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The first step, where the wort is prepared by mixing the starch source (normally malted barley) with hot water, is known as "mashing".Hot water (known as "liquor" in brewing terms) is mixed with crushed malt or malts (known as "grist") in a mash tun.In commercial brewing, the natural carbonation effect is often removed during processing and replaced with forced carbonation.Beer is distributed in bottles and cans and is also commonly available on draught, particularly in pubs and bars.It is likely that many cultures, on observing that a sweet liquid could be obtained from a source of starch, independently invented beer.Bread and beer increased prosperity to a level that allowed time for development of other technologies and contributed to the building of civilisations.The brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.The strength of modern beer is usually around 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (abv), although it may vary between 0.5% and 20%, with some breweries creating examples of 40% abv and above.

Alongside the basic starch source, the early European beers might contain fruits, honey, numerous types of plants, spices and other substances such as narcotic herbs.

Historically, the most famous of these was the Reinheitsgebot, which applied to parts of the Holy Roman Empire and Germany and required beer to be made from only water, hops, and barley.

Today in Canada, the Canadian Government’s Food and Drug Regulations state that beer must have alcohol content that ranges from 1.1% to 8.6%, though it also includes a stipulation that it could be greater than 8.6% and labeled accordingly.

In 2010, China's beer consumption hit 450 million hectolitres (45 billion litres), or nearly twice that of the United States, but only 5 per cent sold were premium draught beers, compared with 50 per cent in France and Germany. A dedicated building for the making of beer is called a brewery, though beer can be made in the home and has been for much of its history.

A company that makes beer is called either a brewery or a brewing company.

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