To ask the question is a question on the essence of it.
“What makes a beer? How does it become a beer?”
These questions can be hard or easy to answer. Usual answers are that it’s a yellow liquid that has alcohol. It’s great with bar food. We can say that the beer is made from water, barley and hops. Both of these questions are right. The only problem with these answers is that they do not sufficiently answer the question:
“What makes a beer?”
Why should we take into consideration the what, how and why of it?!?!?
It’s a drink to get us drunk!
It’s easy to perceive the most common form of liquid courage as means to an end to most people. For me, beer is more than just that. According to the famed beer writer Randy Mosher, it is the world’s greatest drink.
A beer is a liquid that uses the basic ingredients of water, barley and hops. I think it’s obvious to all of us that these are the basic ingredients of beer.
Although it might seem so easy to define that, there are various styles of beer that do not use barley and hops.
In Peru, beer is made out of corn. The name for this beer is chicha. This beer is made from corn and is flavored with various herbs. In essence, our basic understanding of beer is different from chicha. It might be hard to understand but it lies beneath the process of how a beer becomes a beer.
How does a beer become a beer?
The basic understanding of beer is that it has alcohol. To become a beer, a beverage must be fermented with yeast that consumes the sugar of the ingredients. By consuming the sugar, the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol. This is the basic formula for an alcoholic beverage but this is still not a beer. This is how you make wine.
Why is it a beer?
To make a beer, a beer must be brewed before it is fermented. Brewing is the process of milling, mashing and steeping the beer. Basically, this is the process that makes beer different from wine.
The function of brewing is to convert the starch found from the starch ingredient (commonly barley) to sugar. Beer differs from wine in its process because wine is made through the direct fermentation of the sugars of the ingredient (mainly grapes) without the need for brewing. The sugar of the fruit is already ready for the yeast to feast on!
With the introduction of fermentation through the yeast, it imbues upon unfermented liquid its magical ingredient of alcohol. The yeast needs sugar, not starch, as its energy source in order to convert the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (the reason why beer is bubbly!).
It sounds easy right? Well, if you watch how wine is made, brewing is probably more difficult than that. Making beer requires several skills that resemble baking. It is an art and a science. Brewing not only involves the processes of milling, mashing and steeping. Within the brewing process, the brewmaster decides the recipe for the beer, the brewing time, the fermentation temperatures, the yeast, the hops to be used, the packaging and so much more.
Beer could probably be the most complex drink to make in the world. Its history, its influence and its culture involve millenniums of interesting facts and trivia.
With that in mind, the next time you try out a bottle, a pint or even a keg; think about what is the beer that you are drinking?
*Here is a video of the beer brewing process if you want to know a little bit more on how beer is made http://www.youtube.com/watch?
*If you are interested in Chicha, here is a link of the clip from Brewmasters, a show from Discovery channel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcf8WUB33hg
Other photos are from my personal collection.