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Beer FAQ

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Q. What is beer?

Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. The grain is usually barley or wheat, but sometimes corn and rice are used as well. Fruit, herbs, and spices may also be used for special styles.


In the distant past, the terms "beer" and "ale" meant different things. "Ale" was originally made without using hops, while "beer" did use hops. Since virtually all commercial products now use hops, the term "beer" now encompasses two broad categories: ales and lagers.



Q. What are ales?

Ales are brewed with "top-fermenting" yeasts at close to room temperatures, 50-70F (10-21C). Ales encompass the broadest range of beer styles including bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, trappist, lambic, and alt. The British Isles are famous for their ales and it is a popular style with home brewers and micro-breweries.


Beer FAQ

Q. What are lagers?

Lagers are brewed with "bottom-fermenting" yeasts at much colder temperatures, 35-50F (2-10C) over long periods of time (months). This is called "lagering". Lagers include bocks, doppelbocks, Munich- and Vienna-style, Maerzen/Oktoberfest, and the famous pilsners.


Pilsner beer originated in the town of Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic and was the first non-cloudy beer. Most popular beers produced by the large North American breweries were originally of the pilsner style. These have diverged a great deal from the original style and succeed now by the force of the mass-marketing prowess of the brewers rather than any remarkable qualities of the beers themselves.



Q. What is "draught" (draft) beer?

Technically speaking, draught beer is beer served from the cask in which it has been conditioned. It has been applied, loosely, to any beer served from a large container.



Q. What is a brewpub?

A brewpub is, generally, a combination brewery/restaurant. The beer is made on-premises for consumption by the restaurant patrons. Various regulations govern the ratio of beer/food sales to prevent breweries from serving token food items while selling mostly beer. Very common in Europe and the source of a growing industry in the North America.

Q. What are the categories of brewers/breweries?

According to the Institute of Brewing there are four categories as follows:

  • Large Brewers - Production in excess of 500,000 barrels/year
  • Regional Brewers - Production between 15,000 and 500,000 bbl/yr
  • Microbrewers - Production less than 15,000 bbl/yr
  • Brewpubs - Production for onsite consumption only

In addition you may see/hear the term pico-brewer which is used to describe brewers so small that distribution is limited to pubs and bars in their immediate area. To complicate matters there are contract brewers. These companies develop a recipe and then "buy" excess capacity at a large brewery to have their beer made for them. They, then, market and distribute the finished product. Some of these can be quite large. The Boston Beer Co., which brews the Sam Adams line, is a good example of a large contract brewer.

To give you a better perspective here are some examples with 1993 production figures (barrels per year):

Large Brewers:

  • Anheuser-Busch - 93,000,000
  • Miller - 49,000,000
  • Coors - 25,000,000

Regional Brewers:

  • Boston Beer - 450,000
  • Sierra Nevada - 104,325
  • Anchor - 92,000
  • Pete's - 74,000


  • Summit - 10,500
  • Celis - 10,500
  • Yakima (Grant's) - 8,000


  • Wynkoop - 4,200
  • Gordon Biersch (No. 3) - 2,700
  • Great Lakes - 2,700