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Types of Beer – An Overview

Beer has long had a huge part to play in the history of mankind. Ever since man first learnt how to grow Barley he has experimented with brewing processes, flavours and the creation of beers. All the great civilisations have had their own versions of beer, and in the middle ages it became a vital drink as it was a safe way of drinking compared to the often polluted waters caused by living down stream from significant population centres.

So it is that beer is an important part of our culture today. It has permeated much of our everyday lives. Used for winding down after a stressful day, enjoying on an evening with friends or drinking in vast quantities on a night out – beer still very much has a role central to human beings, especially in the Western world.

The History of Beer

All beers can trace their roots back to one very important discovery. That mixing barley, water and yeast together and leaving to brew can create an interesting tasting liquid to consume. For early civilisations (beer can be traced back in Neolithic Europe to 3000BC!) this must have been an important discovery – allowing them a drink to sup around a fire, often giving them interesting and conflicting emotions.

An ancient brewery in Peru

An ancient brewery in Peru

Certainly the ancient Egyptians refer to beer – and it is recorded that the Ancient Greeks had a fondness for beer after they were to taught to brew it by the Egyptians – even the famous thinker Aristotle is said to have referred to it as being on of the essential ingredients of a man’s diet.

In turn the Greeks taught their version of brewing to the Romans, who’s influence was to spread all over the world, and so brought with them the secret of beer making.


A medieval brewery

The Evolution of Brewing

Whilst time has moved on, and so to have the brewing processes, it is this early discovery that was to shape the history of man more than they could have known at the time. Whilst the history of beer is not that significant in the history of the human race, how the beer was used and who it was drunk by certainly has been.

But instead let us focus on the beer – not the people. Beer, as we mentioned, was soon developed on from this primitive making and the brewing process was developed. This was especially the case for monks who would often take on the role of refining and developing the process to give the best tasting ale.

But as the effects of alcohol became more apparent many people thought that it was a fun to drink to consume for it’s own reasons – and so ale houses were born. Places where you could easily purchase brewed ales, and socialise with others. Ale was helping to bring people together.

Ale itself was brewed using very certain methods. Most noticeably the yeast used worked best in warmer temperatures, and tended to float, fermenting the sugar from the top of the liquid.

However experiments in brewing practice were to create something different. Trials with different forms of yeast discovered that there was more than one way to brew the beers – including using bottom fermenting yeasts which worked better in colder temperatures.

This discovery was made in what is now Germany, where the process of storing the ales in colder storerooms and caves was developed. This led to the creation of what we now know as lager, though at the time it was a contentious discovery that many weren’t happy about.

Ale was the traditional creation of the time – and the creating of this new type of ale was something that numerous brewing companies were not interested in seeing. In fact in many areas of Germany (which was split into a variety of smaller provinces at that point in history) they used their political clout to get lager brewing banned from within city walls – making it illegal for anyone to brew lager.

But they were unable to stop the rise in popularity of this paler, cooler drink and so ales and lagers tended to be brewed all over Europe as the technique grew and became more popular – spreading from it’s original German home.

At this point all sorts of experiments with different types of beer brewing were happening all over the world. Amongst the most popular was that found in the Netherlands where they learnt to introduce hops into the brewing process, included malted hops.

This led to even more variety in beer being produced, from the sweetness of malted hops through to the richness of roasted hops. The expansion from Holland and the surrounding areas were to influence the beer production in a number of countries – of which the United Kingdom was the most notable.

At this point the UK was still using barley, yeast and water as it’s basis for beer brewing. But soon into the early 18th century, when the introduction of hops form Holland was made, it started to try numerous methods itself. This led to the creation of Porter (made from hops), so called because of it’s popularity with the manual labour group of porters – which shot to popularity and led to the spread of commercial ale houses throughout the UK.

Whilst Porter’s popularity wasn’t to last the process of roasting hops led to the creation of stout. This was to become famous the world over, especially under the brand names Guinness and Murphy’s – though there in fact a wide variety of stouts available throughout the world – with all sorts of weird and wonderful ingredients.

The modern beers have progressed still further – with chemicals used to enhance flavours, make safe the drinks (from contamination and the like), regulate the taste and alcohol content and much more.

But at their very heart the brewing process used for beers the world over still keeps the same process used so many thousands of years ago. Beer has been with us for thousands of years – and it looks likely to be here for many thousands more.

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