Beer enthusiasts all differ on what makes beer taste good. Some people can even spend decades looking for the best-tasting brew.
Beer may cause many debates among seasoned drinkers, but all beer is made from four basic ingredients.
The way that these substances blend can give beer different flavors, but every beer will consist of the same ingredients. These are:
- Water, which gives the beer its volume
- Barley, a grain used to brew the beverage
- Hops, which give the beer its taste and smell
- Yeast, used to ferment the beer and make it alcoholic
We’ll cover more about the basic ingredients of beer below, including what they do and why they are so important in the brewing process.
If you’re interested in learning more about what ingredients make beer, keep reading!
Water is a very significant ingredient used to make beer. It makes up the volume of the beer, as much as 90% of the beverage.
Even though water doesn’t taste of anything, it’s the main substance within beer, and it has a great effect on how the beer tastes.
There are several factors that how water affects beer, including:
- Whether it is hard or soft
- Its pH level
- How much chlorine it contains
- Its mineral content
Water has an important part to play in the process, so it needs to be of good quality to ensure all the batches of beer are of the same consistency.
This is especially true for larger breweries that have many outlets across the globe. This is why the same beer brand can taste different in various locations, because of the water.
Water may make up most of the beer, but the next three ingredients used in the brewing process are where the beer starts to take its shape.
To brew beer, or any other alcoholic beverage for that matter, you’ll need sugar. Harvested barley needs to be prepared for fermentation, so it needs to go through a malting process.
This involves soaking barley in water for a while, which, through germination, turns the starchy carbohydrates into typical sugars. This will be particularly significant later when yeast is added to the brew.
The barley is then heated to stop the germination process, which is known as ‘roasting’ the grain. The amount of time you roast the barley will affect how the beer looks and tastes.
Hops look like small green flowers which are produced on a bine. A bine is like a vine, except it doesn’t have tendrils forming from it. The hops plants look like cones.
These will be filled with a sharp resin which is necessary to harmonize the beer’s flavors. Malt is very sweet, so the bitter notes in the resin will pare down its sweetness.
The moment you add the hops is also critical, as this will affect how the beer tastes. If you add the hops in earlier, the beer will have more bitter notes. Adding the hops later can give the beer a stronger flavor and smell.
Put simply, hops are important to give the beer its distinctive bitter taste. Hops were particularly important when used in IPA beer.
The British used to add more hops to beer before the bottles were shipped to India, giving the beverage a particularly strong taste.
There are lots of types of beer hops available, as many as 170 different kinds. If a beer has more hops, its IBU (International Bitterness Units) increases. The term ‘bitter’ may not sound that appealing, but in the case of beer, it’s an important factor.
As IPAs have become even more popular over the past two decades, beer brewers are always adding more hops to their brew, aiming to increase the bitterness and ‘hoppiness’ of their beverage.
Hops aren’t just needed as a stabilizer when making beer. Brewers now aim to create a beer with hoppy and bitter notes. The hops are very important, as they give beer its distinctive taste.
However, some beers don’t have hops in them, but this isn’t often done. Leaving the hops out when brewing beer can result in a drink that’s too sweet and ‘flat’.
Hops are important to balance out malt’s sweet notes, as well as add its defining bitter traits.
Out of all of the ingredients here, yeast may not seem the most intriguing. At first glance, it’s hard to see what this fine powder does. Despite this, yeast plays a pivotal role when brewing beer.
All beer needs to have yeast in it. Yeast is a type of fungus, it will digest the sugars created in the malting process, transforming them into carbon dioxide and ethanol.
Brewers will help the fungus do its job by giving it enough food to consume. They’ll also need to keep the light and temperature levels at an optimum level.
Once the yeast has been eating and transforming for a week, the environment will become uninhabitable for it to survive. When this occurs, the brewer can remove some of the yeast, in preparation for a new batch.
Yeast can affect how a beer tastes, but its main job is to create ethanol, making the beer alcoholic.
- If yeast is needed to make ale, the yeast will accumulate on top. It needs to be fermented at a temperature between 60-75°F.
- If yeast is needed to make lager, the yeast will ferment on the bottom. It will ferment at a cooler temperature range, between 40-50°F.
Ales taste much ‘heavier’, as they have more flavorful notes. Lagers, in comparison, are much lighter and taste fresher.
The Bottom Line
One brand of beer may taste different from the next, but at their core, they are all made from the same four ingredients: water, barley, hops, and beer.
Barley infuses the beer with sweet, malty notes, while hops balance out the drink with a classic bitterness. Yeast is necessary to ferment the beer and make it alcoholic.
Even water, which may seem tasteless, can give the beer a different taste depending on where the water was sourced from.
These all play pivotal roles in the beer-making process, though brewers can add other ingredients to their brew to give their product a different taste.