I used to be a beer taster in a brewery which produced Carlsberg. It was the best job in the world. Probably…
In the same way that most people can’t believe that a wee wifey can windsurf, most don’t believe that I was a beer taster – or that I gave it up! I can assure you that my beer-tasting skills are kept honed, although sadly, I no longer receive a beer allowance as part of my salary. At least it means that I am properly qualified to have a look at that most important aspect of watersports – the post-session pint!
A magnificent day on the water with friends at Mudeford; it started with an al-fresco fry-up overlooking Avon Beach. It was a sunny Force 4, so those who could, planed, while Rob, on his second ever session, mastered getting the sail out of the water, sailing along quite nicely and even got back to shore downwind. We came off the water together, our faces flushed with sun, sea and achievement – then we did the Ringwood Brewery tour with full access to the sample cellar. Could you possibly have a more perfect day?!
In fable, it is thought that Radegast, the Czech god of hospitality invented ale, although surprisingly, brewing is a bit of a feminine thing. In the past, brewing, like baking, was part of home-craft and the word ‘Brewster’ refers to a female brewer. Radegast didn’t file a patent, so a few fertility goddesses got in on the act and are also credited with the invention of ale. This makes sense – Beer Goggles have doubtless played a great part in human fertility over the millennia. Moving to fact from fable, there is 7000-year-old evidence that humans discovered some good reasons to domesticate cereals; one of these was the ability of wild yeast to spontaneously convert cereal sugars into alcohol!
Post session pint with Harty
Beer or Ale?
I deliberately talk about ale above, since ‘ale’ is the more generic term for an alcoholic beverage brewed from cereal. Ale can be flavoured with all kinds of things; honey, herbs, fruit – think of the Belgian Lambic beers. I have even heard of a recipe for Cock Ale. Guess how that is flavoured (………………..a chicken, alright. Unless Loreena Bobbitt had a sideline in brewing!)
What have the Romans ever done for us – well they gave us beer as we know it by introducing the hop plant to Britannia. Ale and Beer are terms used interchangeably now, but to be correct, beer is simply ale flavoured with hops, or more correctly, with alpha acids derived from the female hop flower. (Those girls again!)
Beer is traditionally brewed from only four ingredients; water (known as liquor in brewing terms – the Big Blue in watersports terms!), malt, hops and yeast. The Germans take this seriously and their purity laws forbid the use of any other ingredients, although some of the big breweries elsewhere have a tendency to pop in cheaper ingredients, like caramel for additional sugar, colour and flavour, or even sawdust, for that wonderful, wood-aged effect…
Each ingredient is critically important in the flavour; breweries jealously guard their particular strain of yeast, often keeping their seed culture locked away in a vault. Malt is simply barley, which is partially germinated to convert its starches into sugars. (These sugars are what the yeast then ferments into alcohol.) Germination is stopped by roasting; the extent of the roasting can produce pale, blond malts right through to dark, almost burnt chocolate- and crystal malts – such as those which give Guinness its colour and character. There are many types of hop, with vastly differing flavours and bitterness. Hops are ‘mashed’ (boiled up) with the malt and liquor. Mashing extracts the sugars from the malt and flavour and bitterness from the hops to produce ‘wort’. Wort is cooled, the yeast added and fermentation takes place. Sometimes, ‘aroma hops’ are used at the very end of the process to ‘dry hop’ cask ales – a handful of hops is simply dropped into the barrel before it is sealed. Even the liquor is critically important; it is no accident that breweries proliferate in certain areas, such as Burton on Trent, where the chemical composition of the water is particularly suitable for brewing. Nowadays, geography is less important, as it is possible to treat or ‘Burtonise’ your liquor to ensure a great beer.
They say that Guinness is good for you. It is a little known fact that in the Middle Ages, Nuns had a beer allowance of 8 pints per day. In days gone by, beer was actually safer to drink than water! The brewing process sterilises the water by boiling – and hops is credited with slightly antiseptic qualities.
Messrs Hall and Whitey enjoy a post session pint NWF Style
Lager and Beer
A frequent question is the difference between lager and beer. The answer is partly process and partly species! The many strains of Saccharomyces Cerevisiae are ale yeasts, sometimes called ‘top fermenting’ yeast, since they float to the top when fermentation is finished. Saccharomyces Carlsbergensis is ‘bottom fermenting’ or lager yeast. You guessed – it floats to the bottom after fermentation! ‘Lager’ actually means ‘to store’, so after fermentation, lager is stored over the yeast for a couple of weeks. This, in combination with the type of hops and blond malt used in brewing, gives that distinctive ‘Continental’ flavour. Lager is then filtered, pasteurised and carbonated, so no live yeast remains once it is bottled or kegged. Lager is not, therefore, a ‘live’ product. Lager is served in a pub chilled, under a top pressure of sterile gas, so is easier to keep and has a longer shelf-life. Lager is typically served very cold (4-7C), so less of the flavour comes through. We had to warm lager up in order to taste it properly. If you have ever picked up an old can at the end of a party, you will understand that a career in beer tasting can have its down sides, although at least we never found a fag-end in it…
Beers are not stored or ‘lagered’ after fermentation, but can be pasteurised, gassed and filtered in the same way; these ‘chilled and filtered’ keg beers (otherwise known as ‘sacrilege’!) led to the formation of CAMRA! ‘Live’ beers or ‘Real Ales’ are simply cleared and racked off from under the yeast following fermentation, put in a barrel, dry hopped if necessary – and are ready to go! To be stored and served correctly, these live beers require good cellar-craft, as they still contain some yeast (which continues to ferment and gives the slight sparkle = ‘cask conditioned’), are not over-chilled and are pumped under atmospheric pressure, not sterile gas. Real ales thus have a short shelf-life and certainly last only a few days once the barrel has been tapped, or opened. The flavour is more intense in beer than lager partly because of the ingredients and partly because beer is served warmer, at cellar temperature of around 12-14C.
Perfect end to a perfect day Ringwood Brewery
While beer barrels are no longer made of wood, measurements for beer remain gloriously imperial. A Barrel is 36 gallons, which is 4 Firkins, 8 Pins, 2 Kilderkins – or 2/3 of a Hogshead! 2 Hogsheads is a Butt and, if you are ever told your Butt looks big, you can always riposte that it is only half a Tun!
So there you have it. I have finally made a connection between microbiology and windsurfing and if you haven’t got a great session to talk about next time you have a pint, you can tell your mates some Firkin facts and how beer is a girl thing.
Jackie ‘Firkin’ L.
The Ringwood Brewery Tour costs £7.50 per person http://www.ringwoodbrewery.co.uk/tours/