Beer Is Made of 4 Main Ingredients.. What Are They?
Welcome to Grand Rapids, where the beer flows at almost the rate of the Grand River. Everywhere you go in the city, it seems you will find plenty of beer. While you may enjoy drinking it (responsibly, of course!), how much do you really know about beer itself? Welcome to The Beer Chronicles, where we take a journey through all things beer! First stop, the main ingredients.
What are the ingredients in beer?
Beer has four main ingredients:
- Water- The main ingredient in beer.
- Barley- Barley gets processed into malt before brewing.
- Yeast- Yeast is the main catalyst for fermentation.
- Hops- The bitterness found in beer comes from hops.
Water makes up between 85% and 95% of the composition of beer. Because of this, the quality and even the source of the water has a huge impact on beer. Depending on the bitterness of the beer’s flavor profile, different regions’ water works well with different types of beer. A soft water, for example, would work well with a light bodies pilsner. A more sulfuric water may be better for bitter beers, such as an IPA. The reason water from different areas tastes different, is the minerals found in the ground. Water located underground absorbs minerals, therefore they are found in the water’s composition.
Before the brewing process, barley must be converted into malt. The malting process is the collection of steps that gets barley to become malt. During malting, barley is germinated by soaking it in water until sprouts form and essential enzymes are activated. This portion of the process takes about 24 hours. The germinated barley then goes into a kiln, where it gets roasted to end the germination process, as well as brown the grains’ sugars. The longer the roasting time, the darker and richer the flavor and aroma of the malt.
Malt has a huge impact on a few different characteristics in beer, and there are a few different types, such as base malt. Malt affects the flavor and color, as well as the aroma and “mouth feel” of the beer it helps create. The starch found in the barley and malt is crucial to the fermentation process as well, as it provides fuel for the yeast.
Yeast determines if the main style of final brew is a lager or an ale. Each style requires different temperatures in their tanks. Yeast ferments differently at different temperatures. It ferments at a higher temperature and on top of the tank for ales, and at lower temperatures on the bottom of lager tanks. I use a little trick to remember the difference between the two: Ale starts with a, like the word “above”. The word above refers to the top (sort of), so I remember ale is fermented “above”, or at the top of the tank. Lagers start with the letter “L”, like the word “lower”. Since the word “lower” refers to the bottom (again, sort of), I think of lagers fermenting at a lower position in the tank, as well as lower temperatures. I will elaborate on the different types of beer in a later blog!
Yeast is crucial to the brewing process for a variety of reasons. It brings genetic diversity to the brew, creates aromas, and ferments sugars into ethanol and co2. Wild yeast also impacts a beer’s outcome. If it gets into a batch, wild yeast produces unique, sour flavors. Wild yeast is loaded with esters, which produce fruity aromas, and phenols, which produce a clove flavor.
There are two basic types of hops. Bittering hops are added to the beer at the beginning of the boiling process, and are also known as kettle hops. Aroma hops are added to the tank about a half hour before the end of the boiling process, and provide floral or citrus flavors, among others. Hops are important to beer for a variety of reasons. The bitterness provided by hops balances out the sweetness that the malt introduces. Different types of hops are used for the varying aromatics provided, as well as the unique flavors offered. Even light beers such as lagers have some hops in them to balance. Hops also can be used for preservation of the beer, as they have antimicrobial properties.
The amount of bitterness present in a beer can be measured using IBU’s, or International Bitterness Units. The higher the number, the more bitter the beer. In most cases, IBU can be an accurate representative of bitterness in flavor, but not in all cases. When it comes to a robust beer like an imperial stout, the malt profile is so powerful that it balances out the bitterness. The IBU of an imperial stout can be very high, yet still be a sweet beer.
Now that you know the very basics for what goes into beer, you can hold a conversation with your friends and impress them with your new knowledge! Be sure to research more into the details of each ingredient that goes into beer to find out more about them. Beer is such a complex, yet simple beverage that it is no wonder they call brewers artists. Go out and explore Beer City, and try some new beers while you are at it! Cheers!