Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by the saccharification of starch and fermentation of the resulting sugar. The starch and saccharification enzymes are often derived from malted cereal grains, most commonly malted barley and malted wheat. Most beer is also flavoured with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavourings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included. The preparation of beer is called brewing.
Beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage; it is the third-most popular drink overall, after water and tea. It is thought by some to be the oldest fermented beverage.
Some of humanity’s earliest known writings refer to the production and distribution of beer: the Code of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and beer parlours, and “The Hymn to Ninkasi”, a prayer to the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, served as both a prayer and as a method of remembering the recipe for beer in a culture with few literate people. Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.
The strength of beer is usually around 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (abv) although it may vary between 0.5% (de-alcoholized) and 20%, with some breweries creating examples of 40% abv and above in recent years.
Beer forms part of the culture of beer-drinking nations and is associated with social traditions such as beer festivals, as well as a rich pub culture involving activities like pub crawling and pub games such as bar billiards.
The basic ingredients of beer are water; a starch source, such as malted barley, able to be saccharified (converted to sugars) then fermented (converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide); a brewer’s yeast to produce the fermentation; and a flavouring such as hops. A mixture of starch sources may be used, with a secondary starch source, such as maize (corn), rice or sugar, often being termed an adjunct, especially when used as a lower-cost substitute for malted barley. Less widely used starch sources include millet, sorghum and cassava root in Africa, and potato in Brazil, and agave in Mexico, among others. The amount of each starch source in a beer recipe is collectively called the grain bill.
Beer is composed mostly of water. Regions have water with different mineral components; as a result, different regions were originally better suited to making certain types of beer, thus giving them a regional character.
For example, Dublin has hard water well-suited to making stout, such as Guinness; while Plzeň has soft water well-suited to making pale lager, such as Pilsner Urquell. The waters of Burton in England contain gypsum, which benefits making pale ale to such a degree that brewers of pale ales will add gypsum to the local water in a process known as Burtonisation
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