A Short History of Beer
The history of beer is long and colorful and is almost as old as civilization itself. Beer is an alcoholic drink made from barley grain, hops, water, and yeast. The Greek historian, Herodotus, credited the Egyptians with making the first true beer though recent evidence indicates that the Mesopotamians and Sumerians might have been the first beer drinkers as long ago as 10,000 B.C. The Sumerians, who developed the first written language about 2000 B.C., wrote detailed instructions for making beer, suggesting that the technique had been established and refined long before that.
In 1516, the Germans instituted the now famous Reinheitsgebot, a law (still in effect today) which strictly dictates what ingredients may go into beer. There are only four legal ingredients;
- water– which assists the fermentation process
- barley– which gives beer its fullness
- hops– which gives beer its bitterness
- yeast–which converts the barley malt into alcohol and carbon dioxide
Water assists the fermentation process, distillation, and cuts down the final product into consumable proofs. The water at the Oak Creek Brewery comes from deep wells in the Sedona area.
Any cereal grain such as corn, wheat, rice, oats, or rye can be usewd to make beer. The cereal grain gives the beer its color, sweetness, body, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Most importantly, it gives the beer the starch which is then converted into sugar, which is in turn transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the fermentation process. Barley is by far the best cereal grain for beer making. Anything else makes a lighter beer with less character.
Hops is a plant which is a member of the nettle family and resembles a small green/yellow pine cone with soft leaves about an inch long. Hops is grown in many different climates and locations and each variety produces a beer with a different taste. Most beer makers today use several different kinds of hops. Hops is added to the developing beer usually in two stages, the first for flavoring and the second for aroma.
These are microscopic, single-cell organisms in the fungus family. Each beer maker closely guards the secret of what type of yeast he uses. Oak Creek Brewery uses a proprietary yeast strain that helps us produce superior beers. Fermentation occurs when the yeast consume the malt sugar in the barley or other grain it converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Nine steps in beer making
Since the barley grain is naturally dry and hard, steeping the grain for two days in water makes the grain more susceptible to germination.
The damp barley is spread out to dry for about a week during which time it begins to sprout. Sprouting releases enzymes which convert starches in the grain to sugars which can later be fermented.
After germinating, the malted barley is slowly dried in kilns where the temperature and amount of time determines the flavor and color of the beer.
The sprouts are removed from the barley and ground in a milling machine to assist in extracting the soluble substances like sugar.
The milled barley is mixed with hot water in a large pot or tun (pronounced ton) and is slowly heated to approximately 150 degrees to convert the starch into sugar. After it is filtered the sugary liquid is known as wort (pronounced wert).
The wort is then put in a a kettle, boiled for an hour or two during which hops and other flavorings are added. Next the hops are filtered out and the remainder is rapidly cooled in a special freezer unit which clarifies the brew.
The cold wort is mixed (called pitching) with yeast in a fermenting tank where the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process produces the natural carbonation (Spunding) and usually takes from 5 to 12 days at varying temperatures depending on the type of beer being made.
The fermented wort is set aside at near-freezing temperatures to mature for several days. During this period the flavor and smoothness is developed. As a general rule Ales mature more quickly than Lagers and some beers may require a second fermentation.
- Racking, Canning, and Bottling
Here the beer is bottled or put into kegs.
When tasting beer, one should look for four things:
- The color comes from the type and amount of malts used. Malts that have been roasted to various degrees of darkness are used in small amounts in the grist to add color to the beer.
- The aroma of the beer should contain the sweet smell of malt balanced by the flowery aroma of the hops. Ales have an additional fruity smell that produces a more complex aroma.
- The flavor of the beer should be malt sweet on the tip of your tongue and hops bitter on the back of your tongue. The aftertaste should be neither sour nor harsh.
- The body of the beer is it’s mouthfeel or degree of heaviness. As the beer passes over your tongue it will feel anywhere from light bodied or watery to full bodied or chewy.
The procedure used to taste beer is as follows:
- Pour the beer into a room temperature glass, down the side at first and then the middle to get more head.
- The color of the beer will indicate what flavor to expect and the clarity will indicate the type of beer.
- The smell the beer will also indicate the taste to expect. What is the relationship between the hops and malt aromas?
- Swirl the beer around in your mouth and your tongue will sense the mix of flavors depending on the balance of malt and hops. Consider the body, the flavors from the malts and hops and their balance.
- After swallowing the beer note whether the aftertaste is bitter or sweet.
Fresh beer always tastes better so we only produce small quantities and don’t ship our beer long distances.
Ales generally have a fruitier, more complex flavor than lagers and are the most traditional style of beers. Ales are made by using a yeast that ferments best at 60° – 70°F. Lagers have a more mellow taste and aroma than ales and were first brewed in the mid 1800s when a new strain of yeast was developed that fermented at temperatures beyween 40° – 50°F. Lager are generally aged longer than ales.