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Alt.Beer FAQ
by Dan Brown
html by Erowid
Last Revised : April 21, 1998
Erowid Note: This FAQ was not authored by Erowid. It may include out-of-date and/or incorrect information. Please check the version date to see when it was most recently revised. It appears on Erowid as part of our historical archives. For current information, see Erowid's summary pages in the substance's main vault.



This list has been compiled over the time that has been up available on Usenet. Please send any suggestions, corrections or changes to Dan Brown,

Many Thanks to all of the people that have contributed, notably:

Tim P
John R.
Erowid -

and all of the other people that have kept this newsgroup going!

If you your name is up there, and you didn't know you contributed, it probably is because I have saved an interesting post from Thanks!

This list is divided into several sections, each addressing a bit different aspect of beer. The topic is as broad as there are tastes for different kinds of beer. Due to this, this FAQ list cannot possibly cover every aspect of the subject. It is only meant as an overview that answers a few of the multitude of "Frequently Asked Questions"

Dan Brown


Jan. 17, 1994Added Information about FTP by mail for the FAQ.
Changed the date format to YYMMDD.
Added new stuff section.
June 2, 1994Fixed Labic Info
Added info in the Internet info part.
Added info in the What are lagers part
Fixed Malt liquor part
Added Books about beer part
Sept. 9, 1994Added magazines info
April 21, 1998html'd by Erowid


What kinds of beers are there?

Q: What are ales?
Ales are generally beers made with top fermenting yeasts. They are brewed at "warm" temperatures, normally between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Q: What are lagers?
Lagers are generally beers made with bottom Fermenting yeasts. They are fermented at cooler temperatures, generally 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. These cooler temperatures mean longer fermenting. The process of fermenting at cool temperatures is called "lagering."

Lagers are said to have originated in Germany where the brewers found that they could change the flavor and smoothness of their beers by storing them in cold caves.

Pilsners (most American beers) are a subset of lagers. The style originated in Pilsen Chezkoslovakia, and the definitive beer of this style is Pilsner Urquel.

Another type of lager is a "Bock" beer. A bock is typically a lager made with a bit more of everything, and is somewhat stronger. Mai-Bock's are a subset of that style that are brewed in the early spring time (Mai is German for May).

Q: What are lambics?
Lambics are specifically Belgian beers, made in a certain part of Belgium, specifically in Payottenland east of Brussels in the Zenne valley. The beer may well be named for the Payottenland town of Lembeek.

Lambics are fermented using wild, air born yeasts. Brewers often have their primary fermenting vessels on the top floor of the brewery so that they can open holes in their roofs to let the yeasts, rain, dust, bugs, and whatever else into their beer.

Lambics have a very distinctive taste, and are often flavored fruit. Whole fruit is often added to the beer causing a secondary fermentation. These beers can range in taste from fairly sweet to very vinegary and sour. Often considered to be something of an acquired taste.

What are the government classifications?

Q: What is malt liquor?
In the United States, Malt liquor is a classification bestowed on beers that are above a certain alcohol content. The laws vary from state to state in the US. Many beers have been given the title malt liquor, even though that is not their true type.

Q: What do 3.2 and 5.0% mean?
This is a "rating" of the amount of alcohol in the beer, by volume or by weight depending on where you are.

Q: What is Reinheitsgebot?
It is an old German "purity" law that delineates the ingredients that can be used to make beer. Under this law, there are only four; water, barley malt, hops, and yeast.

"Rein" means clean or pure; "-heit" means "-ness"; so "Reinheit" means "cleanliness" or "purity".

What do the terms used in beer commercials mean?

Q:What is "Dry" beer?
Dry beer is beer that has less malt, and more corn or rice sugars added to it during the brewing process. This produces a lighter, slightly more alcoholic, "dryer" tasting beer. It also probably reduces the brewing costs. The style is said to have originated in Japan.

Q: What is "Cold Filtered?"
Cold filtering is beer that is physically filtered after it has been brewed, before it is bottled. This tends to eliminate all sediments (yeast and malt leftovers... things that can give beer character), and makes the beer clear.

Q: What does "Heat Pasteurized" mean?
It means the beer has been heated after fermenting, killing all of the remaining live yeasts and any other microganisms. It means that the beer will not continue to age in its bottle.

Q: What does "bottle conditioned" mean?
It is beer that has not been pasteurized, and still has live yeast in it. It will continue to age in the bottle, and the character of the beer will change over time. For some kinds of beer this is good, for others it means they will spoil after a while.

Q: What is "draught" (draft) beer?
It is beer that has been drawn or pulled from a cask. Beer from pressurized kegs is often referred to as draft beer, but this is probably a misnomer, or an "Americanism"

Q: What is ice beer/ eisbock?
Whats the difference? Ice beer is beer that has reportedly been fermented a nearly freezing temperatures. This is another ploy by Megabrewies to convince people that their beer is something different or better than everyone elses. Ice Beers are basically another style of light American lagers.

True eisebock's are beers that have been frozen after they are fermented to raise the specific gravity and alcohol content of the beer. The water in the beer turns to ice when the beer gets cold enough. The ice crystals are strained or filtered out, leaving a beer with a higher specific gravity and generally a higher alcohol content.

Miscellaneous Questions

Q: How can you get draft beer in a can or bottle???

Q: Where can I get beer?
Breweries, brewpubs, stores, restaurants, distributors, and by making your own.

Q: What is a brewpub?
It is a combination of brewery, pub, and maybe restaurant. There are LOTS of these in Europe, and are getting to be more in America.

Q: Can I get beer in the mail?
Yes... Beer Across America's phone numbr is 1-800-854-2337, and Microbrew to You is reportely now out of business.

Q: How do I make my own beer??
See below.

Q: How do I judge a beer or what is good beer?
Good beer is determined by an individuals tastes. It has been suggested that trying a wide variety of beers will usually help a person figure out what beer tastes good.

Q: What makes beer go bad?
Bad beer is beer that tastes bad of is spoiled. Beer can and will spoil under certain conditions. Mishandling and old age are the two biggest causes of spoiled beer. Skunked beer refers to beer that has been lightstruck, causing the hops to take on a skunky odor. This is often happens with clear or green bottles, and tends to be prevalent in certain imported beers.

Good books on beer

Michael Jackson's Beer Companion does not give ratings. It discusses various styles and profiles good examples of the the styles. This is a very enjoyable book that every beer lover should have.

The Simon & Schuster Pocket Guide to Beer (ISBN 0-671-72915-2) by Michael Jackson is the book commonly referred to in these groups when citing ratings on MJ's four-star system. About 1300 beers from around the world are reviewed and rated. New version due out in late 1994, according to Jackson.

Stephen Beaumont's Great Canadian Beer Guide (Macmillan Canada, ISBN 0-7715-9031-8). Steve also uses the MJ four-star system. This is a must for anybody that appreciates Canadian Beers.

Jamie MacKinnon's Ontario Beer Guide. (don't have publishing information. It has a good section on tasting and evaluating beers, although I (Alan M.) disagree with his overattention to appearance factors. He rates all the beers in Ontario (as of 1991, I think) on a five star scale.

Fred Eckhardt's The Essentials of Beer Style (ISBN 0-9606302-7-9). The editor of the book is Jeff Frane, who many will recognize from the beer groups, especially rec.crafts.brewing. A book that does not rate beers, but does have a lot of technical information about various beers as well as information about tasting.

What are some good magazines on beer? How do I email to their editors? All About Beer:
Beer Magazine (Canada):
Beer, The Magazine:
Brew Hawaii:
Brewing Techniques (circulation):
Brewing Techniques (editor):
Celebrator Beer News:
The Malt Advocate:
Midwest Beer Notes:
Whats On Tap: Steve Johnson,
Southern Draft Brew News:
Southwest Brewing News:
Yankee Brew News:

Making Beer

WHERE DO I START... How do I make beer?
Beer is made with basically, water, barley malt, hops and yeast. The water, malt and hops are boiled to produce a wort. This wort is cooled, put into a fermenting vessel, and the yeast is added (pitched). This vessel is sealed with an air lock, and the beer is allowed to ferment (sugar and water is turned to alcohol, carbon dioxide, etc) and age for a period of time. When the fermentation is over, a bit of additional malt or other sugar is added (for carbonation), and the beer is bottled or kegged. It is once again allowed to age for a period of time, during which the additional sugars carbonate the beer, and the taste of the beer developes and ages. The beer is then consumed.

What other Internet resources are available?
You can find more information in the newsgroups rec.crafts.brewing, and There is a mailing list, "The Homebrew Digest" sent out almost daily. There is an archive of HBD items available via ftp at, in the /pub/homebrew directory. There is also a mead-makers archive in the /pub/mead directory.

What books are available on homebrewing?
One of the most popular is "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. This is the book that made the phrase "Relax, Don't worry, Have a Homebrew" popular.

How should I store my homebrew?
The most common method is in bottles. These can be either the Grolsh kind, that have a stopper that is attached to the bottle, bottles that you put a crown cap on, or bottles that you cork. How do I get the labels of the bottles that I am going to use for my brew? The most effective method is Commonly said to be by soaking them in a solution of water and ammonia. Most labels will fall off after soaking overnight.

Some General Beer FAQ's

What does the "33" on the back of Rolling Rock bottles mean?
There are several common answers. First, it is said to be the number of words on the back label. The story goes that the Latrobe Brewing Company was deciding on which slogan to use on the new bottles, and had counted the number of words, and written it on the piece of paper that went to the bottle supplier. The bottle supplier mistakenly included the 33 on the printed bottles, and it has been there since. Another explanation is that it is the year that prohibition was repealed. One notable comment about the mysterious 33 from a Latrobe exec goes something like; "Who cares what it means as, long as people continue to ponder it while drinking a cold Rolling Rock."

What is the thing in Pub Draft Guinness? How does it work?
Where can I get it? The thing is a can that has a widget in it that is used to produce a creamy head as you pour the beer. Probably the closest thing to "draft beer in a can!"

What is CAMRA?
CAMRA - the Campaign for Real Ale was formed 21 years ago in the UK to protect the rapidly disappearing cask ales from a tide of bland keg beers which were being foisted on the public by the large breweries. It was fantastically successful (the most successful consumer movement in Europe) and now addresses other issues such as licensing law and protecting the British pub. It has now formed alliances with similar organisations throughout Europe to deal with impending Europe issues. There are branches of CAMRA in several countries (eg Canada). As to Australia, I think there is a local organisation - will check it out during the break. However, you can get further details from the UK HQ at 34 Alma Road, St Albans, Herts AL1 3BW, UK. Mark Enderby, (CAMRA Regional Director)

What is Jagermeister?
It is a German herbal liquor. It is NOT beer. Discussions about it should be held on or alt.alcohol The same holds for all other beverages... like Everclear...