What Is Beer Made Of?

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Beer drinkers are often curious about the ingredients that go into their favorite beverage. Though the answer may vary depending on the country and brewer, beer is typically made from water, malt, yeast, and hops. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at each of these ingredients and what they add to the overall flavor of beer. Cheers!

About Malted Barley in Beer

Malted barley is the most common grain used in brewing beer. The process of malting involves soaking the barley in water, allowing it to germinate, and then kilning (or drying) the grains. This activates enzymes in the grain that convert starches into fermentable sugars. These sugars will eventually be eaten by yeast, which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.

Barley that has been malted still contains a lot of starch, so it must be mashed (or heated) in order to break down these complex carbohydrates into fermentable sugars. Mashing also helps extract color and flavor compounds from the grain husks.

Different types of malt will produce beers with different colors and flavors. For example, pale malt will give beer a light color and subtle flavor, while roasted malt will add a dark color and roasted flavor to the finished product.

About Hops in Beer

Hops are the flowers of a climbing plant in the Cannabaceae family, which also includes hemp and marijuana. Hops have been used in brewing beer for centuries and play an important role in giving beer its characteristic bitterness.

Bittering hops are added early in the brewing process and contribute to the overall bittering of the beer. Aroma hops are added later in the process and provide a more subtle hop flavor and aroma.

Different hop varieties will impart different flavors and aromas to beer. For example, Cascade hops are often used in IPA’s and have a citrusy, floral aroma, while Chinook hops are often used in porters and stouts and have a more piney, resinous flavor.

About Yeast in Beer

Yeast is a single-celled organism that is responsible for fermentation in beer. During fermentation, yeast eats the sugars extracted from malt and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.

Different strains of yeast will produce beers with different flavors and aromas. For example, Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a common strain of brewing yeast that produces fruity esters and gives beer a slightly sweet flavor. On the other hand, Brettanomyces bruxellensis is a strain of wild yeast that often imparts a sour, funky flavor to beer.

Yeast also plays a role in determining the alcohol content of beer. Generally speaking, the higher the fermentation temperature, the higher the alcohol content of the finished beer.

About the Water in Beer

Water is the most abundant ingredient in beer, making up about 90-95% of the total volume. Though water doesn’t contribute much to the flavor of beer, it does play an important role in the brewing process. The mineral content of water can affect how well enzymes work to convert starches into fermentable sugars, which can ultimately impact the flavor of the finished beer.

Different types of water will produce beers with different flavor profiles. For example, water from the Burton-upon-Trent region in England is high in calcium sulfate, which gives beer a dry, crisp flavor. In contrast, water from the Pilsen region of the Czech Republic is high in sodium sulfate, which gives beer a softer, rounder flavor.

It’s important to note that you don’t need to use special brewing water to make good beer. If your tap water tastes good, it will probably make good beer!

Different Types of Beer and Their Ingredients

Now that we know the basics of what goes into beer, let’s take a look at how these ingredients are used to make different types of beer.

Pale Ale: Pale ales are made with pale malt and typically use hops that impart a floral, citrusy flavor. Common examples of pale ales include Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Stone Pale Ale.

IPA: India Pale Ales are made with pale malt and use hops that impart a strong, bitter flavor. Common examples of IPA’s include Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and Stone IPA.

Porter: Porters are made with dark malt that gives them a chocolate-like flavor. Common examples of porters include Founders Porter and North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.

Stout: Stouts are made with dark and roasted malt to impart a coffee-like flavor, with minimal bitterness from hops. Common examples of stouts include Guinness Draught and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.

Wheat Beer: Wheat beers are made with wheat malt and often have a slightly sweet flavor. Common examples of wheat beers include Blue Moon Belgian White and Hoegaarden Witbier.

Lager: Lagers are made with pale malt and use hops that impart a clean, crisp flavor. Common examples of lagers include Budweiser and Coors Light.

Bock: Bocks are made with dark malt and have a rich, malty flavor. Common examples of bocks include Shiner Bock and Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock.

In conclusion, beer is made with four basic ingredients: malt, hops, yeast, and water. The type of malt, hops, and yeast used will determine the flavor and character of the finished beer. There are many different types of beer, each with its own unique flavor profile. Whether you like your beer light and refreshing or dark and malty, there’s a beer out there for you!

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Carla Lauter was the founder of The Beer Babe and has been a beer blogger and expert for several decades. She's been interviewed in beer publications and podcasts about her favorite brews and the craft brewing scene. While she's ceased her involvement with The Beer Babe, her legacy remains in the various reviews and articles she has written.