The incredible complexity of beer
When tasting wine, people generally gently swirl the glass around to admire the colour, liberate the aromas and enjoy the taste. This almost intuitive ritual is mainly – and rightly – adhered to because wine is considered a complex product that deserves special attention in order to uncover all of its subtleties.
But what about beer - and more refined beers like Leffe in particular?
According to scientific studies, beer contains over 1200 natural, identifiable substances. Approximately 700 of those contribute to aroma: fruit (banana, apple, mirabelle plum, pear, pineapple…), flowers (rose, hyacinth, lilac, violet…), hops (resin, lemon, fresh herbs…), grains (biscuit, caramel, grilled flavours, dried fruit…), while 500 others contribute to the beer’s flavour (bitterness, body, acidity…).
This abundance of aromas can be ascribed to a complex production process.
Obviously, flavour is mainly a question of ingredients: the water, choice of grains (barley and corn in Leffe’s case), the hops varieties and their origins, as well as herbs and spices like coriander seed and orange rind for Leffe Radieuse…
The barley is of course malted, which consists of first allowing the grains to sprout and subsequently drying, heating or roasting them, depending on the desired aroma.
Next up is the brewing process. During this phase, the ingredients are combined, heated, brewed and transformed, which leads to new aromas. It’s a little like when you cook at home: a natural way of creating new flavours.
Last but not least is the fermentation and ageing process: two essential phases in beer production during which sugar is turned into alcohol and hundreds of aromatic substances (such as hints of banana, spices, smoke and clove in Leffe) are created thanks to the yeast. This is a key phase in terms of the beer’s final flavour and complexity.
Compared to beer, cider and wine contain between 200 and 400 natural substances that contribute to their flavour, mostly as a result of fermentation/ageing of the selected juice varieties. Chocolate and coffee contain between 600 and 800 substances, obtained through fermentation of coffee or cacao beans, the drying and roasting process and the eventual processing into, for example, chocolate or an espresso.
But with over 1200 substances, beer tops the list! Thanks to its ingredients, the malting, brewing and fermentation/ageing process, beer goes on to develop an unrivalled complexity of flavour.
With this in mind, I encourage you to carefully observe your Leffe next time, to allow the aromas to infuse you and to fully enjoy its rich flavours, while contemplating how all those different production phases make beer one of the most complex beverages in the world.