I’m off out for a couple of pints tonight – which got me thinking of delicious beer! If you’ve ever wondered where the good stuff originated or what goes into it then read on…..
Beer is one of the world’s oldest prepared beverages, possibly dating back to the early Neolithic or 9000 BC, and is recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The earliest known chemical evidence of beer dates to circa 3500–3100 BC from the site of Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran. Some of the earliest Sumerian writings found in the region contain references to a type of beer; one such example, a prayer to the goddess Ninkasi, known as “The Hymn to Ninkasi”, served as both a prayer as well as a method of remembering the recipe for beer in a culture with few literate people. The Ebla tablets, discovered in 1974 in Ebla, Syria and date back to 2,500 BC, reveal that the city produced a range of beers, including one that appears to be named “Ebla” after the city. A beer made from rice, which, unlike sake, didn’t use the amylolytic process, and was probably prepared for fermentation by mastication or malting, was made in China around 7,000 BC.
As almost any substance containing carbohydrates, mainly sugars or starch, can naturally undergo fermentation, it is likely that beer-like beverages were independently invented among various cultures throughout the world. The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization.
Beer was spread through Europe by Germanic and Celtic tribes as far back as 3000 BC, and it was mainly brewed on a domestic scale.The product that the early Europeans drank might not be recognised as beer by most people today. Alongside the basic starch source, the early European beers might contain fruits, honey, numerous types of plants, spices and other substances such as narcotic herbs. What they did not contain was hops, as that was a later addition first mentioned in Europe around 822 by a Carolingian Abbot and again in 1067 by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen.
Beer produced before the Industrial Revolution continued to be made and sold on a domestic scale, although by the 7th century AD, beer was also being produced and sold by Europeanmonasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved from artisanal manufacture to industrial manufacture, and domestic manufacture ceased to be significant by the end of the 19th century. The development of hydrometers and thermometers changed brewing by allowing the brewer more control of the process and greater knowledge of the results.
Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries. As of 2006, more than 133 billion liters (35 billion gallons), the equivalent of a cube 510 metres on a side, of beer are sold per year, producing total global revenues of £147.7 billion.
My particular libation of choice is the ‘black stuff’ – and I don’t mean coffee.
Guinness stout is made from water, barley, hops, and brewer’s yeast, and is treated with isinglass finings made from fishes’ air bladders, although Guinness has claimed that this finings material is unlikely to remain in the finished product. A portion of the barley is roasted to give Guinness its dark colour and characteristic taste. It is pasteurised and filtered. Despite its reputation as a “meal in a glass”, Guinness only contains 198 kcal (838 kilojoules) per imperial pint (1460 kJ/l), fewer than skimmed milk or orange juice and most other non-light beers.
Until the late 1950s Guinness was still racked into wooden casks. It was in the late 1950s and early 1960s that aluminium kegs were replacing the wooden casks, these were nicknamed “iron lungs”.
Draught Guinness and its canned counterpart contain nitrogen (N2) as well as carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is less soluble than carbon dioxide, which allows the beer to be put under high pressure without making it fizzy. The high pressure of dissolved gas is required to enable very small bubbles to be formed by forcing the draught beer through fine holes in a plate in the tap, which causes the characteristic “surge” (the widget in cans and bottles achieves the same effect). The perceived smoothness of draught Guinness is due to its low level of carbon dioxide and the creaminess of the head caused by the very fine bubbles that arise from the use of nitrogen and the dispensing method described above. “Original Extra Stout” contains only carbon dioxide, causing a more acidic taste.
Contemporary Guinness Draught and Extra Stout are weaker than they were in the 19th century, when they had an original gravity of over 1.070. Foreign Extra Stout and Special Export Stout, with abv over 7%, are perhaps closest to the original in character.
Although Guinness may appear to be black, it is officially a very dark shade of ruby. So let me rephrase that….My particular libation of choice is the ‘very dark ruby stuff’.