|History Of Beer
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As the pale golden liquid pours down your throat quenching your thirst, refreshing your body, and renewing your spirit have you ever paused long enough to wonder just what it is? Why does it taste the way is does? Where does it come from? What is this stuff called beer?
The history of beer is long and colorful and is almost as old as civilization itself. Beer is an alcoholic drink made from barley grain, hops, water, and yeast. The following is a crash course on beer and beer-making which should answer all your questions and more. And the final exam will be the most fun you've ever had standing up.
Origins of Beer
Once upon a time there was a Prince who had a fondness for grapes and would store them during the winter packed in goatskins so he could enjoy them off season. One of these goatskins apparently went bad and he ordered a Poison sign placed on it until the goatskin could be hauled away. In the meantime, the Prince's favorite concubine was framed by a upstart vying for her position and she was thrown out of the harem. Since she truly loved the Prince, she decided to kill herself in a fit of passion and, seeing the poisonous grapes, drank them down. Since they were not poisonous, but merely fermented, she did not die but instead became rip-roaring drunk. With her inhibitions gone, she slipped back into the harem and lopped off the head of her competition with a sword. Her spirit impressed the Prince a great deal and that night he, too, tried the grape poison and liked the effect on himself and his concubine so much that he thereafter ordered it served to all his harem girls and thus began the time honored tradition of getting women drunk. From this tale, we get the famous bartender's query, name your poison. This fable has been handed down through the centuries to illustrate the first instance of alcoholic drinks. Wine was probably the first alcoholic drink made but beer was certainly a close second. Whether or not this tale is true is unknown, and where alcoholic beverages really came from, unfortunately, remains a mystery.
The Greek historian, Herodotus, credited the Egyptians with making the first true beer. The Indians and Chinese were also early beer makers. Recent evidence, however, supports the theory that the Mesopotamians and Sumerians were actually the first beer drinkers as long ago as 10,000 B.C. Whoever is right, one fact is clear; beer has been around a long, long time.
Beer may have been the first thing nomadic farmers produced after they first settled down 10,000 years ago in Mesopotamia and the city-states of Sumer, and some even believe the date was much earlier, around 25,000 B.C.E. Four-thousand years ago, shortly after the Sumerians developed the first written language, cuneiform, they wrote detailed and sophisticated instructions of beer-making, suggesting that the technique had been established and refined for a long period of time.
Until recently, most archaeologists believed bread was the first product of the new agro-society. Archaeologists agree that barley was the first grain grown, but disagree sharply as to what they did with it. Beer and bread share many ingredients and manufacturing processes. Many believe it was beer which was first produced, albeit by accident. As the fable of the prince and his grapes illustrates, beer, and in the prince's case wine, was surely discovered by accident. The accident of fermentation is certainly easier to imagine than the baking of bread. Bread-making is far more complicated and would require a great deal of forethought whereas fermentation could easily have occurred by letting freshly harvested grain stand wet and exposed to yeast. This would have produced a rudimentary drink which would have reduced the early Sumerians to drunken sots.
Amazingly, the ancient beer had much more nutritional value than their bread and was safer than the water (which probably spawned the first don't drink the water jokes). There is a 6,000 year old clay tablet which depicts people drinking through reed straws from a large bowl, which is how drinking beer was described 2,000 years later in Sumerian written records. In 1990, Fritz Maytag, the owner of the Anchor Steam breweries, worked with Archaeologists to successfully make a beer using the same methods and ingredients as the ancient Sumerians. From their success, it is clear that beer was certainly made when civilization was still in its infancy.
The word beer itself liekly comes from either the old english bere or beere from the plant which was once used in making beer. Later, the more refined Barley was substituted but the drink was still called beer. Another possibility is that it comes from the Latin bibere which means to drink which then became biber and then bier. In Spanish, the word for beer is cerveza, which has its origin in Ceres, the Roman goddess of Agriculture.
The northern part of Europe, including the British Isles, had a cooler climate better suited to beer making because barley grew easily there. In Germany and England, beer became a staple of their diets, and was commonly referred to as liquid bread. This explains why southern Europe, where grapes grew easily, has a more developed wine industry.
In 1516, the Germans instituted the now famous Reinheitsgebot, a law (still in effect today) which strictly dictates what ingredients may go into beer. There are only four legal ingredients; 1) Barley, 2) Hops, 3) Yeast, and 4) Water.
Beer in America
When Columbus first landed on the shores of America, the Native Americans who discovered him on the beach offered him a corn-based beer to toast their meeting. These early Americans along with the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans had been brewing such beers for many centuries before the arrival of the colonists.
A few years later, when the pilgrims arrived, they chose to settle near Boston and not continue on to Virginia as originally planned because they were out of beer. One of the Pilgrims wrote in his diary that they "could not now take time for further search or considerations, our victuals [supplies] being spent, especially our Beer." For our forefathers, the use of liquor was pretty much universal. It was a part of everyday life for practically everyone. Keeping in mind that they settled where they did because they were out of beer, the Puritans sound like a lot more fun than our history books portray them.
As the colonies grew and trade increased, imported beer became more readily available. Most of the English colonists relied heavily on shipments of ales from England while the Dutch in New Amsterdam (now New York) started opening their own breweries as early as 1632. The first beer with a brand name came from there; it was known as Red Lion Brewery.
William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, started the first English commercial brewery in his new colony in 1863. Samuel Adams, while well-known for his patriotism, was also a brewer by trade.
During the Revolutionary War it became painfully clear that the colonist's beer supply was in great jeopardy. The British stopped importing their ales and the American beer industy was not equipped to supply everyone in the new nation. Tom Jefferson, George Washington, Pat Henry, Jim Madison, and countless other patriots and politicians were amateur brewers who sponsored and championed legislature which encouraged and assisted United States citizens to go into the manufacture of beer on a commercial scale.
Tom Jefferson wrote to a friend asking for his support of a petition before the Virginia Assembly to establish a brewery. He wrote: "I have great esteem for the practitioner. He is about to settle in our country and to establish a brewery. I wish to see this beverage become common."
George Washington was a lover of porter and had his own recipe for beer which is handwritten in an old notebook which can still be seen at the New York Public Library.
The 1800's saw an amazing amount of growth in America's brewing industry. D.G. Yuengling opened in 1829, and is the oldest American brewery still operating. All of the big brewing companies, like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, etc., date from this era.
Up until approximately 1840, ale was the undisputed champion of beer types. Around this time, however, lager was introduced and became an immediate hit which has continued to the present as the beer of choice among Americans.
Out in the Wild West, San Francisco was about the only metropolitan city at this time, and was home to the first commercial brewery in the west around 1837. One of the most famous of the early San Francisco breweries was Adam Schuppert's brewery which opened on the corner of Stockton and Jackson streets in 1849. By the mid-1850's San Francisco had at least 15 commercial breweries housed mainly in what is now the financial district. Over the years approximately 80 breweries have opened and closed in San Francisco, more than most states.
The first brewery in the west outside of San Francisco was started in Portland, Oregon by Henry Saxer. A few years later the more well known Henry Weinhard was established in Fort Vancouver, Washington and quickly bought out Saxer.
For years, Oregon and San Francisco were the brewing capitols of the West. Eventually breweries were introduced to other western regions. By the 1860's, Denver had a number of its own breweries. In 1873, its most enduring brewery, then known as Golden Brewery, was started by Adolph Coors.
The brewing industry chugged along at a comfortable pace until it hit a brick wall on January 16, 1920. This was the date the 18th Amendment took effect. Prohibition. No Beer. Why such a thing ever happened in America is both complicated and confusing. After World War I, for the first time, more people lived in metropolitan areas than in rural America. There was prosperity everywhere and the cities celebrated, and celebrated. This frightened the rural white Protestants. They were convinced that the cities were becoming modern-day Sodom and Gomorrahs. In addition, women for the first time were openly influencing political thought and a large temperance movement was building against the then men-only bars.
After Prohibition took effect, many started illegal breweries and distilleries in their homes, often referred to as bathtub gin, etc. Illegal speakeasies (bars) opened across the nation and the flow of illegal beer and liquor was mostly controlled by gangsters, the most famous of whom was Al Capone. Chicago was one of the most violent examples of how poorly the 18th Amendment worked. Metropolitan city dwellers, aware their beer had been taken away by the power of the more conservative rural voters, resented Prohibition and openly ignored it, refusing to help police, making it difficult for the law to be enforced. In many cases the police would not enforce Prohibition either because they also resented it, or because of widespread corruption. The Volstead Act, the law enacted to enforce Prohibition, created special units to operate as independent federal police units, the most famous of which, again in Chicago, was Elliot Ness and his Untouchables.
Under the conservative Republican government then in power, the economy started a downward spiral which culminated in the great depression of 1929. The spirit of many Americans was severely tested and it became clear that the 18th Amendment was not such a great idea. In 1932, presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt won a landslide victory for the democrats. One of his first acts upon entering office in 1933 was to repeal the 18th Amendment and on December 5, 1933, after thirteen years of official abstinence, the United States was a again a nation of beer drinkers.
During Prohibition, many breweries closed their doors. The few that remained opened changed to soda manufacturing and other related work. All told, of the hundreds of breweries which existed before Prohibition, less than half reopened after its repeal.
The beer can was introduced in 1935, shortly after the repeal of Prohibition. These no deposit cans further paved the way for breweries to become national institutions because they no longer had to worry about getting return bottles back from remote areas. In addition, the appearance of national radio and television helped their ability to advertise more cost efficiently on a national scale.
The advent of World War II a few years later further stunted the re-growth of the beer industry. Servicemen abroad were served 3.2% pale lager in G.I. olive drab cans which, over the course of the war, ruined many people's taste for heartier brews.
After World War II, the country became more and more homogenized. The nationalization of many industries was just one of the effects this caused. People wanted to go anywhere in the country and find the safety of brands they were familiar with and, as a result, many regional brands either went out of business or were bought out by increasingly larger and more powerful breweries. The fifties saw more brewery closings than any other decade in U.S. history.
Recent History and Trends
It is pointless to argue if beer has been good or bad for society. For thousands of years, beer has held an important position in the cultural and social structure of our society and countless past societies whose collective history we share. Bars have been the meeting place for centuries. Most of the political meetings which led to our independence in the early 1700's were held in alehouses and taverns.
Beer provided nutrition, fostered commerce and entrepreneurship, unlocked minds, and gave people something to do on a Saturday night. While there are negatives to beer, such as alcoholism and driving drunk, these are individual problems which should not be blamed on beer itself. To do so would be akin to blaming the gun for a murder. Drinking should be done responsibly, but people are hopelessly human (thank goodness) and, as such, are prone to the idiosyncracies inherent in their humanity; that is to say, people will always make mistakes. But please don't make the mistake of singling beer out as the malefactor of society's woes. Stop trying to find a scapegoat. Leave beer alone and it will leave you alone. Embrace beer and it will offer you personal rewards. Beer just is.
Here is a sample of what some well known drinkers have said about their drinking experiences:
"I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me."
-- Winston Churchill
"And what does drunkenness not accomplish? It discloses secrets, it gratifies hopes, and urges even the unarmed to battle."
"Alcohol has released in me many things which would not otherwise have been known, to myself or others. These things have been both good and bad."
-- Charles McCabe
"Temperance is simply a disposition of the mind which binds the passions."
-- Saint Thomas Aquinas
"The power of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour.
-- William James
"In wine there is truth."
-- Pliny the Elder
"Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votay from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth."
-- William James
Drinkers are by nature individualistic. This is especially so today, choosing to drink in this climate of Don't Drink and Drive, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, the laughable Just Say No, and the proliferation of light and non-alcoholic beers. The political conservatives, having been in charge since the early 1980's, have made it unfashionable to drink.
George Bishop, in his Booze Reader, comments that "because of basic insecurity, the people who do not indulge are more prone to attack those who do than vice versa." This, I feel, is because those of us who do imbibe often have rich lives which we enjoy and are too busy living them to bother with why others are not drinking.
In any event, it has become politically incorrect to drink in this country over the past decade. When the Reagan era became the decade of greed many ex-hippies turned into yuppies. These upwardly mobile types own greed and need for status symbols was exponentially greater than the establishment they themselves had complained about in the sixties and a new wave of conservatism threatened the very existence of beer. This hypocrisy led to an annoying desire to drink more and more watered-down brews. In response to this atmosphere, beer companies have been continuing the practice begun in the late fifties of producing increasingly blander beers culminating with light beer, the most watered down alcoholic drink of all time.
When I began doing research for the book this history was originally printed in, I read an essay entitled Why Is American Beer So Insipid? The answer author Joel Achenbach came up with struck a chord of intense fear in my liver. And further research to dissuade me that this could not be true only confirmed those fears. The reason American beer is so bland and tasteless is that we want it that way! Why was I never consulted?
This assault on American beer has been going on for some time. Over 25 years ago, in 1964, when I was only five and my knowledge of beer was confined to it being one of those forbidden unknowns stashed well out of my reach on high shelves, George Bishop, reached the same conclusion. He wrote that "most Americans want to drink relatively insipid beer . . . because it fills them up slower so they can drink more at a sitting." How quantity became more important than quality is a mystery. This, unfortunately, fills the heart of the beer makers with glee because the more watered down it becomes, the less it costs to make, the more people can drink, and the more people will buy. So, as you can see, their incentive to make better beer is absolutely zero.
Beginning in the fifties, American breweries, fighting to stay in business, did market study after market study which showed pale American lager as the overwhelming beer of choice among their target market. Unfortunately, the more watery a beer becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain any sort of unique, identifiable, or characteristic flavor. In other words, most American lagers began to taste roughly the same. This was the crucial factor which led to the marketing strategies which began in the 50's known as image marketing. In other words, since all these beers tasted almost exactly the same, pitching the virtues of the brand name became more important than the beer itself.
The large beer company attitude, like any large business, is to sell a lot of their product. To sell a lot of beer it has to offend no one and be very drinkable. The most universally drinkable liquid is water. With that in mind, they keep adding more and more water. Without your knowing it, American beer companies have been gradually adding more and more water to your beer in an effort to cut their costs and consequently make more profits. In other words, a 1990 American beer had more water in it than its 1970 counterpart did.
In the name of marketing surveys, these beer manufacturers have been changing your taste buds such that if you are a regular drinker of one the big three beer families (Budweiser, Miller, and Coors) and you tried a more hearty beer you would most likely consider it too heavy and strong and return to the safety of your watery concoction. This makes it simpler for the average sixteen year old to take up beer drinking. It's a lot easier for a teen to drink carbonated (soda) water with a little yeast than a dark German beer which will probably taste like mud to him. If they can get the average 16 year old to drink their beer he or she will probably drink that brand for the rest of his or her life, a business person's dream. Why people are loyal to a brand which is not loyal to them (by adding more and more water, less hops, more additives, etc.) remains one of life's great mysteries and one of advertising's great triumphs. Over time, these huge conglomerate beer manufacturers have changed Americans' taste buds for watery, weak beer which is cheap and chuggable.
This strategy explains why we have beer company t-shirts, posters, etc. Moreover, we spend our hard-earned money on these advertisements because we want to be part of the in crowd In my youth these symbols meant rebellion (mostly because rebellion was very in then) so I once wore a Budweiser t-shirt to church one fine Sunday. The shirt, naturally, was met by derision by the polyester set who were convinced reverence to God included a tie and definitely did not include icons to beer makers. Today, unfortunately, the image is no longer one of rebellion but is more closely associated with corporate greed in the form of sponsorship of sporting events, concert tours, etc.
A personal example of how well this image marketing works occurred when I was reviewing a bar in northern California. I was drinking a mild Blackthorn Cider (since I was driving that night) and my partner was enjoying a pint of Newcastle. An upwardly mobile couple came up to the bar and, faced with a dozen fine European draft beverage choices plus twice that in good bottled selections, ordered two Bud Lights. My contempt for these two is immeasurable. Why go to such a place in the first place if all you want is water? Obviously, the message of the advertisers has taken root.
Luckily, this trend began reversing in small pockets of the country starting in October of 1978 when President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation making homebrewing legal on the federal level. The states followed suit shortly thereafter passing legislation making homebrewing and small breweries legal. For example, 1983 was the year California made the microbrewery legal. A microbrewery is a small bar which brews its own brand of beer or beers on the premises and, by law, may produce only 15,000 barrels a year. The type of brewery is generally defined by how much beer is produced annually. For more on these designations, see the Beer World Types of Breweries.
These more recent laws, plus the increased availability of imported beers, has spawned a massive Renaissance for beer. The Great American Beer Festival, held each year in Colorado, turned 13 years old this past year and holds further promise that quality beer making in this country is once again on the upswing. Microbreweries and Brewpubs are starting to pop up in almost every part of the country and could be considered at this point to be a growth industry. Give these meccas of quality beer making a try and send your rallying cry to makers of bad beer; life's too short to drink cheap beer!
The Ingredients of Beer
Beer is made from four main ingredients:
1. Barley malt, which gives beer its fullness;
2. Hops, which gives beer its bitterness;
3. Yeast, which converts the barley malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide; and
4. Water, which assists the fermentation process, distillation, and cuts down the final product into consumable proofs.
In Germany, the Reinheitsgebot law forbids any indgredients but the four listed above. In the United States, however, 59 additives are approved by the FDA. No more than seven, however, are used by any single beer maker and they are mostly used in the process of manufacture rather than in the finished product. Many companies are engaged in the practice of cutting (adding to) the barley with rice, corn, and/or other grains which is used by some American beer companies. Any grain used in addition to barley is known as an adjunct. Some brewers also use less hops and often use injected carbonation and even artificial coloring and preservatives.
The four main ingredients in beer and their part in the manufacturing process are as follows:
Barley is to beer what grapes are to wine. Actually, any cereal grain such as corn, wheat, rice, oats, or rye will also work. The cereal grain gives the beer its color, sweetness, body, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Most importantly, it gives the beer the starch which is then converted into sugar, which is in turn transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the fermentation process. Barley is by far the best cereal grain for beer making. Anything else makes a lighter beer with less character.
Hops is a plant which is a member of the nettle family and is actually related to marijuana. It resembles a small green/yellow pine cone with soft leaves about an inch long. Hops is grown in many different climates and locations and each variety produces a beer with a different taste. Most beer makers today use several different kinds of hops. Hops is added to the developing beer usually in two stages, the first for flavoring and the second for aroma. Hops has only enjoyed widespread use in the last 1,000 years. Before that, herbs and spices were widely used.
These are microscopic, single-cell, living organisms. They are part of the fungus family. Uncle yeast. There are bottom fermenting yeast, top fermenting yeast, and wild yeasts as well as many substrains. Each beer maker closely guards the secret of what type of yeast they use. When the yeast attacks the malt sugar in the barley or other grain it converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is fermentation. After fermentation, most of the yeast is removed.
Water assists the fermentation process, distillation, and cuts down the final product into consumable proofs. Many beer companies insist "it's in the water! Some sources insist as long as soft water is used, it's all the same. Still other sources insist the mineral salts and sulfates make all the difference such that hard water may be used with some beers while soft is better with others. This issue will probably never be resolved to the satisfaction of all. Suffice it to say this is one of the most fiercely debated ingredients.
The making of beer can be divided into nine steps:
The barley grain is naturally dry and hard. Steeping makes the grain more susceptible to germination by soaking it for about two days in water.
The soggy barley is spread out to dry for about a week and is allowed to sprout. Sprouting releases enzymes which convert starches in the grain to sugars which can later be fermented.
The malted (germinating) barley is slowly dried in kilns. The amount of time the barley is allowed to dry roast and at what temperature determines the flavor and color of the beer.
The sprouts are removed from the barley and ground in a milling machine which assists in extracting soluble substances like sugar.
The milled barley is mixed with hot water in a large pot or tun (pronounced ton) and adjuncts, if used, are added now. The mash (milled barley, which looks like porridge) is heated at approximately 150 degrees for many hours to convert the starch into sugar and to extract more sugars and other soluble substances. It is then filtered. This filtered sugary liquid is known as wort (pronounced wert).
The wort is put in a copper (a kettle) and boiled. Hops and other flavorings are added at the beginning and end of this boiling process, which takes an hour or two. Then the hops are filtered out and the rest is rapidly cooled in a special freezer unit. The cooling process clarifies the brew.
The cold wort is mixed (called pitching) with yeast in a fermenting tank and they begin to feed on the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is where natural carbonation is introduced into the beer. This process usually takes from 5 to 12 days or longer at varying temperatures depending on the type of beer being made.
The fermented wort is set aside at near-feeezing temperatures to mature for several days (or longer depending on the brewer) which allows it to develop flavor and get rid of the rough edges. It accomplishes this by letting chemicals react with one another. Ales, as a general rule, mature quicker than lagers. Some beers require a second fermentation and this is done in a variety of ways during this maturation process. This is also the step when many high-tech, mass-produced beers inject artificial carbonation.
9. Racking, Canning, and Bottling
Draft beer is racked (put in barrels or kegs) directly from the maturation vats. If it is first microfiltered, centrifuged, or pasteurized, it is not draft beer, at least by traditional definitions. Since beer in bottles and cans will undoubtedly be stored longer (on store shelves, for example) than draft beer, the shelf life must be extended. This is accomplished by microfiltering, centrifuging, or pasteurization. All of these processes rob beer of some of its flavor and, therefore, draft beer is almost always preferable. In defense of non-draft beers, many wonderful imported and regional beers would be unavailable were it not for bottling and canning. So we must gladly suffer this technology so we may taste many different and wonderfully unique brews.
Microfiltering is just what it sounds like; beer is passed through microporous filters which take out everything not nailed down, including a lot of the aroma, body, and even flavor. This gives beer a very clear look but at a very high price. Most American beers are this way because surveys indicate Americans don't want a beer which is not perfectly clear. Of course most Americans don't realize this also robs flavoring and character.
Centrifuging spins the beer at high speed to separate the unwanted particles.
Pasteurization extends the shelf life of beer. It is for that reason most bottled beer is pasteurized. Unfortunately, this process also kills yeast which in a sense kills the beer itself, making it impossible for it to continue fermenting naturally.
There are two main types of pasteurization; flash and tunnel pasteurization. Both are not good for the flavor of the beer. Flash subjects the beer to 185 degrees for 20 to 30 seconds while tunnel heats the beer at 140 degrees for just under an hour. Flash pasteurization is the preferable of the two and is the method used most often by American beer companies.
Types of Beer
There are two main types of beers; ales and lagers. The chart below highlights and compares the main differences between the two types:
Characteristic Ale Lager
FermentationAgingClarityHueCarbonationWetnessHops ContentMalt ContentBodyAlcohol Content Top-fermentedShorter, a few daysLess Clear DarkerLessWetterMore HoppyLess MaltyHeavierHigher Bottom-fermentedLonger, 1-3 monthsClearerLighterMoreDrierLess HoppyMaltierLighterLower
Ale is the older of the two types and was the only beer available for centuries. It is a top-fermented beer which needs specific conditions to produce a consistent brew.
Lager is a bottom-fermenting beer which became the more popular of the two main types in the 1800's. It was invented by Bavarian Monks about 500 years ago when they found they could produce a clearer brew by storing it during the summer in wooden casks in cold subterranean caves. The word itself comes from the German lagern, which means to store.
Each of these two types of beer have many sub-groups which have their own unique characteristics, amore detailed listing of which is at the Beer World Beer Styles.
In addition to these two main types, there are two additional types; 1) hybrids and 2) specialty beers. Hybrids are beers that combine elements of ales and lagers. Specialty beers employ more unusual ingredients and offer almost limitless possibilities of beer flavors. Again, learn more about these styles at the Beer World Beer Styles.
Reading about beer is all well and good, but to really learn something you have to taste it. I highly recommend a taste testing party. It makes for a great evening. In this excerpt from The Bars of Santa Clara: A Beer Drinker's Guide To Silicon Valley, the following subjects are covered, giving you everything you need to host a beer tasting party.
1. Buying Beer
2. Storing Your Beer Properly
3. Drinking Your Beer Under Ideal Conditions
4. The Glass You Drink Your Beer From
5. The Beer Tasting Party
In the United States, a beer's strength is measured by either weight or volume. This is expressed as the percentage of alcohol in each beer and defines its potency. By weight is approximately 20% less potent than the same percentage measured by volume because alcohol weighs less than water. In practical terms, this means that beer which is 4% alcohol by weight is 5% alcohol by volume and beer which is 3.2% alcohol by weight is 4% alcohol by volume.
Alcoholic content is regulated by each state and varies a great deal from state to state. In California, for example, the maximum allowable percentage is 4% by weight for lager, but there is no limit for ales, malt liquors, etc. The only exception to this is military bases, which are regulated by federal law and may only serve beer which is 3.2 % by weight.
Surprisingly, 22 states have no limit. Nearby Nevada and vacation favorite Hawaii both have no limit. Utah, on the other hand is 3.2% for all beers, including malt liquors. For some inexplicable reason most states prohibit the listing of alcoholic content on the bottle. The few states that do require a list of ingredients do not allow listing the exact percentage of alcohol.
The national average for lagers is 3.2 to 4.5% by weight; ale is 3.2 to 5% by weight, and malt liquor is 3.2 to 8% by weight. The foreign average for lagers is 3.5 to 4.5% by weight; pale ale is 4 to 5% by weight, 4 to 6% for dark ale and bock, and some malt liquors are considerably stronger.
By comparison, most wines range from 10 to 14% and spirits (whisky, gin, etc.) from 40 to 50%. Some grain alcohols, however, are as high as 90% alcohol. The percentage of alcohol in spirits is expressed as a proof which is double the actual percentage. For example, 100 proof is 50% alcohol. The term proof comes for the English practice of having to prove that an alcoholic drink was potent enough. This was accomplished by igniting it mixed with gunpowder. In order for this to work the drink had to be at least 57% alcohol or 114 proof.
The proliferation of Sharps and O'Douls, and other so-called non-alcoholic beers require special mention. These beers actually do have alcohol in them but it is by law less than 0.5%. The process by which most of these near beers are created is exactly the same as regular beer but they are filtered, watered-down, and otherwise robbed of their flavor. I have a great personal dislike for these concoctions. They are flavorless, bland carbonated water drinks with just a hint of the original flavor, cost less to produce, but are priced exactly the same as real beer. The only positive benefit from these beers is that perhaps regular beers will not continue to get blander.
Beer Today; Some Statistics
95% of all beer consumed in the United States is American beer. 80% is made by the five largest companies; Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser), Coors, G. Heilman (Henry Weinhard), Miller, and Pabst.
In 1880, the golden age of American brewing, there were 2,272 American breweries. In 1990, there were only around 60, although that number is starting to climb.
Germany consumes the largest amount of beer per capita than any other nation. Czechoslovakia is 2nd and Great Britain ranks 9th. The United States ranks a disappointing 11th. On the flip side, however, we make more than twice as much beer as any other nation. Germany is 2nd and Great Britain 3rd.
In the United States, California consumes more beer than any other state by a wide margin. Of course, there are more people here. Texas is 2nd and Florida is 3rd; Wyoming is last.
In per capita beer consumption, California ranks a disappointing 16th. New Hampshire, surprisingly, is 1st, followed by Nevada, Wisconsin, Texas, and Arizona; Utah is last. Since 1935, per capita consumption in the United States has more than doubled.
59% of all American males and 37% of all American females are beer drinkers. 55% of college graduates drink beer versus only 39% of high school dropouts. Higher paying jobs produce more beer drinkers than lower paying ones. Not surprisingly, younger age groups drink more than older groups. More than half of all people ages 18-34 drink beer. This figure drops gradually as the age rises until age 65, when it levels off at less than 30%.
Until 1979, making beer at home was illegal. In February of that year a law was passed allowing citizens to legally make up to 100 gallons of beer per year.
Microbreweries have only been legal in California since 1983 and, by law, may produce only 15,000 barrels a year. Most, however, produce only about 10,000 barrels. Anchor Steam, not technically a microbrewery, produces closer to 25,000 barrels per year, but this still pales in comparison to Bud's 90,000,000 yearly barrel output.
It is widely believed that beer is fattening. Friends pat your stomach and, blaming the beer, call it a beer belly. The truth is that beer is the least fattening alcoholic drink. Per ounce, drambuie has 110 calories, 100 proof spirits has 85 calories, 80 proof spirits has 65 calories, sherry has 36 calories, champagne has 25 calories, and chablis has 22 calories. Beer, on the other hand, has only 13 calories per ounce.
In contrast, food has a much higher caloric count than alcoholic beverages. Per ounce, potato chips have 160 calories, Fritos have 155 calories, and a Baby Ruth bar has 135 calories.
Brewery Facts and Figures
5 Largest Brewers Nationwide
Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Dry, Michelob, Michelob Light, Michelob Classic Dark, Natural Light, Busch, LA, King Cobra.
2. Miller Brewing:
Miller High Life, Lite, Miller Genuine Draft, Miller Genuine Draft Light, Meister Brau, Plank Road, Lowenbrau.
3. Adolph Coors:
Coors, Coors Light, Coors Dry, Coors Extra Gold, George Killian's Red, Stroh's, Stroh's Light, Schlitz, Schlitz Malt Liquor, Schaefer, Erlanger.
4. G. Heileman:
Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve, Henry Weinhard Dark, Weinhard's Ale, Keystone, Lone Star, Heileman's Old Style, Blatz, Colt 45, Carling Black Label, Tuborg, Meister Brau, Mickey's Big Mouth.
5. Pabst Brewing:
Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pabst Blue Ribbon Light, Pabst Blue Ribbon Genuine Draft, Burgermeister, Burgie, Andeker, Olympia, Olympia Gold, Olympia Genuine Draft, Olympia Dry, Oly, Hamm's, Hamm's Light, Olde English "800" Malt Liquor.
Big 3 of Canada
1. John Labatt Ltd: Labatt's (Blue), Moosehead
2. Molson Brewery: Molson Golden
3. Carling-O'Keefe: Carling Black Label
Big 3 of Mexico
1. Modelo: Corona, Negro Modelo
2. Cuauhtemoc: Bohemia, Carta Blanca, Tecate
3. Moctezuma: Dos Equis
Top Selling Import Beers in America
6. St. Pauli Girl
7. Dos Equis
19. DAB/Carta Blanca
10 Largest Brewers Worldwide
1. Anheuser-Busch (U.S.)
2. Miller (U.S.)
3. Heineken (Netherlands)
4. Kirin (Japan)
5. Bond (Australia)
6. Coors/Stroh (U.S.)
7. Elders (Australia)
8. BSN/Kronenbourg (France)
9. Brahama (Brazil)
10. Carlsberg United Breweries (Denmark)
Unfortunately, no German beer manufacturers make into even the top twenty because they have over 1,200 breweries to compete with nationally. By the way, two of my favorites, Bass and Guinness, come in at 17 and 19, respectively.