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Beer, generally, is an alcoholic beverage produced through the fermentation of sugars suspended in an aqueous medium, and which is not distilled after fermentation. The unfermented sugar solution, called wort, is obtained from steeping, or "mashing," malted grains, usually barley. Alcoholic beverages made from the fermentation of sugars derived from non-grain sources — fruit juices or honey, for example — are generally not called "beer," despite being produced by the same yeast-based biochemical reaction.The process of beer production is called brewing. Because the ingredients used to make beer differ from place to place, beer characteristics such as taste and colour vary widely, and consequently its style or classification.Brewing dates back to at least the 5th millennium BC (prior even to writing), and is recorded in the written history of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.Beer is considered to be a social lubricant in many societies. Various social traditions and activities are associated with beer drinking, such as buying a round, pub crawling, or various pub games.There are a number of related beverages such as kvass, sahti and pulque.
A mug of golden lager beer.
A mug of golden lager beer.
Achel trappist beer with glass
Achel trappist beer with glass

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The brewing process
Varieties of beer
Draught and keg beers
Cask ales
Bottle conditioned beers
Beer culture
Related beverages

History - Contents

Egyptian woman making beer (Cairo Museum)
Egyptian woman making beer (Cairo Museum)
Beer is one of the oldest beverages humans have produced, dating back to at least the 5th millennium BC and recorded in the written history of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Classical Greece and Rome wine was the usual alcoholic beverage and beer was little known, except as a drink favoured by foreigners ( barbarians) of the Middle East and northern Europe. Tacitus wrote disparagingly of the beer brewed by the Germanic peoples of his day, but documentary evidence (e.g. from Vindolanda) shows that Roman troops serving in northern and central Europe customarily drank local types of beer.Beer largely remained a homemaker's activity, made in the home in medieval times. By the 14th and 15th centuries, beermaking was gradually changing from a family-oriented activity to an artisan one, with pubs and monasteries brewing their own beer for mass consumption.Today, the brewing industry is a huge global business, consisting of several multinational companies, and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.

The brewing process - Contents

Though the process of brewing beer is complex and varies considerably, the basic stages that are consistent are outlined below. There may be additional filtration steps between stages.
  1. Mashing: The first phase of brewing, in which the malted grains are crushed and soaked in warm water in order to create a malt extract. The mash is held at constant temperature long enough for enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars.
  2. Sparging: Water is filtered through the mash to dissolve the sugars. The darker, sugar-heavy liquid is called the wort.
  3. Boiling: The wort is boiled along with any remaining ingredients (excluding yeast), to remove excess water and kill any bacteria. The hops (whole or pelleted) are added, or a hop extract is used.
  4. Fermentation: The yeast is added (or "pitched") and the beer is left to ferment. After primary fermentation, the beer may be allowed a second fermentation, which allows further settling of yeast and other particulate matter "trub" which may have been introduced earlier in the process. Some brewers may skip the secondary fermentation and simply filter off the yeast.
  5. Packaging: At this point, the beer contains alcohol, but not much carbon dioxide. The brewer has a few options to increase carbon dioxide levels. The most common approach by large-scale brewers is force carbonation, via the direct addition of CO2 gas to the keg or bottle. Smaller-scale or more classically-minded brewers will add extra ("priming") sugar or a small amount of newly fermenting wort ("kräusen") to the final vessel, resulting in a short refermentation known as "cask-" or "bottle conditioning".
After brewing, the beer is usually a finished product. At this point the beer is kegged, casked, bottled, or canned.Unfiltered beers may be stored for further fermentation in conditioning tanks, casks or bottles to allow smoothing of harsh alcohol notes, integration of heavy hop flavours and/or the introduction of oxidised notes such as wine or sherry flavours. Some beer enthusiasts consider a long conditioning period attractive for various strong beers such as Barley wines. There are some beer cafes in Europe, such as Kulminator in Antwerp, which stock beers aged ten years or more. Aged beers such as Bass Kings Ale from 1902, Courage Imperial Russian Stout and Thomas Hardys Ale are particularly valued.

Ingredients - Contents

Main articles: Hops, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Brewer's yeast, Malt and BarleyThe main ingredients of beer are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. Other ingredients, such as flavouring or sources of sugar, are called adjuncts and are commonly used; common adjuncts are corn and sugar. These starches convert in the mashing process to easily fermentable sugars that serve to increase the alcohol content of beer while adding little body or flavor. Major American breweries use relatively high percentages of adjuncts in order to produce very light-bodied beer at 4-5% alcohol by volume.

Malted barley
Malted barley
  1. Water: Because beer is composed mainly of water, the source of the water and its characteristics have an important effect on the character of the beer. Many beer styles were influenced or even determined by the characteristics of the water in the region. Although the effect of, and interactions between, various dissolved minerals in brewing water is complex, as a general rule, hard water is more suited to dark styles such as stouts or porters, while very soft water is more suited for brewing light-colored beers, such as pilsners.
  2. Malt: Among malts, barley malt is the most widely used owing to its high amylase content, a digestive enzyme which facilitates the breakdown of the starch into sugars. However, depending on what can be cultivated locally, other malted and unmalted grains are also commonly used, including wheat, rice, oats, and rye, and less frequently, maize and sorghum. Malt is formed from grain by soaking it in water, allowing it to start to germinate, and then drying the germinated grain in a kiln. Malting the grain produces the enzymes that will eventually convert the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. Different roasting times and temperatures are used to produce different colors of malt from the same grain. Darker malts will produce darker beers. In most cases, two or more types of malt are combined when making modern beers.
    Crushed hops used for lambic brewing
    Crushed hops used for lambic brewing
  3. Hops: Hops have commonly been used as a bittering agent in beer since the seventeenth century. Hops contain several characteristics very favorable to beer: (a) hops contribute a bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt, (b) hops also contribute aromas which range from flowery to citrus to herbal, (c) hops have an antibiotic effect that favours the activity of brewer's yeast over less desirable microorganisms and (d) the use of hops aids in "head retention", the length of time that foamy head created by the beer's carbonation agent will last. The bitterness of commercially-brewed beers is measured on the International Bitterness Units scale. While hops plants are grown by farmers all around the world in many different varieties, there is no major commercial use for hops other than in beer.
  4. Yeast: is a microorganism that is responsible for fermentation. A specific strain of yeast is chosen depending on the type of beer being produced, the two main strains being ale yeast ( saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lager yeast ( saccharomyces uvarum), with some other variations available, such as brettanomyces and Torulaspora delbrueckii. Yeast will metabolise the sugars extracted from the grains, and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result. Before yeast's functions were understood, all fermentations were conducted naturally using wild or airborne yeasts known by the name "godisgood"; although a few styles such as lambics still rely on this ancient method, most modern fermentations are conducted using pure yeast cultures. On average, beer's alcohol content is between 4% and 6% alcohol by volume, although it can be as low as 2% and as high as 14% under ordinary circumstances and several brewers claim to make beers that are upwards of 20%.
  5. Clarifying agent: Some brewers add one or more clarifying agents to beer that are not required to be published as ingredients. Common examples of these include Isinglass finings, obtained from swimbladders of fish; kappa carrageenan, derived from seaweed; Irish moss, a type of red alga; and gelatin. Since these ingredients may be derived from animals, those concerned with the use or consumption of animal products should obtain specific details of the filtration process from the brewer.

Varieties of beer - Contents

There are many different types of beer, each of which is said to belong to a particular style. A beer's style is a label that describes the overall flavour and often the origin of a beer, according to a system that has evolved by trial and error over many centuries.A major component of determining the type of beer is the yeast used in the fermentation process. Most beer styles fall into one of two large families: ale, using top-fermenting yeast, or lager, using bottom-fermenting yeast. Beers that blend the characteristics of ales and lagers are referred to as hybrids. Alcoholic beverages made from the fermentation of sugars derived from non-grain sources are generally not called "beer," despite being produced by the same yeast-based biochemical reaction. Fermented honey is called mead, fermented apple juice is called cider, fermented pear juice is called perry, and fermented grape juice is called wine.

A modern ale is commonly defined by the strain of yeast used and the fermenting temperature.

Strain of Yeast

An ale yeast is normally considered to be a top-fermenting yeast, though a number of British brewers, such as Fullers and Weltons, use ale yeast strains that settle at the bottom. Common features of ale yeasts regardless of top or bottom fermentation is that they ferment quicker than lager yeasts, they convert less of the sugar into alcohol (giving a sweeter, fuller body) and they produce more esters (which give a fruity taste) and diacetyl (which gives a buttery taste).
Żywiec Porter (Brewed in Żywiec, Poland)
Żywiec Porter (Brewed in Żywiec, Poland)

Fermenting Temperature

Ale is typically fermented at higher temperatures than lager beer (15–23 °C, 60–75 °F). Ale yeasts at these temperatures produce significant amounts of esters and other secondary flavor and aroma products, and the result is a beer with slightly "fruity" compounds resembling but not limited to apple, pear, pineapple, banana, plum or prune.

Stylistic Difference to Lager

Stylistic differences between some ales and lagers can be difficult to categorize. Steam beer, Kölsch and some modern British Golden Summer Beers are seen as hybrids, using elements of both lager and ale production. While Baltic Porter and Bière de Garde may be produced by either lager or ale methods or a combination of both. However, commonly, lager is perceived to be cleaner tasting, dryer and lighter in the mouth than ale.

Lagers are the most commonly-consumed category of beer in the world. They are of Central European origin, taking their name from the German lagern ("to store"). Lager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast, and typically undergoes primary fermentation at 7-12°C (45-55°F) (the "fermentation phase"), and then is given a long secondary fermentation at 0-4°C (30-40°F) (the "lagering phase"). During the secondary stage, the lager clears and mellows. The cooler conditions also inhibit the natural production of esters and other byproducts, resulting in a "crisper" tasting beer.Modern methods of producing lager were pioneered by Gabriel Sedlmayr the Younger, who perfected dark brown lagers at the Spaten Brewery in Bavaria, and Anton Dreher, who began brewing a lager, probably of amber-red colour, in Vienna in 1840–1841. With modern improved fermentation control, most lager breweries use only short periods of cold storage, typically 1–3 weeks.In terms of volume, most of today's lager is based on the Pilsner style, pioneered in 1842 in the town of Plzeň, in the Czech Republic. The modern Pilsner lager is light in colour and high in carbonation, with a strong hop flavour and an alcohol content of 3–6% by volume. The Pilsner Urquell or Heineken brands of beer are typical examples of pilsner beer.

Spontaneous fermentation
These are beers which use wild yeasts, rather than cultivated ones. All beers before the cultivation of yeast in the 19th century were closer to this style, characterised by their sour flavours.

Hybrid beers
Hybrid or mixed style beers use modern techniques and materials instead of, or in addition to, traditional aspects of brewing. Although there is some variation among sources, mixed beers generally fall into the following categories:
  • Fruit beers and vegetable beers are mixed with some kind of fermentable fruit or vegetable adjunct during the fermentation process, providing obvious yet harmonious qualities.
  • Herb and spiced beers add herbs or spices derived from roots, seeds, fruits, vegetables or flowers instead of, or in addition to hops.
  • Wood-aged beers are any traditional or experimental beer that has been aged in a wooden barrel or have been in contact with wood (in the form of chips, cubes or "beans") for a period of time ( Oak is the most common). Oftentimes, the barrel or wood will be treated first with some variety of spirit or other alcoholic beverage--usage of bourbon, scotch and sherry are common.
  • Smoked beers are any beer whose malt has been smoked. A smoky aroma and flavour is usually present. The most traditional examples of this style are the Rauchbiers of Bamberg, Germany. However, many brewers outside of Germany--most notably American craft brewers--have been adding smoked malt to porters, Scotch ale and a variety of other styles.
  • Specialty beers are a catch-all category used to describe any beers brewed using unusual fermentable sugars, grains and starches.

Draught and keg beers - Contents

Draught beer keg fonts at the Delirium Café in Brussels
Draught beer keg fonts at the Delirium Café in Brussels
Draught beer from a pressurised keg is the most common dispense method in bars around the world. A metal keg is pressurised with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas which drives the beer to the dispensing tap, or faucet. Some beers, such as Guinness, may be served with a nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture, rather than standard carbon dioxide, in order to obtain what many feel is a creamier mouthfeel. These beers may be served in two stages, with a pause to allow settling.In the 1980s Guinness introduced the beer widget a nitrogen pressurised ball inside a can which imitates the foamy head created by draught beer. Other breweries followed, using the words "draft" and "draught" as marketing terms to describe such canned or bottled beers containing a beer widget.

Cask ales - Contents

Schlenkerla Rauchbier direct from the cask
Schlenkerla Rauchbier direct from the cask
Cask ales are unfiltered and unpasteurised. When the landlord feels the beer has settled, and he is ready to serve it, he will knock a soft spile into a bunghole on the side of the cask. The major difference in appearance between a keg and a cask is the bunghole. A keg does not have a bunghole on the side.The soft spile in the bunghole allows gas to vent off. This can be seen by the bubbles foaming around the spile. The landlord will periodically check the bubbles by wiping the spile clean and then watching to see how fast the bubbles reform. There still has to be some life in the beer otherwise it really will taste flat, but too much life and the beer will taste hard or fizzy. When the beer is judged to be ready, the landlord will replace the soft spile with a hard one (which doesn’t allow air in or gas out) and let the beer settle for 24 hours. He will also knock a tap into the end of the cask. This might simply be a tap if the cask is stored behind the bar. The beer will then be served simply under gravity pressure: turn on the tap, and the beer comes out. But if the cask is in the cellar, the beer needs to travel via tubes, or beer lines, up to the bar area using a beer engine.

Bottle conditioned beers - Contents

Bottle conditioned beers are unfiltered and unpasteurised. It is usually recommended that the beer is poured slowly, leaving any yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle. However, some drinkers prefer to pour in the yeast, and this practise is customary with wheat beers. Typically when serving a hefeweizen 90% of the contents is poured and the remainder swirled to dissolve the sediment before pouring it into the glass.

Beer culture - Contents

Gambrinus - king of beer
Gambrinus - king of beer

Beer in a social context
Beer is considered to be a social lubricant in many societies. Various social traditions and activities are associated with beer drinking, such as buying a round, pub crawling, rating beer, or drinking a yard of ale. Consumption in isolation and excess may be associated with people "drowning their sorrows," while drinking in excess in company may be associated with binge drinking.

Beer around the world
Beer is consumed in countries all over the world. There are breweries in Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Syria as well as African countries and remote countries such as Mongolia. For more details see:-



The conditions of serving have an influence on a drinker's experience. An important factor is temperature: colder temperatures start to inhibit the chemical senses of the tongue and throat, which narrow down the flavour profile of a beer, allowing delicate, fully attenuated beers such as Pilsners and Pale lagers to be appreciated for their crispness, but preventing the more rounded flavours of an ale or a stout to be perceived. While there are no firmly agreed principles for all cases, a general approach is that lighter coloured beers, such as Pale lagers, are best served cold (40-45F/4-7C), while dark, strong beers such as Imperial Stouts should be served at cellar temperature (54-60F/12-16C) and then allowed to warm up in the room to individual taste. And beers between these two extremes should be served at temperatures between these extremes.


An appropriate glass is considered desirable by some beer drinkers. Some drinkers of beer may sometimes drink straight from the bottle or can, while others may pour their beer into a vessel before imbibing. Drinking out of a bottle inhibits aromas picked up by the nose, so if a drinker wishes to appreciate a beer's aroma, the beer is first poured into a glass, mug, tankard or stein. As with wine, there are specialized styles of glassware for some styles of beer, and some breweries even produce glassware intended for their own beers. Some aficionados claim that the shape and material of the vessel influences the perception of the aroma and the way in which the beer settles, similar to claims by drinkers of brandy or cognac. Some drinkers in Britain prefer their ale to be served in pewter tankards, while in Europe it is common for glasses to be rinsed just before beer is poured into them. While glass is completely non-porous, its surface can retain oil from the skin, aerosolized oil from nearby cooking, and traces of fat from food. When these oils come in contact with beer there is a significant reduction in the amount of head (foam) that is found on the beer, and the bubbles will tend to stick to the side of the glass rather than rising to the surface as normal.
The Waitress (1879) by Edouard Manet.
The Waitress (1879) by Edouard Manet.


The pouring process has an influence on a beer's presentation. The rate of flow from the tap or other serving vessel, tilt of the glass, and position of the pour (in the center or down the side) into the glass all influence the end result, such as the size and longevity of the head, lacing (the pattern left by the head as it moves down the glass as the beer is drunk), and turbulence of the beer and its release of carbonation. Heavily carbonated beers such as German pilsners or weissbiers may need settling time before serving, however many Weissbiers are served with the addition of the remaining yeast at the bottom of the bottle to add both flavor and colour.

Rating beer
Rating beer is a recent craze that combines the enjoyment of beer drinking with the hobby of collecting. People drink beer and then record their scores and comments on various internet websites. This is a worldwide activity and people in the USA will swap bottles of beer with people living in New Zealand and Russia. People's scores may be tallied together to create lists of the most popular beers in each country as well as the most highly rated beers in the world.

Health effects
Beer contains alcohol which has a number of health risks and benefits. However, beer includes a wide variety of other agents that are currently undergoing scientific evaluation.Nutritionally, beer can contain significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, and B vitamins. Typically, the darker the brew, the more nutrient dense.A 2005 Japanese study found that non-alcoholic beer may possess strong anti-cancer properties. [1]. Another study found non-alcoholic beer to mirror the cardiovascular benefits associated with moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages. [2]It is considered that over-eating and lack of muscle tone is the main cause of a beer belly, rather than beer consumption.

Related beverages - Contents

  • Africa: Hundreds of local drinks made from millet, sorghum, and other available starch crops.
  • Andes, South America: Chicha, an Andean beverage made from germinated maize.
  • Armenia: Kotayk is brewed as lager, special, dark, light and non-alcoholic beers.
  • Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet and Sikkim: Chhaang, a popular semi-fermented rice/millet drink in the eastern Himalaya.
  • China: Jiǔ, primarily grain-based fermented drinks.
  • Finland: Sahti, a traditional Finnish beer.
  • Japan: Sake, a primarily rice-based fermented drink, similar in many respects to Chinese jiǔ.
  • Korea: Soju
  • Mexico: Pulque, an indigenous beer made from the fermented sap of the agave plant.
  • Russia/Ukraine: Kvass, a fermented non-alcoholic or mildly alcoholic beverage.
  • Various regions: Rye beer, mead (made from water and honey), cider (made from apple juice)

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