Beer is made by converting a starch source (usually malted barley) into a sugary liquid known as wort. The wort is then converted into beer through fermentation.
The entire process generally starts with mashing: mixing crushed malted barley with hot water to convert the starches to sugars. After about an hour the liquid - called wort - is drained from the grains and boiled. Boiling concentrates the sugar and drives off unwanted volatile elements.
Hops are added during the boil for bitterness, flavour and aroma. This “hopped wort” is then cooled and transferred to a fermenter where yeast is added.
Fermentation takes anything from a week to several months. Fermentation can also be carried out in two stages, with the partially fermented beer being bottled and allowed to continue fermentation in the bottle.
Beers are commonly divided into ales or lagers:
Lagers are brewed at low temperatures with bottom-fermenting yeasts.
Ales are brewed quicker, at higher temperatures with top fermenting yeasts.
Lagers are generally lighter-coloured, cleaner-tasting and drier on the palate, while ales are usually darker, and very regionally distinctive.
Since beer is perishable, large commercial beer brands are generally filtered and pasteurized to stabilise the beer for extended shelf life.
However, this strips the beer of microbes, proteins and yeasts that can contribute to the flavour. It also strips the beer of most of the vitamin B and other nutrients, thus an unpasteurised “real beer”, the kind most microbreweries produce, is a healthier option.
Beer was once prescribed to treat various illnesses, whereas today it is generally considered unhealthy.
But while beer isn’t exactly a medicinal product, it’s been proven that a moderate amount of beer daily reduces the risk of heart disease, just as wine does.
Beer, especially the darker ales, also contains more vitamin B than wine, and is a source of antioxidants.
Again, the key to reaping these health benefits is moderation.