What is Beer?

Beer \bi(ə)r\ n: an alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation. (source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

What is beer anyway? Besides being delicious, beer is also the third most popular beverage in the world! Not to mention one of the oldest brewed drinks known to man. Beer production dates back far beyond that of wine or spirit, and played a great role in humans becoming an agricultural society (source: ARL Now). For a time beer was the primary beverage for people who couldn’t trust the quality of their drinking water. Because beer had to be boiled it was the safer (and dare we say more enjoyable) choice. If you wanted to stay healthy, you reached for a beer, morning, noon or night.

Today beer is a social beverage enjoyed by many. It comes in a wide variety of types and flavors, from all over the world. While brewers are continually changing the way they brew, the four main ingredients of beer remain the same – water, grain (or malt), hops and yeast.

How is beer made?

Beer is made with five basic steps. The first is to soak grain (malt) in very hot water to release the grain’s sugars. Once that is complete you boil the grain sugar solution and add hops. Then you cool the liquid and add yeast to begin fermentation. Lastly you condition the beer to create carbonation. This can either be done in the bottle (by adding some extra sugar) or in a conditioning (or brite beer) tank.

While the basic steps of brewing are simple, there are a lot of aspects to the brewing process that affect the final product. Learning to brew beer is easy. Learning to brew really great beer is tough. Beer is as much a science as it is an art, which is why some beer gets the distinction of being called ‘craft’.

Beer Styles

Today we have more beer choices than ever before. Brewers are constantly pushing the limits of the beer we drink, and as a result, creating unique brews that can only be found in a specific place. If you live in Maine you are have a huge variety locally made beer to choose from. But where do you begin? How do you know what to drink and what to try next? Luckily there are a few basic styles that all beer falls into. To get your beer knowledge started, check out this convenient list:

Lagers: One of the most popular types of beer, lagers are characteristically high in carbonation and lighter in color (although some lagers now come in darker colors). Lagers are cold fermented with a special yeast that does it’s work from the bottom of the tank. Bock’s and Pilsners are sub styles of lager. Popular Maine lagers include Bull Jagger Brewing’s Portland Lager and Oak Pond Brewing’s Somerset Lager

Ales: Also one of the most popular types of beer, ales are very similar to lagers except in the way they are fermented. Ales are warm fermented with a yeast that rises to the top of the tank. This causes the fermentation process to happen more quickly, resulting in a sweeter, more full bodied flavor in the beer. Pale Ales, American Pale Ales, and Brown Ales are all sub styles of ale. Popular Maine Ales include Geary’s Pale Ale, Shipyard’s Export Ale, Maine Beer Company’s Peeper Ale,  and Gritty McDuff’s Original Pub Style Ale

I.P.A.’s: While I.P.A.’s are technically ales, they are so popular now they can pretty much be their own category. I.P.A. stands for Indian Pale Ale, which dates back to the early 1700s when British Troops living in India were recieving spoiled batches of Pale Ale. To help the beer stay fresher longer they added more hops during the brewing process. The extra hops naturally preserved the beer and gave it a stronger, more bitter, and hoppier taste (obviously). I.P.A.’s are also higher in alcohol content, so be careful! Popular Maine IPA’s include Maine Beer Company’s Lunch, Peak Organic Brewing’s IPA, and Marshal Warf Brewing’s Cant Dog Imperial IPA

Wheat’s: Wheat beers are some of the oldest styles of beers in existence today. They’re brewed with a large amount of wheat grains and very few hops. The beer is generally cloudy and pulls most of it’s flavor from the yeast during fermentation. Belgians, Saison’s, Hefeweizen’s and Lambic’s are all sub styles of wheat beer. Popular Maine Wheat’s include Allagash Brewing’s White, Sebago Brewing’s Hefeweizen, and Oxbow Brewing’s Saison Noel

Stout’s: Although stouts fall under the “ales” category, they are well recognized as their own style of beer. They are darker beers, sometimes even black, brewed with heavily roasted malts. The roasted malts give this style it’s darker color. Stouts are generally considered “heavy” beers because of their high alcohol content and feeling of being “filled up” when drinking them. Porters also fall under the stout style. Popular Maine Stout’s include Rising Tide Brewing’s Ursa Minor, Bar Harbor Brewing’s Cadillac Mountain Stout, Maine Beer Company’s Mean Old Tom, and Belfast Brewing’s McGovern’s Oatmeal Stout

Choosing a beer

So what beer is right for you? There is no perfect answer because everyone has a different preference when it comes to taste, bitterness, and style of their beer. The best way to figure out what you like is to try beers that fall under each of these styles. Experiment, order something you’ve never heard of, and judge for yourself which beers are the best. You’ll quickly discover beers you love and beers you don’t. Cheers!