The boom of Craft Beer and how it all started.
With the craft beer boom that is happening around the world at the moment, we are seeing many strange ingredients being used in brewing beer. But the boom has also seen a lot of other ingredients such as fruit, spirits and wood used in the brewing process. This shows that beer can be used with many different ingredients and so using beer in cocktails is quite an interesting next step.
Beer brewing and drinking are activities that have been part of the human experience seemingly since the dawn of civilisation.
Around 10,000 years ago, mankind began to move away from living life as nomadic hunter gatherers, and began settling down in one spot to farm the land. Grain, a vital ingredient in beer making, was cultivated by these new agricultural societies.
What we do know is that the oldest written documentation pertaining to beer making can be traced back at least six thousand years, to the ancient civilisation of Sumeria.
No one is exactly sure how the process of beer making was discovered or who first discovered it, but it is thought that some bread or grain got wet, fermenting into an inebriating pile of mush thanks to yeast in the air. One has to wonder at the thought process of the person tasting the result for the first time, or more likely it was simply that up until very recently, no one would have dreamed of wasting any food, even putrid mush. If there was a way to make it palatable and it didn’t kill you, people would do it to avoid waste.
Although the official definition of a cocktail is a drink containing three or more ingredients, for the purpose of this section, I’ve decided that a beer cocktail is a drink that mixes beer with at least one other alcoholic drink.
Beer is made from four basic ingredients: barley, water, hops and yeast. The basic idea is to extract the sugars from grains, so that the yeast can turn it into alcohol and CO2, creating beer.
The brewing process starts with grains, usually barley, although sometimes wheat, rye, buckwheat or others are used. The grains are harvested and processed through a process of heating, drying out and cracking. The main goal of malting is to isolate the enzymes needed for brewing so that it’s ready for the next step.
The grains then go through a process known as mashing, in which they are steeped in hot, but not boiling, water for about an hour, sort of like making tea. This activates enzymes in the grains that cause it to break down and release its sugars. Once this is all done you drain the water from the mash, which is now full of sugar from the grains. This sticky, sweet liquid is called wort. It’s basically unmade beer, sort of like how dough is unmade bread.
The wort is boiled for about an hour while hops and other spices are added several times. Hops are the small, green cone-like fruit of a vine plant. They provide bitterness to balance out all the sugar in the wort and provide flavour. They also act as a natural preservative, which is what they were first used for.
Once the hour long boil is over the wort is cooled, strained and filtered. It’s then put in a fermenting vessel and yeast is added to it. At this point the brewing is complete and the fermentation begins. The beer is stored for a couple of weeks at room temperature (in the case of ales) or many weeks at cold temperatures (in the case of lagers) while the yeast works its fermentation magic. Basically the yeast eats up all the sugar in the wort and spits out CO2 and alcohol as waste products.
You’ve now got alcoholic beer, however, it is still flat and uncarbonated. The flat beer is bottled, at which time it is either artificially carbonated like a soda, or if it’s going to be bottle conditioned it’s allowed to naturally carbonate via the CO2 the yeast produces. After allowing it to age for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months you drink the beer, and it’s delicious!