God is great, beer is good and people are crazy.
So goes the Billy Currington song, and it certainly does sum up three important points of view. (Three points with which I tend to agree in case anyone is wondering.) In this case, we’re concerned with the second of those items: beer.
Beer is one of those luxuries, delights, vices, pleasures that’s been around a long time. Its origins are lost in the mists of history. Since its beginning, it’s become an exquisite craft that, for some, approaches religion. It comes in thousands upon thousands of forms; a beer for any taste, season or reason.
Beer is primarily made from (malted) barley, which is why it’s sometimes called “(cold) barley soup” or “barley wine” (especially the really strong beers, some of which approach or exceed the alcohol content of wine). That beer is basically a grain product is why I lovingly refer to it as “liquid bread.”
There are some different barley families, but a key factor in the character of the beer comes when the barley is malted and then roasted. The degree of roasting (from light to nearly charcoal) has a great deal to do with the beer’s flavor.
If you’ve ever tasted Post Grape-Nuts, you know what roasted malted barley tastes like, because Grape-Nuts is made from baked wheat and barley. (Grape-Nuts was one of my favorite cereals as a kid. I especially liked it with honey or brown sugar on it.)
Beer is also made from hops, which serves to balance the sweetness of the malted barley. Hops also provides fragrance to the beer, and there are a variety of different hops families and a variety of different ways of using hops (mainly having to do with what point the hops is added during the process).
I have a beer-making friend who has several hops plants growing in his (Minnesota) backyard. Every winter, the vines die, but every summer they grow back and cover his fence and overhead trellis. They provide lush cover and the fragrance reminds one of the better (and more hopped) beers. It’s fun to pick a cone, crush it in your hands and get a real hops blast.
There is water, of course, and the final key ingredient is the magical yeast critter, the very special, very important tiny animal responsible for all forms of alcohol.
The yeast provide both the alcohol and the bubbles (the carbonation). Yeast produce carbon dioxide, which carbonates beer (and makes bread rise) and alcohol. (Specifically ethanol, a rare solvent humans can consume without dying an immediate and painful death.) In both cases, these are waste products due to the yeast consuming carbohydrates (the malted barley in this case).
Basically, yeast eat sugar and piss alcohol; something to try to not remember when drinking. (Mmmm, what tasty yeast piss this is, eh?)
In olden days, before microscopes revealed the tiny yeast critter, it was known that beer foam (barm) from an existing batch was necessary to start a new batch (hence transferring the yeast). There is a widely accepted legend that they called this “godisgoode” or “goddes god” (God’s gift).
And those four ingredients, water, barley (malt), hops and yeast are all it takes to make beer. A German law, Reinheitsgebot, from 1516, specifies that “beer” consists of only those things (you could make it other ways, but you couldn’t call it “beer”). In fact, the law doesn’t mention yeast, since they weren’t discovered until the 1800s by Louis Pasteur (you may have heard of him; the term pasteurizing comes from his work and is named in his honor).
Something to keep in mind: Beer has food value, but food has no beer value! Clearly beer is superior to food. (Liquid bread!)
There is also this old German poem (and when it comes to beer, the Germans knew whereof they spoke): “Water is drank by the four legged beast; man prefers it with hops, malts, and yeast.“
Here are some of my current and past favorites (they’re more or less listed in order of currency and favor):
Flat Earth Cygnus X1 Porter
Currently my all-time favorite, and hands down my favorite porter! Part of the delight is that it’s named after the first black hole discovered (and the song).
Based on an old English porter recipe, they add rye malt to give it a very distinctive, dry flavor. It clocks in with a 6.5% ABV, 45 IBU, 1.065 O.G. and has a wonderful black color.
Winter is the usual time for porters and stouts, but I’d drink this beer in any season!
Avery Out of Bounds Stout
A really close second to the Cygnus X1, and unquestionably my favorite stout by a long shot. Wonderfully dry and mellow.
This one clocks in with a 6.3% ABV, 51 IBU, 1.065 O.G. and (of course) a rich black color.
After my first six-pack I hunted stores unsuccessfully for about a month trying to find more. Problem was, I’d forgotten the brewery and was looking for it as a Great Lakes Brewery beer. And getting very frustrated that stores had all sorts of GLB beers, but not that one. Once I realized it was Avery Brewing, I found it just fine.
Avery Ellie’s Brown Ale
A very serviceable, rather mild, brown ale. Plus it’s named after a dog and from a dog-friendly brewery, so it really appeals to the dog-lover in me.
Beer stats: 5.5% ABV, 28 IBU, 1.056 O.G. with (as you’d expect) a nice brown color.
A friend of mine had a beloved border collie named Nellie, and I think of this beer a memorial ale for Nellie.
This became a standard beer for me long before it became so popular you could find it at most liquor stores and restaurants. When I started drinking it, you had to look for it. You needed to find a store that stocked it and sold it. You didn’t want it to be stale. That’s always an issue with imports that have traveled a ways. It’s also an issue with non-mainstream beers due to a low turnover rate. When the beer comes in clear glass bottles, all the worse.
A really delicious dark ale from Ireland. Surprisingly mild for such a full-bodied beer.
Very good with soup or chili!
Another beer you’ll usually find in my fridge. This is a Mexican dark beer that is mild. I love Mexican food (Tex-Mex, actually), and this beer goes great with it.
Strong enough to match the food, but well-balanced.
This is a new entry in my beer pantheon. I discovered this a few years ago at a local hangout that served it. In very short time it’s become a standard in my fridge.
New Belgium Brewing has a large line of beers, and so far I’m thumbs up on each one I’ve tried.
So, what’s in your fridge?