When teaching about beer, I always like to start with this ingredient because even though the majority of beer is made up of water, there’s not really a whole lot to it, flavor-wise. Basically, brewers make sure to use clean, filtered water. Water from certain areas do have additional mineral components (like limestone here in KY) and that does slightly play into the finished beer, but it’s not something you’re really going to notice right off the bat.
The city of St. Louis filters all of the water in the city limits so that the Anheuser-Busch brewery doesn’t have to go through the trouble of doing so! The business pays the city to do this and all of the citizens have filtered water. We definitely enjoyed that tasty filtered water straight from the tap when we lived there!
Malt is made from barley and sometimes other grains, such as wheat. Barley is a great grain for brewing because of the high starch content–you’ll see why this is important soon. To make malt, barley is soaked in water where it begins to sprout. At this point, the barley is pretty bland and flavorless. Next, the grains are headed for the kiln. Here, the barley develops color, flavor, and aroma based on how long it is toasted. Without getting too much into the chemistry of it, this process is basically like taking raw onions and browning them to get caramel-y, rich goodness. To recap–malt is important for sugar and color/flavor. In the finished product, malt is brings color and grain-based flavors. Malt is why a stout, for example, is very dark in color and has a rich, chocolaty taste.
Now this is where the magic happens–or chemistry, whatever you prefer. I’m not science-y so I like to look at it as magic. Up to this point, before yeast is added, the beer is called wort. It’s a common saying that brewers make wort, but yeast makes beer! Yeast is a crazy little fungus! These guys eat up all of those sugars from the malt and release ethanol (AKA alcohol) and carbon dioxide. The specific strain of yeast that brewers use is called saccharomyces. This comes in two kinds–ale yeast and lager yeast. This is solely what distinguishes an ale from a lager. There are certainly other yeast strains and bacteria floating around everywhere, but for the most part, brewers try to keep this out of the beer. Besides making booze and fizzies, yeast is also bringing very distinct types of aromas and flavors to our beer party.
Oh, hops! Sometimes people hear ‘hops’ or ‘hoppy’ and start running for the hills because they immediately think bitterness. Hold up. Hops are cute little green nuggets that grow on bines (no, not vines) and contain resins that are bitter, but also can range greatly in flavor. This bitterness is actually really important because of all of the sugary malt we’ve already talked about. Even a sweeter beer, like a milk stout, is still going to contain a small amount of hops. It’s all about balance. Sometimes, the idea is not balance and brewers go crazy with all of the different varieties of hops out there to create beers that have characteristics of pine resin, green grassiness, and even tropical fruit like pineapple.
Hops are fairly similar to wine grapes–they grow well in the same regions and the terroir has a huge impact on the differing varieties.
This is so informative! I don’t know much about beer, but my husband loves it. I’m going to share your blog with him.
I went into this post knowing nothing about beer except that I love to drink it 😂 and now I know so much! Also, congrats on the launch! I’m in love with your site already!
I always think it’s so interesting that the same 4 ingredients are used to make beer, but it’s what you DO with them that results in the final product! So cool!!
So fun! Crazy that Anheuser pays for filtered water for the whole city! How nice of them hahah
This is so interesting. I can’t wait to keep learning from your blog posts!!
So interesting! Great read.
I feel enlightened! You’re going to teach me a lot! 😊
I’m so excited to learn more about how beer is produced. I’m not a huge beer drinker — bourbon and red wine are my thing — so I don’t know a ton about it. No idea why I’m surprised by how similar the process is to whiskey-making. It makes perfect sense that they would be very closely related!
This is really informative! I don’t have much experience with beer. I’m more of a bourbon connoisseur haha !