It is amazing that something so unique and special as beer is in truth made of only a few ingredients. In Germany, the German Beer Purity Law has restricted brewers for the past 800 years to using only grain, hops, yeast, and water to brew their beer. In essence, it is these four ingredients that comprise the base of the majority of beers brewed throughout the world. On a scientific level, it is the water, grains, and yeast that work to produce the alcohol found in beer, while the hops serve only flavoring and aromatic purposes. In the brewing process, the grains are the most important ingredient, contributing sugars and nutrients for the yeast and flavoring and color to the beer. The grains (usually barley) are first malted, allowing starches in the grains to break down into more simple sugars. These are then crushed and boiled at specific temperatures to release the sugars and flavorings, a process known as mashing. This boiled mixture is called the wort, to which specialty flavoring or coloring grains and the hops are added. The timing of the hop addition regulates how the hops contribute to the beer: Early additions extract the bitterness of the hops, while later additions add to the flavor and aroma. After cooling off this solution, the yeast is added and the wonders of fermentation begin.

The finished beer itself can be broken down into aspects characteristic of each of these ingredients. In the pour, the colors, as well as the head give hints to the types of grains used. A darker beer corresponds to darker roasted malted or specialty grains. The aroma can also give evidence of the types of grain used or even the malt character, although for many hoppier beers these are overshadowed by the pine, citrus, or floral notes of hops added late in the boil.

There are a few specific parts to the flavor profile of a beer. Usually, the malt presents itself first, as a sweet, sometimes caramel or molasses-like sensation accompanied by the carbonation of the beer. Next, many beers show a roasted grain or woody flavoring based on the types of grains used and the conditioning process. Either accompanying this sensation or soon after are the bitterness and floral/citrus/resinous characteristics of the hops, with intensities ranging from almost non-existent in a cheaper or light beer to bold and overpowering.

The two beers I have chosen today come from one of my favorite microbreweries, Dogfish Head. Known to be one of the most innovative breweries around, this company produces an impressive core of excellent traditional style beers accompanied by some of the most unique brews available commercially. Although expensive, these beers exhibit the true essence of great brewing, and are a perfect demonstration of how each ingredient can influence a beer.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA ($10.90 for a six pack, Uncle Tom's)

India Pale Ales (IPAs) have become one of the most popular styles of beers for microbreweries in the United States. First brewed in England, these ales were developed from traditional pale ale recipes, but given a higher alcohol content and bitterness due to shipment by boat to English colonies in India, hence the name. The Dogfish Head 60 Minute has long been one of my favorite examples of a well-hopped, well-balanced beer that truly has captured the essence of a fine India Pale.

The 60 Minute pours a light amber with a touch of red, exhibiting good carbonation and a medium-bodied head with good retention. As expected, the nose was very hoppy with floral and resinous notes and a lack of any indication of malt or grain. A fair amount of carbonation accompanied a dry but flavorful initial malt sensation. The hops come on almost immediately, exhibiting a robust but positive bitterness moving to the back of the tongue. The use of Warrior hops, Amarillo hops, and a "mystery hop X" gives the beer the complex flavor that accompanies the bitterness. The finish carries through the bitterness of the hops with a slight warming sensation.

Overall, the bitterness and unique malt characteristics may not appeal to all drinkers. I tend to enjoy hoppy and bitter beers, yet would still have trouble drinking more than two or three of these flavorful brews in one sitting. The 60 Minute is a great beer for anyone who wants to truly experience the powers that careful hop selection and liberal hop use can have on a beer.

Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale ($11.90 for a six pack, Uncle Tom's)

The Indian Brown Ale is a great example of a unique and special beer brewed by Dogfish Head. Described as "a cross between a Scotch Ale, an IPA, and an American Brown," this beer is said to be "well-hopped and malty at the same time." Such a description undoubtedly leaves the drinker with a certain sense of anticipation and expectation. Brewed with caramelized brown sugar, this beer also promises an increased alcohol by volume (ABV 7.2%) and a unique malty sweetness.

The Indian Brown is a very dark beer, pouring a slightly cloudy, dark reddish-brown with some carbonation and unbelievable head retention, reminiscent more of a dry stout than of an ale. The nose is unmistakably dominated by caramel and molasses, overshadowing any indication of hops. With little carbonation, the initial malt taste is big and sweet, quickly building into an almost syrupy-sweet peak, truly showing the brown sugar's influence on the taste. The malt lingers, finally falling to reveal a warm, roasted barley flavor with slight hop bitterness, not unlike a stout such as Murphy's. The aftertaste is roasted and alcoholic, demonstrating the beer's fairly high ABV.

Overall, The Indian Brown Ale is a unique beer that does in some ways blend together three distinct styles of beer. It is most definitely a beer for those who appreciate huge malty flavor, or want to taste an example of malt at its height.

Hopefully this article shed a little more light on the inner workings of the wonder that is beer. I can see no more fitting ending than to quote (and agree with) Plato in stating, "He was a wise man who invented beer."