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The Backbone – 4 Main Ingredients

Water

As is the case with the human body, the most abundant ingredient in beer is water. Over 95% of your brew is made up of water. With such a large amount of your final product coming from a single ingredient, you can imagine how important it is to use good water.


Yeast

Yeast is the engine that makes the whole process go, without yeast, you would just have a sweet, brown, tea-like substance with no alcohol. Yeasts, part of the fungus family, are single-celled living organisms that eat sugars and convert them into alcohol and carbon dioxide through the process of fermentation.

The yeast used to brew beer is usually classified as “Beer Yeast” – yeasts that are specifically cultured for the purpose of brewing beer. There are two main types of beer yeast, lager yeast and ale yeast, and both are discussed further in Ales v. Lagers.


Malt – Traditionally Malted Barley

Malted barley is really nothing more than barley grains that have been soaked in water until they first begin to sprout. When the barley begins to sprout it draws on its starch reserves, which are transformed into simple sugars. This is the food we will be feeding to the yeast later. The barley is then dried and cured, creating a perfect source of sugar and soluble starches for the fermentation.

When it comes time to brew, the malted barley needs to be cracked and boiled in water in the process known as “mashing”.

As a side note, it is important to mention that not all beers use barley; it is just the most common grain used. Many styles and brewmasters will use wheat, oats, rye, or other grains (called adjuncts) in the brewing process.


Hops

Hops, are the “conelike” flowers that come from this vining plant. There are over 50 different recognized varieties of hops with names like Saaz and East Kent Goldings. Hops are used in beer much the same way spices are used in cooking – to enhance the flavor and smell of the final product.

During fermentation, not all of the sugars from the malt will be consumed – leaving the beer with a sweet smell and flavor. Hops, which add a certain degree of bitterness, a spicy flavoring, and a distinctive aroma, are especially useful in balancing this sweetness. However, this is not the only reasons that hops are used in brewing beer. Hops are also known to act as a bacterial inhibitor and as a natural clarifying agent.