In 2018, global beer consumption totaled over 188 million kiloliters, or about 400 billion pints. That’s roughly 50 beers per person on earth, making it the third most popular beverage behind water and tea. It’s been drunk all over the world with evidence dating back to 10,000 BCE, but what is it exactly? Beer is made up of four basic ingredients — water, a starch source, flavoring, and brewer’s yeast. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these ingredients.
Water accounts for 93% of a beer’s weight making it the main ingredient. Brewers need to take into account the mineral profile of the water they are using to brew, as it will affect the outcome of the brew. Natural water profiles led to regional developments of certain beers around the world such as Bavarian pilsners, Irish stouts, or English pale ales. As the science of brewing has progressed, we are now able to add minerals to the water being used in order to get a water profile that will work for what type of beer in being brewed, no longer having to rely on whatever water is available to (potentially) negatively impact the brew.
Starches that can be used to brew beer include rice, oats, and wheat; but the most common is malted barley so we will focus on that one. Malting is a process that involves soaking the grain in water and then drying it in a kiln. This process allows the grain to create enzymes that convert the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars.The grains can be heated for longer periods of time for darker malts that have different flavors and colors in the finished product.
Next are the hops which give aroma and flavor to the beer. There are about 80 different types of hops available today. There are two different categories of hops — bittering and aroma. They are used on their own or in combination to create different flavors and types of beers. Their bitterness is measured in “International Bitterness Units” which you will sometimes find on craft beer labeled as “IBUs.” The scale typically runs from five (very low bitterness) to 120 (very high bitterness). Just for an idea of the measure, a pilsner or lager will range anywhere from 10-50 on the scale, while an IPA can top out at 120. Hops also have antibiotic properties that help the beer during the fermentation process and also act as a preservative. Fruit, herbs, and even coffee can also be added for different flavor profiles if desired, but hops remain the main flavoring ingredient.
The last ingredient we will take a look at is the yeast. Yeast metabolizes the sugars that are produced by the grain and ferments it into alcohol, thus creating the beer. The type of yeast used also has an influence on the flavor and type of beer that is created as the finished product. There are two main types of yeast used for beer and they are divided into ale and lager yeasts.The biggest difference in brewing is that ale yeasts ferment at a much higher temperature than lager yeasts. If the brew isn’t kept at the correct temperature during fermentation, the alcohol will not be produced correctly.
So, how do all of these things come together to create beer? We will break it down in the simplest terms. First you steep the grains in boiling water like it’s a giant batch of tea. You remove the grains, add your hops and continue to boil to extract the acids in the hops that give aroma and flavor. Now you have what is called “wort” and it needs to be cooled before we can add the yeast. Once it’s cooled, the yeast is added and the fermentation vessel is sealed with an airlock, to allow gas bubbles caused by the fermentation process to escape. This process can take 1-2 weeks and when it’s done it’s ready for bottling or kegging. After that, it’s time to pour one and enjoy.
Keep an eye out for future articles where we will dive a little deeper into different styles of beer. Cheers!