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Beer Q&A 

1. Does beer have health benefits?

Of all the alcoholic beverages, beer is the most nutritious. A quality microbrew would have the following nutrients (used here is Grant's Scottish Ale from Yakima, WA), per 12 oz. Beer: 145 calories, 2.24 g. protein, 0 grams of fat, 12.7 g. carbohydrates, 75 mg sodium, 0 g. cholesterol, 195 mg. Potassium. Also in there are vitamins B2, B6, B12 and niacin. Wondering why this isn't on the bottle itself? The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms prohibits listing nutritional content because it might suggest the curative and therapeutic effects of beer.

2. What is the German Purity Law or Reinheitsgebot?

In 1516, Duke Wilhelm IV codified the right to pure beer for all Bavarians by establishing a brewing standard called Reinheitsgebot. Reinheitsgebot is a document that sets parameters for the ingredients as well as pricing. Acceptable ingredients were water, malt (barley and wheat), and hops. Interestingly, yeast was not on the list because its role in brewing was not elucidated until the 1870s by Louis Pasteur.

Ironically, in 1987 the European Community, as part of an effort to compete in the global beer market, repealed the German Purity Law. However, many German breweries have elected to uphold the Reinheitsgebot, out of respect for their craft and heritage.

3. Why do draught beers, canned and bottled beers of the same brand taste so much different?

Draught and canned beer often have a higher carbonation level than the bottled product, simply because of the way they are packaged. Aluminum cans also have a coating on the inside that can, arguably, change the flavor of the beer over time. Glass bottles, on the other hand, are inert and do not react with the product. However, beer in green bottles can be affected by sunlight, causing it to "go skunky." Ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or fluorescent lighting can alter the hop chemistry, causing a skunk-like aroma.

4. What are the laws surrounding beer shipments?

Currently, state governments are writing or have passed legislation that will severely restrict the shipment of alcoholic beverages from state-to-state. The restrictions involve collecting state taxes and the three-tier states that involved distributors. The current laws limit your beer selection to what the distributors will deliver to local retailers, thus cutting off access to the smaller microbreweries. Write, call or e-mail your legislator to complain.

5. What exactly is "light" beer?

An American beer that has less calories and less taste than regular beers. Most beers have around 150 calories per 12-oz serving, and legally light beers must have 25 percent fewer calories than their full-strength counterpart. Light beers usually have between 3.5 to 4.0 percent alcohol by volume.

Light beer can be made in one of two ways: 1) by adding special enzymes to the fermentation cycle that will convert unfermentable dextrins (which are estimated at 4.1 calories per gram) to sugars that will be fermented into alcohol; or 2) by adding water to the beer to reduce calories.

6. What is an "ice" beer?

Beer whose alcohol content and flavor are intensified by freezing the beer, then removing the ice crystals that form. This process was utilized in Germany to produce "eisbock," a truly alcoholic beer (up to 11 percent). Eisbock production is not legal in the U.S., where domestic ice beers vary in strength from four percent to 6.5 percent. North American ice beers are made by a special "in-line" freezing process: turn the beer into slush, remove the ice crystals, and inject filtered, carbonated water -- an amount equivalent to the water removed in the ice. In this manner, the alcohol content remains the same, but the net effect is to remove haze-forming particles trapped in the ice. Thus, what started as an engineering method to produce a clearer, more shelf-stable beer later turned into a giant marketing campaign by the larger American brewing companies.

7. What is the deal about dates on beers? Can it really go bad?

Beer can, indeed, go bad, and should be consumed while it is as fresh as possible. Most national brewers specify a 90- to 110-day shelf life, which they guarantee by using pasteurization. Most microbrewers, on the other hand, use either flash pasteurization or cold, sterile filtration. The original intent and use of product dating was for distributors to manage inventories, and to "pull" out-of-date beer from retailer shelves. The exceptions to the 'fresh as possible" rule would be: highly-hopped beers; high alcohol beers such as Barleywine, and Eisbock; some well-made dark beers, including porters and stouts; and, in particular, most bottle-conditioned beers like Lambic , Trappist, Flanders Brown.

Generally speaking, beer should be refrigerated to preserve its freshness. If this is not possible, store the beverage in a cool, dark location. Never store beer where it can be exposed to heat or light.

Bad beer is easily recognized by odor, taste, and sometimes, simple visual inspection. By far the most common occurrence is just plain old, stale beer that has become oxidized. While beer is typically packaged to avoid contact with atmospheric oxygen, bottle caps allow very slow passage of oxygen into bottled beer. Canned beer, on the other hand, has a very long shelf life since either UV radiation or oxygen migration into the package cannot harm it. The second most common occurrence is beer served from unsanitary tap lines in some bars or restaurants. While most establishments keep their lines clean, dirty lines can spoil a keg and produce beer with a wide range of off-flavors caused by bacteria, mold, or wild yeast. Other clues for spoilage include sourness (like vinegar), sulfur aromas, buttery flavors, parsnip/vegetal characters, cloudiness (in a normally clear beer), and an unnaturally dark color. Don't be afraid to return a product that doesn't taste the way you know it should!

8. What is bottle-conditioned?

After beer is bottled, carbonation is produced naturally by the remaining yeast that ferments residual sugars and produces carbon dioxide. Since the bottle is a closed container, the gas is trapped in solution. This technique, called méthode champenoise in French-speaking countries, was discovered by a famous monk, Dom Perignon, in his quest to produce a sparkling white wine now known as Champagne.

9. What is cask-conditioned beer?

Beer that is matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed. Traditionally, it is produced by adding sugar syrup, "fining" (a clarifying agent), and a hop plug to the beer in a container resembling a keg. This container is designed to allow for displacement of the dispensed beer by air.

10. Non-Alcoholic Brews and Near Beer

Non-Alcoholic Beer: A malt beverage that contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume.

Near Beer: Defined as a brewed beverage that contains between .65 percent to 3.2 percent alcohol by volume in the U.S. Originating during the Prohibition in the United States, these beers are achieved by distilling the alcohol out of the beer.

11. What is a dry county?

A dry county is where liquor is not sold, or where it is heavily regulated by the local government.

12. Beer drinking etiquette

• PLEASE do not drink a GOOD beer from the bottle. A beer, like a wine, needs to have contact with the air to allow its flavors and aromas to evolve.

• Forget the frosted mugs, which cool the beer down to a temperature that does not allow you to enjoy the full flavor of beer and can form ice crystals, resulting in watered-down beer.

• Take the time to enjoy a fine beer: pour it gently, savoring the sound and aromas that are released as it flows into the glass. Hold the beer up to the light to admire the colors, then sip it slowly, moving it around your tongue to experience the beer's body and flavor. Swallow the beer slowly to assess the finish: does the bitterness at the back of your tongue balance the malt sweetness?

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