'Beerly' Drinking – It's Lent!

Bar None

with Debbiann Spence-Minott

Thursday, March 14, 2019

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As the title of our column, Bar None, suggests, when it comes to beverages, we make no exceptions. Therefore, as we move into the religious season of Lent, we are shifting our focus from higher-strength distilled alcohol products to fermented selections. In recent years, the emphasis on giving up something during Lent has gradually changed to focusing on positive behavioural changes. Many people tend to give up something that is dear to them. Some individuals give up meat, rice, parties; there are even some who give up finding faults with others! But I digress. Some will drink lighter alcohol products, while others will give up alcohol in its entirety. If your choice is to go light with your alcohol consumption, then this week's edition is just for you.

Fermented vs Distilled Products

All beers, wines, and spirits are classified as alcoholic beverages. An alcoholic beverage is any potable (meaning drinkable) liquid containing ethyl alcohol (ethanol). It may have as little as per cent alcohol by volume (ABV) or as much as 95 per cent ABV. All alcoholic beverages begin with the fermentation of a liquid food product containing sugar. Fermentation is the action of yeast upon sugar in solution, which breaks down the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide (which is a gas) escapes into the air. The alcohol, a liquid, remains behind in the original solution, which then becomes a fermented beverage. Beers and wines are fermented beverages. Beers and ales are made from fermented grains. Wines are made from fermented grapes. The alcohol content for beers and wine is much lower than that of spirits and ranges between 0.5 per cent ABV and 16 per cent ABV.

If you can separate the alcohol from a fermented liquid, you have what you might think of as the essence, or the spirit of the liquid. This is exactly what spirits are and how they are made.

The process of separation is called distillation. The liquid is heated in an enclosed container, called a still, to a temperature of at least 173 degrees Fahrenheit (or 78.5 degrees Celsius). At this temperature, the alcohol changes from a liquid to a gas, which rises. Most of the water of the liquid remains behind; water does not vaporise until it reaches boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 degrees Celsius). The gas is channelled off and cooled to condense it back into a liquid. The result is a distilled spirit, or simply a spirit. All the spirits we use today are made by this basic process. In the world of distilled spirits, there are six base liquors or seven distilled spirits of the world: brandy (distilled from grapes), vodka (distilled from grain or potato), gin (distilled from juniper berries), whisky (distilled from grain), rum (distilled from sugarcane/molasses), mescal/tequila (distilled from agave) and bourbon (distilled from grain). We will revert to these categories after Lent in some detail!

Grab a Beer …Let's Talk About It!

A Brief History

• Human beings may have been making grain into beer even before baking grains into bread. But whichever came first, beer and bread together comprised the principal items of the ordinary family diet for centuries. Primitive peoples derived much of their body fuel from the carbohydrates and alcohol in beer. It was often safer to drink beer than water.

• Noah took beer onto the ark.

• The Egyptians were the first to record their brewing process; they made beer from corn and passed on their techniques to the Greeks.

• George Washington had his private brewhouse and paid the soldiers of his army a quart of beer a day.

• In the 19th century the brewing industry expanded in the United States when German immigrants brought European know-how and beer drinking customs to the US.

• The art of brewing beer made a major leap as a result of Pasteur's experiments with yeast. Pasteur unravelled the mysteries of fermentation and developed the technique of sterilisation through pasteurisation. This process was used for 22 years to stabilise beer before being applied to milk.

• Before that time, beer could not be stored safely for long periods of time before showing signs of spoilage.

• Today, whether shared with friends, good food and/or good conversation, consumers are not only drinking beer more responsibly, they are learning and caring more about what they are drinking.

The term beer refers generically to ales, lagers, pilsners, and stouts. The alcohol content of beers is approximately 1/3 to that of wine. However, when the average servings of the two beverages are compared, the contents are not very different. Beer needs only four ingredients:

1. Water — Beer is nine-tenths water, so water quality is a huge factor in beer production.

2. Malt (barley) — Malt is actually barley that has been placed in water, allowed to begin to sprout, and then dried to stop germination.

3. Hops — Hops look like tiny pine cones waiting to open, and they grow on tall, thin vines. The hops that give beer its characteristic suggestion of bitterness are the blossoms of the female hop vine.

4. Yeast — Yeast causes fermentation, converting sugar into alcohol. There are two categories of brewer's yeast — ale yeast and lager yeast. The yeast may impart flavor to the beer.

Similar to wines, beers can be paired with food to highlight and complement the flavours of the meal. In our next beer exploration, we will discuss food and beer pairings.

The Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards 2019 committee has announced an inaugural designation of Bartender of the Year at this years' Jamaica Observer Food Awards. Who will be nominated? Who will win? Bartenders/Mixologists are you ready? Continue to follow @jamaicaobserver and @bartendingacademyja for more information about this very prestigious and exciting nomination and award.

Readers' Feedback:

Imagine if we embraced life's moments big and small, without reservation. Together, we might fill the world with contagious joy. Please share with me your wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President – Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

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