Beer quenches thirst. But above all, beer satisfies deep cravings. So, what aromas and nuanced flavours make beer so irresistibly attractive?
A beer is almost always the perfect accompaniment to any occasion, whether it’s a public celebration, a warm summer evening or a meeting with friends. It’s great as a thirst quencher, as an accompanying drink, and occasionally, if we’re honest, for getting slightly sozzled. Most of the time, however, it remains inconspicuous in the background. The very term “a beer” is worth thinking about. Would we also say: “a wine”? Or even “a meal”? So “a” in the sense of “any”?
Of course, we wouldn’t.
Fortunately, we also do this far less frequently in the case of beer. For beer is far more than just a thirst quencher. Beer captivates us, satisfies all our senses. Seriously, all of them!
We pour ourselves a fresh glass and watch and listen to the beer foaming and bubbling away. The we find it served right in front of our eyes – in colours of shiny gold, shimmering red or deep, classy black. The glass is cool, but not too cold. Little drops of condensation form on the outside. We feel its coolness on our hands and lips when they touch the glass. At the same time, we smell tart, fruity or floral aromas. By taking a good swig, we taste the bitterness of the hops and sweetness of the malt, put the glass down and see delicate rings of foam form in the glass after each sip.
Hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, tasting – the interplay is thrilling, and it is the all but infinite number of possible combinations that makes beer a new experience over and over again. The very thought of freshly poured beer makes the mouth water.
Even the aroma can be mesmerising. Fine aromatic hops from the Czech Republic or Styria create a subtle hint of hay drying in the sunshine and evoke the summer holidays of our childhood in the mountains. New US-American or New Zealand hop varieties introduce playfully fruity notes to the bouquet: we feel ourselves transported back to a fruit market on that last Mediterranean holiday. Dark malt gives the beer a strong, bready, perhaps even roasted smell, and we dream of the times when we stood in front of the giant stone oven and pulled fresh loaves out of the embers when we visited Granny out in the country.
When presented with the heavy and complex, vinous and fruity notes of a beer fermented with a Belgian yeast, we think of homemade Rumtöpfe – fruits preserved in Rum and sugar – a few jars of which are still stored in the cool cellar of our parents’ house, and the powerful aroma of a smoked beer reminds us of the wonderful ham that our uncle from the neighbouring village dried even in the cold smoke.
Although we have not yet raised the glass to our lips, we have already travelled around the world and through time in our thoughts, revealing memories that have long since been forgotten.
Now comes the first sip. A highly fermented, somewhat strongly hopped beer with a little residual sweetness can be tangy and pearly, carbonated and svelte. With its low alcohol content, tingly sensation on the tip ot the tongue and slightly bitter taste, it refreshes after a long hot summer’s day. Our glass, however, might also contain a less highly hopped, more malty beer which vigorously excites the palate after a good, powerful swig and refreshes after a hard day’s work. And perhaps even our beer also flows with strongly alcoholic, almost oily-viscous drops over the edge of the glass; higher alcohols rise, invade the nose a touch almost too sharply, while a pleasant alcoholic warmth spreads out on the tongue and palate, the like of which could easily compete with a good brandy.
We swallow and muse for a moment about the beer. Does it leave a slight acerbic taste in the throat, which seems a little dry and makes us want to take another sip? Possibly by a subtle mineral character? Do fine hope varieties and the hardness of the water tease us and create a desire to continue drinking after each sip which is supposed to quench our thirst? Or rather, do we still feel the sweetness of malt lingering on the tongue as it slowly disappears? Is has just that level of stickiness that we want to rinse in order to refresh our tongue with another sip. Or do we notice the inspiring retronasal effect when the complex aromas, the higher alcohols and the fruity esters of a carefully composed strong beer triumph again over our sensory cells when we exhale through the nose?
Researchers can now explain to us precisely where all these sensory impressions originate. They refer to resins and the bitter substances in hops, terpenes, oils and aromatic compounds which need to be isomerised. In malt, they find simple, multiple and complex sugars, glucose, maltose, dextrose, various starch complexes as well as tannins in the spelt of cereal grains, and they analyse the results of Maillard reactions in dark malt, in yeast, they are interested in metabolic products at different temperatures, complex esters, simple and higher alcohols, fatty acids, phenolic components and, of course, fermentation carbonic acid. Finally, they identify minerals in brewing water, measure its hardness and pH value, residual alkalinity and lack of bacterial contamination.
However, it is not researchers but brewers who can deploy the four raw materials of hops, malt, yeast and water in such a way that they ultimately know how to beguile us by creating the perfect balance of many fragrant, aroma and taste components – so that the beer creates the desire to keep drinking after each sip. To constantly savour a never-ending flow of new experiences.
So, the next time we reach for a beer, let’s get into that diversity and interplay of flavours. Don’t just listen to the “pop” when you open a bottle or the glug in the throat where the beer disappears, never to be seen again, but let’s take all our five senses together, savour the experience and be completely at one with our beer. Magic moments!
This text has been published in the exhibition catalogue of muraubiennal Global Beer.
muraubiennal Global Beer.
Murauer Kultur- und Stadtmarketing GmbH