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Subject: rec.food.drink.beer FAQ [2/3] (revised 16-MAY-1997)
This article was archived around: 25 May 2006 04:23:43 GMT
Copyright: (c) 1994-1997 John A. Lock
Maintainer: John A. Lock <email@example.com>
Subject: 1-12. How is specific gravity related to beer?
Specific gravity is a measure of the density of a liquid. Distilled
water has a specific gravity of 1.000 at 60F(15C) and is used as a
baseline. The specific gravity of beer measured before fermentation
is called its Original Gravity or OG and sometimes its Starting
Gravity (SG). This gives an idea of how much sugar is dissolved in
the wort (unfermented beer) on which the yeast can work. The range of
values goes from approximately 1.020 to 1.160 meaning the wort can be
from 1.02 to 1.16 times as dense as water (in British brewing the
decimal point is usually omitted). When measured after fermentation
it is called the Final Gravity (FG) or Terminal Gravity (TG). The
difference between these two values is a good gauge of the amount of
alcohol produced during fermentation.
The OG will always be higher than the FG for two reasons. First, the
yeast will have processed much of the sugar that was present, thus,
reducing the gravity. And, second, the alcohol produced by
fermentation is less dense than water, further reducing the gravity.
The OG has a significant effect on the taste of the final product and
not just from an alcoholic standpoint. A high OG usually results in
beer with more body and sweetness than a lower OG. This is because
some of the sugars measured in the OG are not fermentable by the
yeast and will remain after fermentation.
Here are some rough guidelines:
Some Bitters, Milds, Wheat beers, and most "Lite" beers have an OG
ranging from 1020-1040. The majority of beers fall in the 1040-1050
range including most Lagers, Stout, Porter, Pale Ale, most Bitters,
and Wheat beers. From 1050-1060 you'll find, Oktoberfest, India Pale
Ale, ESB (Extra Special Bitter). In the 1060-1075 range will be Bock,
strong ales, Belgian doubles. Above 1075 are the really strong beers
like Dopplebocks, Barleywines, Imperial Stouts, and Belgian trippels
and strong ales.
Subject: 1-13. What does "Dubbel" mean on a beer label?
Belgian ales often carry additional wording on their labels
indicating their strength. This applies to their original malt
strength not their alcoholic strength. Variations may appear as
Dutch/Flemish - enkel (pron. 'ankle')
French/Walloon - ?
Dutch/Flemish - dubbel (pron. 'double')
French/Walloon - double (pron. 'doobluh')
Dutch/Flemish - tripel (pron. 'treepel' or 'trippel')
French/Walloon - triple (pron. 'treepluh')
Dutch/Flemish - quadrupel (pron. 'quadruple')
French/Walloon - quadruple (pron. 'quadrupluh')
Also on the Trappist Ale "La Trappe" you will see the Latin versions:
Angulus, Duplus, Triplus, and Quadruplus.
Subject: DEFINITIONS OF COMMON TERMS REGARDING THE BREWING INDUSTRY
Subject: 2-1. How is alcohol strength measured?
Most of the world measures alcohol as a percent of volume (abv). In
the U.S., alcohol in beer is measured by weight (abw). Since alcohol
weighs roughly 20% less than water, abw measures appear 20% less than
abv measures for the same amount of alcohol. In Europe, beer strength
tends to be measured on the basis of the fermentables in the wort.
Until recently, Britain used OG (original gravity), which is 1000
times the ratio of the wort gravity to that of water. Thus a beer
with an OG of 1040 was 4% more dense than water, the density coming
from dissolved sugars. You can generally take one tenth of the last
two digits to estimate the percentage alcohol by volume once the
dissolved sugars are fermented. In the example used, the abv would be
approximately 4% (40/10 = 4%) Currently, British beer is being taxed
on its actual %ABV rather that the older OG so you'll often find both
Continental Europe tends to uses degrees Plato. In general, the
degrees Plato are about one quarter the last two digits of the OG
figure. Hence, in our example above, the beer would be 10 degrees
Plato. To get the expected alcohol by volume, divide the degrees
Plato by 2.5.
Subject: 2-2. Why is beer stronger in Canada than the U.S.?
This is just folklore that results from the way alcoholic strength is
measured. The alcohol content of mainstream U.S. beers is measured as
a percent of weight (abw). Canadian beers (and most other countries)
measure percent alcohol by volume (abv). A typical Canadian beer of
5% (abv) will be about the same strength as a typical U.S. beer at 4%
Subject: 2-3. How are "ale", "malt liquor", and "barleywine" related to
The U.S. regulations about the labelling of beer products were
antiquated, but they are changing rapidly. When Prohibition ended, a
statute was enacted that prohibited the alcohol content from
appearing on beer labels unless required by state law. Nor could they
use words like "strong", "full strength", or "high proof". Coors
recently challenged this law in court and has won their lower court
battles. It is now pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, some states have regulations that require certain beers to
be labelled using other terms that are supposed denote strength
without violating the above statute. Consequently some beers are
labeled ales, even if they are lagers, due simply to their strength.
Texas is one example of this usage. Similarly, "malt liquor" is the
appellation attached to strong beers in other states, such as
Georgia. Barley wines are strong beers, typically at strengths
comparable to wines (8% alcohol by volume and over). However, this is
not just an arbitrary term for strength but the actual name of the
beer style as well.
In April 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Coors' favor regarding
the placement of alcohol percentages on beer labels. Some of Coors'
beer labels now include this figure and other brewers are following
Subject: 2-4. What is the Reinheitsgebot?
This is the German (originally, Bavarian) purity law that restricts
the ingredients that can be used to make beer to being water, barley
malt, hops, and yeast. In the 1516 version of the law, only water,
malt and hops were mentioned, because yeast was not isolated until
the 19th century by Louis Pasteur. The Reinheitsgebot is actually
part of a larger document called the "Biersteuergesetz" or "Beer Tax
Law" which defined what beer was and how it should be taxed according
"Rein" means clean or pure; "-heit" means "-ness"; so "Reinheit"
means "cleanliness" or "purity".
In 1987, the Reinheitsgebot was repealed by the EC as part of the
opening up of the European market. Many German breweries elected to
uphold the Reinheitsgebot in their brewing anyway out of respect for
their craft and heritage.
The full text of the Reinheitsgebot, as it existed before 1987, is
available via anonymous ftp in English or German from the archives
Subject: 2-5. What about the new "Draught-flow" (tm) system (AKA the
"widget" or "smoothifier")?
This device has recently appeared in canned beers in an attempt to
mimic the taste and appearance of a true draught beer. It employs a
small plastic bladder filled with a mix of nitrogen and beer at the
bottom of the can. When the can is opened, the mixture is forced out
through small holes in the bladder causing considerable turbulence at
the bottom of the can. This results in a thick, foaming head of
creamy bubbles. While not real ale (see next), this process does
mimic the serving of beer through "swan necks" or "sparklers" and is
the subject of much debate.
Subject: 2-6. What is "Real Ale"?
"Real Ale is a name for draught (or bottled) beer brewed from
traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the
container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of
extraneous carbon dioxide"....from CAMRA's handbook.
Subject: 2-7. What is CAMRA?
CAMRA is the CAMpaign for Real Ale. It was founded in the early 1970s
in Great Britain to preserve Britain's beer traditions. It is used in
marketing courses as one of the most successful consumer movements of
all time. It is now concerning itself with the preservation of beer,
the British pub, and brewing traditions worldwide.
Anyone can join CAMRA by writing to:
Campaign for Real Ale
230 Hatfield Rd., St Albans
Herts AL1 4LW, UK.
Or, you can use Visa/MC and join by phone: 44-1727-867201
Check out the CAMRA WWW site at <URL:http://www.camra.org.uk/>
Subject: 2-8. What are the categories of brewers/breweries?
According to the Institute of Brewing there are four categories as
Large Brewers - Production in excess of 500,000 barrels/year
Regional Brewers - Production between 15,000 and 500,000 bbl/yr
Microbrewers - Production less than 15,000 bbl/yr
Brewpubs - Production for onsite consumption only
In addition you may see/hear the term pico-brewer which is used to
describe brewers so small that distribution is limited to pubs and
bars in their immediate area. To complicate matters their are
contract brewers. These companies develop a recipe and then "buy"
excess capacity at a large brewery to have their beer made for them.
They, then, market and distribute the finished product. Some of these
can be quite large. The Boston Beer Co., which brews the Sam Adams
line, is a good example of a large contract brewer.
To give you a better perspective here are some examples with 1993
production figures (barrels per year):
Anheuser-Busch - 93,000,000
Miller - 49,000,000
Coors - 25,000,000
Boston Beer - 450,000
Sierra Nevada - 104,325
Anchor - 92,000
Pete's - 74,000
Summit - 10,500
Celis - 10,500
Yakima(Grant's) - 8,000
Wynkoop - 4,200
Gordon Biersch (No. 3) - 2,700
Great Lakes - 2,700
Subject: 2-9. What is a brewpub?
A brewpub is, generally, a combination brewery/restaurant. The beer
is made on-premises for consumption by the restaurant patrons.
Various regulations govern the ratio of beer/food sales to prevent
breweries from serving token food items while selling mostly beer.
Very common in Europe and the source of a growing industry in the
Subject: BEER HANDLING AND SENSORY ISSUES
Subject: 3-1. How do I judge a beer?
Much has been written about wine tasting, and that technique and
vocabulary apply quite nicely to beer, as well. Of course, beer is a
more complex beverage and its evaluation covers some additional
ground, but the concepts are the same. The biggest change most
drinkers must undergo is warming up their beer. Ice cold beer numbs
the taste buds and doesn't allow the beer to develop its full flavor
potential. In general, pale beer is best served at cooler
temperatures than dark beer, and lagers cooler than ales. Start with
40-50F (5-10C) for the cooler beers and 50-60F (10-15C) for the
Beer should be evaluated using four senses: sight, smell, taste,
feel. Always drink beer from a clear glass to fully appreciate it.
Look at it and note the color and clarity. Hold it up to a light if
necessary. Take a good sniff from the glass to get the aroma or
bouquet. Taste it, swishing it around in your mouth, and notice its
body and flavors. After swallowing, notice any aftertaste or finish.
You should be noticing things like:
Was it golden, amber, black?
Clear or cloudy?
Did it smell sweet, malty, flowery, alcoholic?
Did it taste bitter, sweet, tart, smooth, roasty?
Did it feel "thick" or "thin" as you swished it around?
Did it leave a buttery taste, nutty, fruity?
With additional experience and some reading you will begin to develop
not only a sense of what you enjoy, but what marks a truly good beer
from a bland or mediocre one.
Also, it is usually a good idea to try a beer more than once. Get it
from different sources, try it when your in a different mood or
setting, wait for a full moon, whatever. Many factors will affect
your overall perception, so be flexible. Be aware, as well, that
tasting many beers at once is not a good idea. The taste buds begin
to tire and send confusing impressions.
Subject: 3-2. What is good/bad/skunked/spoiled beer?
In the most ideal sense, there are no good or bad beers. The
enjoyment of beer is a highly subjective and personal experience.
However, in this very real and flawed world, various camps develop
and embrace their favorites while denouncing all others. This is
illustrated by "The best/worst beer in the world is...." posts.
The best approach is to appreciate what beer is about and how to
recognize the outstanding qualities of a fine beer (see previous
Bad beer can be easily identified, however, when it has been damaged
or spoiled. The two most common occurences are:
When beer has been exposed to strong light, either natural or
artificial, certain components in hops alter and produce acrid
flavors, AKA being "lightstruck". This is why beer should be
bottled in brown bottles. Clear bottles offer no light
protection and green is only slightly better. Technically, light
of wavelengths from 550 nm and below can cause photochemical
reactions in hop resins, resulting in a sulfury mercaptan which
has a pronounced skunky character. 550 nm is roughly blue-green.
Bottled beer can become lightstruck in less than one minute in
bright sun, after a few hours in diffuse daylight, and in a few
days under normal flourescent lighting.
Also referred to as going "off". This is a more vague term and
often refers to beer that has not been properly stored or
handled allowing oxidation (a cardboard taste) or other
off-flavors resulting from contamination, overheating, etc. As
with any fermented beverage, alcohol can also turn to vinegar,
imparting a sour taste to beer.
Subject: 3-3. How should I store beer?
I general, beer should be stored in a cool place. In warmer climates
this often means refrigeration and you get used to letting your beer
warm a little before you drink it. Cooler climates often use cellars
to store beer which works quite well. As long as temperatures are
kept between 35F(2C) and 60F(15C) you're probably OK. Keep in mind
that storing at the warmer end of this scale will increase any aging
effects since any yeast remaining in the beer will be more active.
This is a Good Thing if you're aging a barleywine but will cause
lower gravity beers to go "stale" sooner.
Subject: 3-4. How long does beer keep?
To quote Michael Jackson: "If you see a beer, do it a favour, and
drink it. Beer was not meant to age." Generally, that is true.
However, some beers that are strong and/or highly hopped must age to
reach their full flavor potential.
How a beer is conditioned and handled has a great affect on its
shelf-life. Beer conditioned in the bottle or cask still contains
live, active yeast and should be drunk as soon as possible. Most
larger scale, commercial beers have been filtered or pasteurized to
remove/kill the yeast and stabilize the product for the longer
storage times encountered in the retail world. In any case, stored
beer should never be exposed to heat or strong light.
Subject: 3-5. Is beer considered a vegetarian/kosher/organic product?
It depends on how you define each of those terms and what your
particular values are. Rather than try to make a broad
generalization, I'll describe the products and practices that are
usually called into question regarding these topics. You are then
free to apply these facts to your own system of beliefs and make an
informed judgement. Also, I have ignored the fact that beer is an
alcoholic beverage produced by the metabolism of yeast. This should
be taken for granted. Read labels carefully and call the brewer if
you need specific information about ingredients or processing since
labeling laws allow the brewer to omit a great deal.
Finings are substances sometimes added to beer during
fermentation to help settle out particles and yeast, leaving the
beer clear. It is important to note that finings are not present
in the finished beer in any significant quantity. Their purpose
is to settle out of the beer, not stay in suspension. OTOH, if a
careful chemical analysis were to be performed, there would
probably be a few molecules of a fining agent still to be found.
Also, many brewers do not use finings at all, but filter their
beer to clarify it. That said, these are the common fining
Made from the dried swim bladders of sturgeons. Used a
great deal in British brewing.
Also known as carragheen, a type of dried seaweed.
The same stuff used to make Jello (tm). Made from animal
(mostly cow) hooves, skin and connective tissues.
A brand name for PVP (polyvinylpyrdlidone), a man-made,
More commonly known as diatemaceous earth.
FYI, beer brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (see related
Q&A) is not prohibited from using finings since it was generally
assumed that finings were not present in the finished product.
These are products used to alter the flavor, color, or body of
beer. They are used in addition to the "Basic 4": malted barley,
hops, yeast, and water. They do not settle out and can be
present in beer in significant quantities.
Used a great deal by the mega-brewers as a cheap way to
make huge quantities of beer since corn is cheaper than
Same as corn.
Used in some beer styles to produce a lighter-bodied beer
with a tangy flavor.
Used as another fermentable sugar in addition to malted
barley to impart different flavors.
Also known as milk sugar because of its dairy origin. Used
to increase sweetness and body of certain beer styles such
as cream stouts.
Another form of sugar used to flavor some dark ales.
Various products added to a beer to increase its ability to form
and hold a head. Used most often in beers made with large
quantities of corn and/or rice. Pepsin is a common heading agent
and is often derived from pork. Beers using only malted barley
or wheat don't need heading agents.
To be truly organic, a beer would have to be made from barley
and hops cultivated using accepted organic practices. Most
brewers do not make this claim, but a few are appearing. Those
that do clearly label their products as organic. It is also my
understanding that organic does not mean no animal products.
Many other ingredients are used in brewing beer to give it
unusual character or marketing appeal. As such, these items are
often clearly indicated on the label. Some of the more common
Oatmeal, Pumpkin, Potatoes, and all sorts of fruit
Also spices such as: Ginger, Licorice, Coriander, Cinnamon, and
Subject: MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS
Subject: 4-1. What is Zima and/or clear beer?
Clear beers are malt-based beverages that have had all their
character removed completely leaving one to wonder "What's the
point?" Clear beverages like Zima are not beers, and are discussed in
their own newsgroups like rec.food.drink or alt.zima.
Subject: 4-2. What do the different Chimay packages/colors mean?
Chimay is the best known of the famous Trappist ales from Belgium and
the Netherlands. Two package types are used: a 33cl(11oz) bottle with
the standard metal crown and a 75cl(26oz) "Bordeaux" bottle which is
corked. Three beers are produced by Chimay which differ in character
and alcoholic strength. They have different names, but are often
referred to by the color coding of the crown, cork seal, and labeling
Chimay Red, Rouge, Premiere - 7% abv
Chimay White, Blanche, Cinq Cents - 8% abv
Chimay Blue, Bleue- 9% abv (33cl bottle only)
Chimay Gold, Grande Reserve - This is a vintage bottling of Chimay
Blue in a 75cl bottle
Subject: 4-3. What does the "33" mean on the bottles of Rolling Rock?
There several versions:
The first is that it is the number of words on the label which a
Rolling Rock employee wrote down before sending it to the
artist/printer and it stuck. This is the most popular one.
The second is that "33" is the year prohibition was lifted.
A third, more colorful one, is that the brewery was started with
money won at the track betting on #33 "Old Latrobe", hence the 33 and
Subject: 4-4. Does Coors support Nazi organizations?
The Adolph Coors Co., as a publicly held US corporation, does not.
Nor is it likely they could do so and succeed in the US market. The
Coors family supports the Coors Foundation which donates funds to
many political, social, and educational organizations. Whether these
organizations can be considered Nazi, right-wing, or even
conservative is not an appropriate topic for this newsgroup since it
doesn't affect the brewing, distribution, or marketing of Coors beer.
This policy is stated in the r.f.d.b. Charter. These discussions can
take place in soc.politics or talk.politics.misc.