Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health.
‘Is beer better than Champagne?’ This was the all important question on the cover page of Femina, a magazine which enjoys high readership in India. In an all important debate that has divided the world into beer lovers and those who are not, the main concern is whether beer or any other drink can lead to obesity and other life style diseases. The answer to this is in the affirmative, especially if not taken in moderation.
Beer is produced by fermentation of sugar derived from starch based products. The most common source is malted barley; however rice, wheat, corn, potatoes, millet and certain kinds of roots grown in Africa and Mexico may also be used although in conjunction with barley.
 Basic Ingredients
Water, starch, (mostly barley), yeast, liquid sugar and hops are the basic ingredients of a beer. Water is one of the basic ingredients and has the potential to affect the quality of the beer since it is a known carrier of minerals. Water is generally drawn from a local source and the beer it produces also tastes different. Different types of beer require different types of water. Stout, a lager made in Germany requires hard water while a pale lager such as Pilzen requires soft water. Hence water and its quality exercises considerable control over the quality of beer that is produced.
The starch is the base upon which the beer stands. Hence the quality of starch is important. The best quality of beer comes from malted barley because of a rich husky texture that is important at the fermentation process. Also it contains the highest proportion of amylase, a digestive enzyme that is capable of converting the starch into the sugar form. Other starch forms as rice, maize and millets are also used, although malted barley remains the favourite.
The term ‘malted’ means getting the grains to a stage where they can be fermented to produce sugary wort. This is achieved by soaking the grains in water and letting the grains reach the germination stage. The grains are then taken out of the water and dried. This grain is capable of producing enzymes that can make starch into fermented sugar.
The other main ingredient is the hop which is used as flavouring as well as a preserving agent. Hops are the flowers of the hop plant or vine and have been in use ever since Flanders used it to flavour the beer produced at that time. Besides aroma and the flavour, hops also contain anti-biotic effects that are useful for the fermentation process. It also helps in ‘head retention’ of the drink.
Yeast is an important ingredient and influences the type of beer that emerges. Yeasts are responsible for turing the sugar wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide and is therefore hugely responsible for the final taste. Ale is made of bottom fermenting yeast while lager is made of top fermenting yeast. Wild yeasts were used to make a special kind of ber called lambic. These days, champagne yeast is often added to increase the alcohol content of beer.
 Making Beer The Right Way
Beer is usually made from malted barley or any other starch based product. However barley is the most preferred option. The malt is cleaned in the brewery and then weighed and crushed to produce grist. This grist when mixed with hot water and allowed to stand at a certain temperature allows the starch from the malt turn to fermentable sugar. A ‘mash tun’ is used for the purpose which is basically a tank in which hot water is kept. The sugar is then transferred to a ‘lauter tank’ where the grains are separated from the liquid. The liquid that is collected is called the sugar wort.
The wort is then taken in for fermentation. This again happens in a tank called a ‘kettle’. Liquid sugars are added and the entire mixture is thereafter boiled so as to help it mix properly. The protein in the wort reacts with the liquid sugars to produce ‘trub’. This is distilled off and the produce ready for fermentation.
The fermentation process involves the addition of yeast. This yeast is responsible for converting the distilled sugar wort into alcohol by the process of anaerobic respiration. The yeast cells multiply to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. The gas is collected and used at a later stage which gives beer the characteristic fizz. The liquid is then kept for sometime and consequently settles at the bottom. It is removed and reused or sold as ‘vegemite’ at a later date.
The storage stage starts once after the beer is distilled to separate out the yeast from the alcohol. The liquid is cooled to minus one degree centigrade and kept in casks. Hop extract is added at this stage, both to flavour the drink and to help preserve the taste of the product. The hop gives beer its bitter taste and is much more appreciated than the sweet English ale. The minus one degree temperature also helps preserve the drink in its most natural form.
The Carbon dioxide gas which is emitted during the fermentation process is collected and added to the beer while it is stored, giving the beer the body, head and the sparkling taste.
The beer passes through a pasteurisation process, much like what happens to milk. This helps to kill bacteria or other bacteria in the beer and therefore lengthens its shelf life. The pasteurisation process involves heating and then rapid cooling and is done in their containers for canned and bottled beers. Draught beer goes through a special treatment wherein a special heat exchange, called a flash pasteurizer is used for pasteurising. The beer is ready for sale and is then bottled and shipped for sale.
The classification of beer is a complex exercise owing to the fact that there is a variety of local beer available that are produced in styles typical of the region. Also local characteristics such as the water give the beer a unique and a typical taste. However the beer making process, minus a few adjustments, largely remains the same everywhere. Michael Jackson in his book, The World Guide to Beer, categorised beer according to the various types of beer that was available. This classification was upheld by the Beer Judge Certification System of USA.
Beer is classified into groups depending on the type of yeast that is used in the fermentation process. This kind of criteria leads to the ale and lager categories. Classifications are also done on the lines of the country of origin.
Ale and Lager: The two most prominent types of beer are ale and lager and the difference is only in the type of yeast that is used. Ale is fermented with top fermenting yeast that allows for rapid fermentation at a higher temperature ranging from 15 to 25 degree centigrade. Thus it is mostly made in warmer climes. They have a higher alcoholic content and are therefore more robust than the lagers. Ales are sweeter and often have a fruity note. Sometimes they are black in colour as is a type of Irish ale. They come in a wide range of styles as stout, porter, pale ale and wheat beer. These are definitely not for the weak hearted since they are stronger and more full bodied.
Lager, by contrast is fermented with a bottom fermenting yeast that generally settles at the bottom of the fermenting vat. Lagers ferments at a much slower pace and is thus suitable for colder temperatures ranging below 10 degree centigrade, though nowadays 12 to 18 degree centigrade is good enough to produce a lager. A primary fermentation at a temperature between 7 to 12 degree centigrade and a secondary fermentation at temperatures below 0 degrees allow for the finest beers to be produced since the hops and the malt are allowed to ferment slowly so as to release their flavours to their absolute limit. Lagers are far paler and less alcoholic than ale and probably find more favour among people who go more for the flavour of the drink than for any other characteristic. The colder temperatures also act as a preservative agent, keeping the flavour intact. It enhances sedimentation and prevents growth of micro-organisms so that the beer comes out cleaner and better.
Lager is a German word which means to 'store and put aside'. German lagers called 'helles', meaning pale or blonde are very popular today and served in glasses that are branded which just adds to the whole experience of having a beer. There are of course those who believe that the beer can do on its own without the display part. Another type of lager called Pilsner or Pils was first found in Bohemia. It was found that the taste improved if kept in cool caves or on dry ice. All malt beers first came up in Germany. The taste of this beer is bitter and very aromatic as it is preserved with the finest and most aromatic hops. Bock and Marzen are two such kinds of German beers that do not have added sugar in them.
The modern method of making lager beer was headed by Gabriel Sedlmayrthe Younger, who made dark brown lagers in Bavaria. Anton Dreher also produced an amber coloured lager in Vienna. The Lambic beer uses wild yeast and not the ones that are cultivated for spontaneous fermentation. This yields a different type of taste.
Pale and Dark Beer: The colour of the beer is yet another basis for the classification of beer. Pale amber colour is the colour of beer although darker colour of beers are also produced. Pale lager is produced by combining malt with coke. Coke is used here for roasting the malt. Deeper coloured malts are made by intense roasting of the malt. This was first introduced in 1862. Today, lagers are the more preferred beer, especially brands such as Pilsner, Urquell and Heineken among the European brands and Budweiser, Coors and Miller among the American brands. The alcoholic content in such lagers is 5% which is not so high. Hence it can be enjoyed any time of the day and can also be an accompaniment to a variety of foods.
Dark malt is made by brewing a pale lager with a small amount of dark malt. In some cases, a little bit of caramel is added to get the desired result. Guinness is an example of a dark beer.
Yet another classification arises out of the countries that have traditionally been the hot bed of the beer industry. Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, England, Poland, Denmark, Austria have contributed immensely to the historical development of beer. Each of these countries has a rich tradition of beer brewing and has come up with various kinds of beers that have a taste that is typical to the local region. The local flavour has not been an inhibiting factor; instead they have transcended boundaries and won appreciation of beer drinkers across the globe.
The European styles have been adapted to countries such as USA, Canada and Australia. However, the water, yeast and other climatic conditions have made these beers different from those in Europe; they too stand apart and are just as appealing. In Australia beer drinking is much commonplace and beer occupies a huge appeal to both men and women alike.
 Beer and Health
Usually it is a case of stereotypical thinking that beer, or any other alcoholic produce for that matter, can give rise to innumerable diseases. This may not always be true. Recent researches on the topic do state that a pint of wine a day can actually do a person and his heart more good by reducing the chances of strokes, and vascular disease almost by 20 percent (New England journal of Medicine-November 1999). The difficulty arises when it is not taken in moderation or when it is consumed even when a person is advised not to have alcohol. The effects in these cases often range from the mild, like sleeplessness, headaches, nausea, to the more severe such as impaired liver function, obesity, higher blood sugar levels, even mood disorders. Hence most people steer clear of all forms of alcohol. Alcohol is also frowned upon in the Indian social spectrum due to religious dictates. Otherwise it is not really a huge harm to one’s physical self if one does indulge in beer or wine.
Beer contains polyphenols, antioxidants also found in wine. In addition the hops contain antibiotic properties. The presence of Vitamin B6 has also been found in beer which prevents the build up of amino acid called homocysteine which is responsible for heart and vascular diseases. Those who drank beer in moderation recorded a 30 percent increase in the presence of Vitamin B6 in the blood plasma.
In addition beer has certain effects that are very conducive to physical and mental health. In a stress ridden world, people often suffer from insomnia which again gives rise to a variety of problems such as digestive disorders, anxiety attacks, fatigue etc. Beer relaxes the body and helps the person to sleep well. He wakes up refreshed and is able to tackle the pressures of his environment much better. Beer is also known to be fat free and cholesterol free and so it mitigates the harmful effects on the body, especially on the heart where bad cholesterol invariably settles down and clogs the pores.
Beer is also a source of soluble fibre that is got from the cellular walls of the malted barley. In fact it meets 20% of the daily recommended dose of fibre, sometimes even 60%. This improves digestion, renal activity and regulates bowel movement. Among elders, beer is a known relaxant, it also improves blood circulation by helping blood vessels dilate beet. Plus it also improves urination which means it forces the kidneys to work at flushing out toxins. An average beer contains no cholesterol or fat, 13 mg of carbohydrates, 25 mg of sodium, protein, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and vitamins B, B2, and B6.
The good effects of beer have been listed out. However this does not mean that one should go out and have a huge amount of beer. The key word here is moderation. This should be applied more in cases where a person already has a history of heart attacks, diabetes and impaired liver function. The doctor’s advice should always be held in high regard in this case.
 Health Risks
The ill effects of beer are not direct, that is beer per se does not give rise to ant debilitating disease. The ill-effects are indirect. The first ill effect that comes to mind is obesity or ‘beer belly’. A beer belly is formed when a person has a beer too many, day after day, and develops a girth of 94 centimetres or more down the middle. It is considered ‘high risk’ if the girth measures over 102 centimetres down the middle. This beer belly arises out of too much fat accumulation and is a hotbed for diseases such as diabetes, heart attacks, high cholesterol levels, clogged arteries and sometimes even cancer. Alcohol lessens the body’s ability to burn stored fat. So the fat gets accumulated. The liver, which detoxifies alcohol, may also be unable to metabolize the excess quantity of alcohol. It might in such cases swell with an excess of fat. All this leads to a rounded middle or a ‘beer belly’. A beer belly is often taken to be a sign of prosperity and wealth. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact it is a pointer to the fact that one needs to cut down on alcohol and perhaps a sedentary life as well and adopt healthier means of living.
The December 2007 issue of Femina lists that in contrast to wine and champagne which contains a mere 90 calories per glass, beer contains a whopping 250 calories. This is of huge significance to persons who have been advised to lose weight, especially those who suffer from diabetes.
Beer, as all other kinds of alcohol can precipitate the blood sugar levels. This is alarming to people suffering from diabetes. Low blood sugar levels can trigger dizziness and in an extreme case black outs. Not to mention the injuries one can sustain if one falls down due to dizziness. Further low blood sugar levels stimulate appetite, which is not ideal for people who need to keep their diets restricted. In the case of beer which is made of starch and fermented sugar, the drink may not be very good for their health.
Beer may also impede the body’s ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. Pregnant women should ideally abstain from beer due to all of the above reasons. Also it is during this stage that the blood sugar levels do rise naturally and beer at this stage should be avoided.
 Diet Beer
The end result of brewing does give rise to a complex chain of carbohydrates and simple sugars. This can be a cause for concern, especially for those who run the risk of hyperglycemia or liver cirrhosis. These days ‘Diet Beer’ has been introduced which has the complex carbohydrates and the simple sugars in whittled down proportions. They are thus lower in their energy content. Similarly there are light beers which have the same complex carbohydrates and sugars due to which they have the same flavour. Due to their low alcohol content they present an advantage. For a diabetic person the light beer with a lower alcoholic content is a better choice as cutting down carbohydrates reduces the chance of hypoglycemia.
Beer drinking ought to be factored by sense, sensibility and maturity. If one is ill one ought to see a doctor and go with his prescriptions. For a person with diabetes, an endocrinologist should be consulted. There is little sense in drinking beer and baiting ill health and trouble.
 Beer – Ringing in The Good Times
Beer drinking is a sort of tradition in a lot of places, especially in Europe, America, and Australia. In fact there are various cuisines that go with definite brands of beer. Each beer with its definite flavour and way of brewing finds favour with its compatible food. For example sausages or smoked salmon go well with the Pilsner. The British ale goes well with the famous fish and chips.
Food and beer have a long drawn out history which records that breweries in ancient times were attached to places where food was served. This is the genesis of Brasseries-eating houses that give one a suitable drink too. Pubs are also an offshoot of this culture. Irish Pubs are famous for the beer as well as for the ambience it creates for the people who frequent it.
Beer today is also attached to fancy glassware. Belgian beer is served up in branded glasses in certain places. Beer glasses are special. They are wide brimmed and tall and allow room for the head to be retained at the top for a certain period of time. In some places beer is served up from wooden casks held in place by a metal knob. The metal knob pushes the carbon dioxide out of the keg or cask making a foamy head at the top of the glass.
Beer drinking is an activity most people do indulge in across the world, even women. This is not strange since for a long time beer brewing was a woman’s work. Beer manufacturers have taken note of this growing market and are willing to tap it. This is reflected in the advertisements too, and women are shown in a more contemporary social setting and not in stereotypical roles. In fact women drinkers are far more exacting than men and are demanding more out of their beer in terms of flavour, lower calorific content, inclusion of lower carbohydrates, and inclusion of a more fruity flavour. The options that women seek out more are lighter ales which are sweeter and have less of alcoholic content, lambics that are not so bitter etc.
At the end of the day, beer has ceased to be a man’s drink and women are equal stake holders in this. The key word is moderation, as it is with all other things in life. However for those who do not like the taste of beer, there are still lots to do with beer. One can marinade meats with beer which gives it a nutty or a bitter yet aromatic smell and a great taste. It is also a meat tenderizer and thus can be used while cooking. Of course care must be taken to see that the bitter beer is not used in abundance. It can be used for the purpose of baking, for batters, for making bread, stews and even salads.
For those who do not find delight in food, beer is an excellent hair conditioner and can be used as a final rinse which makes hair shinier, softer and more manageable. Thus beer as a drink has something for everybody and does ring in the good times.
 Beer- Down the Ages
Although Beer is mostly considered a ‘mans drink’, a drink that is most favoured by the “boys”, it were the women in the ancient times who brewed beer. In fact most of the women brewers were also priestesses and beer was considered a drink worthy of the Gods. It was mostly used as offerings to the Gods in Ancient Babylon.
Brewing and consumption of beer finds a reference in the history of Mesopotamia and China some 4000 to 5000 years back. Inscriptions on stone tablets founds in Mesopotamia bear testimony to this. Hammuabi, the 6th king of Babylonia introduced laws that oversaw the business of the tavern keepers and looked after the interests of the tavern keepers and the customers alike. There were various kinds of beers that were available at that time namely dark beer, red beer, pale beer, three fold beer etc. Beer was mostly sipped through a straw. The King drank though a golden straw. Chinese beer was called ‘Kui’. Beer was considered an important drink and there too were laws regulating the sale, in terms of quantity and quality.
Excavations in Israel bear reference to beer mugs during the time of King Saul and King David. Even Noah was said to have kept beer in his ark as a provision for drinks.
In Egypt excavations have references to beer. As per the inscriptions dated 1600 BC, beer was an important drink, a staple in the diet of both the peasant and the genteel alike. It also had medicinal properties. Beer was mostly made out of barley bread and often used as a sacrament. In fact the importance of beer can be gauged from the fact that beer was also offered to the dead. Beer could also be offered to the pharaoh by a suitor who wished to marry the princess. Quality inspectors were appointed to keep a check on the quality of beer that was to be offered to Goddess Isis.
The Greeks had a God, a Wine God called Dionysus, such was the supreme importance of drinking in the social fabric of Greeks in the ancient times. It is said that the Greeks learnt the art of brewing beer from the Egyptians and went on to make one of the finest beers. Greek writers such as Sophocles, Herodotus and other writers of that era have mentioned beer in their writings.
The art of brewing beer then travelled to Rome and to England and finally to Central Europe. The monks and missionaries took to brewing beer and supplied it to travellers who came to stay at their places. Hence they can ideally be called the pioneers of the modern day hotel business which provide travellers with food, wine and sleeping arrangements. Saints such as Saint Luke, Saint Augustine, Saint Columbian, Saint Mungo, Saint Bright and Saint Patrick all took to brewing beer and improved its quality. They took to supplying it to the local churches which was then distributed during ceremonies.
This process continued well into the medieval times, with king Arthur, Emperor Charlemagne, all important rulers in the medieval times patronising the drink. Chequered flags displayed where drinks could be found. Beer continued to be brewed by women since it was an integral part of food, usually a domain presided over by the woman.
Beer is also supposed to have given rise to new expressions such ‘bridal’ which was actually bride-ale since the bride usually sold ale on her wedding day to offset the wedding expenses. The expression ‘Yule tide’ means ale- tide, meaning ale sold during the festive season.
English ale that was sweet was soon replaced with a slightly bitter taste with the use of hops as a preservative. This was introduced by Flanders. England started exporting huge quantities of this beer by the end of the 15th century. Women were also into drinking beer and as such it was a part of the diurnal diet of the English. Queen Elizabeth was known to have a fondness for good quality beer and always had her kind of beer couriered to her should the drink found at her place of visit fall short of her exacting standards.
Beer tasters and quality controllers, called ‘Conners’ were present and William Shakespeare’s father was one such conner. The conners tested the presence of sugar or other impurities in the ale by pouring it on a bench and sitting on it. If the leather breeches stuck to the bench, it would be declared as an impure drink.
Bottled beer came about in the 16th century by the Dean of St. Paul’s. Christopher Columbus probably can be credited for having brought beer to America. As the popularity of beer rose people started drinking it at all times and more so because they preferred having it over the otherwise polluted water from rivers.
Today, beer is a much enjoyed drink and as one popular Indian brand would have us to believe, it does make a mark for being for being ‘the king of good times’. The beers that are most popular are Belgian beer, Irish beer, Czech beer, Australian beer and the English variety.
 Organic Beer
This is beer made with organic barley and organic hops. Any other additives will need to be approved by the guiding organic authority for that area.