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rec.food.drink.beer FAQ [2/3] (revised 16-MAY-1997)

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Archive-name: beer-faq/part2
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Copyright: (c) 1994-1997 John A. Lock
Maintainer: John A. Lock <jlock@mindspring.com>
URL: http://www.beerinfo.com/rfdb/

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Subject: 1-12. How is specific gravity related to beer? Specific gravity is a measure of the density of a liquid. Distilled water has a specific gravity of 1.000 at 60F(15C) and is used as a baseline. The specific gravity of beer measured before fermentation is called its Original Gravity or OG and sometimes its Starting Gravity (SG). This gives an idea of how much sugar is dissolved in the wort (unfermented beer) on which the yeast can work. The range of values goes from approximately 1.020 to 1.160 meaning the wort can be from 1.02 to 1.16 times as dense as water (in British brewing the decimal point is usually omitted). When measured after fermentation it is called the Final Gravity (FG) or Terminal Gravity (TG). The difference between these two values is a good gauge of the amount of alcohol produced during fermentation. The OG will always be higher than the FG for two reasons. First, the yeast will have processed much of the sugar that was present, thus, reducing the gravity. And, second, the alcohol produced by fermentation is less dense than water, further reducing the gravity. The OG has a significant effect on the taste of the final product and not just from an alcoholic standpoint. A high OG usually results in beer with more body and sweetness than a lower OG. This is because some of the sugars measured in the OG are not fermentable by the yeast and will remain after fermentation. Here are some rough guidelines: Some Bitters, Milds, Wheat beers, and most "Lite" beers have an OG ranging from 1020-1040. The majority of beers fall in the 1040-1050 range including most Lagers, Stout, Porter, Pale Ale, most Bitters, and Wheat beers. From 1050-1060 you'll find, Oktoberfest, India Pale Ale, ESB (Extra Special Bitter). In the 1060-1075 range will be Bock, strong ales, Belgian doubles. Above 1075 are the really strong beers like Dopplebocks, Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, and Belgian trippels and strong ales.
Subject: 1-13. What does "Dubbel" mean on a beer label? Belgian ales often carry additional wording on their labels indicating their strength. This applies to their original malt strength not their alcoholic strength. Variations may appear as follows: Single: Dutch/Flemish - enkel (pron. 'ankle') French/Walloon - ? Double: Dutch/Flemish - dubbel (pron. 'double') French/Walloon - double (pron. 'doobluh') Triple: Dutch/Flemish - tripel (pron. 'treepel' or 'trippel') French/Walloon - triple (pron. 'treepluh') Quadruple: Dutch/Flemish - quadrupel (pron. 'quadruple') French/Walloon - quadruple (pron. 'quadrupluh') Also on the Trappist Ale "La Trappe" you will see the Latin versions: Angulus, Duplus, Triplus, and Quadruplus.
Subject: DEFINITIONS OF COMMON TERMS REGARDING THE BREWING INDUSTRY
Subject: 2-1. How is alcohol strength measured? Most of the world measures alcohol as a percent of volume (abv). In the U.S., alcohol in beer is measured by weight (abw). Since alcohol weighs roughly 20% less than water, abw measures appear 20% less than abv measures for the same amount of alcohol. In Europe, beer strength tends to be measured on the basis of the fermentables in the wort. Until recently, Britain used OG (original gravity), which is 1000 times the ratio of the wort gravity to that of water. Thus a beer with an OG of 1040 was 4% more dense than water, the density coming from dissolved sugars. You can generally take one tenth of the last two digits to estimate the percentage alcohol by volume once the dissolved sugars are fermented. In the example used, the abv would be approximately 4% (40/10 = 4%) Currently, British beer is being taxed on its actual %ABV rather that the older OG so you'll often find both displayed. Continental Europe tends to uses degrees Plato. In general, the degrees Plato are about one quarter the last two digits of the OG figure. Hence, in our example above, the beer would be 10 degrees Plato. To get the expected alcohol by volume, divide the degrees Plato by 2.5.
Subject: 2-2. Why is beer stronger in Canada than the U.S.? This is just folklore that results from the way alcoholic strength is measured. The alcohol content of mainstream U.S. beers is measured as a percent of weight (abw). Canadian beers (and most other countries) measure percent alcohol by volume (abv). A typical Canadian beer of 5% (abv) will be about the same strength as a typical U.S. beer at 4% (abw).
Subject: 2-3. How are "ale", "malt liquor", and "barleywine" related to strength? The U.S. regulations about the labelling of beer products were antiquated, but they are changing rapidly. When Prohibition ended, a statute was enacted that prohibited the alcohol content from appearing on beer labels unless required by state law. Nor could they use words like "strong", "full strength", or "high proof". Coors recently challenged this law in court and has won their lower court battles. It is now pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, some states have regulations that require certain beers to be labelled using other terms that are supposed denote strength without violating the above statute. Consequently some beers are labeled ales, even if they are lagers, due simply to their strength. Texas is one example of this usage. Similarly, "malt liquor" is the appellation attached to strong beers in other states, such as Georgia. Barley wines are strong beers, typically at strengths comparable to wines (8% alcohol by volume and over). However, this is not just an arbitrary term for strength but the actual name of the beer style as well. In April 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Coors' favor regarding the placement of alcohol percentages on beer labels. Some of Coors' beer labels now include this figure and other brewers are following suit.
Subject: 2-4. What is the Reinheitsgebot? This is the German (originally, Bavarian) purity law that restricts the ingredients that can be used to make beer to being water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. In the 1516 version of the law, only water, malt and hops were mentioned, because yeast was not isolated until the 19th century by Louis Pasteur. The Reinheitsgebot is actually part of a larger document called the "Biersteuergesetz" or "Beer Tax Law" which defined what beer was and how it should be taxed according to strength. "Rein" means clean or pure; "-heit" means "-ness"; so "Reinheit" means "cleanliness" or "purity". In 1987, the Reinheitsgebot was repealed by the EC as part of the opening up of the European market. Many German breweries elected to uphold the Reinheitsgebot in their brewing anyway out of respect for their craft and heritage. The full text of the Reinheitsgebot, as it existed before 1987, is available via anonymous ftp in English or German from the archives (see later).
Subject: 2-5. What about the new "Draught-flow" (tm) system (AKA the "widget" or "smoothifier")? This device has recently appeared in canned beers in an attempt to mimic the taste and appearance of a true draught beer. It employs a small plastic bladder filled with a mix of nitrogen and beer at the bottom of the can. When the can is opened, the mixture is forced out through small holes in the bladder causing considerable turbulence at the bottom of the can. This results in a thick, foaming head of creamy bubbles. While not real ale (see next), this process does mimic the serving of beer through "swan necks" or "sparklers" and is the subject of much debate.
Subject: 2-6. What is "Real Ale"? "Real Ale is a name for draught (or bottled) beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide"....from CAMRA's handbook.
Subject: 2-7. What is CAMRA? CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale. It was founded in the early 1970s in Great Britain to preserve Britain's beer traditions. It is used in marketing courses as one of the most successful consumer movements of all time. It is now concerning itself with the preservation of beer, the British pub, and brewing traditions worldwide. Anyone can join CAMRA by writing to: Campaign for Real Ale 230 Hatfield Rd., St Albans Herts AL1 4LW, UK. Or, you can use Visa/MC and join by phone: 44-1727-867201 Check out the CAMRA WWW site at <URL:http://www.camra.org.uk/>
Subject: 2-8. What are the categories of brewers/breweries? According to the Institute of Brewing there are four categories as follows: Large Brewers - Production in excess of 500,000 barrels/year Regional Brewers - Production between 15,000 and 500,000 bbl/yr Microbrewers - Production less than 15,000 bbl/yr Brewpubs - Production for onsite consumption only In addition you may see/hear the term pico-brewer which is used to describe brewers so small that distribution is limited to pubs and bars in their immediate area. To complicate matters their are contract brewers. These companies develop a recipe and then "buy" excess capacity at a large brewery to have their beer made for them. They, then, market and distribute the finished product. Some of these can be quite large. The Boston Beer Co., which brews the Sam Adams line, is a good example of a large contract brewer. To give you a better perspective here are some examples with 1993 production figures (barrels per year): Large Brewers: Anheuser-Busch - 93,000,000 Miller - 49,000,000 Coors - 25,000,000 Regional Brewers: Boston Beer - 450,000 Sierra Nevada - 104,325 Anchor - 92,000 Pete's - 74,000 Microbrewers: Summit - 10,500 Celis - 10,500 Yakima(Grant's) - 8,000 Brewpubs: Wynkoop - 4,200 Gordon Biersch (No. 3) - 2,700 Great Lakes - 2,700
Subject: 2-9. What is a brewpub? A brewpub is, generally, a combination brewery/restaurant. The beer is made on-premises for consumption by the restaurant patrons. Various regulations govern the ratio of beer/food sales to prevent breweries from serving token food items while selling mostly beer. Very common in Europe and the source of a growing industry in the North America.
Subject: BEER HANDLING AND SENSORY ISSUES
Subject: 3-1. How do I judge a beer? Much has been written about wine tasting, and that technique and vocabulary apply quite nicely to beer, as well. Of course, beer is a more complex beverage and its evaluation covers some additional ground, but the concepts are the same. The biggest change most drinkers must undergo is warming up their beer. Ice cold beer numbs the taste buds and doesn't allow the beer to develop its full flavor potential. In general, pale beer is best served at cooler temperatures than dark beer, and lagers cooler than ales. Start with 40-50F (5-10C) for the cooler beers and 50-60F (10-15C) for the warmer ones. Beer should be evaluated using four senses: sight, smell, taste, feel. Always drink beer from a clear glass to fully appreciate it. Look at it and note the color and clarity. Hold it up to a light if necessary. Take a good sniff from the glass to get the aroma or bouquet. Taste it, swishing it around in your mouth, and notice its body and flavors. After swallowing, notice any aftertaste or finish. You should be noticing things like: Was it golden, amber, black? Clear or cloudy? Did it smell sweet, malty, flowery, alcoholic? Did it taste bitter, sweet, tart, smooth, roasty? Did it feel "thick" or "thin" as you swished it around? Did it leave a buttery taste, nutty, fruity? With additional experience and some reading you will begin to develop not only a sense of what you enjoy, but what marks a truly good beer from a bland or mediocre one. Also, it is usually a good idea to try a beer more than once. Get it from different sources, try it when your in a different mood or setting, wait for a full moon, whatever. Many factors will affect your overall perception, so be flexible. Be aware, as well, that tasting many beers at once is not a good idea. The taste buds begin to tire and send confusing impressions.
Subject: 3-2. What is good/bad/skunked/spoiled beer? In the most ideal sense, there are no good or bad beers. The enjoyment of beer is a highly subjective and personal experience. However, in this very real and flawed world, various camps develop and embrace their favorites while denouncing all others. This is illustrated by "The best/worst beer in the world is...." posts. The best approach is to appreciate what beer is about and how to recognize the outstanding qualities of a fine beer (see previous question). Bad beer can be easily identified, however, when it has been damaged or spoiled. The two most common occurences are: "skunking" When beer has been exposed to strong light, either natural or artificial, certain components in hops alter and produce acrid flavors, AKA being "lightstruck". This is why beer should be bottled in brown bottles. Clear bottles offer no light protection and green is only slightly better. Technically, light of wavelengths from 550 nm and below can cause photochemical reactions in hop resins, resulting in a sulfury mercaptan which has a pronounced skunky character. 550 nm is roughly blue-green. Bottled beer can become lightstruck in less than one minute in bright sun, after a few hours in diffuse daylight, and in a few days under normal flourescent lighting. "spoiled" Also referred to as going "off". This is a more vague term and often refers to beer that has not been properly stored or handled allowing oxidation (a cardboard taste) or other off-flavors resulting from contamination, overheating, etc. As with any fermented beverage, alcohol can also turn to vinegar, imparting a sour taste to beer.
Subject: 3-3. How should I store beer? I general, beer should be stored in a cool place. In warmer climates this often means refrigeration and you get used to letting your beer warm a little before you drink it. Cooler climates often use cellars to store beer which works quite well. As long as temperatures are kept between 35F(2C) and 60F(15C) you're probably OK. Keep in mind that storing at the warmer end of this scale will increase any aging effects since any yeast remaining in the beer will be more active. This is a Good Thing if you're aging a barleywine but will cause lower gravity beers to go "stale" sooner.
Subject: 3-4. How long does beer keep? To quote Michael Jackson: "If you see a beer, do it a favour, and drink it. Beer was not meant to age." Generally, that is true. However, some beers that are strong and/or highly hopped must age to reach their full flavor potential. How a beer is conditioned and handled has a great affect on its shelf-life. Beer conditioned in the bottle or cask still contains live, active yeast and should be drunk as soon as possible. Most larger scale, commercial beers have been filtered or pasteurized to remove/kill the yeast and stabilize the product for the longer storage times encountered in the retail world. In any case, stored beer should never be exposed to heat or strong light.
Subject: 3-5. Is beer considered a vegetarian/kosher/organic product? It depends on how you define each of those terms and what your particular values are. Rather than try to make a broad generalization, I'll describe the products and practices that are usually called into question regarding these topics. You are then free to apply these facts to your own system of beliefs and make an informed judgement. Also, I have ignored the fact that beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by the metabolism of yeast. This should be taken for granted. Read labels carefully and call the brewer if you need specific information about ingredients or processing since labeling laws allow the brewer to omit a great deal. Finings Finings are substances sometimes added to beer during fermentation to help settle out particles and yeast, leaving the beer clear. It is important to note that finings are not present in the finished beer in any significant quantity. Their purpose is to settle out of the beer, not stay in suspension. OTOH, if a careful chemical analysis were to be performed, there would probably be a few molecules of a fining agent still to be found. Also, many brewers do not use finings at all, but filter their beer to clarify it. That said, these are the common fining agents: Isinglass Made from the dried swim bladders of sturgeons. Used a great deal in British brewing. Irish Moss Also known as carragheen, a type of dried seaweed. Gelatin The same stuff used to make Jello (tm). Made from animal (mostly cow) hooves, skin and connective tissues. Polyclar A brand name for PVP (polyvinylpyrdlidone), a man-made, plastic substance. Sparkalloid More commonly known as diatemaceous earth. FYI, beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (see related Q&A) is not prohibited from using finings since it was generally assumed that finings were not present in the finished product. Adjuncts These are products used to alter the flavor, color, or body of beer. They are used in addition to the "Basic 4": malted barley, hops, yeast, and water. They do not settle out and can be present in beer in significant quantities. Corn Used a great deal by the mega-brewers as a cheap way to make huge quantities of beer since corn is cheaper than malted barley. Rice Same as corn. Wheat Used in some beer styles to produce a lighter-bodied beer with a tangy flavor. Honey Used as another fermentable sugar in addition to malted barley to impart different flavors. Lactose Also known as milk sugar because of its dairy origin. Used to increase sweetness and body of certain beer styles such as cream stouts. Molasses Another form of sugar used to flavor some dark ales. Heading agents Various products added to a beer to increase its ability to form and hold a head. Used most often in beers made with large quantities of corn and/or rice. Pepsin is a common heading agent and is often derived from pork. Beers using only malted barley or wheat don't need heading agents. Organic ingredients To be truly organic, a beer would have to be made from barley and hops cultivated using accepted organic practices. Most brewers do not make this claim, but a few are appearing. Those that do clearly label their products as organic. It is also my understanding that organic does not mean no animal products. Other ingredients Many other ingredients are used in brewing beer to give it unusual character or marketing appeal. As such, these items are often clearly indicated on the label. Some of the more common examples are: Oatmeal, Pumpkin, Potatoes, and all sorts of fruit Also spices such as: Ginger, Licorice, Coriander, Cinnamon, and Spruce
Subject: MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS
Subject: 4-1. What is Zima and/or clear beer? Clear beers are malt-based beverages that have had all their character removed completely leaving one to wonder "What's the point?" Clear beverages like Zima are not beers, and are discussed in their own newsgroups like rec.food.drink or alt.zima.
Subject: 4-2. What do the different Chimay packages/colors mean? Chimay is the best known of the famous Trappist ales from Belgium and the Netherlands. Two package types are used: a 33cl(11oz) bottle with the standard metal crown and a 75cl(26oz) "Bordeaux" bottle which is corked. Three beers are produced by Chimay which differ in character and alcoholic strength. They have different names, but are often referred to by the color coding of the crown, cork seal, and labeling as follows: Chimay Red, Rouge, Premiere - 7% abv Chimay White, Blanche, Cinq Cents - 8% abv Chimay Blue, Bleue- 9% abv (33cl bottle only) Chimay Gold, Grande Reserve - This is a vintage bottling of Chimay Blue in a 75cl bottle
Subject: 4-3. What does the "33" mean on the bottles of Rolling Rock? There several versions: The first is that it is the number of words on the label which a Rolling Rock employee wrote down before sending it to the artist/printer and it stuck. This is the most popular one. The second is that "33" is the year prohibition was lifted. A third, more colorful one, is that the brewery was started with money won at the track betting on #33 "Old Latrobe", hence the 33 and horse.
Subject: 4-4. Does Coors support Nazi organizations? The Adolph Coors Co., as a publicly held US corporation, does not. Nor is it likely they could do so and succeed in the US market. The Coors family supports the Coors Foundation which donates funds to many political, social, and educational organizations. Whether these organizations can be considered Nazi, right-wing, or even conservative is not an appropriate topic for this newsgroup since it doesn't affect the brewing, distribution, or marketing of Coors beer. This policy is stated in the r.f.d.b. Charter. These discussions can take place in soc.politics or talk.politics.misc. John <URL:http://www.beerinfo.com/>

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