An Overview Of Beer Brewing Styles And Methods

Beer is a part of modern life. Surprisingly, the awareness about its origin and different brewing styles is not very common. Few know about the manner it is processed, the different grains that are mashed and rested as part of the processing, and how subtle differences in each of these steps provides a distinct variation to its taste and flavor. Each distinct step in the brewery results in a distinctive characteristic
An Overview of Beer Brewing Styles and Methods
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Beer Today

Beer is available today in hundreds of varieties, each with its own characteristic flavour and appearance. Even though they are produced from fermentation of starch extracted from cereals, minor modifications in the brewing process give rise to innumerable variants. These differences can be subtle or significant depending upon the overall method of brewing. That is why the beer brewing styles adopted by breweries in different parts of the world are identified as unique and have a bearing on the quality.

To appreciate how minor variations in brewing process can affect the beer quality, it is essential to first have an

overview of the process itself.

The Process of Beer Brewing

Brewing begins with malted grains, i.e.. germinated barley, wheat or other grains, which are then dried and roasted. Germination leads to production of natural enzymes which later helps in breaking the starch of cereals into sugar. The amount of roasting is crucial to the colour of the beer. Pale Lager and Pilsner, which are very pale and light in colour involve lesser roasting compared to Porter and Stout which are very dark in colour.

'Mashing' is the process of crushing the malt to grain kernels in order to increase the surface area for the enzymes to act. The resulting grist is mixed with heated water in a container called 'mash tun' and allowed to stand at different temperatures for particular periods of time. These periods are called 'rests'. Rests at different temperatures achieve different results and small variations in them can bring about changes in the beer taste and flavor.

Initial mashing at a temperature rest of 49-55C activates 'proteinase' enzymes' and breaks the proteins. Since the head of the beer consists of proteins, too aggressive rest can lead to loss of beer head. Further rest is as 60C which activates glucanase enzyme and breaks starch into smaller units. Finally rest is done at 65-71C, which breaks the glycans into sugars. This part is very important as it has an impact on the alcohol content. If this rest is done around 65C, more sugar is formed and fermented to alcohol later, yielding higher alcohol content. On the other hand, resting at around 71C reduces the sugar formation thereby reducing the alcohol content.

After mashing, the mash is heated up to 75C to destroy enzymes. At this point additional water can be added to dilute the sugar content, a process called 'sparging'. This mixture, called 'wort' is then shifted to large tanks known as 'kettle' or 'copper' in which it is boiled after adding hops and other ingredients to add or modify flavor like herbs, fruits extracts or other sugars. The quantity and nature of each of these additives can change the flavor of beer.

Then the wort is shifted to 'fermentation vessels' and yeast is added or 'pitched' with it. Yeast ferments sugars to alcohol by glycolysis. The quality of yeast used and the temperature at which it is allowed to ferment is crucial in deciding the overall quality of beer. After fermentation for one to three weeks, the fresh beer is run off into conditioning tanks, to separate it from the yeast settled at the bottom at the end of fermentation process. Conditioning is undertaken for a week to several months and helps to improve the taste and flavor. The duration, temperature and conditions in which conditioning is done can have bearing on the overall product. Then beer is filtered to remove yeast and sediments, and packaged for

trade or consumption.

Thus variations are possible at each and every step of the brewing process and every variation results in unique or characteristic flavor of the beer. In addition, the equipment used, the mineral content of water added, the quality of natural ingredients, the concentration of synthetic additives also affect the final quality.

Main Beer Brewing Styles

Though there can be innumerable types of beer resulting from an equal number of brewing styles, they can be classified into four major styles depending upon the unique characteristics of beer that they produce.

1. Ale

Till the eighteenth century, most of the beer produced in the world was ale. Today it is still popular in parts of Europe. Ale is produced by using top fermenting yeasts, and the fermentation is done at higher temperatures of 15-23C compared to other major variety, the lager beer. Yale yeasts characteristically produce esters and secondary flavors and aromas which may resemble those of fruits like apple, pear or pineapple. Major styles of ale include Barley Wine, Belgian Trippel, Belgian Dubbel, Altbier, Brown Ale, Pale Ale, Bitter, Amber Ale, Kolsch, Porter, Stout, and Wheat beer.

2. Lager

Most of beer consumed in the world today is Lager. They were developed first in fifteenth century in German breweries. They are produced by using bottom fermenting yeast. Fermenting is done at a temperature of 7-12C, and conditioning is done at an even lower temperature of 0-4C. The cooler conditions inhibit natural production of esters and other entities resulting in a crisper taste. Most of modern lager beer consumed today is based on the Pilsner style, which was developed in the town of Pilsen (now in Czech Republic) in 1840s. It is light in colour and high in carbonation, with a strong hop flavour and an alcohol content of 36% by volume. Other major styles include American-style lager, Bock, Dunkel, Oktoberfest, Helles, Schwarzbier and Vienna lager.

3. Spontaneous Fermentation Beer

Beers of spontaneous fermentation are actually ales which use wild yeasts instead of cultivated ones used in ale brewing. Historically, it is the method by which beer was brewed. It is not very common today except in certain areas of Belgium where Lambic is produced.

4. Hybrid Beers

These are variations brought in using the modern techniques and using additives to add or give special flavor or taste. The basic process of brewing remains the same but variations in different steps bring unique qualities to the end product. Examples of hybrid beer include STEAM BEER, using bottom fermenting yeasts as in lager, at higher temperatures. FRUIT BEERS are mixed with fermentable fruits providing characteristic taste. SMOKED BEER is brewed using smoked malt. WOOD AGED BEERS are conditioned and stored in oak wood or other wood containers providing characteristic taste. 

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