In Britain alone, there is evidence of ale-brewing over 6,000 years ago. Discoveries in China, Mesopotamia and hosts of other countries and civilisations go back further still. So, truth be told, no one really knows who invented the process.
Most people do accept, however, that beer was traditionally brewed by women.
So, what makes a beer?
Beer or ale, as we know it, is produced simply from water, malted barley, hops and yeast.
Four ingredients, but thousands of beers – how does that work?
There are many variables which affect the flavour – that’s what makes real ale so fantastic.
Barley, hops and yeast all come in many varieties – each with its own distinct flavour or aroma characteristics. How much of each ingredient you use and how long you let it develop both subtly change the taste and aroma.
Our guide to ingredients
Malted barley: The grain of the barley is its seed. Malting soaks and warms the seed to trick it into thinking it’s time to grow; then, you stop it in its tracks. It doesn’t grow, but has produced enzymes ready to feed the growth; these enzymes convert starches in the grain into fermentable sugars which the yeast will turn into alcohol – neat trick.
Hops: Hops are the dried flower cones of the female hop plant. What do flowers do? Smell lovely. So, hops are added for aroma and taste, as well as providing the desired level of bitterness.
Yeast: The living bit. The yeast feeds off the sugars (using the enzymes) and breaks them down, turning them into alcohol.
Water: Water or H2O to you and me – brewers like to call it ‘brewing liquor’. Posh, eh?
..and there’s more: brewers can create honey beers, fruit beers, chocolate beers etc – still by using the main ingredients outlined above, but adding other flavourings to give each beer its twist.
So, what does the ‘real’ mean in real ale?
Remember that the beer is still living. The ‘real’ bit is from the fact that it is matured by secondary fermentation in the cask/barrel (from which it is dispensed and served), without the need for added carbon dioxide – it’s created its own… naturally.
It is literally ‘living’, as it continues to ferment in the cask in your local pub, developing its flavour as it matures, ready to be poured into your glass.
Now that’s the definition of ‘real’.