LIQUID BREAD - BY WIL ROYCE
The Sumerians are sometimes given credit for producting the world's first beer. They baked bread, liquefied it, then got it to ferment. That was five thousand years ago. At some point later in time, hops got added to the original grain, water and yeast mix. These four ingredients are still the heart of beer making. The complexity of the brewmeister's art is in choosing which varieties of the basic ingredients to use, and combining them in particular ways.
HOW THEY MAKE IT - BEER 101
You always start with grain. It can be barley, wheat, oats, corn or even rice. Barley is the top choice in commercial beers. The colour and taste of the final product are largely derived from the grain. The first step is malting. The grain gets soaked in water until it actually begins to sprout like so many tiny plants. It is then dried and roasted. The resulting malt is milled, soaked with water and heated up. Now you have mash.
The mash is used to transform the malt's starches into sugar. The water drained off the mash is wort. This is added to a special brew kettle and boiled. The master brewer takes careful control over temperature, timing and the exact point at which the hops are added. These are small flowers plucked from the hop vine, ready to lend aroma and flavour to the blend.
The wort is moved from the kettle to the fermentation tank. Yeast is added to promote the development of alcohol. If the yeast is added to the top, the beer becomes a top-fermented brew. These include ales and bitters. If the yeast goes to work at the bottom of the tank you get lagers and pilsners. Believe it or not, the lambic beers, which are exclusive to Belgium, literally leave the fermentation tanks open and wait for yeast molecules to settle on the top of the brew. This is called "spontaneous fermentation."
THE PLEASURE OF IT ALL
You can think of beer in a couple of ways. For some it is used as an adult soda pop. For others, it has all the subtlety and range of flavour usually reserved for wine.
One of my good friends is writer Dave Preston, Chair of The Great Canadian Beer Festival (GCBF), a BJCP Certified Beer judge, and an award-winning homebrewer. I asked him to give us some sudsy insights:
Why do you supposed beer has suddenly become as popular as Cabernets were a couple of years ago?
Because some beers have improved. More brewers are making better, more flavourful beers. Also, consumers are becoming more educated. Although thousands of discerning drinkers still quaff bland "factory" beer made with adjucts, or trendy Mexican beer in sexy, clear glass bottles, the intelligent drinkers are getting better value for their beverage dollar by learning about different beer styles and products.
Why do beer aficionados avoid mega-commercial beers and seek out micro-brewery brands?
Because most of us know that those beers contain chemicals and adjuncts - rice and corn syrup as a cheap form of fermentable sugar. We also recognize and appreciate the craft of smaller brewers, people who care about their product as much as they care about the bottom line.
Home brewing: Is it possible to brew something non-toxic?
Yes, and it's getting easier. Rule 1. Don't follow the instructions on the can. Rule2, Find someone who knows how to make good beer at home and become their friend.
Your most unusual beer story...
I spent eight years working as a bartender in a Yorkshire pub. Unbeknownst to me, the old handpumps, notoriously stiff, had been serviced and suddenly worked as smooth as silk. I pulled hard to draw the first pint of the evening and it shot around the glass up off the bar ceiling and down onto the customer, who was aptly dressed in a mackintosh. Fumbiling for conversation I came out with the standard opening gambit for Yorkshire barkeep: "Looks like rain." "Aye," saids the customer licking his lips, "tastes like bloody rain..."
What's all this hoopla we are hearing about - The Great Victorian Beer Shindig?
The Great Canadian Beer Festival is the premier beer event in the country, and that's coming from American beer writers, not just me. Its success comes from integrity. It means we don't just accept any brewer or any beer, but invite only those we think fit the bill and can get over the high bar. Tickets for last year's festival sold out in less than three hours. People line up on the streets and scalpers abound.
And it's all for the love of the hopped-up brew. As Frank Zappa said: You can't be a Real Country unless you have a Beer and an airline - it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a Beer.
(Source - Airborn Magazine. Issue: spring/summer '02. Liquid Bread - by Wil Royce)
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