A Short History of Beer
As the pale golden liquid pours down your throat quenching your
thirst, refreshing your body, and renewing your spirit have you
ever paused long enough to wonder just what it is, why does it taste
the way is does and where it comes from?
The history of beer is long and colorful and is almost as old as
civilization itself. Beer is an alcoholic drink made from barley
grain, hops, water, and yeast. The Greek historian, Herodotus, credited
the Egyptians with making the first true beer though recent evidence
indicates that the Mesopotamians and Sumerians might have been the
first beer drinkers as long ago as 10,000 B.C. The Sumerians, who
developed the first written language about 2000 B.C., wrote detailed
instructions for making beer, suggesting that the technique had
been established and refined long before that.
In 1516, the Germans instituted the now famous Reinheitsgebot, a
law (still in effect today) which strictly dictates what ingredients
may go into beer. There are only four legal ingredients;
- water-- which assists the fermentation process
- barley-- which gives beer its fullness
- hops-- which gives beer its bitterness
- yeast--which converts the barley malt into alcohol and carbon
Water assists the fermentation process, distillation, and cuts
down the final product into consumable proofs. The water at the
Oak Creek Brewery comes from deep wells in the Sedona area.
Any cereal grain such as corn, wheat, rice, oats,
or rye can be usewd to make beer. The cereal grain gives the beer
its color, sweetness, body, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins,
and minerals. Most importantly, it gives the beer the starch which
is then converted into sugar, which is in turn transformed into
alcohol and carbon dioxide by the fermentation process. Barley
is by far the best cereal grain for beer making. Anything else
makes a lighter beer with less character.
Hops is a plant which is a member of the nettle family and resembles
a small green/yellow pine cone with soft leaves about an inch
long. Hops is grown in many different climates and locations and
each variety produces a beer with a different taste. Most beer
makers today use several different kinds of hops. Hops is added
to the developing beer usually in two stages, the first for flavoring
and the second for aroma.
These are microscopic, single-cell organisms in the fungus family.
Each beer maker closely guards the secret of what type of yeast
he uses. Oak Creek Brewery uses a proprietary yeast strain that
helps us produce superior beers. Fermentation occurs when the
yeast consume the malt sugar in the barley or other grain it converts
it into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Nine steps in beer making
Since the barley grain is naturally dry and hard, steeping the
grain for two days in water makes the grain more susceptible to
The damp barley is spread out to dry for about a week during which
time it begins to sprout. Sprouting releases enzymes which convert
starches in the grain to sugars which can later be fermented.
After germinating, the malted barley is slowly dried in kilns
where the temperature and amount of time determines the flavor
and color of the beer.
The sprouts are removed from the barley and ground in a milling
machine to assist in extracting the soluble substances like sugar.
The milled barley is mixed with hot water in a large pot or tun
(pronounced ton) and is slowly heated to approximately 150 degrees
to convert the starch into sugar. After it is filtered the sugary
liquid is known as wort (pronounced wert).
The wort is then put in a a kettle, boiled for an hour or two
during which hops and other flavorings are added. Next the hops
are filtered out and the remainder is rapidly cooled in a special
freezer unit which clarifies the brew.
The cold wort is mixed (called pitching) with yeast in a fermenting
tank where the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. This
process produces the natural carbonation (Spunding) and usually
takes from 5 to 12 days at varying temperatures depending on the
type of beer being made.
The fermented wort is set aside at near-freezing temperatures
to mature for several days. During this period the flavor and
smoothness is developed. As a general rule Ales mature more quickly
than Lagers and some beers may require a second fermentation.
- Racking, Canning, and Bottling
Here the beer is bottled or put into kegs.
When tasting beer, one should look for four things:
- The color comes from the type and amount of malts used. Malts
that have been roasted to various degrees of darkness are used
in small amounts in the grist to add color to the beer.
- The aroma of the beer should contain the sweet smell of malt
balanced by the flowery aroma of the hops. Ales have an additional
fruity smell that produces a more complex aroma.
- The flavor of the beer should be malt sweet on the tip of your
tongue and hops bitter on the back of your tongue. The aftertaste
should be neither sour nor harsh.
- The body of the beer is it's mouthfeel or degree of heaviness.
As the beer passes over your tongue it will feel anywhere from
light bodied or watery to full bodied or chewy.
The procedure used to taste beer is as follows:
- Pour the beer into a room temperature glass, down the side at
first and then the middle to get more head.
- The color of the beer will indicate what flavor to expect and
the clarity will indicate the type of beer.
- The smell the beer will also indicate the taste to expect. What
is the relationship between the hops and malt aromas?
- Swirl the beer around in your mouth and your tongue will sense
the mix of flavors depending on the balance of malt and hops.
Consider the body, the flavors from the malts and hops and their
- After swallowing the beer note whether the aftertaste is bitter
Fresh beer always tastes better so we only produce small quantities
and don't ship our beer long distances.
Ales generally have a fruitier, more complex flavor
than lagers and are the most traditional style of beers. Ales are
made by using a yeast that ferments best at 60° - 70°F. Lagers have
a more mellow taste and aroma than ales and were first brewed in the
mid 1800s when a new strain of yeast was developed that fermented
at temperatures beyween 40° - 50°F. Lager are generally aged longer