From Barley to Beer

Winemakers across the globe say ‘Great beer makes great wine’.   While we love our wine, being around it constantly can lessen our desire to pull out that cork.  After all, we spend hours putting corks in bottles!  Instead, we would rather hear the clinking of beer glasses. So came about our saying, and in honor of it, House of Wine has decided to expand into the wonderful world of craft beers. We have recently hired on a certified cicerone, Brian Golden, to teach our newest class; Beer 101: From Barley to Beer. If the world of beer seems a bit confusing, here are a few basics to help start your beer journey.

To better understand beer, it is helpful to know how it is made.  This fantastic drink has been produced for over 7,000 years. The first step in making a beer is soaking and rinsing the barley (or malt) with hot water. The reasons for this process is to liberate the natural sugar out of the grains.  Then, just like wine, the added yeast eat the sugar in order to produce alcohol. This process is known as mashing and sparging. After all the sugar has been taken out of the grains, the hot liquid is then set to boil for around an hour in order to kill any micro-organisms. The hops are added during this phase.  While barley is the main ingredient, hops are added as to help control or alter the level of sweetness in the beer. If the hops are added early in the boiling phase, the beer will have a higher bitter content than if the hops are added near the end. Next the mixture is cooled to around 80 degrees in order to add the yeast.  For the next couple of weeks, the beer ferments while the yeast eat the sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. When the beer is finished fermenting it is ready to have carbonation added and to be bottled. Next comes understanding the basic styles of beer.

A beer ‘style’ is how beers are categorized.   Similar to wine, these styles are created based upon the characteristics of appearance, aroma, flavor and body. There are two main categories that most beers fall under; lagers and ales. The biggest difference between these two styles are the types of yeast utilized. Lagers use yeast that ferment best in cool temperatures while ales use yeast that ferment best in warm temperatures. This will slightly change the degree to which the hot liquid is cooled. Furthermore, there are  four common styles underneath lagers and ales.

In the lager category there are pale lagers, pilsners, light lagers, and dark lagers. A pale lager is similar to a basic beer such as Coors or Budweiser.  This beer is light in color, body, and taste and has a higher level of carbonation than other styles. Pilsners are similar to pale lagers but with a higher bitter content. Delving further, there are two types of light lagers; American and European.  European is similar to the above styles. American lagers have similar characteristics as well but with less hops and barley.  This equals a lower calorie count and is great for those watching caloric intake. Dark lagers are made with roasted hops and barley which produce a rich and full flavor and body.

Traditional ales include brown ales, porters, stouts and wheat beer.  Brown ales are red to copper in color with mild flavors, yet heavier than lagers. Porters are dark in color and full in body.  The barley flavor in a porter is meant to be stronger than the hops. A stout is similar to a porter but has a on a heavier body, color, and texture. Because of the higher levels of malts needed to create a stout, a higher percentage of hops is used to balance the beer, creating a stronger hop flavor. Stouts also tend to be less carbonated than other styles. Wheat beers are brewed with wheat and often contain malted barley.  Their flavors vary considerably depending on style.

While this is a general overview as to beer production and styles, continuing to learn about it will increase your ability to pick the perfect beer for any occasion. If you are interested in continuing on your beer journey, visit us online at to learn more about House of Wine’s new beer classes.