True Brew: National Beer Lover’s Day
“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”-Benjamin Franklin
Mmmmmmm beer. That blessed blend of barley, hops, water and yeast. 4 simple ingredients that when combined in the right combination, with the right timing, yields one of the most revered products in the world. There was a time in history when beer was consumed more than other liquid, including water, because it was safer to drink. Beer for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m sure a number of frat boys wish that were still the case…or past wishing, have revived that lifestyle.
“He was a wise man who invented beer.”
While popular and consumed in all European cultures, the Germans are certainly known most for their beer production and drinking. This could in part be due to the 16th century law known as “Reinheitsgebot” which in true German fashion, has set rigorous and minimalist guidelines to what goes into beer. At this time yeast were still unknown to exist so the ingredient list was actually only three ingredients that could be used to craft a true brew: Barley. Hops. Water. That’s it. The law was introduced primarily as a form of price control over wheat and rye, both of which can also be used for fermentation, as brewers and bakers fought to control the markets. Brewers caught not abiding by the law were subject to total confiscation of their product without compensation. I imagine that many government officials were happy to volunteer for this delicious task….
“For a quart of Ale is a dish for a King.”
– William Shakespeare (A Winter’s Tale)
Today’s craft breweries make a living off arguably gimmick-y beers with a variety of additives but many brewmasters, including my college beer mentor and favorite BrewMaster General, prefer to abide by the old German Law. Speaking of which this law is still in effect in Germany. Breweries can add additional adjuncts but can not sell their products as “beer”. The law has been slightly expanded, to include yeast which we now know are responsible for the fermentation, and a few sugars are permitted for specific types of beer. While I adore my college brewing professor Charlie Bamfort, I’m not entirely convinced that all adjuncts are evil. I’m a big fan of both classic brews and some of the crazier varieties that use cherries or saffron. Bacon beer anyone? Anyone? Still has yet to be made damn it! Thankfully pretty much every other country on other couldn’t give a hoot about whether or not you use the german law. Not that you can’t make delicious beer with just those four ingredients but it’s fun to play around.
“This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption… Beer!”
-”Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves” Friar Tuck
Barley and Hops are the two big magical ingredients we put in beer to make it, well, beer. A number of grains can be used in place of Barley…unless you are in Germany. You can’t however remove grains from the process completely. You need some sort of starch dense carbohydrate for brewing. These grains are more often referred to as the malt in beer. That’s because you don’t just toss raw barley in a pot and boil. First the grain is processed into malt–i.e. they are soaked in water to inspire germination which causes the starches to break down into smaller sugars. These sugars need to be released for the yeast to act upon during the fermentation process. Malting also releases those delicious roasty notes we associate with beer, toasted bread and drinks like Ovaltine. What kind of barley (or other grain) you use and the length/method of malting provides for an array of flavor profiles for your beers.
Hops are added to the beer both for flavor and chemical stability; they provide the bitterness and aroma we know and love. There are a number of varieties of hops to choose from but unlike Barley, I’m not aware of any plant commonly used as a substitute for this ingredient. Hops, or the part used in brewing at least, is the female flower of the Humulus plant. This plant is part of the Cannabacaea family and to the more observant or scientifically minded of my readers, yes that is the family from which Cannibis stems. No doubt crosses my mind that many a homebrewer has tried to use this as a hop substitute in their brews. Of course the legality of it makes this hard to ever market as a viable alternative. A fermented drink utilizing cannabis called Bhang is quite popular in India so I imagine it must be possible but you’ll have to go there to figure this one out.
“Fermentation may have been a greater discovery than fire.”
-David Rains Wallace
Reinheitsgebot had to open up to allow for yeast as an ingredient because without them, beer production would not be possible. These microorganisms are responsible for the alchemy (aka fermentation) that turns sugars naturally present in the barley into alcohol. Yeast are alive…ALIVE! They work primarily in anaerobic environments and their food source is sugar. The yeast eat the sugars we’ve freed from the barley in malting and then produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. In case you can’t figure out what that means alcohol is the byproduct of yeast digestion. Let that sink in for a minute if you will.
“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline – it helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
There are two types used for beer brewing and those types determine if you have a lager or an ale. Personally I’m an ale girl. I just don’t have the palate for most lagers. Yeast used for ale is the same species that we use in bread baking, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, versus that used in lager production: Saccharomyces pastorianus. Hmmm so ale is made with the “top fermenting” delicious bread yeast whereas lagers are made with a bottom fermenting yeast with the word anus in it. Wonder why I’m such an ale lover…. **snickering like a 12 year old** Still for some reason the top producers of beer in the U.S. are Budweiser and Miller-Coors…both of which produce lagers. Interestingly enough most people who dislike beer have, in my personal experience, only been exposed to these types of beer. I often find these are the folk who become beer lovers after finding a solid ale to rely upon. It saddens me that the “American” brews are so limited in scope.
“Fill with mingled cream and amber, I will drain that glass again. Such hilarious visions clamber through the chambers of my brain. Quaintest thoughts–queerest fancies, come to life and fade away. What care I how time advances? I am drinking ale today.”– Edgar Allan Poe
So there’s your very basic introduction to the world of brewing. Was it interesting? Would you like to learn more about beer? I was blessed to get to embrace this field in my undergrad years and so I can ramble on about this more and more if you all like. Recipes I have in abundance utilizing this precious drink. Beer is rich and flavorful–it works wonderfully in both cooking (like this Beer Braised Chicken I’d made a year ago) or in baking cakes and breads.
Or in making ice cream.
Yup. BEER ICE CREAM. No this isn’t an April Fool’s joke. I used a chocolate stout which is a particularly thick, bitter variety with a strong cocoa undertone from Bison Brewery. I’m a big fan of their beers though my favorite is actually a lighter summer variety they put out. For ice cream though I wanted something with a lot of OOMPH and this definitely delivered. Top the ice cream with a beer infused chocolate sauce or better yet flood it for a grownup Chocolate Beer Float.
Yup a Beer Float. I put two scoops in a frosty mug and topped it off with the remaining bottle of Chocolate Stout. It tastes like a creamy mug of beer with a particularly creamy foam. If you like bitter and you like beer and you like chocolate you’ll go absolutely gaga over this one. Guiness Floats are somewhat common but I prefer this homemade version. Guiness is much more burnt in flavor and usually the ice cream is just plain old vanilla. Who needs that when you can double dose with a delicious cocoa brew?
Chocolate Stout Ice Cream Float
ice cream recipe from The Boozy Baker
- 2 ½ cups heavy cream
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 5 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (8 ounces) chocolate stout
To make the ice cream, combine the heavy cream and milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is almost just barely simmering (you will see steam rising from the surface, and small bubbles at the edge of the pan). Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until thick and pale yellow. Very slowly, whisk a 1/4 cup of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture to temper it. Then transfer the egg mixture to the saucepan with the rest of the cream mixture and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon without running.
Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve. Add the vanilla extract and stout. Chill for at least four hours (preferably overnight) and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Scoop the ice cream into a frosty mug and top with the rest of your beer or crack open a new one if that bottle, like mine, mysteriously disappeared during the waiting time….