At this year’s Belltower Brewfest along Main Street in Placerville is on Saturday, June 30 from 6 until 9 p.m., attendees will have the opportunity to taste a large number of different kinds of beer: ales, lagers, stouts, porters … and well, the list goes on and on.
Eliminating the obvious added flavors, such as blueberry, apricot, lemon, etc., have you ever wondered why beer, which is generally made from only four ingredients — water, malted barley, hops and yeast — can have so many different aromas and flavors?
Actually the answer is very simple. Not all waters, malted barleys, hops and yeasts are the same. In fact, they very widely. So, let’s take a quick look at each of them.
As Olympia Brewing Co. used to say, “It’s the water, the water, the water … that makes Olympia Beer” while Hamm’s touted, “From the land of sky blue waters …” And doesn’t Coors push the fact that they use “Rocky Mountain spring water”?
If you have traveled even as far as the next city you will know that water in different places tastes different. And even untreated water from different wells or clean mountain streams taste different.
The water that is used by different breweries to make beer varies in the minerals it contains, its acidity or alkalinity, and many other ways.
Breweries often choose a location just for the water, so it obviously makes a big difference in the final product.
If they put a new facility somewhere, major brewers may even “make” their water by distilling it and adding minerals, just to get what they want, or to match what they use at their other brewery.
In addition to the water, the malted barley, which provides the sugars that are needed for the production of alcohol and carbon dioxide, also has a large effect on the beer.
The malting process for grains is a bit complicated, but is a process where the grain is germinated and then dried. This breaks down the cell wall and some proteins, and generates the enzymes necessary for converting starch into sugars during brewing, enabling the yeast to do its job.
For years breweries in America used six-row malting barleys, while in Europe they used two-row.
However, like everything else in our rapidly shrinking (economically) world, that is no longer totally true. And, there are numerous different varieties of each kind — too many to even list.
Add to that the effect from toasting the malted barley, which is done to make darker and/or more flavorful beers and the number of possibilities for different tasting beers expands by thousands. And, we are only half way through the four ingredients.
Hops (Humulus lupulus), are the flowering cones of a perennial vining plant.
They are the age-old seasoning of beer, they also ward-off spoilage from wild bacteria and bring balance to sweet malts.
They lend a hand in head retention, help to clear beer (acting as a natural filter) and please the palate by imparting their unique characters and flavors.
Basically, hops put the “bitter” in beer while also protecting it, especially on long ocean voyages to places such as India.
A quick check of a list of available hop varieties shows there are around 30 very common ones, all with slightly different flavor and aroma characteristics, and they come from a number of different places.
They seem to grow best in the climates and soils where wine grapes grow, which means they grow all over the world, especially where a lot of beer is made and consumed.
As a side note hop plants are dioecious, meaning the males and females flower on separate plants. It is the female cones that are used in the brewing process. Sorry about that guys.
Well, we are not through yet, we still have yeast to consider and there are a plethora of varieties and strains of them, all of which may affect the aroma and taste of beer.
Generally there are two types of beer yeast: “top-fermenting” ale yeast and “bottom- fermenting” lager yeast.
There is no reason to go into the particulars of them here, but if you are thinking about being a home-brewer, you will need to do that.
Brewing companies have specific strains of yeast that they use for each of the different beers they brew, yeasts that they protect and often keep secret.
Then there are other brewers, in places such as Belgium, that open up the brewery to allow wild yeast to drift in and cause the fermentation.
One can easily see that there are an infinite number of combinations of the four ingredients, all of which may affect the type, color, aroma and flavor of beer.
And we haven’t even included the other grains that are sometimes added, such as wheat and rice, along with the previously mentioned flavorings that are now found in some beers.
So, go to this year’s Belltower Brewfest and find the ones you like and enjoy them.
Remember, if you get one you don’t like, it is okay to dump it out into the dump bucket.
Main Street in Placerville will closed from Sacramento to Clay streets for the Belltower Brewfest. Over 35 craft breweries will be pouring samples inside merchant locations and in the Mooney Parking Lot near Tortilla Flats.
Tickets for sampling the brews are available for $30 each in Placerville at River City Bank and Tony Matthews on Main Street, or at Placerville Brewing Co. on Placerville Drive.
For designated drivers and those who want to enjoy the music and late night shopping and dining, there is no ticket required.
Parking is available in all the public lots outside of the street closure, as well as the Center Street Garage.
For more information contact the Placerville Downtown Association at 530-672-3436.