Why do they talk about beer being “brewed” and wine being “fermented”? Surely, they’re both fermented drinks?
A.B., Ballarat, Vic
Yes, they’re both fermented alcoholic drinks, but the process is different. With beer, sake, cider and the “wort” that’s distilled to make whisky, there’s an extra step in the process compared with winemaking: the enzymatic conversion of sugar.
Beer, whisky wort and sake are made from grains. If you mash grains (steep them in boiling water to soften them and release the sugar), they won’t ferment immediately. The sugar, which is essentially sucrose, can’t be metabolised by yeasts. It must be converted to fermentable sugars, the main ones being glucose and fructose. So the brewer adds an enzyme, invertase, that changes the sugars. A yeast culture is then added, and away goes your fermentation. The sugars in fresh grapes are already in the handy form of glucose and fructose.
We talk about a “brew” in very loose terms. “That’s a good brew” can be applied to any concocted drink: tea, coffee, infusions and pretty well anything alcoholic. But “brew” often has a negative connotation: “That’s an evil brew you’ve got there.” In this case, it’s the strength of the potion that connotes evil, as if there were something bad, or naughty, about its potency. Indeed, imbibing strong liquor has always had risque possibilities.
We brew up mischief, for instance – even insurrection. Revolutionaries gathering their forces are said to be brewing up trouble. Brewing up moonshine is actually illegal, a fact that doesn’t deter the determined bootlegger.
Among the many useful substrates for a good brew are barley for beer or whisky, potatoes for vodka, rice for sake, grapes for wine and brandy, apples for cider and apple brandy, sugarcane for rum, and various grains for gin. Interestingly, in some jails, fruit juice is banned from the brekkie table in case the inmates encourage it to ferment; it might help them brew up (foment?) a rebellion.
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