the tag line for Nerd Night is “it's like the
discovery channel. with beer”
the discovery channel is great, but really,
i'm a fan of the second half of that
And that is what i’d like to talk to you
I’d considered turning this into a bit of a
game and was going to suggest that each
time I say the word ‘beer’ all of you take a
drink, but i’d like you to remain at least
somewhat lucid for the rest of the
speakers tonight because they have some
really interesting things to talk to you
Okay, now, on to the matter at hand...
Depending on who you talk to, in broadest
definition, the history of beer goes back to
somewhere between 9500BCE to 3500BCE
There are those who would say that it is the
very basis of civilization, and those who have
made a case that if even if it’s not actually
responsible for civilization it is very likely to
have saved it (in the global “West” at least) by
virtue of the fact that during the plagues most
water contained any number of pathogens,
but the process of making beer made it,
relatively speaking, safe to drink.
9500BCE = neolithic farming / “accidental”
3500 = we start to have actual records in
terms of writings and chemical remains of
Beer as it is would be generally recognizable
to us is about 1000 years old, but more on
What is beer? (Bread in a bottle)
so, what is beer?
my dictionary says: an alcoholic drink
made from yeast-fermented malt, flavored
and then goes on to say: any of several
other fermented drinks
which gives us pretty darn broad range.
that breaks out to
In talking about each of these elements,
i’m going to go over the basic process of
making beer. I’m going to be speaking in
somewhat general terms because the
variations in each stage are what gives us
our different types of beers.
Malt & Mashing == Wort (alchemy #1)
starting at the top we have malt.
what is malt?
malt starts out as a grain. a brewer can
use all manner of different grains...
wheat, rye, etc but the most common is
so you take your barley (or whatever) and
you malt it.
which begs the question. what the heck is
malting is the process by which we
1. make some of the yummy starches
more available to the yeast in the form of
sugar. more on that later
2. and it's also a big determiner of the
flavour and colour of the beer
to do that, the barley is (partially?)
germinated... do i need to explain
and then it’s kiln dried.
how much it is dried, at what
temperature? and for how long is what is
going to give us our different kind of malts
the longer it is dried, and then potentially
roasted, the darker it gets and the darker
the resultant beer
from the so-called crystal malt, the lightest
which is used for pilsners and similarly
to amber that’s used, appropriately
enough, for amber ales
to chocolate and black malts that are
used for porters and stouts.
most beers use a combination of malted
grains to achieve whatever colour and
flavor balance the brewer is looking to
next the grains are cracked (also known
as milling). and as with all stages of the
making of beer there is a range to this
how much the grains are crushed will
determine how much and how fast we're
able to extract the sugars from the malt
next step is to translate those oh so solid
grains into liquid refreshment.
this is known as mashing. and it takes the
starches in our cracked grain and
converts them into sugars.
to do this we add x amount of (hot) water
(which for reasons that escape me, is
referred to as ‘liquor’) at y temperature
(generally about 75C) to the grain for z
amount of time (1 – 2 hours).
yes, i'm using variables because, this is,
well variable depending on the beer that is
being made, but it’s important to note that
this is not haphazard. The temperature is
carefully monitored because it is
The practical upshot is something that
looks, and smells like a sweet porridge.
Next we drain the liquid off and then rinse
the malted barley (a process known as
‘sparging’. The brewing of beer, like most
specialized activities has its own
The liquid at this stage is known as sweet
wort, which brings us to the next stage...
Hops (and other flavourings)
Earlier i said that beer as we recognize it
didn’t really come into being until about a
1000 years ago. That’s because it wasn’t until
around 800 or 900BCE that brewers started
using hops to flavour their beers, and hops
didn’t really become fully entrenched in beer
brewing culture for a couple hunderd years
after that. Although as anyone who was at
the Malthouse on Thursday will tell you, hops
are now most certainly part of the very
definition of beer.
And unlike the grains that are used to make
malt, hops have almost no other application
(as far as humans are concerned for the last
800 years) other than in the brewing of beer.
What do hops do for beer?
First and foremost they offer bitterness to the
beer. This is because the resins in hop
flowers are comprised of acids.
As i was saying before we have converted our
grains into sweet wort, which i think of as a
kind of magical process, but as beverages go
isn’t actually all that interesting. We need
something to offset and compliment the malt
The brewer is going to bring the sweet wort
to a boil and add hops. The quantity and
variety is going depend on what kind of beer
is being made.
The brewer will probably use a combination
of a several types of hops added at different
times in the boiling process but overall
More hops == more bitterness.
There are two primary kinds of acids in the
hops, unimaginatively named
Alpha and Beta. And there are different
balances between the two types of acids in
different kinds of hops.
The higher Alpha acid hops are used in the
initial boiling stage, and thus are referred to
as boiling hops. They are what gives us most
of our bitter flavour.
Near the end of the boiling process, high Beta
acid hops are added. These are known as
aroma hops and as you’ve already probably
guessed primarily contribute to the lovely
smell of the beer. But we all know that smell
is closely tied to taste.
After we’ve completed the boiling process,
the sweet wort is now simply called wort.
Now i want to take just a brief moment to talk
about other flavourings.
I mentioned previously that brewers didn’t
really start using hops in beer until about
1000CE in the area we now think of Germany
and really not until about 1400 in Britain.
This was a transitional period. In the long
history of beer before this time a variety of
flowers, roots, herbs, seeds etc were used in
the many many beers. But the goal was the
essentially the same. Balancing and making
the flavours more interesting.
Over time, hops supplanted most everything
else, and in the case of the “German Beer
Purity Laws” absolutely everything else.
But with that rich history of experimentation
we now have a whole range of things that we
might add to the boil.
Okay, enough of that. Returning to the
subject of hops. I mentioned before that the
first thing they give to beer is
But hops are also slightly antibiotic. They are
going to inhibit the growth of unwanted
bacteria in the brew which helps to preserve
it during storage.
Which is another distinct advantage of beer
over water. So, drink more beer, it’s healthy
Fermentation (the wonderful world of yeast,
e.g. alchemy #2)
and finally we have yeast. But before we
can get to that we need to cool our wort.
And although the hops are giving us some
mildly antibiotic protection to the wort, we
want to cool it quickly. The longer it takes
to cool the more opportunities all matter of
micro-organisms have to take up
residence in our proto-beer.
yeast are magical little critters. really
they're fungi… they are responsible for
adding the fun to your beer. they eat the
sugars in malt and produce
1. alcohol C2H5OH
2. CO2 which is to say, those fun little
There are many many kinds of wild yeasts
in the air.
Those early beer-like beverages were
probably happy accidents.
Someone left a clay pot full of some kind
of grain in a store-room or cave. It got a
bit wet giving them a rough approximation
of the mashing process. And then the wild
yeast would settle and discover what is for
them a happy environment. It would live
out its happy little yeast life until someone
discovered this slightly bubbly
soup/porridge and taking a sip found it to
be generally pleasing and made their
head feel a bit funny ... yay alcohol!
Unless of course you got ergot, but that’s
a whole different experience.
Now, just like with the malting, i don’t
really have the time, or the specialized
knowledge, to get into exactly what is
happening with yeast. In fact i’m pretty
sure that someone could give a whole talk
just on yeasts. But suffice it to say that
something alchemical is happening here.
The yeast is transforming the base sugars
of the malt into the gold (or amber or
black) of the beer in your glass.
Types of beer (e.g. what’s in your glass right
The other important thing to note is that
humans didn’t get very good at culturing
yeast until a couple hundred years ago.
Which is why particular styles of beers are
associated with certain places... the
places where those yeasts were
Because just like with the malt and the
hops, the yeast is also contributing to the
So, let’s move onto what those yeasts are
and the kinds of beers we have...
broadly speaking there are two major
categories of beer
ale and lager.
and they are made with eponymously
named ale yeast and lager yeast
of course there are the exceptions such
as Anchor Steam... but it seems that rules
were made to broken. Or at least bent
ale yeast, also know as top fermenting
because they produce foam at the top of
the wort during fermentation. ale yeast
typically happiest at 15 - 24ºC/ 60 - 75ºF
lager yeast, unsurprisingly know as
bottom fermenting yeast, are typically
happiest at 10 - 13ºC/ 50 - 55º
with that in mind i’d like to take a few
minutes to talk about what you’re drinking
Ah yes this is the style, in it’s many variations,
that most people think of when they think
Similar to its Germanic cousin, but this one
comes to us from the Czech republic.
Specifically, the city of Pilsen... hence the
Wheeee! more german beer! Well, actually
the Dutch have some claim to this one as
this beer is a bit different. Most notably
because it is made with wheat.
Lots of discussion about the history and
variations in these styles
This is an odd category because it’s actually a
whole bunch of different categories. Lambic,
Porter & Stout
As a few of you will have noticed there is
Guinness on tap here but there is also...
Porters and Stouts are ales that are made
with darker malts