Considering the huge selection of beer styles available, it’s easy to forget most of these brews are made with only 4 ingredients: malt, yeast, water, and hops.
In this installment of BeerWise Dads we’re going to take a quick look at the four main ingredients of beer to give you a better understanding of what’s in your beer. Upcoming articles in this series will go deeper into the complexities of each of these ingredients.
Cereal grains, usually barley, are steeped in water to initiate germination. The process of germination converts the grain’s starches so they are fermentable. When the grains have reached the perfect stage, they are removed from moisture and germination is halted with heat. The partially germinated grain is then dried and roasted into malt. Malt gives the primary flavors to beer, particularly the sweetness.
The alcohol and carbonation of beer are by-products of yeast feasting on the fermentable sugars of the malt. Brewers can choose among hundreds of strains of yeast and each affect the amount of carbonation, the head (foam on top of a poured beer), and lingering aftertastes that range from fruity and flowery all the way to buttery and spicy.
If you’ve done any traveling, even local travel, you know the taste of water can change from community to community. Although subtle, the water used in brewing does have an effect on flavor.
The hops used in beer is the flowering cone of the hops plant which is a vine plant. Much like juniper or pine, hops has a very bright smell and flavor that is floral and zesty. On the tongue the flavor is interpreted as bitter.
The bitter of hops balances the sweet of the malt and gives beer it’s complexity. There are hundreds of varieties of hops, each with its own unique characteristics of flavor and aroma. Hops also act as a preservative, help stabilize carbonation, and enhance the head of the poured beer.
Next time you pour yourself a cold one, take a look at the list of ingredients. If you are so inclined, try to identify the different flavors and where they might come from; but don’t overthink it – just enjoy it.