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Thursday, April 18, 2024

A look into the world of beer

Beer is a beverage that many college students may be familiar with as a simple refreshing drink, but the complexity of the brewing process is another story. While brewers throughout the world may differ in the types of beers they make, the consistency of the brewing process remains. The complex process of brewing a beer has withstood a long history, so how is a beer made and what are the brewer’s goals?

“It’s very difficult to produce a good beer,” said Charles Bamforth, professor at the department of food and science technology at UC Davis. “It’s confidently the most complicated and demanding process in the food and beverage industry.”
According to Bamforth, the process starts out with barley grain being made into malt. After the soaked malt sprouts, it is allowed to dry, when different flavors and colors are produced.

The sprouted and dried malt is stored for a month, and then it is ground up and milled to produce smaller particles. These small particles are then mixed with hot water and extracted. Wort, the liquid that contains sugars for fermentation, is drained from residual solids and is then boiled with hops.

The product is then allowed to cool, and yeast is added. After fermentation, the beer is filtered and allowed to mature to the beverage consumers can buy.

“A brewer strives to make the beer consistent according to a specification; brewers need to match it every time,” Bamforth said.
According to Bamforth, beer brewers do not use words like “vintage” and do not accept change. This sometimes involves tweaking the process because barley and hops can cause differences.
“The brewing process is consistent across the world,” Bamforth said. “You’ll recognize the same brewer operation.”
Bamforth said that in the U.S., about 90 percent of beer is made by the big brewing companies; the rest is imports and the craft scene.
“The craft people make wonderful beer — the big guys, too —  but I wish it was more evenly balanced,” Bamforth said.
He said that the system in place in the U.S. — brewer, distributor and retailer — tends to favor bigger breweries, but that he interacts very strongly with both the strong ones and the little ones.
When compared to wine, “beer is much more interesting, more complex and there’s more science,” Bamforth said. “It’s a more sophisticated process, and vastly more interesting with all of the different colors and flavors.”
According to Michael Lewis, professor emeritus and academic director of the brewing extension program at UC Davis, all of a beer’s ingredients make their contributions in giving the beer its flavor, but he puts emphasis on the malt due to its flavoring properties.
“I would stress on the malt because it determines whether it is a Budweiser or Guinness,” Lewis said.
He said that the processes for making different beers is identical, but that the “devil is in the details,” such as in fermentation temperatures.
When comparing two prominent styles of beer, ale and lager, Lewis said there is a big overlap between the two styles of beer, but there are differences in taste.
“Lagers are delicate, light and not terribly bitter. Ales are big in flavor and big in alcohol,” Lewis said. “It’s a function of the interpretation the brewer puts on it, not the style.”
According to the Barth-Haas Group, which tracks statistics in the beer industry, the top five countries in terms of beer production in 2010 were China, the U.S., Brazil, Russia and Germany, respectively.
Both Bamforth and Lewis said that UC Davis is among the world’s leaders when it comes to its brewing program.
“We are a very powerful presence; it’s a matter of the people we have here,” Lewis said.

“Beer is a charming, refreshing drink that doesn’t insult your pallet. There are many more choices in matching beer with food than wine,” Lewis said. “Beer is a good bang for the buck.”

Both professors suggest treating beer with reverence, and stress moderation in its consumption.

ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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