Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages and is closely tied to the development of agriculture and the domestication of cereal. Workers in ancient Iraq were paid in beer and the laborers on the pyramids were given a daily ration of beer. Early beer differs from modern beer primarily in the absence of hops and the addition many different types of fruits, plants, spices, or narcotics that aren’t common in beers today.
The basic process of brewing beer is fairly simple. Hot water is mixed with a source of starch (typically barley or wheat). The starches get converted to sugar and the sweet water is filtered from the grains. Once filtered, it’s called wort. This wort is then boiled to remove some of the water and destroy enzymes from the previous step. Hops are usually added during this stage to give the beer a bitter taste and distinct aroma. Once boiled, yeast is added to the hopped wort, which slowly converts the sugars into alcohol.
Beer as we know it today began to take shape in the 16th century when William IV, Duke of Bavaria, instituted the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law. This law mandated that beer be made only from water, hops, and barley. During the Industrial Revolution, beer shifted from an artisanal business to an industrial one. Today, beer is the third most popular beverage on the planet. In 2015, more than 6 billion gallons of beer were sold in the United States; that’s a sphere of beer over 1,100 feet across!
There are many ways to categorize beer, but the simplest is by how it ferments.
Lagers are beers in which the yeast ferments at the bottom of the wort and are usually fermented in colder temperatures. Lager comes from the German word lagern, which means to store. After fermenting, lagers are stored at just above freezing to prevent byproducts developing in the beer, giving it a crisper flavor. Popular types of lagers include pilsners, bocks, and dunkels.
Ales are beers in which the yeast ferments on top of the wort and typically at higher temperatures. Ales were the first type of beer to be brewed and are more diverse than lagers. Common types of ales are pale ales, stouts, porters, and wheat beers.
Lambics and trappists are types of ales that aren’t made with a specific style of yeast. Instead, they are fermented using wild yeast. The wort is left open to the air, where wild yeasts will begin the fermentation process.
If you want to try something new, go to your local beer distributor. You’ll be able to find more selection and you’ll be able to buy single bottles. Most will have descriptions of the beers as well, so take some time and look for something that catches your eye.
Most major cities have a craft brewery. Check out which beers are being made in your backyard. You can often find something delicious that’s not available in the stores. And if you find one you really like, you can almost always take a growler (a glass jug made for storing beer) home with you.
Brew your own beer. Since 1978, homebrewing has been legal in the United States. You can get a starter kit for as little as $50. The beauty of homebrewing is that you can make any type of beer you want. If you want it extra hoppy, you can do that. If you want to put cherries in it, you can do that. If you want to make it with honey, you can do that, too.
The most popular brand of beer in the world is only available in China. Snow is a low-proof lager that almost doubles the sales of the second most popular beer (which is also from China): Tsingtao. Together, these two beers account for over 8% of the world market share.
Budweiser and Bud Light take the third and fourth spots for market share with less than 5% combined. Both are pilsner lagers that are regarded more for their low price point than for their flavor.
Samuel Adams is the second-largest American-owned brewery. They offer dozens of varieties of beer and release unique seasonal beers every year. They cost more than a Bud, but they’re worth it.
Yuengling is my personal favorite beer and is currently the largest completely American-owned brewery (as well as the oldest), ahead of Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. They currently have seven types of beer and occasionally offer seasonal varieties as well. I like Yuengling because they are high quality while still retaining a price point below that of most craft breweries.
Meridian Pint is located in Columbia Heights and has a menu featuring dozens of beers on tap and almost 100 available in bottles. They have a wide selection of local beers as well as craft beer from around the country.
ChurchKey was started in 2009 and “was designed and developed to celebrate the full spectrum of beer styles.” Their draught menu and bottle menu are unique in that they categorize their beer by flavor profile instead of style.
Birreria Paradiso is located beneath Pizzaria Paradiso in Georgetown. They have a broad selection of beer that is local, domestic, and international. The staff here specializes in pairing beers with pizza, so it’s definitely worth your time to come in.
Carrboro, North Carolina
North Carolina has an amazing beer scene so it’s hard to talk about just one place, but I recommend you check out Beer Study. They have an extensive menu of draft beers and they double as a bottle shop. Bring your own food but borrow one of their board games.
New York City
Blind Tiger Ale House has one of the best selections of beers and ciders around. Their draught and bottle menus have beers and ciders from around the world and around the United States. Stop by at lunch time when the crowds aren’t so thick.
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