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the super-simple guide to beer

by jasmine wallis, photos by simon shiff

If your knowledge of beer extends only to a VB paired with a meat pie at the footy (hey, no judgement there), you might be interested in finding out a little more about the humble frothie. We spoke to Jayne Lewis, one half of the duo behind Two Birds, Australia’s first female-owned brewing company, to learn about how beer goes from grains to ice cold pint.

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Let’s start with the basics – what is beer made from? Beer is typically made from water, yeast, hops and malted grains, such as barley or wheat. But there are over 100 different beer styles, each with their own characteristics. These days, you might find anything from fruits and spices to even coffee or nuts being used.

How does beer get made? Every beer starts as a grain and goes through a process of being mashed, boiled, and then fermented with yeast, while hops are added at different stages to introduce flavour and aroma. While it’s fermenting, the yeast eats away at all the sugar from the mashed grains, spitting out carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products. The amount of sugar eaten by the yeast helps determine how high in alcohol the final product is, and the types of hops and malts help determine the style of beer and key flavour characteristics. Hops are a fruit of a vine plant that provide bitterness to the flavor. A lot of Australian grown hops also have notes of pineapple, passionfruit and citrus fruits, which can come through quite prominently in the final beer.

What made you want to get into the beer biz? Drinking Little Creatures Pale Ale back in the early 2000s. It was so different to what I thought beer was — it was a passionfruit-y taste sensation. I said to myself “I’m going to work here.” And I did!

Can you give us a brief rundown on some beer terminology? 
India Pale Ale (IPA): IPA’s have high hop aroma, flavour and bitterness. They can be quite intense and the hops can be anything from herbal or spicy to floral and fruity.

Lager: Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures (7-13 degrees) to produce a crisp and refreshing beer. They can be quite low in bitterness. They represent the highest volume of beer consumed in the world and the majority of the beers from the larger breweries are lagers (eg. Heineken, Stella, Carlton Draught).

Draught: Draught refers to how beer is served. Draught is beer served on tap from a cask or keg, as opposed to from a bottle or can.

Craft beer: Craft beer is difficult to define. For me, it’s about flavoursome beers made with quality ingredients and brewed by hand. At Two Birds, we prefer to use the term ‘independent beer’, as this is what differentiates our company and beers from those produced by large multinational corporations, which may also produce their own line of craft beer. Our company is privately owned and when you purchase our beers, you’re supporting a family-owned company.

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What would you recommend for a beginner wanting to mix up their drinking choices? A lot of people find their way in through something like a pale ale, which has a really approachable tropical flavour and aroma, without overwhelming the senses. For those who are used to just knocking back a lager, there are now plenty of craft lagers available too.

Can you pair beer with food the way you can with wine? Absolutely! I think in some ways it can actually be a better pairing for dishes because beer can offer a wider range of flavours. The high carbonation of something like our Spring Saison can cut beautifully through the oiliness of a salmon dish, while the roasted characters of a dark stout or porter might taste incredible with a dark chocolate dessert.

Does a higher price tag mean better brew? Not always. I really love the simplicity of a well-executed pilsner or lager, which would usually be priced fairly affordably at the pub. It’s more about the occasion and what you’re looking for. A barrel-aged sour might make for an expensive lawnmower beer, but it could be the perfect match for that anniversary dinner at your favourite restaurant.

Should we shop locally before investing internationally? Australia is in the midst of developing quite an incredible craft beer scene, so I would encourage people to explore what’s on offer from local breweries where they can. There are more and more craft beer festivals and events where people can discover large numbers of local breweries and get a feel for the styles they like. In saying that, some of my best beer experiences have been through exploring beers from other countries, or while on holiday. American and Belgian beers are totally different from one another and you’d be missing out not to try any of them.

Final words of wisdom? Beer is a wonderfully social drink, especially in that it can be both discussed amongst passionate beer enthusiasts, or ignored completely while you’re watching a gig or live sport. I think that’s what makes it so much fun to be involved with – there truly is a beer for every occasion, and every person. You just have to find the right one!

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