Beer as we Indians know it is not the real stuff. While we have been quaffing it by the jugful through trips across the hottest regions of India in an arduous task to beat the heat, many of us understand neither the nuances of flavor nor the safe way of consumption.
Beer has become the most common of beverages the world over. It’s the preferred drink over matches, informal dinners with friends and in some cases part of the daily rations for labourers in some parts of the world. With Germany hosting an annual beer festival, it has definitely made a huge mark as more than just a beverage. Comedian, Dave Barry rightly summed up every beer lover’s thoughts when he said, ‘Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.’
Beer has a long and interesting history just like wine and just like wine-making beer-making is also a remarkable mix of art and science. The original English beer was made from a plant called ‘bere’ or ‘beere’, which was once used in making the beverage. Another source hails it from the Latin ‘bibere’, which means ‘to drink’, which then became ‘biber’ and then ‘bier’. The Germans still make their beers using four ingredients. Wheat or barley, good water, yeast and hops – the rest of the magic comes from the process of malting the grain then fermenting it, storage in a cold area and finally, the filtering, pasteurization and packaging.
These processes when used in a varying temperature and time combinations, result in four common beer varietals – the Lagers, the Ales, the Draughts and Stouts. They also impact the colour of the beverage, as, there are beers that are cloudy and some clear as can be, some a pale gold to a dark amber and some dark as sin.
While Lagers are the most popular of beers its process of bottom fermentation brings out a clear straw coloured drink. Light and crisp in texture, it seems to be the best beer with spicy Asian cuisines and rich fatty foods, grills and seafood. Ales on the other hand are darker full-bodied beers and are top fermented in the process; fruity in texture and flavour, they are often paired with stronger foods like meats, sausages and the English favourite, Fish & Chips which was the easiest bet on a budget while in London. Most of us are familiar with Draught beers, which are light and have a lower carbonation level. They really go well with the pub-crawlers and pub-style food and are more universally liked. Stouts on the other hand are heavier and have a slight bitterish flavour to them and this is due to the malts being roasted for that little bit longer during the malting process.
Why I say it’s an art is because sometimes the very difference of a degree (temperature) up or down can throw off the flavours of a beer during the making process, making or breaking the beer. Beer doesn’t really travel well and contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about alcohol. Some of the best beers have just 5% of alcohol in them. Ideally the best temperature for beer is 13 degrees Celsius with an ideal serving temperature of four to five degrees C.
The latest fad to hit the beer scene today is Artisinal beers, which are home brewed in small breweries and are available only in the inns or establishments attached to these breweries. Unlike commercial beers, these are not manufactured on a commercial scale, but enjoy a limited edition status of sorts. Being made in much smaller quantities, artisanal beers have a flavour and colour that is unmatched by any commercial brand. Though they come at a price, the crisp clear lingering flavour enhanced by a countryside ambience is definitely worth it.
Just like the making, the drinking of beer is also quite an art. Though some may think it cool to drink straight from a bottle its actually the worst way to enjoy it. There is a reason why beer glassware is such a big industry – it’s to help the consumer enjoy the drink the right way. Ideally when pouring a beer, put the neck of the bottle over the edge of a cool, wet glass, tilting the bottle to a high angle and pouring the beer into the glass until you’ve created a fine, dense-textured head. At that point, lower the bottom of the bottle to reduce the flow until foam nears the top of the glass. Leave just enough space for the foam to rise to the lip of the glass. The perfect glass of beer boasts a rich head of foam. It looks great, and by providing a natural cap for the beer’s carbonation it yields a smoother, cleaner taste. It also does not get one “high”.
And yes, just like all other good beverages, the best way to do justice to the drink, is by sipping it and savouring each sip, no matter how trendy it may be considered to guzzle it down.
So the next time, you go out for beer, look at it as more than “just a beer”. After all, it is known to be the best invention of mankind!