RAISE A GLASS
Hops, malt make all the difference in craft beers
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By Kim Karalovich
By Kim Karalovich
Not all crafted beer is created equal because of the influences of hops and malt. Grapes are to wine like malt is to beer; without malt we would have no beer. And without beer, hops would cease to exist as a commercial product in our world today.
There are four basic ingredients in beer: water, yeast, malt, and hops. All of these components are important in producing a tasty beer. Beer is 90 percent water so, as you can imagine, the water source is an important factor. Without yeast, beer would be a sweetish tasting non-alcoholic beverage. Yeasts are living organisms, and have a rare ability to live with or without oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, they ferment sugars (in the case of beer, malt sugars called maltose) into alcohol. Yeast is what makes the "kick" in beer possible. Hops act as a preservative and flavoring agent and helps to balance the sweetness from the malt by adding a bitterness..
Craft beer producers (the smallest production and most traditional of brewers) and microbrewers (bigger than craft beer producers but much smaller than macrobrewers like Coors, Miller and Budweiser) focus on creating traditional rich and flavorful styles of beer. The process of making beer is simple, but making good beer consistently is challenging and very scientific. Larger breweries make simple tasting beers that maintain a consistent flavor profile. Craft beer producers and microbreweries determine dominant flavors by putting the focus either on the hops or on the malt. Even though all ingredients play important roles in beer production, malty and hoppy flavors will always be center stage for micro breweries and craft beer producers.
Malt is sprouted barley and lends many different flavors to beer from sweet caramel to mealy corn flavors. Barley is a cereal grain, similar to wheat or oats, that doesn't mill well into flour. When crushed and toasted or roasted (dried) in a process called malting, it forms the perfect base for making the prime ingredient in "wort," the liquid that is fermented into beer. Malt not only provides sweetness to beer but also dictates its alcohol level. The malt provides the fermentable sugars that are required to make beer (and subsequently is what makes beer "sweet"). The malt sugars combined with yeast ferment into alcohol. The more malt sugar in the "wort," the higher the alcohol percentage in the beer will be. That is why stouts and porters (malty style beers) are higher in alcohol and sweeter than lighter beers (lagers such as Miller, Coors, Budweiser) that have less malt sugars and are lower in alcohol. Stouts and porters are a good example of malty beers.
Also fruit beers like the delicious Lindemans Lambic from Belgium that tastes like fresh raspberry is very sweet because of the malt and the addition of fruit sugars. A less sweet Belgian ale to try that is not only malty but yeasty is Grand Reserve Chimay Blue. Chimay is a beer with lots of fragrance of fresh yeast and floral tones and flavors of spice and roasted malt. Beware the alcohol in Chimay and Imperial stouts because they will usually run between 8 percent and 10 percent in alcohol compared with American light beers that average around 4 percent in alcohol. Porters are not only malty but also well hopped to counter the sweetness of the malt. Most malty beers, with the exception of fruit beer, will have a fair amount of hops in them to balance out the sweetness and flavors.
Other than beer, hops have no other commercial use and would have ceased to exist in the 21st century if not for craft beer producers and microbrewers. Hops add a bitter taste which helps offset the sweetness of malt sugar (maltose) — and it adds a variation of floral aromas along with aromas that vary from piney to citrus-like. Hops can also help reduce the amount of barley needed to brew beer and therefore will reduce the alcohol content. Hops act as a preservative which was what originally motivated brewers to use it. The longer the beer lasts the further it could travel. Hoppy style beers include Indian Pale Ales (named for its travel destination, not its origin).
One brew that is the best of both worlds (hops and malt perfectly balanced) is the seasonal ale from Sierra Nevada called BigFoot Ale Barleywine. It's heavily hopped and intensely malty, with bittersweet and fruity (citrus) flavors laced with light floral aromas and a whopping 9.6 percent alcohol. Bigfoot Ale is available at The Wine Stop for just a little longer, or find more than 100 other crafted beers there as well.
Kim Karalovich, a certified sommelier, is general manager at The Wine Stop. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 946-3707.