What is Beer?

What is Beer?

A simple question, but one worth covering just for completeness.

Essentially it’s a brewed alcoholic drink primarily made by fermenting cereal (normally malted barley) and flavoured with hops. The primary ingredients are water, yeast, hops and malt.

Very briefly: the process of making beer requires steeping malted barley in hot water (Liquor) which releases sugar, then taking the runoff (wort) and boiling it along with hops, the remaining liquid is then put into another vessel where yeast is added which converts sugar and oxygen into alcohol, carbon dioxide and esters, at this point the ‘young beer’ is transferred to another vessel for conditioning for a few days up to years depending on the beer.


There are 3 major groups:

  • Lager
  • Ale
  • Lambic

The primary difference is the types of yeast that are used. Lager uses a bottom fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces Pastorianus, which ferments at 7-15°c in around 2-3 weeks. Ale uses a top fermenting yeast called Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which ferments at 10-25°c in normally 7-14 days. Although you do find some lagers that use top, and some ales that use bottom these days. Lambics use wild yeasts and fermentation is far more complicated and takes 12 months+.

The 3 groups break down into further categories
too, a few of which I’ve listed below:

  • Lager
    • Bock, Helles, Pilsner, Marzen
  • Ale
    • Stout, Porter, IPA, Pale Ale, Amber Ale, Old Ale, Bitter, Mild, Saison, Dubbel, Tripel
  • Lambic
    • Kriek, Gueuze

I’ll go into much further detail about each in future posts about the styles are there differences.



All beer can be packaged in cask, keg, bottle or can. With the later becoming more and more popular by the day.

Cask is a traditional way of packaging beer, today used for ales and allow for gravity or pump pouring. These days casks tend to be stainless steel, aluminium with plastic becoming more prevalent. Cask come in a variety of sizes, the most common these days being: Pins (4.5 gallons), Firkin (9g) and kilderkin (18g).

Kegs is the standard way to package lagers, most craft beers and some ales. Kegs require gas (either CO2 or a CO2/Nitrogen mix depending on the beer style) for them to be dispensed from pumps/taps.

Bottle should be done in brown bottles, this helps to protect the beer from sun damage which can will occur in green or clear bottles. Bottles tend to be 330, 500 or 750ml.

Canning, although still frowned upon by some, is a perfect way to store beer due to them: being more easily recycled than glass, being completely opaque, being lighter, easier to stack and package for distribution, and they allow for full printing directly on the can with no additional labelling. They’re also now polymer lined to stop imparting any metallic taste into the beer. Cans are generally in 330, 500ml or 1 pint sizes.


There are a few myths around beer that need busting, a few are as follows:

  • Beer is not made from ‘chemicals’, at least not in the way people mean when they say something is made from chemicals. Everything is a chemical so from that point of view it is made from chemicals, but not synthesized or dangerous ones! Beer is made from natural ingredients.
  • Beer is not high in fat, it has zero fat.
  • Beer is not high in cholesterol, it has none.
  • Beer is high in calories. 1/2 a pint of lager has comparable calories to 125ml of wine. The classic beer belly comes from over indulgence, as with anything if you overindulge there are consequences.

Overall beer can be a part of a healthy lifestyle when consumed in moderation. In fact a recent article in the Telegraph (The surprising health benefits of drinking beer, 14 Nov 2016) looked at various studies which suggested many benefits including: lowering the risk of kidney stones, protection from heart attacks, reduces the risk of strokes, strengthening bones, and reducing the chance of Azheimer’s and diabetes…to mention but a few. Obviously this is all with moderation, and to be taken with a pinch of salt as there’s always a conflicting study around the corner!