Durban - We all know the science behind our favourite brew: water + barley + hops + yeast = beer.
But what about the art? Much like the skill involved in producing a perfectly coiffed beard, there’s a carefully crafted creative process that goes into making beautiful beer.
Malted cereals such as barley, oats, wheat and rye are staples in beer – the boerie to your braai, the salt and pepper to your potjie. Malting involves heating, drying and cracking the grains to isolate the enzymes that will later turn the carbs in the grains into sugars. These grains are also mostly responsible for the flavours and colours of beer, from pale ales to bewitching black brews.
Base malts are the lightest and brightest, and have grainy flavours. So-called crystal or caramel malts are golden in colour and produce burnt sugar, toffee-like flavours. Roasted malts are the dark knights, yielding strong, almost charred flavours that resemble dark chocolate or espresso.
Hops are the leafy flowers of the hop plant, and lend beer its subtle citrus, fruity and yes, even floral, notes. These leaves also contain the acids and oils that give hops their trademark bitterness, which balances out the sweetness of the malt.
Yeast is literally the “beer maker”; it eats the sugar derived from the malted cereal, breaking it down into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
But not all yeasts are created equal. Some ferment at higher temperatures than others (ale yeasts), some take longer to ferment than others (lager yeasts) and some, well, they’re just a little wild and do their own thing (natural yeast used in spontaneous fermentation).
To make beer, the malted grains are crushed; steeped in hot water; drained; boiled up with hops; cooled, strained and filtered; mixed with yeast; and after fermentation, filtered again.
Now where is the craft in that, you say? Well, it’s all in the way the brewer brings these elements together. More barley and less hops, and you’ll have a sweet, malty beer. The other way around and your brew will put hairs on your chest.
Brewers experiment with the core flavours, aromas and textures of their beers to create new flavour profiles.
These profiles are not as much about the building blocks used to brew the beer as they are about instinctively knowing how to manipulate the blocks to produce the most delicious outcome.
Brewers who are totally dedicated to their craft will hand select their ingredients, like the hops from the growers, and engage all their senses in developing their flavour profiles.
Machines are given the boot for good old-fashioned noses and taste buds, which are finely tuned to detecting the perfect balance of ingredients.
It’s fair to say these brewers are like artists. They creatively mix their colours and flavours to sketch the most outstanding beer-drinking experiences, and there’s no denying the craft in that.
The TOPS at SPAR Bierfest, presented by The Independent on Saturday, takes place on September 29 and 30 at the Sibaya Casino complex in Durban.