Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 03:51:21 AM EST
"I like beer, and I like cheese.." - (On horseback) Mike Oldfield.
Well, having done cheese, it's time for beer. Pull up a bar-stool and let Auntie Helen tell you all about it.
Editorial Update: 8-11-06 16:36 CEST All this talk of wars makes me thirsty...its Friday evening, how about a beer?
From the front page ~ whataboutbob
Beer has been part of the human diet since Mesopotamian times, that's the dawn of civilisation to you. Indeed, beer and bread both probably started out as slightly different ways of making porridge interesting. But once it was discovered that, by leaving very wet porridge out for a few days we ended up with something that could make us feel happy on a friday night out in Babylon, there was no looking back.
After all, in terms of hygiene, beer was healthier than water. It had to be boiled, killing all nasties like germs and parasites. The subsequent production of alcohol by the yeast produced an environment hostile to bacteria. Also, hops, which were introduced into the process from the 12th century onwards, are naturally antiseptic. So drinking beer was simply a great way of avoiding illness. In fact cholera, which is contracted from contaminated water supplies, only began to be an issue in the UK after the Temperance movement took hold in the late Victorian period.
There are two main types of beer. That which is brewed with a yeast which works whilst floating on top of the wort (unbrewed liquid); this is ale and is typical of the UK and Belgium. Then there is that which is brewed with a yeast that sinks to the bottom and acts there. This is a yeast which works more slowly and produces the beers typical of Germany or Czech republic.
To make a beer you need to take just-germinated barley and roast it. The germination creates sugars that are then cooked to create more complex flavours. Nowadays the roasting process is carefully controlled, there are malts that are called Pale, Crystal, Amber, toffee, chocolate and coffee malts. However, 200 years ago the roasting process was far more haphazard and black beers were the norm. So all of the oldest beers styles are black.
The first beers were brewed in open baths where wild yeasts would blow in from the fields. this created a vinegar like beer that had to be aged before it could be drunk. Hence beers called "Old", a slightly sharp hoppy beer, and a style no longer brewed in the UK called "Stale" (for those who know it this is the equivalent of a belgian "Lambic").
Later, once the brewing process was better understood, beers were made that used controlled yeasts which had a low hop rate to disnguish them from Old. Many drinkers found that they preferred a mix of the 3 styles : Old, Mild and Stale and was known as "Entire" or "Porter". This became the most popular beer style and brewers were soon able to replicate the characteristics of this beers in a single brew. The companies that were founded on the popularity of Porter beers are still with us today. Whitbread, Trumans & Courage were just three. Whitbread had brewing vats so large that when one collapsed near Tottenham Court Road in London, 17 people were drowned in the flood.
Then, in the early 1800s, two inventions changed brewing. The invention of a commencial glass process led to the development of the clear glass jugs that replaced the pewter and clay pots. This, coupled with better contol of the brewing process allowed new malts that created lighter beers that could be seen through. In europe this led to the creation of Pilsner beers, whilst in the UK this led to bitters and golden beers. A major advantage of these lighter styles were that they were ready to drink far sooner than the previously stored beer styles. Hence improving cash-flow.
A brief description of common UK beer styles
It's mistakenly believed that mild is so-called because it is low in alcohol. This is not so, it is mild because it is low in hops and so lacking in the peppery tang in the back of the throat associated with hops. It is usually, but not always brewed with darker malts to reflect its heritage.
Popular with brewers due to its quick throughput, it is the principal beer style in the UK. It should be clear and well-hopped, as per its name.
A strong beer brewed in Scotland that is similar in ingredients to bitter except that it favours crystal malts and is, by traditon, barely hopped, if at all.
As previously described, this is a historical style that needs to be stored for a considerable period and develops an acidic tang.
Called India Pale Ale, this was a beer that was brewed with a ferocious hop rate which acted as a preservative as the beer was trasnported to India for the benefit of the British troops and colonial advisers. Over the duration of the journey the beer developed a more mellow flavour. When these people returned to the UK they were nostalgic for the beers they knew and brewers went out of their way to satisfy the demand. It should be noted that no British brewer makes a "proper" IPA nowadays (see US) and is invariably known as a pale ale.
A new style, really only popular in the last 20 years, it is known for using Pale malts and heavy hop rates to create a refreshing, yellowish beer.
Although popularly associated with the products of St James Gate in Dublin, stouts had long been brewed throughout the UK until WWI restrictions caused it to cease production in Britain, leaving Guinness with an open market. However, craft brewers have recently revived the tradition here.
Stout was so called because it was strong, typically 8% proof and heavily hopped.
A "hangover" from the Napoleonic wars when it was considered unpatriotic to drink wine. So beers were brewed that mimicked some of the qualities of claret. Very strong and with complex sweet, fruity flavours.
Coming soon : Europe and the New World