Beer is the world's most widely consumed and probably oldest alcoholic beverage, and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing andfermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereal grains—most commonly malted barley, although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are widely used. Most beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavorings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included.
Some of humanity's earliest known writings refer to the production and distribution of beer: theCode of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and beer parlours, and "The Hymn toNinkasi", a prayer to the Mesopotamian goddess of beer, served as both a prayer and as a method of remembering the recipe for beer in a culture with few literate people. 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.
The basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries. Beers are commonly categorized into two main types—the globally popular pale lagers, and the regionally distinct ales, which are further categorized into other varieties such as pale ale, stout and brown ale. The strength of beer is usually around 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (abv) though may range from less than 1% abv, to over 20% abv in rare cases.
Beer forms part of the culture of beer-drinking nations and is associated with social traditions such as beer festivals, as well as a rich pub culture involving activities like pub crawling and pub gamessuch as bar billiards.
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 andMesopotamia. 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 fementation by mastication ormalting, 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 asnarcotic 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 European monasteries. During the Industrial Revolution, the production of beer moved fromartisanal 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 $294.5 billion (£147.7 billion).
While there are many types of beer brewed, the basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries. The traditional European brewing regions—Germany, Belgium, theUnited Kingdom, Ireland, Poland, the Czech Republic, Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Austria—have local varieties of beer. In some countries, notably the USA, Canada, and Australia, brewers have adapted European styles to such an extent that they have effectively created their own indigenous types.
Despite the regional variations, beer is categorised into two main types based on the temperature of the brewing which influences the behaviour of yeast used during the brewing process—lagers, which are brewed at a low temperature, and the more regionally distinct ales, brewed at a higher temperature. Ales are further categorised into other varieties such as pale ale, brown or dark ale, and stout.
Michael Jackson, in his 1977 book The World Guide To Beer, categorised beers from around the world in local style groups suggested by local customs and names. Fred Eckhardt furthered Jackson's work in The Essentials of Beer Style in 1989.
The most common method of categorising beer is by the behaviour of the yeast used in the fermentation process. In this method, beers using a fast-acting yeast which leaves behind residual sugars are termed "ales", while beers using a slower-acting yeast, fermented at lower temperatures, which removes most of the sugars, leaving a clean, dry beer, are termed "lagers". Differences between some ales and lagers can be difficult to categorise. Steam beer, Kölsch, Alt, and some modern British Golden Summer Beers use elements of both lager and ale production. Baltic Porter and Bière de Garde may be produced by either lager or ale methods or a combination of both. However, lager production results in a cleaner-tasting, drier and lighter beer than ale.
Beer colour is determined by the malt. The most common colour is a pale amber produced from using pale malts. Pale lager and pale ale are terms used for beers made from malt dried with coke. Coke was first used for roasting malt in 1642, but it was not until around 1703 that the term pale ale was used.
In terms of sales volume, most of today's beer is based on the pale lager brewed in 1842 in the town of Pilsen in the present-day Czech Republic. The modern pale lager is light in colour with a noticeable carbonation (fizzy bubbles) and a typical alcohol by volume content of around 5%. The Pilsner Urquell, Bitburger, and Heineken brands of beer are typical examples of pale lager, as are the American brands Budweiser, Coors, and Miller.
Dark beers are usually brewed from a pale malt or lager malt base with a small proportion of darker malt added to achieve the desired shade. Other colourants—such as caramel—are also widely used to darken beers. Very dark beers, such as stout, use dark or patent malts that have been roasted longer. Some have roasted unmalted barley.
Beer ranges from less than 3% alcohol by volume (abv) to around 14% abv, though this strength has been increased to around 20% by re-pitching with champagne yeast, and to 41% abv by the freeze-distilling process. The alcohol content of beer varies by local practice or beer style. The pale lagers that most consumers are familiar with fall in the range of 4–6%, with a typical abv of 5%. The customary strength of British ales is quite low, with many session beers being around 4% abv. Some beers, such astable beer are of such low alcohol content (1%–4%) that they are served instead of soft drinks in some schools.
The alcohol in beer comes primarily from the metabolism of sugars that are produced during fermentation. The quantity of fermentable sugars in the wort and the variety of yeast used to ferment the wort are the primary factors that determine the amount of alcohol in the final beer. Additional fermentable sugars are sometimes added to increase alcohol content, and enzymes are often added to the wort for certain styles of beer (primarily "light" beers) to convert more complex carbohydrates (starches) to fermentable sugars. Alcohol is a byproduct of yeast metabolism and is toxic to the yeast; typical brewing yeast cannot survive at alcohol concentrations above 12% by volume. Low temperatures and too little fermentation time decreases the effectiveness of yeasts and consequently decreases the alcohol content.
Exceptionally Strong Beers
The strength of beers has climbed during the later years of the 20th century. Vetter 33, a 10.5% abv (33 degrees Plato, hence Vetter "33"), doppelbock, was listed in the 1994 Guinness Book of World Records as the strongest beer at that time, thoughSamichlaus, by the Swiss brewer Hürlimann, had also been listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the strongest at 14% abv.
Since then, some brewers have used champagne yeasts to increase the alcohol content of their beers. Samuel Adams reached 20% abv with Millennium, and then surpassed that amount to 25.6% abv with Utopias. The strongest beer brewed in Britain was Baz's Super Brew by Parish Brewery, a 23% abv beer. The beer that is claimed to be the strongest yet made is Sink The Bismarck!, a 41% abv IPA, made by BrewDog, who also made Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a 32% abv Imperial Stout, using the eisbock method offreeze distilling - in November 2009 the brewery freeze distilled a 10% ale, gradually removing the ice until the beer reached 32% abv. The German brewery Schorschbräu's Schorschbock—a 31% abv eisbock, and Hair of the Dog's Dave—a 29% abv barley wine made in 1994, both used the same freeze distilling method.