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Water is one of the four main ingredients in beer. Considering beer is 90 – 95% water, it is obviously very important! Properly balancing the amounts of calcium, magnesium, sulfates, etc… are key to certain beer styles. Typically, if the water is good enough to drink, it’s good enough to make beer with!
Barley is the second of the four ingredients in beer. Barley is a grain that is malted (think drying) so that it makes the seeds’ resources (starches) available to the brewer. These starches are important because they are later converted into sugar, which is needed for creating alcohol.
Hops are the third item needed for making beer. Hops provide bitterness to beer, balancing out the sweetness that malted barely provides. Hops also act as a preservative, helping beer not to spoil. Hops are actually flowers and are available in over a hundred different varieties. Hops contribute to both the flavor and aroma of beer.
Yeast is the last of the four main ingredients in making beer. Yeast’s job is to consume the sugars in sweet wort and produce alcohol, as well as CO2. There are many different types of yeast, each one creating a specific flavor in each beer. There are two main types of yeast – ale and lager, which are discussed below!
Malted barley is soaked in hot water for an hour – this is the “mash”. The liquid is sucked out of the mash and then boiled, at which time hops are added. The liquid is now referred to as ‘wort’. The wort is then cooled and transferred to a fermentation vessel, where the yeast is added. After two weeks or so, the beer is then kegged and served!
When yeast is added to the wort, the yeast will eat all of the sugars that were a result of the mashing process. During this time, the yeast will excrete alcohol! Depending on the type of beer being brewed and the yeast being used, this process can take anywhere from 7 – 28 days.
In many beer styles, specifically IPAs, hops are also added directly to the fermenting beer. This is called dry hopping! The purpose of this process is to add even more flavor and aroma to the beer as the oils and compounds in hops aren’t boiled off – just wonderfully soaked up by the fermenting beer!
The bubbles! After fermentation, the beer is packaged (in our case, kegged) and carbonation is added to the beer. Without carbonation, beer is thin, watery, dull, and lifeless. Carbonation gives beer a “spritziness” that allows the beer to dance on your tongue! Certain beers styles are more carbonated than others. For example, Belgian styles are highly carbonated where stouts are lightly carbonated.
Stands for International Bitterness Units. IBUs represent the actual bitterness of beer, which is a result of the alpha acids from hops. Bitterness, however, is subjective and typically determined by each drinker’s palette. Beers with 20 or less IBUs have virtually no hop presence at all, where beers with 45 or more IBUs (depending on the alcohol content) are considered bitter. Many IPAs (like PetSkull’s The 220 Double IPA) are upwards of 100 IBUs!
The color system used by brewers to identify the color of beer. For example, a standard American lager has an SRM of 2, an amber has an SRM of 13, and a stout has an SRM of 45.
There are over 100 different styles of beer, but they all fall under one of two categories – ales or lagers. The major ingredient that determines if something is an ale or a lager is the yeast. Yeast is either ale or lager yeast. Examples of ales include Stouts, IPAs, Hefeweizens, and Pale Ales. Examples of lagers include Pilsners, Oktoberfests, Mai Bocks, and Dopplebocks. Lagers are typically very clear and are aged longer than ales.
Stands for Alcohol by Volume and is measured in percentages. ABV indicates how much alcohol a beer contains. Lower-end beers have ABVs in the range of 4 – 6%, mid-range beers 6 – 8%, and high-range beers 9 and higher. Examples of stronger beers include Russian Imperial Stouts, Barleywines, and Belgian Dark Strongs, which typically clock in at 11% or higher! What makes a beer stronger than another? The amount of barley used in the mash! More barley equals more sugar which equals bigger ABV!