MASQUERADING AS CICERONE
In the absence of a beer culture, in addition to the romanticism of viticulture and mawkishness of wine, beer can be more inviting than just having a good time
PICTURE SOME POTTY, middle-aged men hanging around in a mock-Tudor bar gesturing at a telly showing two-dozen well-paid athletes chasing after a ball ‒ that will drain any toe-curling romantic mush left in you. Few people ever talk gleefully about their pints of Guinness evoking toffee and coffee on the nose, followed by a long espresso finish, like they would try to pluck that elusive purple stone fruit out of the skies with a glass of Argentinian Malbec. Except, Guinness does have that sort of finish. On the other hand, Kirin Ichiban uses only the first strain of the wort. Which other drink utilises the first extraction or press? Cuvée champagne. Now then, does beer seem a tad more genteel?
In conjunction with #TheGreatBrewFest, let’s have a rudimentary beer education.
What makes ale ale?
It is in the fermentation process. Ale brewing takes place at room temperature, which is considered “warm”. During fermentation, the yeast is added to the wort to metabolise the smorgasbord of sugars and transform them into alcohol. The sweet wort is the resultant liquid obtained from the lautering process which sorts the liquid from the malt. Lautering comes after the mashing process (will be explained further as we go along). Upon complete fermentation, the yeast and associated sediment rise to the top. Hence, the term top fermented, even though the fermentation takes place throughout the wort.
What makes lager lager?
In contrast to making ale, lager brewing takes place at cool to near-freezing temperatures. The yeast used in making lager sinks, along with the sediment, to the bottom of the wort upon complete fermentation.
Where does beer get its colours?
It lies in how the malt is roasted. The longer it is roasted, the darker the beer is.
Where does beer get its flavours, aromas and mouthfeel?
Beer is made from four key ingredients: grain, water, hop and yeast. Flavours are imparted by the grains used. Most beers are brewed from a mix of grains, including barley, rye, corn, rice, wheat, etc. Some use malted grains, while some others don’t. The ratio depends on the brewer’s preference. Wheat, thanks to an abundance of protein, lends itself to a fuller body and a thicker head. American brewers generally prefer six-row barley, which contains more protein and less starch than two-row barley, for the styles of beer they want to achieve.
Every brewery has its own secret mother yeast, which produces the little strains of yeast to be used in a particular beer. Heineken uses its proprietary A-yeast. The by-products of the synthesis in the wort are the flavour compounds.
Water piped into the mash affects the quality of the beer. Mashing is a process that steeps the malt in warm water to
encourage enzymes to convert the starch in the malt into sugars. The amount of minerals and the pH level affect the taste so brewers generally prefer the water to be as pure as possible so they can control what goes into the water afterwards.
A good brewing water should be hard, in other words, containing a controlled amount of calcium varieties, also known as brewing salts, which brewers will introduce themselves.
Hops affect the tartness of the beer while imbuing flavours and aromas. The more hops are added to the wort, the bitterer the beer tastes. Furthermore, hops are antimicrobial. India Pale Ale traces its origins to the golden age of the East India Company where pale ale from Europe was shipped from the continent to India. Hops were used heavily to help preserve the beer and prevent spoilages during the monthslong voyage. Brewers nowadays employ sterilisation by boiling the sweet wort, before hops are added, for health and safety purposes. Nonetheless, India Pale Ale with its hoppy taste still has its legion of fans.
Oxidation is bad.
Leave a bottle of uncapped wine in the fridge and watch it turn into vinegar after a couple of days. Oxidation is bad for wine. It is also ruinous for beer. Before fermentation and the introduction of yeasts into the wort and after sterilisation and the insertion of hops, the wort which was previously boiled is rapidly cooled down to curb oxidation. Brewers also make extra efforts to prevent oxidation such as piping the carbon dioxide that occurs naturally during fermentation into stainless steel tanks that hold the beer, filling stainless steel kegs to the brim to minimise contact between beer and air, or even enforcing the bar to replace its kegs before passing their shelf life. The latter applies to draught beer.
Foam isn’t always detestable.
The perfect pour hinges on the tapster’s technique ‒ and the tap itself of course. Mlíko, a Czech word translating to milk, denotes a glass of beer froth that is uber silky, fluffy and creamy on the mouth. A half-froth, half-liquid pour is known as šnyt. The standard pour is called hladinka, which contains a quarter foam. Malaysians’ favourite? Cochtan ‒ foamless, headless and we love it. Because we just love drinking. AM