of yeast but only some are used for brewing. And the yeast is what determines whether the beer is an ale or a lager.
When it comes down to it a beer is either an ale or a lager or a variation of one of the two. Ales includes Pale Ales, India Pale Ales, Red Ales, Brown Ales, Porters, Rye Ales, Scotch Ales, Belgian Ales, Cream Ales and Wheat Beers. Lagers includes American, European and German Lagers, Pilsners and Bocks. And all of these Ales And Lagers have many varieties as well as blends between the two.
As I mentioned earlier hops was originally used as a preservative so the beer would last longer. But adding hops also affects the flavor of the beer. And other things can be added to affect the flavor. This can include spices, fruits, vegetables, sugars and even meat.
The last basic ingredient, water, is used throughout the beer making process. It is used to help release the sugars from the grain, then is used again when the hops are added and again during bottling. The taste of the water used will affect the beer throughout. So making sure the water is good is a must for any brewer.
In the end though the best way to learn about beer is to go out and drink. Try the different types and varieties and breweries. Talk to the brewers themselves because most of them like to talk about how they make their beer. I personally like to try a different beer any time I go out for one. If for no other reason then just because I haven’t had it yet. The more varieties you try the more your tastes will change too. Enjoy.