Strange Brew

by Nickee de Leon/AJPress
Wherever in the world the globe-trotting Pinoy may be, one alcoholic beverage has remained sine qua non — a satisfying brew known as beer. For Filipinos in the United States, it’s practically euphoric to be living in beer heaven, with hundreds, maybe even thousands of varieties and brands to choose from.
In the Philippines, beer is a staple drink in every gathering — be it with family, friends or colleagues. It’s customary to have several bottled or canned beer chilling in the fridge as Filipinos are known to be strong drinkers.  After all, beer catalyzes one’s courage to belt out a few songs in videoke– yet another fixture in every Pinoy affair.

For most yuppies, the most anticipated time of the day is the “happy hour.” Filipinos are ardent lovers of the nightlife and what best way to spend it than to indulge one’s self in the “buy one, get one” special offer for beers. It’s getting the “buzz” without going over the budget.

But what is a refreshing bottle of San Miguel, Red Horse or Cerveza Negra without pulutan? The Filipino concept of pulutan (or barchow) is a sub-culture in itself. Being hefty eaters, Pinoys definitely won’t settle for a mere bowl of peanuts. Picking the right pulutan is perhaps, as equally crucial as drinking beer itself. Take your pick from all-time favorites such as sisig, chicharong bulaklak and calamari to the more daring papaitan and calderetang kambing. For most male drinkers, the choice of pulutan is actually a gauge for masculinity and machismo. The more daring you are with your choice of beer and pulutan, the closer you are to becoming the quintessential alpha male.

However, it’s not only Pinoys who enjoy these flavorful brewskies. Beer is a universal concoction — the proverbial grog that’s enjoyed by different cultures across the globe. It has become both an elixir for pain and a catalyst for pleasure. In the United States, watching Superbowl or the NBA playoffs seems incomplete without beer in hand. In Germany, the Oktoberfest is the most famous and highly-anticipated  Bavarian tradition of the year —  a sixteen-day festival that attracts about six million people annually.

So what is beer exactly? And why has it become the celebratory drink of choice?

An ancient brew

According to, “Beer is an alcoholic beverage produced by brewing and the fermentation of starches derived from cereals. The most common cereal for beer brewing is malted barley, although wheat, corn, and rice are also widely used, usually in conjunction with barley. Most beer is flavoured with hops, which adds a slightly bitter taste and acts as a natural preservative. Occasionally, other ingredients such as herbs or fruit may also be included in the brewing process. Alcoholic beverages fermented from non-starch sources such as grape juice (wine) or honey (mead) are not classified as beer.”

Possibly one of the world’s oldest alcoholic beverages, detailed recipes of beermaking were found in Babylonian clay tablets that date back to 4,300 BC. The ancient Chinese, Assyrians and Incas were also known for brewing beer, says says that beer may possibly date back to the 6th millennium BC and is recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.

The University of Pennysylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology’s Earliest Chemical Evidence of Beer states that the earliest known chemical evidence of beer has been traced to circa 3,500–3,100 BC — from the site of Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran.

“As almost any substance containing carbohydrates, mainly sugar or starch, can naturally undergo fermentation, it is likely that beer-like beverages were independently invented among various cultures throughout the world. The invention of bread and beer has been argued to be responsible for humanity’s ability to develop technology and build civilization,” says

Founded in 1294, The Augustiner brewery in Munich is the oldest brewery in the world. An Augustinian monastery was established at the Haberfeld upon the order of the bishop of Freising. Munich became world-famous for its breweries which were operated by monks.

“In 1506, beer was given a makeover when the German Purity Law made it mandatory for beer to only have four ingredients: water, barley, wheat and hops,” says

Beer ingredients

The four key ingredients of standard brews was also described in the same website.

“Barley is a key ingredient that adds a certain amount of color and flavor, depending on the roasting time. Barley is responsible for the sweet taste in beers.”

“Hops come in several different varieties. The type used, as well as the length of time it’s included in the brewing process, affect the bitterness, aroma and flavor of the beer. Hops are called the ‘spice of beer.”

“Water may be flavorless, but this main ingredient’s chemical components often affect the final flavor of the beer. Hard water produces bitter ale, while softer water produces a bitter lager.”

“Yeast comes in various strains and affects the flavor and aroma. This ingredient converts the sugar in the malt into alcohol.”

Beer style

In Michael Jackson’s seminal book, The World Guide to Beer, published in 1977, he categorized “a variety of beers from around the world in local style groups suggested by local customs and names,” says His book has become a significant influence to the modern theory of beer style.

Various elements constitute beer style — appearance (which includes color, clarity and nature of the head); aroma, flavor(brought about by bittering agents as hops, roasted barley and herbs), mouthfeel (based on the smoothness and viscosity of the beer in the mouth), strength (from the amount of fermentable material converted into alcohol), yeast,grains, hops, water and other ingredients.

Ales and Lagers

With the onset of more innovative brewing technology, several variations of beers have proliferated across the globe, with over 20,000 brands of beer that can be grouped into 180 styles. However, the most common types of beer can still be classified either as ales or lagers.

A top-fermenting yeast strain called saccharomyces cerevisiae which is fermented at higher temperatures (15-23 degrees Celsius or 60-70 degrees fahrenheit) is responsible for giving ale higher alcohol content. The warm temperature is suited for the production of esters or acidic chemical compounds and robust and fruity flavors and aromas that resemble those of apples, pears, pineapple, grass, hay, bananas, plums or prunes.

Amber ale, barleywine, brown ale, pale ale, porter, stout and wheat beer are beers that can be classified as ales.

On the other hand, lagers use a bottom-fermenting yeast called saccharomyces carlsbergensis, fermented at temperatures ranging from 45 to 55  degrees Fahrenheit and stored at temperatures between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler temperatures inhibit the growth of esters and produce a smoother, crisper and more elegant taste. Lagers are the most highly-consumed beers in the world.

Indeed, beer is no longer regarded as a mere beverage — it has become a thriving pop icon. Beermakers as Budweiser, Miller and Roling Rock have taken giant leaps and strides in advertising  to elevate people’s perception of this frothy beverage. Beer-drinking has become a lifestyle in itself — an indispensable part of popular culture.


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