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8/19/2014 11:45 AM grooming • 0 Comments

Beer 101: The Basics

"Good people drink good beer."
- Hunter S. Thompson


Rather than disagree with someone that loved firearms as much as Thompson, let's take a moment to learn more about the world's most widely consumed, likely oldest, and third most popular beverage: beer.



The earliest known evidence of beer comes from the western region of Iran and is dated 3,500-3,100 BC. Some of the earliest Sumerian writings contain references to beer, including a hymn to the goddess Ninkasi that served both as a prayer and as a means of remembering the recipe for beer ("Our barley, brewed with hops, fermented be thy name...").


Almost any substance containing carbohydrates can undergo fermentation naturally. Because of this, it's highly likely that beer and similar beverages were discovered independently among early civilizations. Some scholars have argued that the invention of beer (and bread) was a major factor in the development of civilization because it drove the need for technology, trade routes, etc.


Early Germanic and Celtic people spread beer into Europe, though what they brewed was very different from our modern version of beer. Their beverage did not contain hops—an ingredient not mentioned until 822 AD. These early tribes used ingredients like fruit, honey and—being the party animals they were—narcotic herbs (note to self: open early Germanic brewery, make millions).


In the early 16th century, the Duke of Bavaria adopted one of the oldest food regulations that's still in use: the purity law, which provides a pretty good brewer's recipe. Today, you might find coffee, berries, or herbs added to your brew, but the Duke's law mandated a few essential ingredients.



  • Water—makes up the majority of beer's content. The source of water used in brewing affects the type and quality of beer made. Different regions contain different mineral deposits in their water and these differences give certain beers their character. For instance, in the Burton region of England, the water contains high levels of gypsum that improves the flavor of pale ales.


  • Starch—necessary for fermentation and also helps determine the flavor and strength of the beverage. Though the Duke specified barley-malt, a number of starch sources are used today, including: wheat, rice, oats and rye. The most common starch source is still malted barley. The starch can be roasted at different temperatures or for varying lengths of time to produce different colors and flavors from the same type of grain.


  • Hops—used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops provide the bitterness that balances out the sweetness of the malt. Additionally, hops add citrus, floral and herbal flavors and aromas. Hops also act as a mild antibiotic that prevent microorganisms other than brewer's yeast from affecting the brewing process.


  • Yeast—Yeast is responsible for metabolizing the sugars from the grains, producing both alcohol and carbon dioxide. The most popular types of yeast used are Saccharomyces uvarum, which ferments at the bottom of the barrel and produces lagers, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments at the top and produces ales.


Some brewers will use a fifth component: a clarifying agent. These are used to make the beer appear cleaner and less cloudy. Typically, the clarifying agent does not remain in the final product.