12 beer facts you ought to know

2 arms holding and cheersing beer

From how it’s made to how it’s enjoyed, here are a dozen handy facts about beer to keep in your back pocket

Beer is one of the most popular beverages in the world, and has been for thousands of years. It’s a trusty companion when we’re thirsty, and an enjoyable part of great meals and important celebrations. But as close as we are to beer in our day-to-day lives, there are plenty of interesting facts you may not know about it. We’re here to help. Here’s a 12-pack of cool facts that’ll help build your brew-related street cred with other beer lovers.

  • Beer can be brewed with wheat, rice and various sugars, but barley is the most common backbone of the recipe. Usually that barley has been malted, or toasted in dry heat in order to change the natural starches into sugars, which can then be fermented (more on that below).

  • The longer the barley is malted, the darker it gets—like bread when you toast it. Dark beers get their deep colours from malt that has spent a longer time in the kiln. Stout and porter, for example, contain a small amount of black malt, which is roasted until it’s black and has a pleasantly charred taste. (Think of a particularly strong cup of black coffee.)

  • Yeast is responsible for the alcohol in beer. Early in the brewing process, a batch of beer starts out as a syrupy malt mixture called “wort.” The yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and leaves behind alcohol and carbon dioxide as it goes along. The carbon dioxide is what makes beer carbonated (a.k.a. fizzy).

  • Beer lovers talk a lot about hops, but what are they really? They’re flower buds that were originally used as a natural preservative. Today, we use hops to add flavour and bitterness to beer. They’re filtered out of the final product, but their essential oils stay behind in the finished brew. Depending on the variety of hops, they can smell and taste tart, citrusy, flowery or like tropical fruit.

  • Speaking of bitterness, sometimes you’ll see the acronym “IBU” on a beer label or brewer’s website. It stands for International Bitterness Units—and the higher the number, the more bitter the beer will taste. Most beers fall somewhere between 20 IBUs (hardly bitter) and 50 IBUs (quite bitter). Some India pale ales (IPAs) go beyond 70 IBUs, which is enough to make your mouth pucker—perfect for the IPA lovers who crave that zing. And while the IBU scale theoretically has no limit, people in the beer community debate whether humans can even detect any increase in bitterness beyond 100 or so IBUs. Needless to say, a beer in that range is very bitter indeed.

  • Want to pair drinks with food? Beer is your go-to beverage. Seriously, what would you rather have with tacos? Or sausages on a bun? That’s what we thought. Now, why is that? Carbonation is one major advantage; it makes beer very effective at cleansing your tongue of fat and salt. And hops give beer a bitter dimension that enhances the flavour of spicy foods.

  • Beer is a source of iron, magnesium, potassium and silicon—and several other essential nutrients. Now you know!

  • Some brews feature a layer of lees at the bottom of the bottle—that’s residual yeast that hasn’t been filtered out of the finished product. What to do with it is up to you. Some people pour the beer very carefully into a glass and leave the lees behind in the bottle. Others gently swirl them with the beer and then drink it all up—the mixture looks cloudier, but lees fans argue it’s also tastier this way. Try both and see which you prefer.

  • Many (if not most) beers seem to taste best when served very cold—refrigerator temperature, in other words. (To perfectly chill your brews on ice, check out our handy how-tos.) But there are certain styles that shine when less chilled. Try enjoying British- and Belgian-style ales at a still-refreshing 7 to 11°C, which is also known as “cellar temperature.” You may find you notice more fruit and herbal aromas with each sip.

  • Brewers use ingredients and brewing techniques to create beer that looks, feels and—most importantly—tastes like the style they want to make. And beer styles aren’t usually dependent on region: You can make a stout in London, England, or London, Ontario. As long as it tastes like a stout, it’s a stout.

  • Beer bottles should always be stored upright; if you lay them on their sides, something called a “yeast ring” can develop inside. And be sure to store beer in a cool, dark place. In most cases, it’s best to consume it within three months, though some beers can be aged for much longer.

  • World beer production reached 19 billion litres in 2017, which is enough to fill more than a billion bathtubs. Let’s look at that another way: That volume of beer is roughly equivalent to 19 minutes of water flowing over Niagara Falls.

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