17 Jun 2009 @ 9:38 AM 

The Soul of Beer


A little more history for you today, but this time with a poignant question. Behold this piece from Duke’s Digital Collections:

I don’t know about you, but the first thing I thought of after reading this was (click for a larger image, but I bet you know the ad):

Hops are the soul of beer

I think all this begs the question: What is the soul of beer?

I’ll be honest. I’ve always been a little irked by the latter ad, here. Hops are not to beer what grapes are to wine, unless the analogy centers around “a thing that grows on a vine that is ultimately in the beverage.”

If you want to think about it as a soul, I think we can safely say that grapes are the soul of wine. They are the primary source of fermentables, the primary source of variability. I don’t think that’s true for beer. Granted, one of the main reasons that the analogy doesn’t work is because beer has a more complicated list of ingredients than wine. But, let’s face it, as much as I don’t really want to agree with Pabst here, the primary source of fermentables and the primary source of variability in beer – if that’s what you want to call its soul – is really malt. (I am really interested to know what Pabst did with their malting that they thought was so exceptionally different.)

Yes, I can absolutely make my pale ale taste widely different with hops. I can go from grassy to piney to citrusy to cat pee. I can accent the malt or I can completely bury it. I can’t, however, make my pale ale into a stout or a kolsch with hops. For that matter, I can’t even make beer without malt – but I can make beer without hops, even if it won’t necessarily taste like what you and I think of as beer. Hops have only been an addition in ales in the past 500 years…. out of 4000 or so. Has it been soulless for most of its existence?

What do you think? What’s the soul of beer?

Tags Tags: , , , ,
Categories: history, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2009 @ 09 38 AM


Responses to this post » (9 Total)

  1. Great analogy! I agree – malt is the soul of beer.

    • Ercan says:

      Everything you need to do is squirt on a ltilte oil or perhaps a smallish amount of butter and you are ready to go. Possessing a sandwich maker available, particularly during special seasons is commonly a glorious methodology to utilize excess foods, turning them into something mouth-watering everyday.

  2. Matt says:

    I agree, while an important ingredient, hops are added to beer for the particular reason of adding a contrasting flavor for the sweetness of the malt. This can also be achieved with a number of other alternatives. The malt is what makes the beer though.

  3. Steph Weber says:

    I’m going to give the cop-out answer here and say that both malt and hops are the soul of beer. Sure, a beer without malt isn’t a beer at all. But neither is a beer without hops, that’s gruit. The soul of beer is the subtle interplay between the malt and the hops, the balance and harmony between the two. The way the hops or the malt tip the scales of that balance is what gives a beer its distinct flavors.

  4. Sarah says:

    I have to say that I’m more interested in the beer presentation in the PBR ad. Were beers usually packaged in wine-like bottles and served in goblets back then? Or was Pabst trying to do what Sam Adams is trying to do — make comparisons between beer and wine in their advertising to “legitimate” the beverage?

  5. erik says:

    That is a really interesting question and I do not know the answer. I need to do some research.

  6. Matt says:

    Miller High Life is still bottled in miniature versions of champagne bottles (It’s “The Champagne of Bottled Beers” after all). These look a little fancier, there’s a cork next to the bottle.

  7. nate says:

    I agree that malt is the sole ingredient that makes beer, beer. As to the “soul,” that is a subjective question. I’d lean towards malts, but may go with the creative process of developing a recipe.

    I would disagree somewhat with the statement: “hops are added to beer for the particular reason of adding a contrasting flavor for the sweetness of the malt.”

    Maybe this is the perceived intention among craft consumers today, but not the reality. Hops are added primarily for the preservative acids they release. I just brewed a batch of trappist, being careful to choose hops that would impart as little bittering flavor as possible.

    There are still beers brewed today that use no hops instead utilizing the heater flower.

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