Copyright ©1996 Kashrus Kurrents, Vol. XVI, No. 3, Fall, 1996; Reprinted with permission.
Hashem, in His ultimate kindness, has provided man with the keys to unlock some of nature's most amazing secrets. For centuries, a great secret has been revealed to man--the bubbly elixir known as beer. Beer's ingredients, water, barley, yeast, and hops, bear no resemblance to the finished product. These natural ingredients undergo a series of simple yet fascinating processes to convert them into one of the world's most popular beverages. It is not coincidental that alcoholic beverages have been given the distinctive appellation "spirits," alluding to the fact that these beverages seem to magically emerge from these natural ingredients, as if they have been assisted by spirits. The four steps of beer making are malting, roasting, brewing, and fermenting.
THE PROCESS: The first step of beer making combines barley and water in a process known as malting. Barley is composed of germ, endosperm, and a layer of bran. The living part of the barley, the germ, lies dormant until it is planted or comes in contact with water. Once the germ comes in contact with water, it germinates and begins growing.
The starch in the endosperm provides the nourishment needed for the living germ. However, it is too difficult for the germ to digest the starch without assistance. Therefore, the germ secretes an enzyme that breaks the starch into simpler sugars which can be digested more easily. Although barley is not sweet at all, it has been discovered that barley which is soaked in water and allowed to sprout, produces a sweet syrup. This is a result of barley's natural germination process. This enzymatic conversion of barley into fermentable sugars is known as malting. The barley malting process lasts for forty-eight hours, thus enabling the barley to begin germinating and sprouting.
The sprouted barley grain is then roasted. Roasting is a vital step in the ultimate creation of beer's color and flavor. Adjusting the roasting time, temperature, and amount of barley will cause the variation in the beer's color and flavor. A longer, higher roast produces a darker, more flavorful barley, hence a darker, more flavorful beer. Conversely, a lower, shorter roast produces a less flavorful beer.
The roasted barley kernels are then ground into a grain mixture called a grist. Sometimes, with blander beers the barley is mixed with other cereal grains, such as corn, wheat, or rice to make the grist. The grist is then mixed with hot water to form a mash. The purpose of the mashing is to continue the malting process where the germinating barley left off. This process allows the enzymes contained in the grain to convert the starches of the mashed grains into sugar. The sweet liquid solution created by the germinated grain water is called a wort.
Hops, dried flowers from the spice-like hops plant, are now added to the wort to create a hopped wort. There are many varieties and forms of hops grown throughout the world. The hopped wort is brewed in a copper or stainless steel kettle, imparting a unique aroma and cooked flavor into the wort. The liquid is now ready to be converted into beer. In order to understand how this sweetened hopped wort is converted into an alcoholic beverage, one must understand another of nature's wonders--the fermentation process.
Fermentation, one of nature's unique phenomena, is a process by which yeast, a fungus found in nature, converts sugar into carbon dioxide (natural carbonation) and alcohol. In beer production, yeast converts the sweetened wort into beer through fermentation.
Though there are literally thousands of yeasts, the two popular fermenting yeasts are Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a top fermenting yeast that produces ales, and Saccharomyces uvarum, a bottom fermenting yeast that produces lager. Both ales and lagers can be light or dark, strong or weak, more flavorful or bland depending on the temperature, ingredients, and brewing methods.
Beer making has been known for centuries, yet, throughout the millennia it has been elevated into an art form. According to Michael Jackson, author, consultant, and world-renowned wines and spirits expert, man has developed over forty styles of beer, each with a full spectrum of flavors and colors. How do the beer meisters do it? By varying beer's natural ingredients, grains, hops, and yeast, and by modifying the roasting and brewing methods, new flavorful varieties are created.
In the new technological world of major beer production the key term of successful brewing is consistency and uniformity. In recent decades, scientific discovery has facilitated consistency and uniformity, enabling brew meisters to comprehend the simple centuries-old process of beer making. Technological scientific research has shown that additives and processing aids can provide assistance needed to deliver a consistent and uniform product, though not necessarily a beer with more character. How do these revelations impact on the Kashrus status of this generically Kosher beverage? Are there any additives that would compromise the Kashrus of beer?
PROCESSING AIDS: Hydrogen peroxide, bromade, or other alkalis can be used to accelerate malt germination. Natural enzymes such as papain or bromelin, or industrial enzymes such as amylo-glucosidase or aspergillus niger, can supplement an enzyme deficient mash to help break the starches into sugars and facilitate brewing. Hops extracts can be added for flavor. If necessary, papain or tannin can assist in the removal of unwanted protein, delivering a clearer brighter beer. After brewing, natural clarifiers such as isinglass finings (prepared from ground tropical fish), gelatin, silica gel, or a synthetic clarifier poly-vinyl poly prolamine (PVPP) remove dark particles from the beer, giving the final product a crystal clear appearance. If the completed product needs bolstering, caramel color may be added for coloring, extra carbon dioxide for carbonation, or alginates for head retention. In all, over fifty-nine chemicals or additives are legally permitted to be used as beer additives.
Gelatin and isinglass clarifiers, are not used in domestic beers. Isinglass finings is a traditional British beer clarifier that has been used for centuries in the United Kingdom. It is fascinating to note that over two hundred years ago the great Halachic authority, the Noday Biyehudah, permitted the use of the isinglass clarifier ( Yorah Deah, siman 26). A clarifier only filters unwanted particles and is not present in the final beverage.
FLAVORINGS: Traditional beers do not have added flavorings. Cherry flavorings, other fruit flavorings, and spices are used to make flavored products and by law must be termed "Flavored Beers." Such a product would definitely require Kosher certification.
YEAST: Barley wine is a specialty beer that could possibly be fermented with non-Kosher wine or champagne yeast and would definitely require Kosher certification.
Is there anything new brewing? Two new additions have recently emerged in contemporary brewing, non alcoholic beer and micro-breweries. The production of non alcoholic beer is similar to regular beer with one additional step. After the wort is fermented, the alcohol is distilled off through boiling or other distilling techniques. The product that remains is non alcoholic beer.
Micro breweries produce beer on a far smaller scale than the giant breweries. Usually, a smaller operation gives more cause for scrutiny. In the case of a micro brewery, the micro brewery gives more scrutiny to natural beer making than their larger counterparts. Micro breweries are often strict adherents to traditional, additive free, brewing methods. This tradition, "Bavarian Reinheitsgebot," dictates that beer can be made with only barley, yeast, water, and hops.
How should the Kosher beer enthusiast conduct himself? Of course, the best case scenario is to purchase beer with Kosher certification. However, our research has shown that all the raw ingredients and additives used in Domestic beers, Norwegian beers, and German beers do not present Kashrus concerns. English beers are permitted; stouts require certification. Halacha gives us the latitude to follow such a presumption. In circumstances where facts or evidence overwhelmingly prove that there are no Kashrus concerns, the Torah tells us to follow the dictates of the evidence. However, specialty beers such as flavored beers, barley wines, European, Asian, and other foreign beers would require kosher certification due to insufficient information regarding these products.
Many thanks to Dayan Westheim Shlita, Manchester Dayan, Rabbi Yosef Eisen; Dr. Avraham Meyer; Grant Wood, Production Manager of the Boston Beer Company; and to the honorable Michael Jackson, for their assistance, information, and expertise in preparation of this article.
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