Part 1 of 5- Deconstructing "Lager" and "Ale"
This is Part 2 of 5- Base Grains and Mash Additions
It's baffling to me how, in an age when people are increasingly obsessed with what ingredients are in their food, the ingredients in beer are of little interest to most consumers. These ingredients, and the quality of them, not only inform the taste of the beer and therefore the experience of the drinker, but they also are an important historical marker-- the grains & additions used can be traced back through the millenia, and their domestication signaled the transition from nomadic society to agricultural society. Stocks of cereal grains and beer making cakes empowered early civilizations, nourished our distant ancestors and provided them with a safe conduit for imbibing water, prevented famine, sparked wars, inspired early philosophy and paleolithic art, and informed on a very basic level the structure of what one might call the current definition of a city. After examining the evidence, it is quite clear to me that: we are here because of beer. Given beer's immense historic significance it is astounding how the building blocks of this beverage have been forgotten by most beer drinkers.
Barley is so ubiquitous it is often assumed by most smaller brewers as the main ingredient. Because smaller brewers assume that barley is the common-knowledge beer ingredient they often do not list it on the label, and list the ingredients only when what are known (by the BJCP) as "unusual adjuncts" such as rye, oats, etc. are added. This tendency to assume market knowledge that may or may not be inherent has allowed large macrobrewers to produce many liquid tons of beer made from a large percentage of rice, not list the ingredients, and rest assured that the majority of the beer drinking public will assume that it is barley because no ingredient is listed. Possibly in part because smaller brewers assume higher public knowledge and therefore do not always list ingredients and larger brewers followed suit an even worse circumstance has set in: a large portion of the beer drinking public neither knows nor cares what the ingredients are.
Consider this loose analogy to the wine world:
As diplomatic ties between France and England disintegrated in the late 1600s French wine sales dropped in England and wines from Portugual greatly increased; this was incentive enough for many English businessmen to relocate to the Douro. The sudden popularity in port in England attracted some fraudulent producers (or perhaps it brought into the spotlight a more common practice that happened behind closed doors?). Some winemakers added elderberry juice to the must to help increase alcohol and color extraction. Some producers added spices to the wine as well. The news broke in England, sales of port wine decreased, and the English government reacted with strict regulations and goal set forth by the Douro Wine Company to rip out all elderberry plants in the region.
Imagine the beer drinking world discovering that what they assumed was barley beer is actually made of mostly rice (analogous to elderberry juice in port). Would the average beer drinker care? Perhaps they would if it were industry standard to label the source grains on the label.
Mash additions are usually announced as a selling point ("pumpkin beer," "apricot beer," "hopped"). Additions are considered a special twist that makes the beer unique, and as such will make people want to buy and drink it. I believe this is a good thing-- but it is odd that the base grain isn't advertised as energetically as the mash additions.