Beerology: A lesson in beer

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I have a running joke with a friend about a book with a list of great careers it never dawned on us to go into. Beer brewer would have been a perfect topic for a chapter. When I was in college, however, it never occurred to me that such a job existed. I wanted to be a writer.

It took some more years and residence in a city famous for beer before I realized such a dream job was a possibility. I won't bore you with the details of how a failed novelist became a brewer in Germany, before moving back to the U.S. and becoming a winemaker. Suffice it to say, that while I was living in Munich, busy not earning any money writing my second novel, it dawned on me that I could do a brewer's apprenticeship.

And so I spent a couple of years as an apprentice, at Schlossbrauerei Kaltenberg in Bavaria, and at school, before working as a brewer and then attending the Technische Universit t M nchen, where after two years I was officially a Brew Master.

A lot has happened since then, and now I get to combine my love of beer and my love of opining about beer — and sharing it with all of you.

A toast-worthy conversation

I look forward to writing about beer, how it is made, how it is drunk; the history of beer, all of the different types and styles, and why there are different types of beers; as well as why beers in cans taste better than they used to and why imported beers taste better than they used to. I also want to write about our local beer scene.

When I first started drinking beer, there really wasn't that much of a local beer scene anywhere in this country. The biggest brewers were busy buying up smaller brewers, beers were getting less interesting and there was less variety. Times have changed, and now, we live in maybe the single most creative beer country in the world. Having laid our own beer culture to waste, we have rebuilt it by looking at beer cultures from around the world.

Nowadays, IPA's are as common as "Belgian styles," wheat beers, Berliner Weisse and every other imaginable traditional style beer. Our versions don't taste like their versions, and they shouldn't. We have a different culture, different water, different palates and different tastes.

But with all this variety there is still a good bit of confusion about beer. Though it's fun to read about beer, it's more fun to drink it; but it is really fun to do both; drinking something you know about is like getting extra bang for your buck. So, I hope soon pretty much everyone in Western Massachusetts will be opining about lagers vs. ales, porters vs. stouts, British beers vs. continental beers and those crazy Belgians with their crazy brews.

Your first lesson

Let's start with a primer about beer production: Beer is made predominantly from water, malted barley, hops and yeast. That is all you need, and in fact, if you were really brave, you might even leave out the yeast and see what happens. Brewers grind malted barley and then mix it with water, then they raise the temperature so that the starches break down to sugars, after that they strain out the used up malt and boil the liquid (wort) down a bit and add hops. After this the sweet wort is cooled down, sent from the brew house to the cellar where yeast is added. The sweet wort turns into young beer, which is aged and bottled, then sold and drunk.

It's all pretty easy. Of course, there are different ratios for the malt and water mix in the beginning; and with some beers other things besides malted barley is used, including malted wheat, unmalted barley, rice, oats, corn syrup and fruit. The temperatures used in the beginning are also different depending on the malt and the style and equipment used, and so on. There are lots of decisions to be made, depending on technology and taste and of course money. Part of the destruction of the beer scene in America was due to large corporations owning breweries and wanting to brew cheaper without concern as to the watery results.

But as I said, it is a different world now, and we have more choices than ever before. There are some pretty poor beers out there, but also a lot of really good brew to drink and to write about. So, if you are old enough and so inclined, drink some and read about some. And please if you have a question about beer, or comments about people who write about beer, let me know.

Simeon Joffe is a master brewer and winemaker who lives in New Marlborough. Send your beer-related questions via The Berkshire Eagle at 75 S. Church, St., Pittsfield, MA, 01201.


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