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Beer - The Beginning

This is the beginning of a series of blog stories centered around the making, distributing, and most importantly, enjoying beer! There are more breweries in the USA today than ever before in history, and 99% of them are microbreweries, brewpubs, and regional craft breweries. This means there are more flavors, textures and aromas, influenced by regional environments and cultures making the present a beer lovers nirvana! We want to see how these wonderful drafts are made, what makes them different, and when to best enjoy them. Let's begin our story in the grain fields...

One of the foundational ingredients in brewing beer is barley. Brewers use hot water to convert the barley grain into a brew-ready malt. Specialty malts, like crystal malt used for a crisp, sweetness or a dark malt for robust flavor for stouts and bock, are used to create unique characteristics of color, aroma, and flavor. Other grains like oats, corn, rice, rye, and wheat can be added to further augment the flavor and body of the brew. But what grains give us the different flavors and varieties of beers? Here is a quick primer on grains and the characteristics they impart:

Unmalted barleys give a beer a grainy, yet rich character lending itself to the dry stout style. The unmalted barley aids in head retention, but it makes the beer hazier than a Smoky Mountain sunrise.

Oats, when combined with barley creates a very smooth, creamy, full-bodied beer, most naturally fitting into the stout category.

Rye also works well with barley to sharpen flavors and add a complex and crispness with the ever so subtle hint of spice. The rye grain can be kilned to create a chocolate or caramel flavor. But, rye can be tricky because since it is a hull-less grain, and using too much during brewing can cause the mash to clump and harden.

Wheat is loaded with proteins which gives the beer a more full body, a slight tartness and is what causes the foamy head. If you use a large portion of wheat in the mix, it can result in a hazy and smooth brew like the hefeweizen or witbier.

Corn is a flavor stabilizing grain used in a mix to create a smooth and neutral sweetness, with a lighter body and decreased haziness. Most southerners think of corn liquor or moonshine when they hear of corn being used in a mash. The old-timers called the fermented, corn mash used in the still the beer.

Rice does not impart any discernible flavor or taste to a beer, yet it helps to make the other flavors more snappy and crisp. It is used primarily to create a dry profile with a lighter body.

As we progress through the brewing process with future Stories, we can see how the grains become the flavors, colors, and textures we have come to enjoy in our favorite brews. Let us know your favorite varieties and any experience making your own special brews in the comments below.

If you are a beer connoisseur or just a gal that "likes what she likes" then Merchants of Beer will be your designated hangout. Located between downtown Knoxville and the Old City, it will be the home of the best selection of local, regional, national, and international beers on tap and for carry out, as well as a humidor room where you can enjoy your favorite smoke and all your favorite top shelf wines and liquors. It will open later in the year, but join our TapMob now for updates on exclusive events this Fall for our mobsters and updates on your favorite libations. Check our webpage at and come back for updates and the Story of Beer!

Reference: The Complete Beer Course, 2013, Joshua M. Bernstein, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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