Beer Ingredients: Knowing what is in Your Beer

With new brands and flavors of beer coming out all of the time, it is important for the adventurous beer drinker to have a thorough knowledge of the ingredients used to make all of the different types. Different ingredients produce diverse flavor and color results during the beer making process. If you have a preference for a particular style, or desire to avoid certain types for reasons such as allergies, then knowing the ingredients can help you choose from a variety of beer options.

The primary ingredients used to make beer are water, malted barley, hops and yeast. Other like flavoring, sugar and starches can be combined as well. Starches are used in the mashing process to create fermented sugars and enzymes that will determine the alcohol content, body, and taste of the beer.

beer mug next to hops

The main ingredient in beer is water. While it is easy to assume that all water is the same, this cannot be farther from the truth. The source of the water, its mineral content and where it is from can play a large role in the character of a beer. Generally, hard water, or water with higher mineral content is more suited for darker beers while soft water is ideal when brewing the lighter alternative.

Barley is the most commonly used malt due to its high amylase content. Additionally, barley contains a digestion enzyme that helps breakdown starches into sugars. Depending on the local region and brewery preferences, other malted or non-malted grains can be used in the brewing process. These include wheat, rice, oats and rye.

Malting is a process that happens when a grain germinates. Once the grain is soaked in water, it begins to grow. At this point, the grain is then dried in a kiln preserving the enzymes that will eventually transform the starches in into fermenting sugars.

Hops have been used as a bittering agent in beer since the 17th century. This bitter flavor helps balance the sweet taste of the malts and this process sometimes even results in flavors that are considered earthy, or have hints of citrus. The bitterness level of beer, as a result of hops, is typically measured on an international scale. Hops also provides an antibiotic element that prevents the yeast from producing bacteria.

Yeast is a microorganism that is responsible for fermentation. The type of beer being made is determined by the yeast that is used. The 2 main types of yeasts that are typically used by brewers are ale and lager, though others are available as well. Yeast helps to metabolize the sugars that are extracted from the grains.

Though the ingredients used to make beer are simple to obtain and have not changed much over the centuries, it is important to be aware of the actual processed used to brew the beer. This will help to ensure that you are making exactly what you want when it comes to flavor, body, color and bitterness. Once you get the process down, you can even start experimenting with different styles and flavors.