Beer School: Olympics Inspired

What We Recently Learned About Beer – Saturday School Session 3

There’s no doubt about it, the London 2012 games made me a fanatic of the Olympic Games.  For the first ten days I watched the swim meets, gymnastic finals, bike races, and track performances as much as I could. At one point, I considered researching and writing a post about a beer from every country that I saw win an event.  That soon became a very silly idea.  But I was struck with a question again and again as I saw the brilliant performances of women runners from Ethiopa and Kenya during the marathon and 10k runs: what’s beer like in Africa? I’ve enjoyed beer, and good beer at that, from the other five inhabited continents, so I assumed Africa also boasts a home brew of their own, and went to work to find out.  Here are some interesting facts I discovered:

1. Many sources say that ancient Egyptians were the earliest brewers, first discovering the process of fermentation when natural yeast took hold of wet fruits and grains being dried in the sun.  In an attempt to preserve their food, Egyptians stumbled across nature’s ability to create alcohol. Thank goodness!

2. Most developing countries in Africa have a local/traditional beer of their own, directly related to this ancient Egyptian discovery of fermenting local grains and fruits. While beer enthusiasts would have to luck out to taste these beverages in small, far away villages, some of these local brews are now available on a more commercial basis throughout Africa.

3. Climate dictates a lot of what can be grown and produced in the necessary quantities for commercial beer production.  Malts and hops are not all that viable in many African regions. Yet in the cooler, highland regions in Kenya, growing malts is much more possible.  Hops in Africa, on the other hand, remain a difficult crop to cash in on for mass production.

4.  With climate in mind, beer in Africa often complements the local environment.  Just as we find in the hotter areas of Colorado, pilsners/lagers are the preferred styles for their refreshing taste.  At one time, there was also a tropical dry stout available commercially.

5.  Despite all these challenges, African breweries find their way and can be found competing at many European and international beer competitions and festivals.  Who knows, maybe GABF will be pouring a Kenyan Mild this fall inspired by their Olympic hosts in the U.K.

For more information on this topic, definitely check out The Oxford Companion to Beer edited by Garrett Oliver, and from the acclaimed beer writer of our time, Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion.

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Saturday School Explanation: It seems that every time we visit a new brewery, or talk with a brewer (home or commercial), or drink with a beer aficionado, we learn something new about beer, brewing, and/or the beer industry.  We’re not intending this category of posts to cover beer news by any means (though it might on occasion).  Instead, we’ll use it as a short weekly section to discuss something new and interesting that we’ve come across that will increase the education level of craft beer enthusiasts. And there will surely be more than one posting about a topic, as these single lessons are definitely not intended as encyclopedias for any category covered.

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