Beer in its elements
Given the almost overwhelming variety of types and styles of beers that you can buy these days, you might imagine that there are dozens of ingredients that go into beer. While it’s true that some beers do add some extras such as fruit or coffee, all beers really only consist of four ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast. Like using the six strings on a guitar to make a whole world of music, expert manipulation of these four elements gives us a whole universe of beer. Here’s what each brings to the mix.
Water way to live
Like the people who consume it, beer is mostly water – around 90 percent to be exact. All of the ingredients are mixed with water at some point, and so the nature of the water is crucial to the beer’s final flavor. How so? Well, water can be hard or soft (depending on the calcium levels in the local area), and it can contain diverse levels of minerals that will affect its natural pH levels (the measure of acid or alkaline). Beer manufacturers will look for unchanging water supplies to make sure that their beers taste consistent.
The barley grain is the source of the sugars that are going to turn into that magic ingredient: alcohol. Once the grain is harvested, it is soaked in water for different amounts of time to prepare its starches for fermentation. This starts a process called germination, which results in these inherent sugars being produced. The process is stopped by applying heat, which is known as roasting the barley. The length of the roast influences the color and flavor of the final beer, and slight variations in this process by skilled brewers results in different beer aromas and body types.
Hops are conical flowers of the hop plant, and they can be added fresh (or ‘wet’) or they can be dried and processed and added ‘dry’ (this is the most common way that they are used). Beer without hops would be way too sweet, and so they mainly act as a balancing agent for the flavor, introducing levels of bitterness that give beer its distinctive taste. This is the most noticeable in beers such as India Pale Ales (IPAs), which put that hoppy flavor to the forefront of the final product.
Beast from the Yeast
The final important ingredient is a relatively late addition. Beer had been made for hundreds of years before yeast was introduced to the process, but now it is universally used. Yeast is essentially a fungus, and it reacts with the sugars created in the malting process to create alcohol and carbon dioxide, giving the beer some welcome carbonation. The role of the brewer is often to control the environment of the brewing beer so that the yeast can do its job most effectively. Yeast doesn’t have too much of an influence on the final flavor of the beer, but without it, beer would be weak and flat.
Side Hustle Brews
It pays to know the basics to fully appreciate your beer. We at Side Hustle love sharing our knowledge and passion for fresh, full flavored beer. Follow us on Instagram for details of our next online meet up and in person beer tasting events.