Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 17- Sour Ale

8 06 2010

It never ceases to amaze us. Forty years ago, American beer was essentially dead. Only a handful of breweries existed in the country. People drank mass-produced-dead-in-the-can industrial product. And now look how far we have come. People are racing for the most flavor, most character, most life to their beers. They are getting big beers and laying them down to age, just as one would do with a fine wine. People will line up for hours for a special release of beer. People are taking beer seriously. And just as people are exploring unusual beers from all over the world, including Belgium and France, they are exploring quite possibly the most unusual of unusual beers: sour ales.

Five years ago, sour ales were a tough sale. Ten years earlier than that, it would have been an impossible sale. Giving some one a beer that tastes of sour lemon, green apple, lime, fresh berries, or even yogurt, horse, hay, and vinegar is still a tough sale. Afterall, those are not the flavors we usually associate with beer. But now, as more and more people are trying Berliner Weisses, Flanders Ales, Lambics and Guezes, the demand is growing.

Just as hop heads five years ago were lusting after the newest strain of hop or able to identify a Warrior bitterness to a Amarillo fruitiness in the IPA, people are now looking for beers inoculated with Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus.

The first time a person drinks a sour ale, one or two things could go through their minds: “I think this beer is spoiled” or “Is this beer? This cannot be beer!” The answer to the first question is simple: no, the beer is not spoiled.  It is designed to be that way. The brewer will often ferment in large, open tanks. This allows for any and all wild yeast, bacteria and mold to fall into the beer. In older breweries, such as in Belgium or Germany, the fermenting cellars are carefully conditioned with centuries of experience. The air is rich with the perfect blend of critters to make the beer taste the way it does. The result is a sense of place, also known as terrior. In newer breweries, such as those in the United States: like New Belgium, Russian River and Allagash, the brewers carefully inoculate their beers with cultures in order to make sure the right critters go in and the wrong ones stay out.

The taste can be a bit disconcerting at first. These yeast and bacteria cells are often associated with spoilage and so our experience with them in the past have taught us to recognize these smells and taste with spoiled or rotten food. But do not worry, these beers will not make you ill.

As to whether or not this is beer, the answer is simply: “yes.” If we return to one of our original posts where we asked “What is Beer?” we will recall that beer is water, malted grain, hops and yeast. These beers all contain these ingredients at their core. While a sour ale may resemble a wine, yogurt, or some other item entirely, it remains essentially beer.

As more and more American breweries, bars, and stores carry sour ales, it becomes easier to pick apart the the finer details of the sour ale genre. But for the uninitiated drinker, it can be a bit of a confusing world.

The BJCP offers six subcategories. Berliner Weisse is sour wheat ale from Germany. It is often drank with a shot of fruit syrup: often berry or essence of woodruff–an herb. The Flanders region of Belgium is known for its sour red and brown ales. The red ales from the region are often a blend of vintages and have a sharp, acidic character. Flemish reds are known as the “Burgundies of Belgium” and resemble wine. Flemish browns have a more malt forward character and less of an acidic note. They will often be a blend of vintages as well. Lambics are the most popular of the sour ales in the United States. They can either come in a straight (unblended) vintage; a blended vintage known as a “Gueze”(Garret Oliver says that one should practice saying “Goose” while clearing the throat and adding a few random “r”s and that is a close approximation on how to pronounce the name); and a lambic can be sweetened with fruit or sugar (a technique known as “faro”).

Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 17- Sour Ales

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Aroma: A sharp sourness should be present for a Berliner Weisse with no hop aroma. The sourness may mellow with age into a citrus, fruity character. Some Brettanomyces (“Brett”) character can be present- namely an earthy, “damp” character. In Flemish Red and Browns a complex fruitiness should be present: plums, prunes, oranges, black cherries and possibly some spicy phenols including pepper, vanilla, oak and chocolate. Browns should have a hint of caramel or other malt. Lambics should have a sharp sour note that mellows with age. Brett qualities should be present including barnyard, horse, blanket, hay, and mildew. Fruit lambics should be sweet and sour that has an apparent resemblance of the fruit used to sweeten it.

Appearance: Berliner Weisses are very pale straw in color and hazy. Pour head retention due to acidity. Flemish reds should have a bright red quality with white head of medium retention. Flemish browns should be earthy brown with a tan/off white head of medium retention. Straight lambics should be pale yellow to deep golden with the beer darkening with age. Young lambics tend to be hazy while the older ones tend to be clear. Poor head retention. Guezes are bright clear and have a thick, mousse-like head that has excellent, near perfect head retention. Sweetened lambics will take on the color of the fruit sweetening it and will have a thick, near perfect head retention.

Flavor: All sour ales will (obviously) be sour. Berliner Weisse will be the least sour though. The Lactobacillus delbruckii will give a “yogurt” or “sour milk” like quality. Flanders Reds will resemble a red wine with notes of plum, orange, cherries, pepper, vanilla, oak, and chocolate. A long dry finish with no hops present. Flanders Browns will also resemble a red wine with similar notes to the Flanders Reds but will be more malt forward with notes of caramel, toffee and tobacco. There should be no vinegar qualities as it ages. Lambics should be quite sour when they are young but balance better as they age. The Brett qualities should balance with age as well. There should be no smoky quality. Fruit lambics should take on the character of the fruit that is blended with them. There should be more acidic quality rather than sour.

Mouthfeel: There should be a tart, puckering character to all of them. Straight lambic is served flat while Berliner Weisse, Gueze and fruit lambic should be effervescent. Flanders styles should have medium carbonation with no astringency.

Ingredients: Berliner Weisse should have at least 50% wheat and is often paired with pils. Top fermenting yeast works with Lactobacillus delbruckii to create sourness. Flanders Red and Browns are made with base of Vienna and Munich malts with medium to dark specialty malts including Caras and Special-B. Low alpha-acid hops are used. A blend of “wild” yeasts including Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus and Brettanomyces (and acetobacter). Lambics are made with wheat, pils and aged hops. The hops are for preservative effect rather than bitterness. Wild yeasts, including but limited to Saccharomyces, Brettanomyces, Pediococcus and Lactobacillus are found in the breweries of lambics.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.000-1.012
SRM (Grain Color): 3-22
IBUs: 0-10
ABV: 2.8-8%

Commercial Examples:
Berliner Weisse:
Schultheiss Berliner Weisse, Berliner Kindl Weisse, Nodding Head Berliner Weisse, Weihenstephan 1809 (unusual in its 5% ABV), Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse, Southampton Berliner Weisse, Bethlehem Berliner Weisse, Three Floyds Deesko
Flanders Red Ale: Rodenbach Klassiek, Rodenbach Grand Cru, Bellegems Bruin, Duchesse de Bourgogne, New Belgium La Folie, Petrus Oud Bruin, Southampton Flanders Red Ale, Verhaege Vichtenaar, Monk’s Cafe Flanders Red Ale, New Glarus Enigma, Panil Barrique, Mestreechs Aajt
Flanders Brown Ale: Liefman’s Goudenband, Liefman’s Odnar, Liefman’s Oud Bruin, Ichtegem Old Brown, Riva Vondel
Straight Lambic: Cantillon Grand Cru Bruocsella
Gueze: Boon Oude Gueuze, Boon Oude Gueuze Mariage Parfait, De Cam Gueuze, De Cam/Drei Fonteinen Millennium Gueuze, Drie Fonteinen Oud Gueuze, Cantillon Gueuze, Hanssens Oude Gueuze, Lindemans Gueuze Cuvee Renee, Girardin Gueuze (Black Label), Mort Subite (Unfiltered) Gueuze, Oud Beersel Oude Gueuze
Fruit Lambic: Boon Framboise Marriage Parfait, Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait, Boon Oude Kriek, Cantillon Fouee Foune (apricot), Cantillon Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek, Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise, Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, Cantillon St. Lamvinus (merlot grape), Cantillon Vigneronne (Muscat grape), De Cam Oude Kriek, Drie Fonteinen Kriek, Girardin Kriek, Hanssens Oude Kriek, Oud Beersel Kriek, Mort Subite Kriek


Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 15- German Wheat and Rye

11 05 2010

We recently covered wheat a few weeks ago in ‘Tis the Season: Wheats. So, I will spare us all the time and effort to rehash the history behind wheats. But whereas, that post covers Germany, Belgium and the United States, the BJCP style guidelines categorize them separately. American Wheats are part of the Light Hybrid Varieties (Category 06). And Belgian Witts are in Category 16- Belgian and French Ales.

There are a few things that differentiate German Weiss beers from their Belgian and American counterparts. They are (in no particular order):

  • Reinheitsgabot: The medieval German purity law that decreed no ingredients other than malted grain, yeast, hops or water could be used in beer. While no longer an official law, many German brewers hold true to it for sake of tradition and cultural understanding. All those banana, clove, pineapple notes in the aroma are byproducts of the yeast rather than spices added to the beer.
  • German ingredients: Brewers tend to use the ingredients nearby for sake of freshness and convenience. So German beers should be made from German malts and Noble Hops.
  • German Brewing Techniques: German brewers have innovated and developed many techniques specifically recognized as German. The Germans were the first to make lager and bocks. Germans are the only brewers to consistently make wheat based bocks (weizenbocks).

And, in case you missed it before, below is our video on how to pour a hefeweizen.

Category 15: German Wheat and Rye:

Photo Credit: Bernt Rostad CC

Subcategories: Weizen/Weissbier, Dunkelweizen, Weizenbock, Roggenbier (German Rye)

Appearance: Ranging in very light to russet brown with garnet highlights. Creamy, frothy white to tan head that is sustaining and persistent. Hazy due to lack of filtering. Some hefeweizens are filtered and are called Krystalweiss. Roggenbier is often orange marmalade to copper in color.

Aroma: Notes of banana, clove and pineapple are all present and apparent. Dunkelweiss may even have a bit of a vanilla or oak note with hints of allspice. Weizenbock will have a rocky, mineral quality and hints of bread crust. One may even find a bit of smoke present in all of all of them. Hops should not be present. Neither should diacytl or DMS (a cooked corn smell).

Taste: Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavors. A light vanilla or bubble gum is optional but pleasant. There should be a soft, and round bready sweetness that helps lift the yeast esters and accentuate them but never overpower them. The star of the show should be the yeast, which gives those fruity esters as well as a certain spritzy brightness to the beer. It should be apparent and bold. Weizenbocks will tend to show more dark fruit character of plums, grapes, raisins and prunes. The spice should be earthier; showing more allspice, cinnamon and clove. Roggebier should have a spicy rye quality to it, similar to good rye bread. In none of these beers should diacytl or DMS be present. A slight noble hop bitterness helps balance the beer. Otherwise, no hops should be present.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full body. Creamy, rich and round with medium to strong carbonation. Hefeweizens should be effervescent. There should be no heat from alchohol.

Ingredients: At least 50% of the grain bill should be wheat. While the other 50% is composed of mostly pilsner with Munich malts as specialty grains. Noble hops used for bittering. And a low flocculating weiss yeast. Roggenbier will have rye added to the specialty grains.

Technical Notes:
Original Gravity:
Final Gravity: 1.10-1.022
SRM (Grain Color): 2-25
IBUs: 8-30
ABV: 4.3-8.0%

Commercial Examples:
Hefeweizen: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, Schneider Weisse Weizenhell, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse, Plank Bavarian Hefeweizen, Ayinger Braeu Weisse, Ettaler Weissbier Hell, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, Andechser Weissbier Hefetraeub, Kapuziner Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier, Penn Weizen, Barrelhouse Hocking Hills HefeWeizen, Eisenbahn Weizenbier
Dunkelweizen: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel, Ayinger Ur-Weisse, Franziskaner Dunkel Hefe-Weisse, Schneider Weisse (Original), Ettaler Weissbier Dunkel, Hacker-Pschorr Weisse Dark, Tucher Dunkles Hefe Weizen, Edelweiss Dunkel Weissbier, Erdinger Weissbier Dunkel, Kapuziner Weissbier Schwarz
Weizenbock: Schneider Aventinus, Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, Plank Bavarian Dunkler Weizenbock, Plank Bavarian Heller Weizenbock, AleSmith Weizenbock, Erdinger Pikantus, Mahr’s Der Weisse Bock, Victory Moonglow Weizenbock, High Point Ramstein Winter Wheat, Capital Weizen Doppelbock, Eisenbahn Vigorosa
Roggenbier: Paulaner Roggen (formerly Thurn und Taxis, no longer imported into the US), Boergerbraeu Wolznacher Roggenbier

‘Tis The Season: Wheat Beers

28 04 2010

Photo Credit: Wikicommons CC

It’s springtime in the Northern Hemisphere and here in the United States, the unofficial beginning of Summer (Memorial Day) is just a month away. One of my favorite parts of Spring and Summer is drinking outside. And in my opinion, there is no finer beer for drinking outside as a good wheat beer. Although wheat beers can be consumed year round, I believe it is the perfect warm weather beer. The slight spiciness of the nose, the way the haze catches the sunlight, the refreshing nature of the beer; all make it all the more better out doors.

Traditionally, a wheat beer is made of about 50% wheat and barley. There are some difficulties of using wheat in brewing. For one, it is rich in non-fermentable starches and it is low in starch converting enzymes. For that reason, the wheat must be matched with barley in order to get a complete fermentation. Those unfermented wheat starches and proteins are not filtered out. As a result, the starches and yeast create a lovely haze as well as increased fruit and spice esters. Wheat beers are rich in notes of banana, clove, all spice, pineapple and smoke. Depending on the region of the beer, different characteristics are enhanced (more on that a bit).

Wheat proteins are good at another thing: head formation and retention. Wheat beers create lovely, rich, foamy heads that are persistent. A properly poured wheat beer can be a thing of beauty; a graceful, light, hazy body with a cloud of meringue-like head floating on top. There are few things like it in this world.

The Three Traditional Wheat Regions-
Traditionally, there are three countries that brew wheat beers: Germany, Belgium, and the United States. While all wheat beers have the same haziness, spicy notes and beautiful head, the different regions have their own different characteristics.


In Germany, wheat beers are known as “Weissbier” or “White Beer.” The most popular of the Weissbiers is Hefeweizen which translates to “Yeasted Wheat.” Hefeweizen began in the state of Bavaria. Because Bavaria had the strict beer purity law known as Reinheitsgabot (which only allowed barley, water and hops in the beer), only the King’s Brewery, Hofbrauhaus, was allowed to brew it. Having a monopoly on the style, the Hofbrauhaus made a fortune on the very popular style. As Mel Brooks would say, “Its good to be King!”

The Reinheitsgabot was later amended to recognize two things: the inclusion of yeast and generalizing malted grain. Thus, allowing other breweries to use malted wheat in their beers. Schneider & Sohn was the first brewery to begin brewing Hefeweizens in the 18th Century. And by far, their beers are some of the best. Even though the Reinheitsgabot has been lifted decades ago, Germans still hold true to their sense of purity. Only barley, wheat, hops, yeast and water are used in their beer. Any aromas of spice, citrus, fruit or smoke come from the yeast and nothing else.

Hefeweizens are served in long, slender glasses which help accentuate the head and haze of the beer. Below, I show you how to pour a Hefeweizen.

There is some controversy on whether or not the pour above is appropriate. Garret Oliver argues in The Brewmaster’s Table that it is very rude to pour a hefeweizen in that style. Although Randy Mosher argues equally as much in Tasting Beer that he has seen people in Germany serve the beers that way. I have asked some Germans and they say that they have never seen any one pour a beer that way and they were quite impressed with the technique. So, either way, just have fun!

In Berlin, they drink a sour style of Weiss called Berlinerweiss. Berlinerweiss lost its popularity in post-war Germany. And for many years in the late 20th Century, it was seen as an “old man’s beer” and a relic of drearier times. Lately, some breweries have picked up the style again and it has begun catching the attention of some beer programs on this side of the Atlantic. It is often sold with a shot of raspberry syrup or essence of Woodruff, a bitter, green herb.


Whereas the Germans base their beers in the strict confines of styles and a tradition of simplicity, Belgians see their beer as an opportunity for freedom of expression. While German’s have a “paint by numbers” view toward beer, Belgians have a more “watercolor” view to their beer. In Belgium, wheat beers are known as “Witt” and their beers are spiced with adjuncts: traditionally coriander and curacao (bitter orange peel).

If it weren’t for one man, Pierre Celis, the world would be without Belgian wheat beers. Lovingly brought back from near extinction, Celis, painstakingly recreated the style with the archetypal witt, Hoegaarden. In 1955, the last wittbier brewery in Belgium closed. Celis, only a milk man at the time, decided to brew his own to sell to his customers. As demand increased, he gave up on his milk delivery and began exclusively brewing witts. In the 1980’s ImBev (owners of Heinekin and now Anheuser-Busch) put up the funds to help Celis expand. Feeling pressure from the larger brewery to change, he sold the brewery to ImBev and moved to the United States where he could have more freedom. While Hoegaarden is now part of a multinational company, the love for Belgian style witts has stuck. Several breweries in both Belgium and the United States are brewing witts with corriander and orange peel.

Belgian witts are often served in short, multifaceted tumblers. These help accentuate the haze as they act like a gemstone’s cuts and refract the sunlight.

The United States

In the United States, wheat beers got a lift from the craft beer community, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. While many American wheat beers call themselves “Hefeweiezen,” it is a pretty big misnomer. The BJCP considers them “Hybrid” beers as they really have no resemblance to German or Belgian style wheats. Too hoppy and spicy for German weissbier and absent of spices and adjuncts for wittbier, American wheat beers are a horse of a different color.

Using citrusy American hops from the Pacific Northwest, American wheat beers are crisp and refreshing with notes of lemon, orange and grapefruit. They have very clean and smooth back ends that don’t linger as much as their European counterpoints. They don’t hold a lot of complexity but they are darn tasty.

The Elephant in the Room
Talking about wheat beers brings up a big debate: whether or not to wedge a wheat beer. By that, I mean, does a wheat beer get a wedge of citrus on the rim? It is difficult to tell. Traditionally, wheat beers do not get a citrus wedge. It is hard to trace back where this phenomenon came from. Some beer historians believe it began with the Widmer Brothers–the first brewery in America to offer a wheat beer. They thought a lemon wedge on the rim of the glass would help accentuate the citrus of the hops and yeast. Whereas, others believe the adding of a wedge of orange to a wheat beer began with Blue Moon, thinking the wedge would accentuated the orange peel in their Belgian Witt. Regardless of who did it first, it has caught on. There is no doubt that a wedge of citrus can help pick up some of those notes. However, squeezing a lemon into a beer can also cover up some of the more delicate notes. Some places, including my work, won’t volunteer a lemon wedge for any beer (including an American wheat). I won’t begrudge some one of one if they ask for it, either.

Garret Oliver, Randy Mosher and I all agree- there is a time and a place for a wedge. At a picnic, drinking an simple American wheat is fine. But why would you want to ruin a perfectly balanced, creamy, spicy $12 hefeweizen? It would be like going to a fancy steak house, getting you prime rib medium rare and then covering it with A-1 sauce. It just does not compute. Please, be discerning of your citrus, and when in doubt, ask your bartender.

Next week, we will pick our top 5 favorite wheat beers of 2010 and add some honorable mentions. In the meantime, below are some wheat beers to try.

Some Wheat Beers to Try:
Dirt Cheap
: Pyramid Haywire, Widmer Bros. Hefeweizen, Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss, Harpoon UFO, Shiner Hefeweizen, Spaten Franziskanner
Mid-Range: Bell’s Oberon (Seasonal), Paulaner Hefewiezen, Hoegaarden, Omegang Witt, Ayinger Brau-weiss
A Pretty Penny: Allagash White, Schneider Hefeweizen, St. Bernardus Blanche Witt, Sterkins White Ale, Kaputziner Hefeweizen

Women and Brewing

24 03 2010

Ed. note- March is Women’s History Month and today (March 24th) is Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace was an English writer and mathematician. By many, she is considered the first computer programmer. On Ada Lovelace Day, bloggers are encouraged to write posts on women’s roles in the advancement of science.

It can be claimed that over 99% of humanity’s interaction with fermentation has been led by women. It seems difficult to believe in the modern West where beer and spirits have become a man’s space. But from the hunter gatherer’s day of fermenting honey to mead to even today where cheesemaking,  , and even in the case of many pre-industrialized cultures alcohol making has been led by women. If, for so long, yeast production was led by women, why is it that men have so successfully co-opted beer?

But first, a history of women and fermentation.

As mentioned above, women were most likely the first fermenters. In hunter/gatherer societies, mead was the first fermented beverage. Honey mixed with water and fermented with wild yeasts, it is the most basic of alcoholic beverages. Women would gather honey along with herbs, fruit and roots. And, as water gatherers and fire keepers, they were probably the ones to control the mead as well.

Fast forward several thousand years to the beginning of agriculture. It is a common theory among anthropologists and archeologists that agriculture was begun in order to increase fermentation yields. Records found in Mesopotamia (one of the first agricultural sites in the world) showed that farmers grew as much barley as wheat. If food was the main reason for farming, it would not make sense to grow so much barley. Barley is more difficult to grow than wheat. It is difficult to mill into flour due to its hard shell and is poor for making bread. On the other hand, wheat is not good for making beer because of its high protein levels and thin shell. To grow one and not the other would show agriculture was based for food instead of alcohol. But to grow both shows a selection of grains for multiple uses.

Beer was most likely discovered by accident. Malting grain (allowing it to sprout and then drying it) is the best way to preserve grains other than baking it. Women bakers at home most likely discovered some water in their malt storage and found the sweet, fermented liquid to be pleasing to the taste and constitution. For a vast history of subsistance lifestyle, women were in charge of cooking cheese, baking bread and brewing beer (the three forms of human led fermentation).

In the pre-industrialized world, much of the alcohol consumed in home was brewed at home. Each family had their own recipes, malted local grains, grew their own hops and re-used their own yeast. In Belgium, spontaneous fermentation led to the development of “farmhouse style ales” including Saison and Lambic. In England and the New World, a process of reusing yeast called “Kreuzening” was used. This was accomplished by taking the yeast filled foam off the top of the fermenting beer and putting it in the next batch.

In Ancient Sumeria all the way to the Industrial Revolution, women weren’t only the homebrewers, they were also the tavern owners. women, being the ones who knew how to brew, were responsible for the town’s beer supply. Owning taverns and brewing beer were seen as socially acceptable ways for widowed and orphaned women to support themselves. And in England during the middle ages women tavern owners were called “Alewives.’ Their breweries were recognized by the brooms hanging over their doors. These Alewives, with their brewed potions and brooms, may have been the early models for our witches myths. As Carolyn Merchant points out in “The Death of Nature” it was precisely these witch myths that men exploited in order to consolidate power and wealth during the rise of modern industrialism. Eventually, male brewers became so tired of competing with Alewives, they had laws passed to make it near impossible for women brewers to make money off their product. They even made certain vital ingredients illegal for women to own including more than one bushel of grains at a time.

In other areas, the responsibility of the town’s beer supply was to the clergy. Some monastic orders, including the Trappists and Paulanists, are recognized for their proud brewing tradition. But some nuns, particularly the Franciscans, were also accomplished brewers. To this day, many Franciscan nuns are still very accomplished brewers. In 1976, a 26 year old nun named Sister Doris took the Bavarian brewer’s examination and came in on top.

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen was a German Bendedictine nun and mystic who wrote many books about brewing and the brewing process. There is some debate on whether or not she is the first person to write about the use of hops. But she is definitely the first person to recognized the preservative nature of the plant.

St. Brigid, a patron saint of both Ireland and brewers is said to have turned her bathwater to beer so that the local lepers could drink potable water. And it is also said that when an easter celebration had run out of beer, she had turned water to beer.

In America, beer was slow to catch on. Barley was difficult to grow. By the time German and Czech immigrants began selling beer, most Americans were happy sticking to spirits and cider. Beer did not catch on until the mid- to late 19th century. At this point, beer and taverns had been designated as male spaces. American women generally did not brew beer at home. And thus, beer in the States had become a male dominated beverage.

In the twentieth century, women still bought beer for their family’s use. Beer at that point had been reduced to the sparkling macro brews we are used to today. The development of the beer can and the six pack was actually marketed toward women as an easy way to bring home the beer. And men, who’s beer tastes had been developed during WWII, were comfortable with the beer in a can.

As the American craft brew scene developed in the 1970’s and 1980’s women’s liberation and feminism brought women right back to were we began, in the brewery. Although a small proportion of modern brewers are women, it is growing. Stoudt’s Brewing in Pennsylvania is recognized as the first modern brewery with a woman brewmaster. Harlem Brewing Company in New York City is the first brewery in America to have a Black woman brewer.

In nearly every facet of brewing, there is a woman’s touch these days: women brewers, bar owners, distributors, sommeliers, and just drinkers. an organization called the Pink Boots Society works to support women in the beer world. As of last month, their directory contained over 320 members from around the world. Any woman who makes at least part of her income from beer is welcomed to join the Pink Boots Society.

Let us raise a glass in recognition of all the women who helped make beer what it is today!

What is Beer?

5 12 2009

Traditionally, beer has four main ingredients: malted grain, hops, yeast, and water. While beer can, and does, contain different ingredients (also known as adjuncts) it needs these four ingredients to be considered “beer.” I could easily write a blog post on each of these ingredients, and I probably will. But for today, and overview.

  • Malted Grains: Traditionally beer is made with barley and/or wheat. However, people often brew with what they’ve got. Beers have also been made with sorghum, rice, corn, and other grains. Malting referrs to the process of forcing the grain to sprout. Grain is misted with a small ammount of water and then heated to allow the radicle (or root) to form. This begins the process of converting carbohydrates into sugars. The grain is then roasted in order to stop the sprout and to impart color and flavor. The malt is then soaked in hot water to further convert carbohydrates into sugars. The sweet liquid is drawn off the grains. What am I tasting here: Malt imparts sweet notes into the beer. It gives “brown” and “red” flavors: Malty, bready, toasty, grainy, sweet. It gives the “base” or “low” notes in the beer.
  • Hops: Hops belongs to the cannabis family–thus proving that two of the world’s favorite intoxicants are not too different. However, hops is more closely related to hemp than marijuana because it contains no THC–the psychoactive compound found in marijuana. There is no coincidence that hops grows well in the same regions that the United States grows its pot, Northern California and Oregon, but it grows well just about anywhere. In brewing, we use the reproductive cones of the hops vine. Hops cones are dried and then boiled in the malt extract. A combination of alpha acids and co-humulons impart bitterness and aroma to the beer. Hops are also a natural antibiotic which prevents spoiling. The amount of bitterness in a beer is measured in International Bitterness Unites (IBUs). What am I tasting here: Hops impart bitterness and aroma. They give “Green” and “Yellow” flavors: bitter, citrus, pine, grass, spice. Hops give beer its “high” notes.
  • Yeast: Yeast is a single celled organism. It “eats” sugar (C12H22O11) and converts it into alcohol (C2H5OH) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Yeast not only converts sugar into alcohol, it also imparts phenolic compounds, or esters. These are the fruity notes that round out the sweetness of the malt and the bitterness of the hops. In brewing, there are three main types of yeast: ale, lager, and wild. Ales are fermented at room temperature and tend to give of more fruity esters. Lagers are fermented at colder temperatures (right above freezing) and tend to give off less fruity esters. This gives the beer a “cleaner” flavor in order to give more attention to the malt and hops. And wild yeasts are found in the ambient air of the brewery. A brewer may use wild yeast in order to create a lambic, or sour beer. What am I tasting here: Yeast give off fruity notes: pear, berry, banana, apple. They “round” out the beer and give it “midrange” notes. They also give the “hot” or alcoholic flavors of the beer.
  • Water: Much like us, water makes over 95% of beer. And yet, for many of us, water is the most overlooked ingredient in beer. If there was no water in beer, all we would have is bitter, spoiled grain. And that would not be very tasty. Water not just acts as the medium for the alcohol, alpha acids, sugars, and yeast to be delivered to our mouths, it also imparts its own flavor. Water differs from region to region. It imparts its own sets of minerals. Water could be “hard” (have lots of minerals) or “soft” (have fewer minerals). Some breweries have entire ad campaigns on their water quality (remember “pure, Rocky spring water”?) While water quality does matter, the source does n0t mean much these days. Science helps us replicate the water quality from location to location. What am I tasting here: Water gives “blue” notes to beer: minerals and mouth feel.

We will go into these ingredients (along with adjuncts) in future posts. But in the mean time, that is what you need to know about what goes inside of beer. Next time you drink a beer, think about all those ingredients and then try to find them as you sip.

What is your favorite beer ingredient: malt, hops, yeast or water? What do you look for in a beer?