What’s in beer?

The answer to the question “What’s in beer?” is not as simple as it seems.

It depends on who you ask.

A professional brewer will tell you that they use only natural ingredients. Keep in mind that they consider salts and powdered minerals that they add to “harden” the water in the beer as “natural” ingredients. If you ask a chemist they will begin with the basic sugar maltose and then continue on finding trace elements absorbed out of the soil by the grain used in the brewing process as it grew in the field. Members of many social groups feel that beer is evil and that evil is in beer.

Let me try and construct an answer that meets the essential request of the question.

Water – The ingredient that makes up most of the beer in a glass, can, keg or cask is water. Brewers call the stuff we call water “liquor” when it is used in brewing. When it is used to flush the floor after a brew is finished is called water. How important is the quality or source of the water/liquor used in brewing? Remember the salts and minerals mentioned in the first part of this post? If the particular minerals and salts are not found in the water from a particular source the flavor of the beer is affected especially when combined with the oils from the hop and sugars from the malt. How does the liquor used in brewing beer get these salts and minerals in it? From the stones, rocks and soil that it passes through on its way to the aquifer of a particular region. Water from a well in Florida will have different mineral content than water from a spring in Maine. Particular brewing regions in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Czech Republic use the unique mineral content of the water in those regions to produce particular styles of brew. Can these styles of beer be brewed in other parts of the world? Yes. In the same way that pasta can be made in all parts of the world. However, pasta made in Rome incorporates the unique characteristics of the regional ingredients that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.  

Grain – The essence of fermented malt beverage is found in the malt. Any grain can be “malted”. To malt a grain is to bring it just to the point of germination, the point just before sprouting growth. This process allows the grain to develop the maximum amount of starch it will need to become a plant. This starch is turned into sugar (maltose) by enzymes found in the thin covering of the grain. The most efficient grain to malt is barley. This has been determined by those who first brewed beer and has not been challenged by the other grains since then. (Although there are some grains that find their way into the brewing process.) The color of the brew is determined by the amount of roasting done to the grain. The more it is roasted the more flavor. The more it is roasted the more detrimental it is to the enzymes that turn the starch into sugar. The more it is roasted the more has to be used.
Hops – These plants are particularly effective in providing contrasting flavor to the sugar from the malt. Female pinecone-shaped green flowers are what brewers use in the brewing process to add flavor and aroma to the brew. Each different hop type has particular flavors and aromas. The blending of these flavors and aromas is what makes each particular style of brew. The chemistry of the hop oils is still being explored. The flavors range from grapefruit to black cherry.

And that is what makes up fermented malt beverage.

Yeast – You say I forgot yeast?

There is no yeast in most beers. The yeast is removed before the fermented malt beverage is canned, bottled, kegged or tapped from the bright tank.

Yeast is what ferments the sweet sugar water flavored with hop flowers.

If you want to know about yeast just ask…

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