The Perfect Pint
It has been on the menu for thousands of years – enjoyed by ancient Babylonians, Egyptians and Romans – and remains a bar staple.
It has been the beverage of choice for Queen Elizabeth I, as well as for Bob and Doug Mackenzie. In bottles or kegs, beer is one of the most popular drinks with
Most of the myriad types of beer fall into two basic categories: ale and lager. The difference lies in the yeast.
“Ale yeast is sort of an older, more traditional yeast. It likes to work at a warmer temperature,” says Gerry Hieter, founder and chairman of The Great
Canadian Beer Festival in Victoria, which now attracts more than 40 brewers and over 6,000 attendees. Ale yeasts are known as “top brewing” yeasts because
they rise to the surface. The warmer temperature and faster fermentation impart ales’ distinctive flavours.
Lager is usually brewed at cooler temperatures with “bottom fermenting” yeast.
“The word lager is an old German word meaning to store or to age,” Hieter says. “It takes a lot longer to ferment, and it ferments at colder temperatures.”
That process results in a crisp, refreshing taste.
Walter Cosman, sales and marketing director for Granville Island Brewery in Vancouver, says beer preferences change with the seasons, and are also
increasingly changing based on food. Granville Island Brewery’s two most popular products sell about equally, but have different peak seasons: its honey
lager does very well in the summer, and is the ideal accompaniment for warm weather meals such as barbecued salmon. Sales of its richer-bodied pale ale –
perfect with hearty stews or chilli – peak in the winter.
Granville Island Brewery, which opened in 1984, was Canada’s first microbrewery. Cosman says that although the big breweries still command about 85%
of market share in British Columbia, microbreweries have a big following in B.C. and have been gaining ground in recent years in the rest of Canada.
“Microbrewing uses the four core ingredients to brew beer, and nothing else,” Cosman explains. “It’s called the Bavarian purity law, and it was started
in 1516 by the German brewmasters.”
Those four core ingredients are water, barley (also called malt, or malt barley), yeast and hops.
To make brewers’ malt, barley is soaked and germinated, and then dried or roasted. The malt is then crushed and added to hot water for the mashing
process. In the large mashing tank, enzymes in the malt convert starch to sugar under careful temperature and time controls. The resulting mash is then
lautered, or strained, and the liquid — which is now a sugar solution called wort — is drained into the brew kettle, where it is concentrated and sterilized
by boiling. Hops are added and are later removed once their job of bittering or flavouring is complete. Once flavoured, the wort is cooled quickly, and
transferred to fermenting vessels. Yeast, which converts the sugars in the wort to carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol, is added. The fermentation process
can take up to a week or more. The yeast is then removed, and the beer is cellared in cold storage for one to three weeks before being bottled or placed in kegs.
“The real beauty of the art of brewing is that you can literally have hundreds and hundreds of flavour profiles from the same four ingredients,” Hieter says.
Different types of hops and yeast make a big difference to the final product, and the degree to which the barley is roasted also influences flavour and astringency.
Aspects of the brewing process also affect flavour, he says. The temperature of the mashing process, the refrigeration, the types of tanks and kettles used
can all impart different characteristics.
To ensure enjoyment of those characteristics, Cosman stresses the importance of quality and freshness. Proper handling, storage and pouring can make
all the difference, he says. That can mean everything from keeping the draft lines clean to maintaining the proper storage temperature.
If the lines aren’t kept clean, beer can taste skunky or flat. Hieter and Cosman both recommend cleaning draft lines weekly. They also emphasize the importance of
“There’s clean, and then there’s what we call ‘beer clean,’” Hieter says. Even glass washers can leave a residue that the bubbles in beer can stick to,
causing the head to go down quicker and the beer to go flat sooner.
Serving and storage temperatures are also crucial.
Beer is often served too cold, Hieter says. Ice-cold beer can “freeze” the palate of the drinker, and the subtleties of the beer will be lost. Also, ice cold
beer served in frozen mugs can cause bloat by allowing the CO2 in the beer to enter the body in more of a liquid form, Hieter says. It then warms up
in the stomach, where it forms a gas and causes bloat.
Kegs need to be kept in a cold room, ideally around 3 or 4 degrees Celsius. Properly stored, an untapped keg will keep for three months. Once tapped,
it should be used in two to three weeks, Cosman says. But a poorly stored keg will only stay fresh for a week once tapped, he adds.
Bars should only serve as many types of draft as they can turn over often enough to ensure a fresh product, Cosman says.
“You don't need 30 to 35 draft lines,” he says. “You can satisfy your customers’ needs with eight to 10 draft lines, and give them quality fresh
product every time they come in,” he says.
It also helps to know a bit about what comes out of those taps. Wine seminars have become common in Canadian restaurants, and Hieter says
beer seminars would be just as useful.
“Beer is one of the most consumed beverages in Canada and one of the least understood,” he says. “If the staff don’t know what’s going on,
it’s going to be very hard for the customer to figure it out.”