The dim rumbling you’re hearing is the sound of barrels rolling out. Possibly accompanied by everyone from college students to sports fan jumping for joy. The first Friday in August in International Beer Day (not to be confused with a certain month-long celebration later in the year). So far as I can day, it’s the day that’s international. The beer? Foreign or domestic – that’s your choice. I’ll opt for answer C: Both of the Above.
IBD, as the day is known for short, is mostly about enjoying beer. As you may have seen on their site, the first of the three purposes of the celebration is “[t]o gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer.” It’s a cause I can certainly get behind. Apparently I’m not the only one; IBD celebrations are, according to reports, happening in over 200 cities around the world. Unfortunately, there’s not a roundup of places marking the celebration (a project for next year?), but there’s a good chance that you have one near you. Call up your favorite beer dispensary and see if they have something planned. If not, it's time to make your own fun. Beer is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, so some of your friends are probably up for a pint or two.
There’s a lot to be said on the subject of beer, and I’m just the man to say it, especially after my first couple. Today’s about enjoying the beer, though, so let’s just talk a little bit about what goes into all that deliciousness. Paging Dr. Lager, it’s time for a quick lesson in the five parts of:
The Anatomy of Beer
- Malt: This refers to the grains that make up the body of the beer. They provide the starches that become sugars that become alcohol and also lend important characteristics for the brew. A beer made with a heavy slug of rye is going to be different than one made from just barley. Most of the major American industrial beers (think Budweiser, Miller and Coors) owe some of their lightness (some might say blandness) to rice or corn in the mix. (Rice isn’t the only thing they have in common with Chinese food: You can drink one and you’re sober an hour later.)
- Yeast: Yeast is the friendly little fellow that makes beer (and wine and gin and tequila…) possible. It converts sugars to alcohol and brings important other flavors to the mix. Later, we’ll chew on it much more, but for now it’s enough to know that there are different strains of yeast and they can make very different beers.
- Hops: Theoretically, it’s possible to have beer without hops. Theoretically, it’s possible to cross the Great Plains in a covered wagon. People once did both, but anybody that does either one now probably has a bit of looseness in the screws. Hops are the flowers of the hop plant which is in the same family as both marijuana and hackberries. (No, I don’t actually know what a hackberry is. It seems to be a plant in the same family as marijuana and hops.) Hops do two things for beer: add (a lot of) flavor and act as a preservative so that you can still enjoy your suds more than a couple of weeks after they’re brewed. As with hops, more to come.
- Water: Water, water everywhere and it goes in your drink. Much of beer is water, and the water matters. In the modern era, brewers have learned to adjust the acidity of water, the mineral content and other variable. In the (not so) old days, brewers were stuck with the water near the brewery. The particular character of the local H2O determined what kind of beers worked best. India Pale Ale, so loved by bearded, flannel-wearing craft brew fans, owes its early days to the gypsum minerals of Burton-on-Trent in Great Britain.
- Other Stuff: Not actually the technical term. Some, but certainly not all, beers have other additives, mostly for flavor and mouthfeel. Sometimes they’re front and center as in Belgian beers brewed with cherries or peaches; sometimes a little more subtle (like sugar added to boost alcohol content); and sometimes they’re additives in a broad sense (like bacteria that add sourness or the wood in a barrel that’s used to store and age beer). They often inspire strong feelings in those that like them – and in those who don’t.
I promise we’ll revisit beer again and again, but that’s enough for now. With this lesson you’ve taken your first step toward becoming a full-fledged Beer M.D. (Major Drinker). Grab a friend a raise a glass to celebrate. Post your beers for the day below!
Photo: Sierra Nevada Summer Lager and Globe (a bit on the underexposed side)
Photo Credit (such as it is): Steve Morgan