Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beer appreciation 101; Tour your local breweries!

In order to gain an even deeper appreciation of the world’s greatest beverage, touring a brewery (or twelve) is recommended. Fellow beer researchers, Larry Hallahan and Peter Seitz and I have co-produced and hosted around twenty five cable television ‘Beer Styles’ shows. Five of these shows were devoted to New England brewery or brewpub tours. A brew tour can also be an enjoyable experience without lights and cameras in your face.

Brew Tours are a great way to meet the brewers and find out what drives them to drink. But most importantly, you always get to sample several really fresh beers! And after sampling several more, you will feel the need to purchase T-shirts, hats and glasses to help you remember your brewery tour!

Wonder how beer is made? Let’s use an imaginary friend, “Brewster” to lead you through basic brewing. We’ve added some helpful suggestions to help guide you through the tour. First grab a beer!


How is beer made, Brewster?


Let’s start with a natural process and apply a bit of science to imitate that process. In nature, barley (or wheat) grain will begin to germinate and sprout when soaked with rainwater. At the point of germination when the root begins to form and a sprout rises up to greet the sunlight, is the exact moment of the natural process that the maltster will replicate to produce a malt suitable for brewing beer. The germination of the malt is halted when enzymes are being produced and complex starches convert into sugars.


But wouldn’t it help us to absorb the process better if we had another beer?


Of course! (sound of pouring beer) Here! Anyway, the newly formed sprouts are carefully removed, the green malt is dried and the cured malt is ready for the brewing process. The malt may be roasted to varying degrees of doneness after which it is cracked open and mixed with hot water in an apparatus known as a mash tun. The mashing process activates the malt enzymes, which break down complex starches into simple sugars. These sugars will be consumed by yeast during the fermentation process. There are different mash methods. The infusion method produces a thick, sweet, yellow liquid called wort. The decoction method boils a portion of the mash to quicken protein breakdown. The boiled wort is then put back into the mash tun. The temperature is slowly raised until the malt liquid reaches the desired thickened consistency. German brewers use this method to produce malty weissbiers and bocks. There are other subtle mashing variations, but let’s just stick to the standard brewing process.

When the mashing is completed, the wort is pumped or drawn into a brew kettle or the mash is pumped into a lauter tun (a sieve-like device used to help remove mash solids and clarify the liquid) and sprayed with hot water to remove the excessive sweetness in the malt. Now the grains have served their usefulness for brewing beer. Rather than simply throwing the grain away, many resourceful brewers offer the spent grain to farmers for livestock consumption. Talk about contented cows!


Ha ha, Brewster! That is funny! Say, this is the part of the tour where most brewers, offer us another beer!


You are obviously a genius! You should just pour yourself a beer whenever you feel like it.

Ok, now the wort is brought to a boil and the hops, either whole hops, pellets or extract are added. Next the wort is strained and whirl pooled to remove hop pieces and coagulated proteins, then cooled sufficiently before being sent to the primary fermentation container. Here is when the yeast can be added (pitched). If the yeast is pitched too early, before the wort has cooled, it will die and therefore not be able perform its primary function of converting sugars to alcohol.

The “green” beer will ferment for between five and twelve days before being pumped into a conditioning tank where it will age and clarify for up to four weeks.


Can we drink some of this now?


It’s not ready yet…Where was I? Oh, lagers tend to undergo longer fermentation and conditioning. This extra brewing time mellows and blends the flavors of the beer. Many brewers will add finishing hops to the final fermentation process to produce pronounced bitterness and a more hop aromas. While others develop bottle-conditioned beers by adding fresh yeast and priming sugars during the bottling process. High alcohol beers such as Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porters and Dubbels, Tripels and Quadruples age much longer.


How can you tell how strong a beer is, and what are some of the beer-related measurement standards we should all know? Is that my beer?


Excellent questions! Alcohol is measured in two different ways. Alcohol by volume in beer is the measure of the amount of space the alcohol in a beer takes up as a percentage of total space. Alcohol by weight is the measure of the amount of weight the alcohol presents.

O.G. (Original Gravity) is the measure of fermentables in the beer’s wort prior to fermentation, expressed as a ratio as compared to the density of water. O.G. is a measure of the amount of solids in the wort. If you happen to notice an O.G. Plato rating number on the bottle of beer you’re drinking and would like to translate its meaning into ABV (Alcohol by Volume); multiply the degrees Plato by 4, and add a decimal in the center of the result for an ABV estimate.
Example: 14 degrees P = 14x4 = 56 = 5.6% ABV.

IBU’s (International Bitterness Units) is the measure of hop bitterness. SRM (Standard Reference Method) is a measurement of Beer color.

Ok? Well that’s about it. We’ll skip the bottling process today. Let’s all have another few samples and then I’ll lead you into our little retail shop.

From USA Today;

Quote: “Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale” – William Shakespeare – from ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’

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