There's nothing like a cold beer. In this inaugural episode we talk about:
01:35 — What I am drinking
03:18 — Beware of pruno
05:17 — Beer consumption around the world
07:07 — Oxford Companion to Beer
09:29 — Christmas beers
10:32 — The cost of beer
11:33 — A lesson on what beer really is.
Welcome to another edition of Ask The Beer Guy. This is your host Jon Griffin, “The Beer Drinking Professor.”
Hello everybody. This is Jon Griffin I am also known as “The Beer Drinking Professor.” I teach beer at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and I want to welcome you to podcast episode number one.
I want to tell you a little bit about what I am expecting and what I want to do here. I hope to make a podcast that’s good for everybody: beer drinkers, beer brewers, beer enthusiasts, beer geeks, dispel some myths, promote beer around the world, and of course I am looking for audience participation.
If you like something let me know. If you hate something let know. If you think I am full of it, well I have been told that before so please let me know.
What we are going to discuss basically is the news and then I’ll discuss some home brewing stuff, some ingredients so people can understand beer better because I don’t think that you can enjoy beer unless you have a little bit of knowledge about what goes into making beer. If you drink wine if you are a wine person you have to know what the grapes are.
If you are drinking beer the style really depends on the beer ingredients. I am going to discuss that.
Of course, I like funny news as well, so if I find some funny things in the beer world like this week I happen to have one I will let you know. Again, welcome to this first edition and let me know what you think.
What I am drinking
Well one of the things that people always ask me is what’s your favorite beer? I have to honestly say I don’t have one. It’s what I am drinking at that time.
Let’s talk about what I am drinking right now. The beer happens to be new to Las Vegas or at least I haven’t seen it in a long time if ever. It is Henry Weinhard’s. They used to be around town but they are gone now. I am not drinking the original Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve. I am actually drinking the Northwest Style Lager, and yes it’s a lager but again it’s marketing speak.
I don’t like marketing speak a lot. I’d rather have a real definition so I have something to compare it with. I call this an American Style Pilsener only because it’s got the cascade hops, which are obviously from Oregon, from the Northwest. It also has more of a hop finish and a hop character to it, which lends itself much more to a PIlsner style beer as oppose to a Munich helles or something that is more malt based.
What do I think of it? I think it’s a fairly decent beer. I would definitely drink it. This is the second case I bought. Mainly because it’s new and it’s something different to me. Would it be a desert island beer for me? No not really. I’ve got three of those and basically you can find those out at a later time. I have to say it’s not a bad beer. On a scale of 50 I would probably give it a low 40’s, maybe high 30’s, 38 to 41, 42. It’s definitely a beer worth drinking. If you have it in town, try it out. Let me know what you think of that.
Pruno a no no
Well let’s get onto the news. Here is an interesting article. In my classes I often say that beer is a natural product and one of the reasons that man survived the middle ages was because of beer because it killed almost all of the disease, typhoid and those things that were running about in Western Europe at the time. The reason for that was boiling, so here is an interesting story I found about a jail in Salt Lake City where prisoners obviously make Pruno.
If you are the Pruno maker you have a little leverage because you are the guy with the hooch. In this case the guy actually used potatoes because let’s face it you don't have to have barley to make beer. Any grain or vegetable can be used as long as it has sugar in it. This guy actually sickened about eight people the last year so it’s actually been about a year and eight people were sent to the hospital with botulism. This is the first time I have heard of beer making somebody sick but I am reasonably sure that they never boiled the beer. That would be kind of hard to do in a prison cell. The guy stored a mashed potato from the mess hall for a few weeks and then peeled the thing with his finger nails and then put it in some water and then let the natural yeast in the area take hold. Not only did it have a finger nail bacteria but who knows what was growing on it while it was basically sitting around. Let that be a lesson. Make sure you boil your beer.
Even on the no boil kits if you happen to be a home brewer that’s really beginning or you just make a few beers. Please boil the malt as it comes out of the can because boiling does a lot of things and one of them is sanitation. If you happen to go to jail make sure you have a way to boil the beer. I don’t like to make light of botulism because you can die from it, paralysis or seeing double vision. You can die. It is rare but it’s certainly the first major illness I've heard from beer, although I wouldn't call this real beer.
A bit of sad news
Now onto a little bit of sadder news especially for those of you who love beer, which I assume you do because you are listening. Beer consumption around the world has generally been declining, and I had an article online on askthebeerguy.com about that. Certainly, in England they are declining. The U.S. some markets have stayed the same but most of them have gone done. Even in poor Nigeria the market actually declined 7.4% in the second quarter of 2012.
They're saying basically the reason for that is because there’s been a lot less money available due to the decline of their currency. The worldwide depression or recession or whatever you want to call it, it’s even affecting us poor beer drinkers. Can’t afford to drink beer as much and consumption of beer really plummeted after the Ramadan fast in July and August, which would be expected because Muslims aren't supposed to drink beer but I am sure some of them do.
The two biggest breweries that I believe are in Nigeria are the Nigerian breweries and Guinness, Nigeria. They were really competing competition wise and SAB Miller came into town and that kind of changed the face of the competition. SAB Miller is one of the top three brewing conglomerates in the world. They have a lot of money, a lot more then Guinness or Nigerian breweries have.
I’m sure one of those will be taken over at some point by the SAB or the Bush conglomerate or any of the other Coors Molson. In case you thought beer was expensive in your country we have an article on that coming up as well but don’t feel so bad because you can hardly afford beer in Nigeria.
Oxford Companion to Beer
One of the projects that I have been involved in was the Oxford Companion to Beer. I wrote about eight or ten articles, I don’t remember exactly, on hops. Ever since that huge book came out there’s been a lot of controversy, a lot of beer people hate it or loved it. There’s very little in the middle. It’s either complete piece of crap or it’s the best thing that’s ever come out in beer. I stand in the middle. I am sure a tome of 800 pages is going to have some inaccuracies. I have to admit I have been surprised at the number of inaccuracies that were pretty big, not just little tiny inaccuracies.
There’s a great blog on this it’s been a year since the book came out so it’s pretty much been flushed out but it’s called ocbeercommentary.wikispaces.com and don’t worry if you find this podcast you can go to askthebeerguy.com and look for the podcast number one episode, and I’ll have a link to it if you don’t know how to spell it. It has really been kind of amazing that about one in five entries have been proven to have some major errors. Luckily so far none of mine have and I hope it stays that way but if you buy the Oxford Companion to Beer, which I recommend you do because it’s a great book. I would say just look at the blog here and see what you think.
Not all of it I would believe. Some of its very creditable and some of it may not be. As an academic I say, “Where are the sources” and sometimes it’s one guy’s opinion versus another. It gives you an alternate version of things and also the thing I like the most is it actually raised the dialogue in the beer world, which has been really missing, especially in the academic world. Tons of work about wine and spirits, very little about beer and that’s all changing now.
I am glad to be part of that teaching at a university. Again check your facts for more than one place. A lot of things that I thought were true 10 years ago doing more research I am finding were maybe suspect. I am changing my course around so check that out. It’s ocbeercommentary.wikispaces.com or you can just look up ocbeercommentary on Google.
Let me give you a recap on some the posts I have on askthebeerguy.com. The latest one I did was about Christmas beers and one of the things I discussed was, A, if you are a home brewer not to go overboard with the spices because they become spice water instead of a beer. Make sure that the base of the beer that you are trying to make actually shines through. Follow the recipe. If you like the beer style try to copy it and it doesn’t matter if you make these a year ahead of time. One of the hallmarks of a Christmas beer or a holiday beer is they are usually bigger in alcohol. They’re meant to be drunk, at least in the Northern hemisphere, in the cold months, in December, January. They can be hardy full and big so you can let them age a year or two or three.
I also give you a recipe there plus a thanksgiving beer, a pumpkin beer. For those who enjoy drinking Christmas beers I give you a couple of tips on what to look for and what you may want to check out.
Cost of beer
Another interesting article I have which is kind of funny was an article about how long it takes the average worker to afford a glass of beer. That was a study done on the Economist and one the interesting facts was India, of the countries they checked, actually had the longest worker time before they could afford a beer. It was like 55 minutes, something like that. The US was under five minutes, and they were actually the cheapest beer per worker hour followed by the Czech Republic and then Germany.
If you live in any of those three countries it’s actually fairly cheap to buy beer and I don’t mean cheap as comparing the price of a bottle of beer in India to a bottle of beer in the U.S. For the average worker it only takes five minutes of work to buy a bottle of beer where in India you basically spend an hour of wages just to drink a beer on average.
I thought that was kind of an interesting article and you can check those out as well.
What is beer
One of the things I want to discuss with people is what is beer? I want to get into the ingredients and all that stuff and I hope this is interesting for not just home brewers but beer enthusiasts as well. If you understand what goes into beer you will have much better appreciation for a beer. You may not like the style but you can at least appreciate ‘oh that’s a very well made beer, even though I don’t particularly like it.’
In my case I am not a fan of American IIPAs. I call them ‘hop water.’ I can still appreciate them and I can still judge them. I understand what goes into them, the ingredients what the skill levels involved are and all of that. If you understand the style you can at least make an educated guess as well when you go into a liquor store and it says IIPA, and you say, “God, I hate that those. It may be a great beer for some people but I don’t like them but I do like German Lager Helles, a German Helles Lager.”
You have a better idea. What I want to talk about today, and this will hopefully appeal to both the home brewers. I normally want to have a segment on home brewing, but hopefully the home brewers and the beer enthusiast will like this. I am going to talk about what is beer. There are a lot of misconceptions in the world about what beer is. One of the first things I teach in my class is what is actually, what is a beer actually made from?
To me the definition is very simple. It’s basically if it’s made form a grain it’s a beer. If it’s made from a vegetable we can call that a beer. If it’s primarily made from a fruit we call that a wine and of course there’s honey wine, which I think is a misnomer. I call it an alcoholic beverage made with honey. That’s called mead so the beer world claims mead and the wine also claims mead. That’s a point of discussion. Another thing that people always misconstrue is the fact that sake made from rice is not a wine. It’s a beer. It’s made with a grain and it’s fermented so that makes it a beer.
You get the idea that anything made with grain is a beer and there’s usually one grain that’s dominant. Sake is a little different because it uses bacteria instead of yeast to ferment but it’s still a beer. What is beer made of? Traditionally beer was made of four ingredients, even though they only knew of three that was barley, malted and water of course and some kind of bittering agent. Recently it’s been hops but before that it may have been some kind of spices or plant or other things before hops became popular. Germans were the first to really popularize hops. The English were the last to use hops. They kept with what they called gruet or herbal beers, as I would call them.
If you want to go way, way back in history the difference between a beer and ale were very simple. Beers were made with hops and ale was made with plants other than hops to bitter it, and I mention bittering because that was the main reason to put those in there. Of course there was some, especially with spices, there was flavors and aromas added. The main reason was to stop the excessive sweetness that barley or other grains would have because grains are sugar and yeast eats sugar so we mention the fourth ingredient now. It’s called yeast. Didn’t really know about yeast they kind of knew that something was there but they couldn’t describe it. Yeast is the fourth ingredient of all beer.
It can be wild yeast. It can be cultured yeast and of course there are bacterial beers or beers that have some bacterial influence or different kinds of yeast. We’ll talk in generalities that the main four ingredients of any beer in modern times is barley, water, malt, and hops. Now hops became popular because they did more than just bitter the beer or take the sweetness out of the beer. They found that by using hops things basically lasted longer so there was a preservative value of hops. There is also a flavor component of course. There is a medicinal portion. There is a lot of talk right now in the medicinal world. Legitimate medicine and I actually have an article on that, that hops are very, very beneficial. The herbal medicine people knew about this but they’re finding beer is actually much more beneficial than wine for your health.
I am not saying go out and drink a 12 pack of beer every day, but hops are good, they are antiseptic. They are anticoagulant. They help your blood stream run clearer and they also help you sleep, which a reason that in traditional medicine they used hops for hop pillows. We will get into hops on their own in a couple of weeks.
The next thing we’re going to talk about next week we will actually do hops next week. Then I’ll go to yeast, then water, and then we will talk about barley. I really think that you must know those four ingredients. I know there are other beers out there and they have other ingredients besides those four, grain, they may have rice which isn’t barley.
Barley is important and when we get talking about barley you will understand why, but any grain that’s not barley is considered what we call an adjunct, an addition. An herb, rice, sugars a lot of time especially in Belgium, they use sugar to increase the alcohol content. It was a lot cheaper to throw in sugar then to use more barley because barley was an expensive commodity. Those are all what’s called adjuncts and the Reinheitsgebot of 1516, if you look that up or the German Purity Law, which besides being the predecessor or one of the first food safety laws, actually said originally that all beer could have was barley, hops and water.
That is what traditionally beer would be called at least in the modern context. Of course we can go way back in history, and I’ll do a podcast on the history of beer because to me is a fascinating subject. Wars have been fought over beer and history would not be the same if it wasn’t for beer. For now just know those are the ingredients that you are looking for. As we describe each one you will be able to tell in a beer that’s what the hops do to this beer.
That’s what the barley or the different types of malting that make beer dark or light or sweet versus candy like and all kind of other things. We’ll discuss that in an upcoming podcast, though.
Thanks for listening to Ask The Beer Guy podcast number one. If you are interested in more beer news make sure you go to askthebeerguy.com, and if you want sign up for the newsletter on the side there.
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