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Craft Beer: Everything you need to know

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Let’s start the text with a question: what is actually craft beer ? The concept is broad and generates discussion, because for some more radical craft beer it is just that produced on a small or micro scale, with simple, non -automated equipment and using well-defined ingredients – such as water , barley malt (and some other malted or unmalted grains). ), hops and yeast (also known as yeast).

There are others who consider craft beer to be all beer produced on a small or medium scale , but who prioritize quality over profits.

I stay in this second block of brewers: I consider craft beer to be many produced by not so small breweries, whether Brazilian or foreign breweries, in addition, obviously, to those produced on a small or micro scale such as those brewed by homebrewers .

If the focus is on quality, for me it’s craft beer! There are breweries that produce on a large scale, many liters per month, but that value quality and will always have my respect.

I am more adept at the term special beer than craft beer , I think it covers other evaluation factors and is easier to understand.

Anyway, what is important to know about craft beer is that it exists, it is conquering more and more market in Brazil (and in the world!) and you cannot stay out of this good taste game.

Craft Beer Styles

In the beer world there are several families and styles of beers.

In Brazil, the most consumed style is the American Light Lager, which we erroneously call Pilsen. If you now know that there are several other types of craft beer, why always drink “Pilsen” and not try other flavors?

Craft beers

The biggest division between craft beer styles is in the type of fermentation, which are 3: lager, ale and hybrid. Before explaining each one of them, let’s tell you what fermentation is!

It is the process in which live microorganisms (yeast or yeast, they are the same thing) consume the sugar of something and transform, in the case of beer, into alcohol and carbon dioxide (in addition to other by-products).

In Lager fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugar present in the wort at the bottom of the fermenter, which is why they are called bottom-fermented beers.

A lot is confused about this, people tend to believe that bottom-fermented beers are less alcoholic by the term “low”, which is not true.

The term is only related to the time when fermentation takes place inside the fermenter.

Ale fermentation beers are top-fermented, meaning the yeast consumes the sugar from the wort at the top of the liquid in the fermenter.

Hybrid fermentation beers can either use both types of yeast (Ale and Lager) or use one type with fermentation at the characteristic temperature used in the other type of fermentation.

Example: beer with Lager yeast fermenting at common fermentation temperature for Ale yeast or vice versa.

Who determines which craft beer families or styles are in the world? There is a body called the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) that from time to time releases a style guide based on many studies and characteristics of beers produced around the world.

Each style brings together a series of characteristics such as color, flavors, aromas, mouthfeel, bitterness index, ingredients used, beer density (famous “body”, when they say the beer is “full bodied”), percentage of alcohol by volume , among others.

See how the world of craft beer or specialty beer is much broader than that of conventional beers?

We made a Beer Periodic Table based on the 2015 BJCP Guide, where we divided the beers by type of fermentation, then by families and finally by styles. See the image below!

craft beer periodic table

In this table it is possible to find characteristics of each style of craft beer such as the initial gravity of the beer (measured before fermentation), final gravity (measured after fermentation), color, percentage of alcohol by volume (famous alcohol content) and bitterness index. .

In each style seal there are acceptable limits in craft beer so that it fits within that style. Today there is already a more current guide to the BJCP but our periodic table and our video series was based on the one from 2015.

Just look how curious to discover that Pilsner (or Pilsen) is the name of an entire family of beers and that what we consume in Brazil of common brands is not even part of this family, but of the Light Lagers family!

The main styles of craft beer known to most Brazilians are those of the Pilsner, Stout, Porter families and the Weiss (the famous “wheat”) or Witbier styles.

Now the market is growing and more and more people are becoming interested in new styles, with the India Pale Ale family being preferred, with a greater load of hops that generates more aroma and more intense bitterness.

Other styles that fell in the taste of brewers a little more experimented in 2017 and 2018 were Sours (more sour) and New England IPA’s or Juice IPA’s (a strain of India Pale Ale but with absurd loads of hops and the use of Conan yeast, which generate absurdly evident floral and fruity flavors and aromas).

  • Pilsner family – light colored beers, with an alcohol content between 4.2% and 6%, low bitterness and low body. The Pilsner styles in the 2015 BJCP guide are German Pilsner, Bohemian Pilsner, and Classic American Pilsner.
  • Stout family – dark beers, with an alcohol content between 4% and 12%, medium to high bitterness and low to medium body. The best known styles of this family are Dry Stout, Oatmeal Stout and Russian Imperial Stout.
  • Porter family – dark beers, with alcohol content between 4% and 9.5%, medium bitterness and low to medium body. Brown Porter is the best-known style in this family.
  • Weiss style – created in southern Germany, in the Bavarian region, the style uses wheat in the recipe, which makes the beer slightly cloudy. Contrary to what many think, the flavors of banana and clove aromas are not present because of the addition of these fruits in the beer, but because of the origin of fermentation, coming from fermentation by-products characteristic of the yeast used.
  • Witbier style – style also known as Belgian White, from Belgium, with translation as White Beer. A light beer, which uses wheat, coriander seeds and orange peel that bring a sensational freshness to the flavor.
  • India Pale Ale family – now with multiple styles, the family grows bigger and bigger. Characteristic for using higher hop loads, the family has an alcohol content between 5% and 10%, medium to high bitterness and low to medium body. New styles of the family may have different characteristics, such as Session IPA’s which have a low alcohol content or Imperial IPA’s, which have a high volume of alcohol and very strong bitterness.

The ingredients

Engaged draft beer

The main grain used for production is barley malt and even from this we have a huge diversity of types, which vary according to the type of barley plant or even its malting and roasting.

In addition to barley malt, other grains are used in the production of craft beer, such as oats, wheat, rye, etc., whether they are malted or not.

The grain malting process is used to prepare grains for germination under controlled conditions. Malted grains have a higher sugar content, which optimizes their use for craft beer production.

What is brewer’s wort?

It is practically a tea made using water and barley malt (or malt from other grains, or unmalted grains) where the starch is extracted from the grains that breaks down into smaller sugars when exposed to certain temperatures of the water of this tea. Ufa! Did you understand?! Finally, wort is “tea made from strained barley malt, with the fermentable sugars produced during cooking and with the addition of hops”. From there, the yeast is added and the magic is done by these wonderful little animals.

Yeasts (or yeast) are live microorganisms and they also exist, like hops, in a number of types. They are fungi that have been studied and crossed for many, many years, so several species of yeast were created and each one brings different characteristics to craft beer. There are those that leave the beer with a drier flavor, for example, others that bring fruit aromas and flavors (as in the case of the banana and clove flavors characteristic of Weiss wheat beers, originally from southern Germany).

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is used both in the production of bread and craft beer. Yeasts can be more or less resistant to alcohol, but they are the ones that consume the sugar from the brewer’s wort and transform it into two main products that are very important for craft beer: alcohol and carbon dioxide.

So, friends, who “puts alcohol in beer” are not the humans who brew it, but the yeast! As it also produces carbon dioxide, it is used for re-fermentation of beer already in the bottle and, in this case, responsible for the carbonation (gas) of the beer as well.

Another way of carbonating beer is forced carbonation, placing the beer in a closed container such as a fermenter, for example, and injecting carbon dioxide through a cylinder of the compressed gas.

The hops mentioned above is a plant of the Cannabaceae family, of the species Humulus Lupulus, curiously “cousin” of Cannabis Sativa, marijuana.

There are many species of hops and the main producers are European countries, such as Germany and England, or other regions such as Australia and the United States.

In Brazil we are “crawling” in production, but there are already small producers and studies on the feasibility of planting in our territory, since hops are sensitive to several climatic factors.

The part of the hop used for the production of craft beer is the flower.

Each hop species brings different characteristics to craft beer, with completely different flavors, mouthfeel and aromas.

Traditionally, English hops have a more earthy flavor, and American hops, for example, are developed to bring out more herbaceous, floral and fruity aspects .

In addition to the type of hop, what will influence what it will bring to craft beer is the moment it is used in production, which can be during the boiling of the brewer’s wort (in each moment it brings a different characteristic, for example at the beginning of the boiling it will bring more bitterness and at the end it will bring more aromas and flavors), after boiling with the wort still hot, during beer fermentation or during its cold maturation.

Brewing water used to have its origins as something very important. Today, with production technology and chemical knowledge, it is possible to reproduce water with the necessary characteristics for the production of artisanal beer.

The main factors are the pH and hardness of the water, influenced by the amount of some mineral salts. The characteristics of the water used in production greatly influence the final characteristics of craft beer.

Now we’ve talked about the main brewing ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast ! We can go into more detail in other texts.

The Craft Beer Market

Craft Brewery in Sao Paulo

Some say that craft beer is expensive, but I can say and guarantee that the experience is worth every penny invested.

In fact, they are more expensive than conventional beers, but this is because they use processes that are more suitable for production with quality, inputs and imported raw materials of indisputable quality, in addition to not using fermentation acceleration techniques, preservative ingredients, stabilizers or even corn. transgenic.

Another “detail”: no craft brewery earns millions of incentives from the municipal, state or federal government, quite the opposite!

The craft beer market in Brazil represents 1% of the country’s total beer consumption by volume. This shows how much we can still learn and how many people can still taste craft beer around here.

The number of craft breweries (factories, not bars!) in Brazil grew 91% from 2014 to 2017, from 356 to 659 according to the Ministry of Agriculture, the body that regulates the national beer market. Another curious fact is that craft beer generates more jobs, proportionately, than large breweries.

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