“Beer is proof that God loves us.”
Beer. It’s really very simple. Hops, barley malt, water, yeast. You can add some grains or any number of other things to create unique flavors, but the essence of beer is simple. Yeast eat sugar, producing two basic by-products: alcohol and carbon dioxide. Beer, or more broadly put fermented sugar water, is one of the oldest creations of the human race. Nearly every civilization from the Egyptians to the Aztecs to the English have brewed beer. One can travel the world over (or visit a good well-stocked pub) and sample beers from different cultures and climates, each with its own unique taste and character. Australia’s hearty lagers can be just the thing after a hard day in the sun, while Mexico’s lagers go with a nice easy day at the beach. The British stouts warm a winter evening and the Caribbean’s milk stouts offer a touch of sweetness after a spicy meal. Germany’s famous bocks and hefe-wiezzens should be savored for their rich complexity, as might a fine wine.
There are two basic styles of beer: lager and ale. Lagers tend to be lighter in body and have a cleaner flavor. They are cold fermented at lower temperatures and are usually light in color. Ales, fermented at room temperature and occasionally served at room temperature, have a much more complex flavor and range in color from light amber to black. Both are excellent styles and a matter of personal preference analogous to the differences between red and white wine. I personally prefer English ales to any other style. There is a third beer style, unfortunately. This is the swill produced by the major American breweries. You know who they are. Their beer is a perverse replica of the pilsner style of lager originating in eastern Europe in much the same way that Frankenstein’s monster was a twisted version of a human being.
Too often, when offered a beer, I am treated to a flavorless concoction consisting of slightly metallic tasting carbonated water mixed with alcohol. The sad truth is that this is not beer. This is an alcohol delivery device, not a fine drink to be savored and appreciated for its flavor or character. Perhaps, a handful of hops was held near the wort while it boiled and dissolved sugars, but certainly no hops were lovingly thrown into the mix. Prior to 1920 and prohibition, American beer was just as interesting and unique as the beer of any other country. We had variety and regional flavor. During prohibition, only the larger breweries survived by shifting production to non-alcoholic products. In 1933, prohibition ended and the major breweries proceeded to market a lighter style of beer that would appeal to both women and men. Over the years, beer came to mean a watery beverage, often brewed with rice or corn, that carried alcohol into the body without carrying flavor across the tongue. This is franken-beer made by corporations that love profit more than beer. I have spoken with many people who say they don’t like beer, but have only ever sampled the twisted products of these breweries. I was one of them until I tasted a true beer, a certain Irish stout that looks like coffee. I then realized that I had never previously tried beer; I had only tried franken-beer.
The mass market ad campaigns have taught many people too well that beer with flavor is bad or as one brewery put it, “skunky.” To combat skunkiness, this brewery put born on dates on all of its bottles. But when is a beer born? Is it born when the hops are thrown into the boiling wort as my religious friends might say, or do we take the more secular view that a beer is born when the bottle leaves the brewery? I say that too often American beer is in fact stillborn, or perhaps is not even born at all, no more deserving of the language of birth than a machine. Beer is born when there is love. Love for originality and uniqueness. Not love of money.
Referring back to Ben Franklin’s quote and thinking of the popularity of American macro-brews, one cannot help but wonder if perhaps God no longer loves us. Perhaps we are being punished for following the trendy ads rather than our taste buds. I believe that this phenomenon, which occurs in other industries (think hamburger chains), is the end result of mass culture. Are we doomed to a steady diet of blandness and nothing?