Blinded by Science: Beer Myths; Facts or Fiction?

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August 26, 2016 by fhsteinbart


While having the right glass improves enjoyment, any glass is better than drinking straight from the bottle or can of craft brewed beer!

This week we’re  going to explore the arena of beer myths, and whether or not they are true or just repeated assumptions not based in facts.


10.) Extract brewers cannot make beer as good as all grain brewers can. While on the surface this may seem plausible, but the reality is that half the winners of gold medals at the National Homebrew Competition are extract brewers. Just because you’re not brewing all grain doesn’t mean that you can’t make good beer. That comes more from sound practices, and fresh local ingredients.

9.) Hot side aeration is always a good bet here, as no one seems to understand the process, or even its existence. I feel that HSA isn’t a real problem for most homebrewers as we tend to consume our beer fairly quickly, and that the conditions of trade are far better at home than abroad. Commercial brewers fear it more, and for good reason: their beer HAS to be good six months from release from the brewery, or else people won’t drink it. Also, even if there is HSA in a commercial beer, it still takes three to four months before it becomes evident that the beer has been oxidized.

8.) Beer must be served in the appropriate glassware or else it won’t be good is another one I hear bandied about. While I agree in principle that beer tastes the best it can when served in an appropriate vessel, it’ll still taste fine in even a juice tumbler! What special glasses do is to enhance the drinking experience, just like the way vaporizing does for smokers by focusing on only the volatiles, and providing more flavor without losing anything.

7.) IPA’s don’t age well is one I enjoy as one of the best IPA’s ever made was over 18 months old before it was released into trade. Ballantine IPA took 2 months in American Oak to ferment, and a year in ruh storage in French Oak barrels, then dry hopped with English Kent Goldings for an additional two more months before it was ever released to the public. It was an amazing beer, and I feel privileged to have been able to taste the original IPA of the USA. So hoppy beers age just as well as do big beers, or sour beers.

6.) Speaking of IPA’s, most people repeat the long held opinion that this was a special beer sent to the subcontinent with a higher hop charge, and more alcohol than regular Pale Ale. While the beer in question was slightly higher in alcohol, and had a slightly higher perceived hop flavor and aroma, they were still the same beers as were being made for the domestic market. I feel that the time spent rocking on the ship roused the yeast and allowed the beer to completely finish out, leaving a drier product that would have tasted more bitter, and had more alcohol as a consequence. So more from transportation methods than from recipe design made these beers what we now call Pale Ale for the India Market.

5.) Lagers have to be decocted, and lagered to make them taste good. Well, once upon a time this was probably true, given the quality of ingredients, and the lack of proper quality control instrumentalities. Today, however, we have a dramatically different landscape in the brewing world. Decoctions are still being performed, even though there is no technical reason to do so. Proper recipe formulation can mimic the flavor and aroma of a decoction these days, while lagering can be shortened significantly with the use of cold filtration or finings for sedimentation and deposition. Today’s modern ingredients are so low in protein that most breweries are adding yeast nutrient to make up for the lower availability of free amino nitrogen (FAN)  in the lower protein malts that we see today. It was excess protein that dictated the long cold maturation period called lagering. Nowadays, all beer can stand a few weeks of cold conditioning to smoothe out those green beer flavors of young beers.

4.) All beer should be maintained at 38° F constantly is one I always hear at work, and for good reason: carbon dioxide is at dynamic equilibrium at this temperature, and hence would have just as much gas in the ullage (headspace), as it would in the liquid. This doesn’t mean that you have to drink it at this temperature however. I usually allow my beers to come into temperature naturally so that the most delicate volatiles can express themselves adequately. This depends a lot on the style, and strength of the beer, and good breweries will state the preferred drinking temperature on the container. If you’re drinking draft beer, simply taste the beer over several minutes to see what differences time makes as the beer acclimatizes to ambient temperature. Savor that flavor!

3.) Large commercial breweries make cheap beer is one I hear a lot, and it sure isn’t because of ingredients, or brewing techniques! Most of the larger international breweries use high quality ingredients, and do use decoction to boost malt flavors a bit, but the biggest reason that they can be sold so inexpensively has to do the economy of scale, plus they use a nominal amount of hops that taste like more hops than you’d think due to their inherently drier finish. Most Belgian beers are brewed this way, and the higher carbonation levels also enhance the hop character as well. Try it for yourself if you don’t believe me!

2.) Beer styles are just arbitrary assignations by the breweries to lay claim to a specific type of beer is an old one, but is actually based in historical fact. Once upon a time, not so long ago in a place just around the planet, the water used for making beer was good for dark beers, but pale beers not so much, and vice versa for other locales, Fast forward to the present, and we’ve become aware the water chemistry, or relevant brewing ions suspended in the water were responsible for the type of beer we make today. Water chemistry aside, once brewers became aware that the relevant ions were Calcium and Magnesium, brewing became one step closer to a science, albeit with artful interpretation. Who doesn’t like a nice hoppy Pale Ale, or a malty Helles on a hot day? It all comes down to those tiny little ions doing their thing with the mash to make the grist turn into the beer best suited for those ions. Here in Portland, we are blessed with truly low mineral water, which makes for really nice Amber beers, whether they be lagers, or ales. Even really light pale beers can be made with a modest addition of Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate), or Rock Salt (Calcium Chloride) to help with mashing, and break formation, and final flavor finish.

1.) Homebrew doesn’t taste as good as craft brewed beer is another one I hear a lot, and it simply isn’t true! While some homebrewers struggle with making potable brews, some exceed even the best of commercial craft breweries these days. I’ve literally judged thousands of beers, and have brewed just as much over the past 45 years I’ve been brewing, and tasting beer, and I can certainly tell you that nothing keeps you from making world class quality beers but you. Sometimes we have to get out of our own way and allow our yeast partners to do their job of making beer. Our job as brewers is to give our yeast partners a good home, and treat them like we would like to be treated, and they in turn will treat us to great beer at our beck and call. For further information on this topic, feel free to corner any of our staff and ask them of their opinion, and go forth and flocculate!


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