How to Order a Beer Around the World
Beer is one of the oldest and most universal drinks of the world, being made for thousands of years by many cultures. Its not terribly surprising then to see the abundance of styles presented in front of us when we head to our craft beer bars and shops. Its easy to see the terroir effects of ingredients " hops, local water profiles, yeasts, specific malt types " but law, society and the human element is often a footnote in the great tradition known as beer.
Laws over the centuries have had a huge effect on beer styles in different locations, and in some cases dictated the style.
Reinheitsgebot, Germany and Belgium
Famously, the Reinheitsgebot was instated in some German provinces (long before Germany was a unified country) which enforced by law beer can only have water, barley and hops. Later on when yeast was discovered, this was the final ingredient on the safe list, and after German unification this law was nationwide where to this day there still some semblances of it left. Due to internal law suits and overruling EU laws, the Reinheitsgebot is not as prominent as it once was and is mostly now a recommendation over law.
Central Europe has a very long brewing tradition going back hundreds, possibly thousands of years where each area made its own style. German states wanted to ensure their beer stayed pure and unadulterated, and didn't contain any adjuncts which could be bad for the beer. This beer purity law ensured this and protected German brewers from foreign imports, whilst preventing price rises of grains such as wheat and rye due to lack of demand, keeping food prices low for German citizens.
The Reinheitsgebot was first introduced in Bavaria in 1516, followed by some other states. When Germany was unified, Otto Von Bismarck made the law applicable to all of Germany. Not all states had this law before unification, meaning some fruit beers and other styles relying on adjuncts and non-barley malt could not be produced.
For hundreds of years, areas of Germany were producing lagers with specific malt, hops and yeast, and as a beer drinking nation, much was produced. German beer has been forcibly narrowed down a small path, yet it by no means does it lack creativity. All that brewing demand and energy has gone towards creating the finest lagers the world has known.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Belgium, brewers, unimpeded by law were throwing all sorts of ingredients into their brews. Belgian beer is far more experimental and on average is stronger. Sugar is a common ingredient in Belgian styles (an ingredient outlawed by the beer purity law), which allows beers to be stronger without changing the consistency. (Making a 10% beer using only grain will result in a very thick beer.). Fruit, which definitely would not be allowed in Bavarian breweries, made its way into Belgian fermenters creating a distinct Belgian style of fruit beer. This created a difference between the beers of the two countries: Germany has created some of the finest lager in the world by doing one thing well; Belgium is the place to go for some of the best ales born from the ability to experiment.
The British Isles Vs. the Temperance Movement and the Nazis.
The British Isles has a long history of brewing and enjoying beer. Certainly, the small island is one of the most stylistically influential worldwide in the current craft beer movement. As much as the Isles love to drink there has been an almost equally large temperance movement trying to cork up the brewers casks for good. Their biggest blow to the UK pub and beer industry came at the beginning of the First World War, when the temperance movement blamed alcohol for a lack of munitions and supplies production in the factories. Workers were too busy drinking or hung over to be working productively in the factories, so soldiers on the front lines didnt have the right equipment to fight the Kaiser.
In response to this, the government restricted pub opening hours and brewers made weaker, watery beers. Beers strength did increase again once the war was won, but never back to pre-1914 standards. Some sources suggest the average OG fell from 1.053 in 1910 to 1.030 in 1918, rising to 1.043 by 1930 only to reduce again due to the depression.
The Second World War shaped much of the UK and Ireland and to this day its affect is still felt, and beer is no exception. The temperance movement had its strongest grip on the UK between the start of the first world war and the second, but Churchill didnt just defeat the Nazis, he gave Britain its drink back a huge middle finger to those who tried to dry the country.
Beer was used to raise morale both at home and to soldiers abroad and was never rationed; the pub became a symbol of British defiance against the Blitz. Beer was loved again, yet there was a problem: barley was in short supply.
Britons dont give up when it comes to a lack of supplies, especially when drinking is involved. Ales became weaker and the style chart was changed. Pre-1914, mild ales meant something different to what they mean now, but due to a call for weaker beer by the temperance movement, and a lack of resources in the 40s, the term mild refers to beers with a low OG and IBU. Bitters, pale ales and IPAs " perhaps what Britain is most famous for " had their OGs lowered for so long it became part of the style.
Even after rationing was dropped and there was no longer a shortage of grain, these styles kept their lower gravities, differentiating themselves from the higher gravity beers of Belgium and Germany. The consumerist and lobbying group CAMRA was set up to protect these styles of beer from going extinct, as to some these are an integral part of British history and define the British brewing styles. This group protected the cask, the preferred method for storing and conditioning British ales.
North America " Prohibition and Craft Beer
Sadly the temperance movement won briefly in the United States and Prohibition was born, dealing a jackhammer blow to the face of the brewing industry not seen in the Western world before. It would be a long time before the American brewing industry recovered properly, but its stronger now than it has ever been.
Prohibition put many smaller brewers out of business, never to recover. Bigger industrial sized breweries had the equipment to diversify and cover the costs of the transition. When prohibition ended, there were tight controls on for a long time America was dominated by few mass produced brands.
American beer was synonymous with generic, tasteless lager and the mention of American light lager is often sneered at by beer aficionados and homebrewers alike. Homebrewing was illegal after prohibition was repealed, which arguably stunted the creativity of American breweries. It took a further 45 years before brewing laws were relaxed on a federal scale, which allowed easier market entry access for smaller breweries and people to make their own beer at home. Washington was the first to adopt this change, with other states to follow over the years.
During this period when states began to relax their brewing laws, people started to travel more and get a taste for food and drink from far and wide, including samples of classic ales which America had not seen in decades. It wasn't just the travellers and brewers who enjoyed these tastes; it wasn't long until these beers started cutting through the dominance of the major breweries.
By using homegrown hops with very different characteristics, American brewers crafted modern takes on classic styles. Pale Ales and IPAs were redifined, brown ales became citrusy, and any style with "American" in front of it meant "hoppy". The lack of brewing tradition meant brewers had no rules and created these new styles, putting the country at the forefront of the craft beer revolution by miles.
Brewing and beer have been such integral parts of many societies throughout history its no surprise kings, queens and governments have tried to control it, both in production and consumption. Drinking a beer in Germany is the 400 year tradition of Reinheitsgebot in your hand; a best bitter in England is the defiance against the Nazis and temperance movement; a craft beer in America is the fight against characterless beer. Travel the world and drink its history. Memorise (or print off/bookmark) this infographic so you can order a beer and be sure you dont go thirsty in any of these countries.
Josh Charig is a British home brewer who has been practicing his art for over a year, but drinking for much longer. Both hobbies are a huge passion of his and living in London has allowed him to gain inspiration from all the local brewing varieties and international flavors. Follow him @HellsizeParkBC
Man walks into a pub a social history of beer by Pete Brown: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Walks-Into-Pub-Sociable/dp/0330412205
Brew like a monk " Stan Hieronymus http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/093738187X