While there are hundreds upon hundreds of beer styles out there they fall into two types, Ales and Lagers.
Ales are brewed at warmer temperatures (about 20C) using strains of yeast suited for these conditions. Ales are often referred to as 'top fermenters' because of the foam that forms on the top of the fermenting beer.
While ales traditionally are sweet, full bodied and fruity, they can have a wide range of flavours, colour, bitterness and strength.
Lager is the most widely consumed type of beer in the world. Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures (about 10C) using strains of yeast better suited to the colder conditions, followed by aging at cold temperatures. They are sometimes referred to as 'bottom fermenters'.
Most lagers are typically lighter tasting, less malty and have a lower IBU than ales.
Of course nothing is ever that simple and there are many styles that blur the lines between Ale and Lager.
Here a few:
There are a number of different ways to measure beer: ABV; SRM; OG; FG.
Regardless of how the beer was packaged beer needs to be served in a glass (not a frosted glass) at the correct temperature. Beer is not meant to be served "ice cold". Typically:
Beer is meant to be consumed from a glass.
Aroma plays a huge part in how we perceive flavour. Cans and bottles trap the aromas preventing the drinker from experience much of what the beer has to offer. Pouring the beer into a glass with a nice head releases these wonderful aromas which are inhaled while you drink.
Seeing the beer into the glass tells you much about what you are about to enjoy. Colour can give you some indication of the maltiness and roastiness of the beer. The head can give you an idea of what the mouthfeel will be.
Many will argue about what shape of glass is best for a given style of beer. While they are not wrong, as the shape of a glass does impact how aromas are retained, the most important thing is that the beer is in a glass and not consumed directly from the can or bottle.
That glass needs to be clean and well rinsed. Residues from detergents and previous drinks may be present on what appears to be a clean glass. These residues can have a serious impact on the flavour and aroma of the beer.
The debate still rages as to which is better, cans or bottles.
Packaging is critical to keeping beer fresh. The two major enemies of beer are light and oxygen.
Cans have many advantages over bottles:
Regardless of the package type, ensure beer is stored in a cool place and protected from light and properly served.
Draught beer is served from a keg. Kegs are excellent for beer as they are air-tight and lightproof. They can come in many sizes with 20L, 30L, 50L and 58.6L being the most common.
Beer is dispensed from the keg using a pressurised gas, typically CO2. Some beer styles may use a CO2/nitrogen blend. Air (often from a compressor or hand pump) can also be used, however the keg must be used within a day or so as oxygen is being introduced into the keg.
Caks ale, AKA cask-conditioned ale or real ale, is truly wonderful, some even say it is Britain's finest invention.
Cask ale is an unfiltered beer that undergoes further fermentation in the cask. The beer is carbonated naturally by the yeast in the cask. The beer is put "live" into the cask where the yeast continues to ferment while also producing a much more complex flavour with greater depth.
Casks are typically made of stainless steel but may also be made of wood.
The beer is served directly from the cast either using a cask engine or using a simple tap/spigot. Once tapped it needs to be used up fairly quickly as air is entering the cask during every pour.
Find a local pub that serves cask beer or drop by the brewery on the last Saturday of each month to sample our cask feature.
Malted barley and other cereal grains provide the fermentable sugars metabolised by the yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide. They also contribute to colour and flavour.
While other plants are used in beer, the flowers from the hop vine have been the dominant flavouring and bittering agent in beer for centuries.
Despite being one of the simplest forms or life yeast is responsible for carrying out the fermentation process in making beer.
Considering water makes up about 95% of beer, it is often overlooked in discussions. Water chemistry has a huge impact on the other beer ingredients.
There are several steps to the breweing process: Mashing & Lautering; Boiling; Fermenting; Aging; Packaging.
Mashing is combining the grains and water. The grain are milled and combined with hot water, with a resulting temperature for the mixture of about 65C. This is allowed to rest for about an hour. During this time the enzymes in the malted grains convert the starches into fermentable sugars.
Lautering is the separation of the resulting liquid (wort) from the grains at the end of the rest. This process has two steps: the run off, which is the draining of the wart into the brew kettle; and sparging, which is the rinsing of the grains following the run off to extract as much of the sugars and flavours as possible from the grains.
Boiling serves several purposes:
Sterilization of the wort to remove unwanted microbes (we only want our yeast to be growing in the fermenter).
Releasing of hop flavours:
Caramelisation of sugars. The use of direct fired, copper kettle allows us to caramelize some of the sugars in the wort, imparting pleasant flavours and aromas in the beer while also developing some colour.
The vigorous boils drives off unwanted, volatile compounds from the wort.
Following the boil unwanted debris (parts of the hop flowers, grain, etc.) are removed from the wort. The wort is cooled and transferred to the fermenter.
Yeast is added to the wort in the fermenter.
Lagers are fermented at 10C and ales at 20C.
During fermentation the yeast converts the sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide while also producing other compounds that impart flavours and aromas to the beer.
Once fermtation is complete, the beer is cooled and the yeast harvested for use in subsequent beers.
The beer may then be aged in the same tank or transferred to another tank for aging.
Aging is typically performed at near freezing temperatures (0C) from 1 week to several months, depending on the style of beer.
Aging allows for flavours to mature and for unwanted flavours and aromas to dissipate.
Following aging the beer is often clarified and then carbonated prior to packaging.
The bright (clarified and carbonated) beer will then be canned, bottled or kegged.
The main exceptions to this are cask and bottle conditioned beers where the yeast is left in the final container to further ferment and naturally carbonate the beer.