What is beer?

Print More

Beer is the third most popular beverage in the world. Right behind water, the most popular beverage, and tea, which comes in second. I assume tea’s more popular than beer because beer only contains between 88 percent and 97 percent water while tea is closer to 99.5 percent water, the most popular beverage.

There may have been a time when beer was the most popular beverage. During the Middle Ages many diseases were spread by contaminated drinking water. Back then beer was known as a nutritious alternative to water. As early as 7,000 BCE households routinely brewed beer. The Mayflower’s crew basically dumped the Pilgrims off on Plymouth Rock when their beer supply was nearly “spent.” The rise in popularity of America’s Craft Beer has been attributed to 1978 when Jimmy Carter signed H.R 1337, an act authorizing the home production of beer and wine without federal taxation.

So much for a brief history of beer—back to what beer is! The main components of beer are water (the world’s most popular beverage), ethyl alcohol (the intoxicating part), carbohydrates, fructose, sucrose, glucose, maltose, polysaccharides, pectin, polypeptides, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, humulones and lupulones. There are many other waste products that yeasts synthesize while they are glycolyzing maltose and other simple sugars to create ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. German chemists, go figure, have identified over 7,700 different chemicals in beers.

To make beer, grains used as malts contribute many compounds through a water extraction process called mashing. Among other chemicals, calcium and sulfates in water used in this process have tremendous effects on the flavor of the resulting beer. The temperature of the mash, usually between 140°F and 160°F, also affects how enzymes help convert carbohydrates to sugars, which also has a large effect on the flavor and what the yeasts metabolize. Hops are another ingredient that add a lot of flavor to most modern beers. These contribute the humulones and lupulones that add the bitterness, many of the fruity or juicy flavors and much of the aromas you enjoy in your beer.

If you have never had a beer, I encourage you to visit a local brew pub or brewery and try a beer. You can talk to your local brewer while you’re there and see what other fascinating things go into that beer. Did you know that the oldest family farm in America, close to Granby, malts grains for making beers?