What Ingredients are in Beer?
What is beer made of? This is one of the most commonly asked questions aspiring home brewers have, and thankfully it has a nice simple answer.
There are four main ingredients in beer: hops, grains or malt extract (depending on the method you’re using), yeast, and water.
The role of the different ingredients:
Water – Without water, beer (or any beverage for that matter) would be impossible. Since more than 95% of the final product is water, the quality of water used will greatly impact the final product’s quality.
Yeast – Yeast is what turns your sweet brown “tea” into beer. It is a single-celled organism that consumes sugar and converts it into alcohol and CO2 through fermentation.
Grains – Barley is the most common grain used today, although there are beers that use wheat, corn, sorghum, or rice. If you’re using the All Grain method, you’ll purchase barley in its whole form. If you’re using the extract method, you’ll purchase barley malt, which is a mixture of sugar and soluble starches ready for fermentation.
Hops – Hops provide flavor and aroma to your DIY beer. They also counteract the residual sweetness from fermentation and act as a bacterial inhibitor. Different types of hops produce different flavors.
Different Fermentation of Beer: Lagers vs Ales & Hybrids
All beers are classified as either lagers or ales based on the type of yeast used.
Lagers are brewed with yeast that ferments at the bottom of the mixture.
Ales are brewed with yeast that ferments at the top.
Wild and Sour Ales are made using spontaneously fermenting yeasts, which give them their distinct qualities.
So, even if you’re brewing beers of a similar style, the taste, aroma, and consistency may vary.
You can learn more about each fermentation method here: Lagers vs Ales
Brewing Methods: All Grain or Extract Brewing?
Before learning how to make beer at home, you need to decide which brewing method you want to use.
Essentially, there are two types available to homebrewers: all grain and extract.
In the step-by-step homebrewing guide on how to make your own beer, we’ll explain the extract process. However, it’s good to know a bit about both methods so you can choose the one you prefer.
All Grain Brewing – All grain brewing involves extracting sugars from the grain through a process called mashing. This is necessary to convert the grain’s starches into fermentable sugars.
Mashing grains is not like mashing potatoes, so don’t reach for the potato masher. Instead, soaking the grain in cold water releases the starches and allows the enzymes within the grain to break down into fermentable sugars.
Once this is done, the resulting sugars are rinsed from the grains through a process called sparging.
The rest of the process after extracting fermentable sugars from the grain is the same as extract brewing, which we’ll explain next.
Extract Brewing – With this method, you can skip the mashing step because someone else has already done it for you. They have packaged the results as a liquid or dry malt extract, which, along with other necessary ingredients, comprise a kit you can buy to kick-start the brewing process.
While brewing your own beer with malt may cost more, many people opt for this method due to the time and effort saved.