History of beer
It is from the Sumerians, 7,000 years BC, that the oldest knowledge of a fermented beverage made from grains reaches us - the predecessor of our modern day beer. The Babylonians, who followed them, left us much evidence of a flourishing brewing industry.
The oldest law regulating the production and sale of beer is the Code of Hammurabi, which dates from 1,760 BC. In it, all those who do not comply with the established beer production criteria are sentenced to death. It included several laws on the sale, manufacture and consumption of beer. The Code of Hammurabi also established a daily ration of beer for the people of Babylon: 2 litres for workers, 3 for public servants and 5 for administrators and the high priest.
In Egypt, beer even became a national drink: both the people and the kings drank it, and it was offered to the gods and placed amongst the most remarkable treasures of the sarcophagi.
In Ethiopia, in North Africa, between the Greeks and the Persians, beer was the drink of the day.
It was, however, under Roman rule that it spread throughout Europe. From Gaul it arrived in Britain, Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula, and quickly became the favourite drink of the peoples of the north.
In the 16th century, William IV of Bavaria enacted the Purity Law, which determined the ingredients that could be used in producing beer: barley, hops, malt and water.
From the 18th century, with the Industrial Revolution, large-scale production began and consumption began to spread. A century later, the discoveries of Louis Pasteur made it possible to perfect the beer production process – the use of pasteurisation enabled longer-lasting beer, making it possible to transport it over large distances.
But it was in the 19th century that the manufacture of beer received a major boost, by solving two fundamental problems: the isolation of yeasts responsible for fermentation, which was thanks to Professor Emil Chr. Hansen of the Carlsberg Laboratory, and the possibility of keeping the fermentation tanks and storage cellars at suitably low temperatures throughout the year.
In Portugal, there are records of beer consumption from the 17th century, to which period the "Pátio da Cerveja" ("Beer Courtyard") in Lisbon is dated.
In 1801, no less than seven breweries and carbonated beverages factories were recorded in the city of Porto. Later, in 1834, the Trindade Beer Plant was set up in Rua Nova da Trindade in Lisbon, which was followed by others.
Near the end of the century, in 1890, the seven factories in Porto were integrated into a single company, Companhia União Fabril Portuense, which remained in operation until the end of 1977.
Companhia União Fabril Portuense came to be Unicer - União Cervejeira, E.P., together with Companhia Portuguesa de Cerveja and União Cervejeira de Portugal.
This is a key raw material obtained from barley, which is subjected to a process of germination under controlled conditions. This operation (called malting) allows for, at a later stage of the beer production process, the breakdown of carbohydrates and nitrogenous substances by enzymes formed during the germination process. By varying the malting conditions (temperature and humidity) different types of malt are obtained to give different colours and flavours to the beer.
Among the unmalted grains normally employed, often corn is used, which, after the fat has been extracted, is ground and is called grits. Barley, rice or wheat may also be used. The use of these grains is aimed at decreasing the percentage of proteins in the wort. The unmalted cereals give the beer a lighter colour and specific characteristics depending on the cereal selected.
Hops (humulus lupulos)
This is an aromatic plant that gives beer its characteristic aroma and bitterness. It contributes to the formation of a good head and protects the beer against contamination by microorganisms. Today, for industrial purposes, extracts of this plant are used, obtained in order to preserve its qualities. Based on the amount of resin and essential oils, the varieties of hops are classified into bitter varieties and aroma varieties.
The water used must be safe to drink and have a mineral composition suitable for brewing beer.
Manufacture of the Wort
The first stage in the process of producing a beer is the manufacture of the wort. This phase includes the following steps:
To enable the rapid extraction and conversion of the components of the malt, it is milled to obtain a coarse flour. The other unmalted cereals are usually ground to an appropriate degree.
The flour from the grains (malt and other unmalted grains) is subjected, after being mixed with water, to operating conditions in which the variables time, temperature and pH are used in order to obtain a wort composition appropriate to the type of beer to be produced. These conditions promote the breakdown of complex molecules of starch and other simple proteins by enzymes formed during the production of the malt. The mashing lasts 2 to 4 hours and ends at a temperature of around 75 °C.
Filtration of the Wort
After mashing, the entire mass is subjected to filtration to separate the insoluble part (spent grains, which is an excellent food for cattle) from the filtrate (wort). The filtration of the wort diluted by the introduction of water at the same temperature to obtain an adequate yield takes place in a filter tub or a filter press, and lasts about 2-3 hours, conducted at a temperature of 75-80 °C.
Boiling the Wort
The wort, thus diluted and filtered, is boiled for about 2 hours. This is where the hops are added. The boiling operation has the following main purposes:
Solubilisation and transformation of bitter substances in the hop;
Elimination of undesirable volatile substances;
Sterilisation of the wort;
Precipitation of proteins of high molecular weight;
Establishing the final concentration of the wort.
After boiling, it is necessary to separate the precipitated protein and the insoluble components of the hops from the hot wort. The separation may be accomplished in a settling tank by gravity or by centripetal force in a "whirlpool”.
Before the wort, already hopped, goes into the fermentation tanks, it is cooled to a temperature of about 9 °C and aerated under sterile conditions.
Fermentation, Maturation and Stabilisation
Fermentation is the operation during which the sugars in the wort are transformed into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of yeast. Fermentation begins with the addition of yeast culture to the wort, which has been cooled and saturated with oxygen, selected for the type of beer to be produced.
Fermentation is conducted at controlled temperatures and has a duration of about 7 days. At first it is turbulent, then gradually it becomes slower, until the yeast sinks to the bottom of the tank.
Maturation is the stage following fermentation and corresponds to the period that the beer rests at appropriate temperatures in order to allow the release of volatile components undesirable to the final "bouquet" of the beer.
Stabilisation is the next operation. This consists of leaving the beer to stabilise at temperatures of between 0 °C and 2 °C in order to allow colloidal stabilisation.
The Clarification of beer
Clarification is the operation that gives the beer its clarity, eliminating the last elements of turbidity still in suspension. It consists of pumping the liquid through a suitable filter. The filtered beer is then stored in tanks, and is now ready to be sent for filling.
The final step in the production of beer is filling, where the beer may be prepared for market in different kinds of packaging.
Before or after filling, biological stabilisation of the beer is required. This operation may be carried out cold (sterilising filtration) or hot (using pasteurisation, which may be carried out either immediately before – flash pasteurisation – or after the drink has been inserted into its container – tunnel pasteurisation). During filling, the beer is packaged in different formats (bottle, barrel, can...) and is ready to be appreciated in moderation.
Types of beer
Beers differ in their organoleptic characteristics, and are grouped into two main types:
High fermentation beers
Among high fermentation beers, very common in the UK, are: "Ales”, quite strong, varying in colour and also with a very wide range of bitterness. The term "Ale" is often used as a generic name for high fermentation beers. Beers with very intense colour, with a certain sweetness to be noted on the palate: these are "Stout" beers. But there is a segment of high fermentation beers, very strongly coloured, almost black, with little alcohol content, which are quite bitter. They are known as "Porter" beers. Certain types of high, spontaneous fermentation beer are very common in Belgium, known as "Lambic", "Geuze", "Kriek"... Another type of beer, very different from previous ones, is "Wheat Beer", exclusively fermented by yeasts, such as the Belgian "Blanche", or yeasts and lactic bacilli, such as the "Berliner Weiss".
Low fermentation beers
Low fermentation beers are generically known as "Lager" beers. This type of beer includes beers known as "Pilsener", "Munchener", "Dortmunder" and "Bock": "Pilsener" beers tend to be very light in colour, dry and less alcoholic than the "Ales", and with a very fine, very pronounced hoppy, bitter character. “Munchener" beers (from Munich) are typical of this city in Bavaria and, historically, were beers that were dark in colour, slightly hoppy, with low alcohol content and a character typical of the malt produced at high temperatures for a short period of time. "Dortmunder" beers are typical light gold coloured beers, with intermediate characteristics between the "Pilsener" and the "Munchener". Finally, there are "Bock" type beers, which began to be produced in the town of Einbeck in Lower Saxony. These were very dense beers, intensely coloured, produced in the winter for consumption in the spring. Today, they are intensely coloured beers, but it is increasingly common also to manufacture them with a pale colour. This type of beer, according to German law, must come from wort with at least 16% original extract, which results in an alcohol content of 6 to 7.5% (vv.). They are beers with a lot of body, with a malty and well hopped character. Currently, "Bock" beer is manufactured much less strong and not too deeply coloured. They are, however, beers with considerable body, with a well-balanced bitterness and a sweet gentle character.
Features of the Beer
The wort to be fermented has a specific concentration of sugars, which is characteristic of different beer types and which defines their primitive extract.
The alcohol content of beers is related to the type of wort that is to be fermented, together with the temperatures chosen for fermentation and the yeasts selected. Its value is moderate in comparison with other fermented beverages, such as wine, for example.
Nowadays, there are even beers with such low alcohol that they are considered "alcohol-free beer". According to Portuguese legislation, beers in this category must have less than 0.5% of alcohol by volume.
The amount of hops added to the wort results in a bitterness content in the beer in proportion to the addition made.
The beer’s colour is basically related to the colouring of the malts used in its manufacture.
The carbon dioxide that is present in beers is a compound that comes directly from the fermenting action of the yeast; Fermentable sugars are in general converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is retained in the liquid and is released more easily, the higher the surrounding temperature.
One of beer’s important characteristics is its capacity to form an abundant, creamy head that remains stable and sticks to the glass. The head is an agglomerate of the carbon dioxide bubbles covered with protein film.
The selection of the type of glass is very important for the head to stand out, but this will only be seen in properly washed and dry glasses, without traces of fat.
Normally, beers are rich in different aromas and flavours, coming from volatile compounds, whose composition and concentration depend on the raw material, the manufacturing process used and the strain of yeast selected.
At the time of drinking, beer leaves a set of sensations in the mouth linked to freshness, to the body, to the bitter/sweet balance, which last and make it a beverage rich in a range of aromas/flavours, unique to each beer type.
In order to fully enjoy your beer, bear in mind that this is a drink that, even in the bottle, continues to undergo changes that limit its shelf life. This time interval, called the shelf life, is printed on the label under the title "best before the end of...".
There are several reasons for this limited duration:
Beer is a drink that evolves over time, causing a decrease in its brightness, and finally, the appearance of turbidity accompanied by a deterioration in its aroma and taste;
The turbidity and degradation of aroma and taste are accelerated by exposure to high temperatures, causing the beer to oxidise;
Beer undergoes changes in aroma and taste when exposed to sunlight and also to fluorescent light, as light activates degradation of substances, resulting in products with an unpleasant aroma.
As such, it is recommended that beer be stored in environments with temperatures below 20ºC and not exposed to direct sunlight or fluorescent light on the shelves.
The way a good glass of beer is presented is essential: a rich and creamy head, clear liquid bubbling gently as if it were alive, the correct temperature to allow the qualities of its taste and aroma to be fully appreciated.
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