American craft beer has become prevalent in shops everywhere, giving consumers the opportunity to become more educated than ever on the topic. While there is more open access to homebrewing and learning about the brewing process, some common misconceptions still exist surrounding the production and consumption of our favorite beverage. Here are the top 10 things you might not know about craft beer:
1. Beer has been around for centuries.
While there may be bolder flavors and experimentation within the American craft brewing industry, the styles and techniques themselves are ancient. American brewers add their own bold flavors, fruits and massive amounts of dry hops to their beers, but the basic techniques used to brew are time-tested.
2. Beer’s flavor can be impacted greatly by all four ingredients.
Well-done brews make use of flavors within all ingredients used in the brewing process, down to the water. A brewery’s water profile sets the base for each recipe, which is grown upon with malted barley, wheat or another starch source. Hops are used for bittering and flavoring, and in many American beers stand out with notes of pine, citrus or earth. Yeast also imparts flavors on the beer as it ferments, leaving behind traces of barnyard funk, clove or banana depending on its origin.
3. Yeast is a living organism.
One of at least four ingredients in beer, yeast is a living organism. It is responsible for turning sweet, sugary wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide and for imparting certain flavors in the brew. Many brewers use controlled and cultivated yeast, and there appears to be a trend toward testing American wild yeast with foraging and spontaneous fermentation.
4. Producing beer uses a great deal of water.
Operating a brewery requires a large amount of running water. Cleaning large tanks and ensuring all equipment is sanitary requires gallons upon gallons of steaming hot water. According to the Huffington Post, it takes about 28 gallons of water to produce 12 ounces of beer. Many breweries, including Pennsylvania frontrunners Victory Brewing Company, find ways to keep our state’s beautiful water sources clean.
5. Brewers are more like chefs than magicians.
While beers are a magical beverage, the people behind them are often very down to earth. Unlike wizards, brewers are concerned mostly with creating and testing new recipes, executing those recipes, selling their product and keeping their brewery clean.
6. Brewing isn’t easy.
While the overall method of brewing is the same everywhere, brewers often exercise preferences and habits based on their system. Depending on various factors, from the size of their brew house to the floor plan of their brewery, brewers face a different set of challenges every day. Especially in the modern craft beer industry, brewers must deal with the added test of creating marketable recipes and beer names.
7. Different styles are made with distinct brewing techniques.
Distinct methods of brewing result in different styles of beer. For example, India pale ales are heavily hopped and can ferment rather quickly, while lagers are lighter on hops but ferment for longer periods at cooler temperatures. This differentiation also has to do with malt bill and yeast. Many ale yeasts ferment at the top of the tank and impart little flavor on the beer, while lager yeasts ferment at the bottom and impart different flavors depending on the strain.
8. Cans can be better than bottles.
Cans are better for freshness and portability, as they block out the sunlight that can harm a beer. For beers meant to be consumed fresh, there is a national trend toward canning to preserve quality and cut costs. However, still look for bottles to hold those precious aged brews.
9. There are best practices for aging and serving.
Especially when aging beer for long periods, some general precautions should be taken to preserve a brew’s quality. Beer is best stored in a dark and cool space that stays below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Some prefer to lie bottles on their side to ensure that the cork will not dry out, but chances are you will not experience problems with aging bottles upright. Also, make sure to drink a bottle before aging one so you have a comparison!
Different styles of beers can be enjoyed at different temperatures. For example, a pale ale may be enjoyed at a cold 45 degrees, while a stout may be served at cool 55 degrees or higher. We recommend letting a beer warm as you drink it and carefully pouring it out of your can or bottle so that the yeast remains at the bottom of the container.
10. Each person has unique taste buds.
Finally, remember that beer tasting isn’t a race or competition! Everyone has unique taste buds, which is why there are copious amounts of different styles. If you don’t enjoy a brew, ponder what the brewer wanted to accomplish in making that beer. Often, exploring production techniques can aid in understanding a brew’s flavors and merit.
The Brewers of Pennsylvania is a nonprofit trade association that brings together leaders of Pennsylvania-based breweries in order to promote and protect the brewing industry in the state. Established in 2011, the Brewers of Pennsylvania serves the consuming public of Pennsylvania by encouraging brand diversity in the market. We believe in the nobility of brewing and hold dear the great traditions and history of Pennsylvania brewing.
Photos, top to bottom: Stickman Brews, credit Jay Breslin; Victory Brewing Company, credit Victory Brewing Company; Funk Brewing Company, credit Scott Adams