Wow! Bro, I don’t want to kill your buzz, or anything, but you got to hear this. I just found out how beer is made!
So, there are really only four ingredients to beer: grains, water, hops and yeast. Truly, the only difference between that ale and that lager is the science of brewing.
It starts when brewers collect cereal grains. No! They don’t collect “Frosted Flakes.” Cereal grains are grasses that people eat, such as wheat, maize or rice. Most brewers typically use barley.
Barley is important because it stores lots of starches, and when brewers soak barley in hot water, enzymes in the grains turn those starches into sugar.
But there’s a problem: the sugar water is usually contaminated with germs. So, brewers boil the mixture to kill the bacteria, and then add hops — those leafy morsels of beer commercial fame.
Hops are cones that come from a flowering vine. No! They’re not like the vines on Stimson Hall. These cones are the female structures of the plant.
Hops taste good and they’re good for you. Brewers could use other flavoring agents, like berries or herbs, but they like the bitter flavor of hops. This flavor comes from chemicals known as beta-acids. Who doesn’t love the bitter flavor of a tall, cold one?
Not to mention, these beta-acids act like antibiotics. No! They’re not like those prescriptions you get from your doctor. Prescription antibiotics are typically derived from fungi. The acids in hops act as natural preservatives, defending against bacteria to keep that beer of yours tasty and fresh. Of course, a very important ingredient is still missing from that beer: alcohol.
When brewers add yeast to the brew, the yeast cells digest the sugar and produce alcohol.
This is called “fermentation,” and it isn’t as odd as you may think. Fermentation is just another way to metabolize — an alternate method of respiration. Actually, if you don’t get enough oxygen, your cells may ferment sugars to get energy. However, when you ferment sugar, your body makes lactic acid, which causes those nasty cramps in your sides when you run.
Different yeasts ferment the sugar — called raffinose — differently. This makes two types of beer: ales and lagers. If you’re an ale-man, you prefer “top-fermenting yeast,” which ferments quickly at warm temperatures near the tops of barrels. If you’re a lager-guy, you prefer “bottom-fermenting yeast,” which ferments slowly at low temperatures near the bottom of barrels.
But don’t worry about the bacteria, acids or fungi. Over the past 8,000 years, brewers have used filtration, distillation and drying — the favored techniques of organic chemists — to keep your brew pure.
Even safely-made beer may still have devastating effects. Alcohol can change your body chemistry. It causes your body to lose water. It depresses the five senses. It interferes with the proper movement of muscles, and it kills brain, kidney and liver cells.
So, cheers! Drink responsibly, and as the philosopher Homer (Simpson) would say, “To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”