Beer: What Exactly Is It?

What exactly is beer? For a beverage that is consumed as much as beer is, not many people truly know what it is. Most people aren’t aware of its ingredients, or the work that goes into making it. In a lot of cases, hardly any attention is paid to it except that it’s wet, cold, and refreshing.

Beer is a very popular drink in the alcoholic beverage business and has been consumed by people across the world for centuries. Store bought or brewed at home, there are many varieties ranging from the sudsy lager in Germany to the pints of ale in England to the ancient royal drinks of Pharaohs in Egypt.

Beer consists of water, a starch source (usually malt or mash ingredients) hops, and yeast. Water is, of course, the main ingredient of beer that helps bring the others together. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy beer, because the fermentation process wouldn’t be able to occur.

Many brewers add a clarifying agent to make the beer look clear rather than cloudy like beers from older times did. This is done for aesthetic reasons as well as to adjust the flavor or aroma of the beer. The proteins that are removed by the clarifying agents are otherwise harmless.

The starch source, which usually consists of barley, is necessary to assist in fermentation. Beer just isn’t beer unless it’s been fermented. Yeast plays a very big part in the fermentation process. The starch source provides the yeast with food, and the yeast, after consuming that food, produces carbon dioxide (which, in turn, is the beer’s source of carbonation) and alcohol as its waste products.

Hops are a versatile ingredient. They are used in beer for flavor and aroma, but surprisingly, it’s also used as a booster for the yeast that’s used to create beer. It also aids in head retention — in other words, it helps the carbonation in the beer last longer — and its acidity acts as a preservative.

There are many types of beer available from across the world, such as fruit or vegetable flavored beer, but generally, beer is classified into three categories: ale, lager and lambic.

Lager is typically found in Germany. The name refers to storing beer at cool temperatures rather than its style of fermentation. The fermentation process is the key difference between lager and ale. Lager is fermented at a much lower temperature and with a different yeast than ale. As a result, it takes at least twice as long to create lager than it does to create ale. Ale is fermented far more quickly and tends to produce slightly fruity tastes, unlike lager. It also tends to be a little sweeter as well.

Lambic beer is found in the southwestern region of Belgium. It is not brewed anywhere else, traditionally, and is noted for being a blend of two or more different beers. Unlike typical ales or lagers, which are carefully fermented with specific strains of yeasts, lambic beer is produced by spontaneous fermentation; instead, its starch sources are exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria from the Senne valley.

In this process, hops are still used, but aged, dry hops that have lost a lot of their bitterness are used instead. As a result, lambic beers have a stronger aroma that doesn’t smell as earthy or herbal as other types do. After the fermentation process has begun, it is siphoned into oak or chestnut barrels from Portugal or Spain. In fact, some brewers like to use barrels that were used for wine previously. Lambic beer can take anywhere from a year to three years to continue to ferment and mature.

It is always interesting to learn how your favorite beverage is created. Certainly, beer is no exception. Consumed worldwide, it remains one of the most popular and oldest drinks, and will likely continue to be popular in years ahead.