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7 surprising facts about beer
Cheers!
 
Why yes, the man behind this delicious Irish stout is the same one who created the fact-filled book.
Why yes, the man behind this delicious Irish stout is the same one who created the fact-filled book. (Tobias Hase/dpa/Corbis)

From hops' kinship to a certain illicit green herb to brewing yeast hibernating inside insects, the beer world brims with deliciously unexpected stories. To spark your next barstool conversation, here are seven surprising things you didn't know about beer... until now.

Weeding out the truth
There's a reason that dank, pungent IPAs and double IPAs smell like a medical-marijuana dispensary. Genetically speaking, hops and cannabis are both members of the Cannabaceae family. Just don't try to smoke them: Hops contain no mood-altering THC.

For the record
In 1951, Guinness' managing director Sir Hugh Beaver was enmeshed in an argument about Europe's fastest game bird: The grouse or the koshin golden plover. Unable to find a suitable answer, he decided that there was probably a market for a fact-filled book. In 1955, The Guinness Book of Records was published.

Gutsy brews
During the winter, Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast — it's used to brew beer — has a safe, warm refuge in the guts of wasps. There are rare cases of humans harboring the strain, resulting in "auto-brewery syndrome": The yeast converts starches into alcohol, effectively "brewing" beer in your gut.

Whiskey's sudsy origins
Whiskey starts its life as beer. More specifically, as a distiller's beer, or wash, that's made with malted barley, water, and yeast, and then distilled and usually aged in charred oak barrels. The key factor separating distiller's beer from regular beer: No hops. That distiller's beer is then distilled to make whiskey.

New York City: America's first beer town
In 1612, Hans Christensen and Adrian Bloch opened the first brewery in British North America in New Amsterdam — the future home of New York City. By the 1620s, Dutch settlers had started planting hops throughout Manhattan.

Skunky science
Whether the glass is brown, green, or clear, every bottle lets in ultraviolet light, which can cause beer to smell skunky. That's a result of the presence of hops, which, when boiled, release isohumulones. When light strikes these chemicals, they create chemical compounds that are also found in skunks' spray.

America's two beers
Yes, the craft beer boom has resulted in thousands of brews for Americans to choose from. But only two styles of beer are indigenous to the United States. The first is cream ale, which contains zero dairy. Instead, it is fermented warm, then conditioned at colder temperatures for a crisp profile. The second style is California Common, a lager fermented with a special yeast that functions better at toastier temperatures. The iconic example is Anchor Steam, which has copyrighted the moniker.

 
Joshua M. Bernstein
Joshua M. Bernstein, author of The Complete Beer Course, is a Brooklyn-based beer, spirits, food, and travel journalist.

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