Beer’s popularity has made it the third most consumed beverage on earth. It’s also one of the first processed drinks.
That bottle of Bud or Guinness or Great Lakes in your hand is a piece of history. Beer is perhaps the oldest of processed beverages, third only to water and tea worldwide.
The earliest mention of beer is 7,000 B.C. in Iran. Egyptian drawings record early brewing. Christian monasteries spread beer worldwide.
Brewing jumped from a local process to industrial mass production by the mid-1800s. Invention of the thermometer and hydrometer offered the quality control necessary for large-scale brewing, as did pasteurization.
In America, light beers (smooth, low calorie) in four decades have surpassed premium beer. Sales of imported and domestic small-batch beers continue to climb at the expense of major domestic brewers.
Today’s beer faces heady competition from fermented malt beverages that are not beer. These are a variety of drinks including hard lemonade (Mike’s), hard cola (Jack Daniels) and hard citrus drinks. Brewing as always is driven by the fight for alcoholic-beverage supremacy.
The great hops shortage
Wonder why your beer is climbing in price? Blame Ma Nature and ethanol politics.
Craft brewers are battling the fourth year of a worldwide hops shortage, worse than the hops blight of the late 1800s. The price of brewing barley has followed other grains to record prices.
Hops are the heart of beer, tempering the sweetness of malted grain. Hop oil is bitter and crucial to beer flavor.
The Central European and German hops-growing regions have been decimated by floods and cool weather. This comes as many farmers switch from growing barley and hops to corn. Corn is at record prices due to its use in ethanol fuel.
Wildfires in California, a top hops producer, have damaged the crop for four years. So has wet weather in the Northwest.
For the hops that survive, the price has skyrocketed. This and higher grain prices and taxes are driving up beer prices in the United States. Expect to pay $10 or more for a 12-pack of domestic, and twice that for craft or imported.
Major brewers will find hops at any price and pass on the increased cost. They have long-term contracts and many grow their own. Home, craft and micro-brewers who use small orders feel the shortage.
The herb once was fed to dogs to increase the sheen of their coats. Hops oil did the trick. Home brewers once bought their hops in pet stores. Recent studies have found that hops can be toxic to dogs, even fatal to some breeds.
Cooking with beer
The yeast in brewing goes well with bread baking. You can substitute beer for other liquids. It’s best to open the beer the day before to limit the foaming.
Beer is popular in chili, cheese blends for crackers, as a steamer for hot dogs and sausage, a moderator for the sourness in sauerkraut and in batter for seafood.
The advice on which beer to use is simple: Use what you like to drink.
2 cups flour
1/4 cup shortening
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup beer
Sift dry ingredients and cut in shortening until it has cornmeal consistency. Stir in beer, kneading lightly until dough forms, and roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut rounds with a biscuit cutter or in squares with a knife.
Brush tops with water and bake 10 to 12 minutes in a 450-degree oven until tops brown. Biscuits baked touching each other will be softer than those baked separated.
Makes 12 to 15 biscuits.
Beer in the keg can be a foamy experience. Few things are more disappointing than laying out bucks for keg beer only to find the true meaning of “suds” at home.
There are ways to avoid this problem. No. 1, avoid rough handling. Kegs are armored aluminum and seem tough but the inside beer doesn't like to shake. If you're bringing home a keg, make sure it doesn't roll around.
Kegs transported even under the smoothest of conditions need a rest before tapping. A gently treated keg requires at least two hours to settle down. A jostled keg may need up to a day.
Keg beer usually is unpasteurized, read “draft,” and is stored between 35 and 40 degrees at the distributor. It must be kept within this range or it will spoil. Ice it while transporting and half bury it in a tub of ice while serving. Without the chilling, you'll get really foamy beer.
Never over pressurize a keg. Stop pumping as soon as a steady flow resumes.
Even with all precautions, the first pitcher or two from a new keg will have to be thrown out because of excessive foam. This is a good sign -- you haven't been sold a flat keg.
Sorry, there's no way to avoid drinking excessively and remaining sober. You may have heard of tricks such as hot coffee and the like, but they don't create sobriety. They just create more wide-awake drunks.
There's only one way to drink and stay safe: Know your limits. Be sure to pay attention to how your body reacts to alcohol.
Many factors influence this. Your weight, how much you eat before and after drinking and how quickly your body absorbs alcohol play a big part.
There's only one constant rule: The more you drink, the more dangerous you are behind the wheel. The best strategy is either limit your drinking or have a non-drinker drive you home.
Trends in brews
Beer usually is brewed from whatever grains are handy and cheap. In Asia that’s rice. In some areas it’s wheat and in the U.S. and Europe it’s barley.
U.S. commercial beers such as Budweiser are very light compared to European styles. The backlash to this has created artesinal brews in small batches throughout the country. These microbrews have rejuvenated the craft and increase the availability of high quality and different brews. Small brewers have reprised the era of the 1700s when British pubs all brewed their own beer, stout and ale.
The latest American beer trend adds flavors beyond usual. These include lemon and lime and berries.
Home-brewing beer is one of the few hobbies you can drink. Whenever beer prices and taxes raise, it enjoys a resurgence. It was legalized in 1979, the last relic of Prohibition..
Home brewing as a trend is definitely up, including cost. A six-pack of home brew usually costs about $5. Home brewers do it for the quality of the brew, which can approach or better the brews costing twice that.
Kits containing supplies and hardware for brewing run $30 to $100. They offer the chance to craft a beer that exactly suits your tste.
Home brew today is not for simple beer tastes or the light-beer crowd. It can be a deeply complex mix of flavors all competing for the palate.
The best brews offer “balance,” meaning the flavors complement each other instead of compete. The head must be deep and much like cream.
Brew judges look for drinkablility (smoothness), tempered after taste of yeast and a consistently rich flavor with a pleasing alcoholic punch. The brewing process offers control of each of these in minute degrees. That’s a big reason folks make their own.
Contact Jim Hillibish at email@example.com.