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Last night, a bunch of us were hanging out at Magnolia for Umamiventure #14. Over a few good strong beers we somehow got into a conversation about yeast infections (don't ask). Kayoko asked, "Is there yeast in beer???" Uhhh... After that, I thought it would be a good idea for me to do a post on Beer 101.

Beer is the world’s oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. In its most basic form, beer contains four main ingredients; a form of grain (usually malted barley, but sometimes wheat, corn, or rice), yeast, water, and hops. Beer is made when you mix your grain with water and fermentation occurs when the yeast feeds on the grains, turning sugars into carbon dioxide (the bubbles), and alcohol (the fun). Beer is almost always flavored with hops, which add bitterness, flavoring, and act as a natural preservative, while some beers are flavored with other herbs and fruit.

Malted Barley:



And now for some history… Rumor has it, that beers discovery occurred when some farmers noticed a puddle of water bubbling and foaming next to a pile of grain. The grains mixed with the water, they were fermented by wild yeasts, and presto – BEER! They then drank this liquid and began to feel a little loopy, and moved on to experimenting with it on their own. Way back when, beer was often chosen over water to accompany people on long journeys and explorations since its alcohol content and hops prevented spoilage. Yahoo for the original road soda!

Although there are many styles of beer out there, there are only TWO main types, lagers and ales, based on the type of yeast used during fermentation. Lagers are brewed using bottom fermenting yeast, and are generally fermented at cooler temperatures (32-40˚), while ales use top fermenting yeast and need a much warmer climate to ferment (60-75˚).

Ales will usually have a nutty and bitter flavor, while lagers taste cleaner, mild, and crisp. Ales and lagers are further broken down into many more categories, but I will save those details for another post.

Last time you drank at a good microbrewery or beer bar, you may have noticed an ABV percentage and a IBU number next to each beer on the menu. The more common ABV stands for alcohol by volume and is simply the percentage of alcohol in your beer. IBU, or international bitterness units, is basically a scale that runs from 0 (no bitterness) to around 100 (lots of bitterness). To give you a little perspective, a light American lager (Budlight or whatever) has about 5 IBUs, an American Pale Ale like Sierra Nevada would be around 33, while some IPAs (India Pale Ales) will range from 40-100.

This concludes Beer 101. I hope you all found it informative, but more importantly, I hope I have inspired you to drink more beer.

- CJ

*An excellent glossary of beer terms and terminology can be found over at the Beer Advocate.
Column: Tap This


  • Is the image of yeast coming from beer brewing process, or yeast infection microscope image?

    Yamahomo on

  • Step your game up Kayoko, but to be fair, my host family here in Kyoto didn’t know what an ale was before today.

    jason on

  • Wow, that’s so cool about the legend of coincidence (rumor) surrounding beer. I should start drinking from puddles more often.

    yoko on

  • Use your imagination, Yama!!! The germination world is far and wide.

    Thanks CJ for such an informative post. Sometimes it pays to ask stupid questions so I can get all this wonderful world of knowlege onto UM! Ha.

    kayoko on

  • Yeah, I had to use my denshi jishou non stop but afterwards I think they understood. But when I tried to list famous ales, even like Bass, they didn’t know much. To be fair, for a family that drinks a lot of beer, they don’t really know much beyond asahi super dry, unless its kirin zero (the worst beer ever made).

    I’m a kyoto foodie addict, though I wish it was more like grub street, and just always telling me about new eateries, because for an old city, a good amount opens up.

    jason on

  • Ha- see, Jason??? It’s hard to know everything. But given the amount of beers people in Japan drink, we need to be a little more knowledgeable, you’re right. Did you explain to your fam what an ale is?

    Did you ever see Yoko’s post on Japan beer branding and their target market? The vids are hilarious.

    Hope you’re enjoying Kyoto! What a wonderful city. Have you seen this blog?

    kayoko on

  • Dude that is an awesome article. I have not seen it before. I love the idea of this: “Most of the world’s population today,” Johnson writes, “is made up of descendants of those early beer drinkers, and we have largely inherited their genetic tolerance for alcohol.”

    CJ on

  • CJ – Regarding the history of beer, I think you’d find this article informative:

    You may have read it already, as I submitted this to the UM reader back in Aug or so.

    Paystyle on

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