The ‘soul’ of beer
Different varieties of barley give beer its colour – from golden to black – and distinctive flavour – from bitter to sweet. It also gives beer its foamy head. Barley must be handled gently, and stored in cool, low-moisture environments.
The serial grain must be malted before being used, which is often done right where it is grown. During this process the grain is kiln-dried after having been germinated. Malting removes the active enzymes that turn starches into sugars.
The ‘life’ of beer
Yeast is a single-celled micro-organism responsible for the fermentation of the wort; the sweet liquid obtained from the soaked mixture of warm water and ground malt. Yeast converts malt sugar into alcohol.
Top-fermenting yeast (ale) produces fruity, robust flavours and maltier styles. Bottom-fermenting yeast (lager) produces a less fruity and crisper style. Brewers keep their own sterile cultures in safekeeping to ensure consistency and quality in future brews.
The ‘spice’ of beer
The unique aroma and bitter flavour of hops nicely counterbalances the sweetness of barley malt. Hops can be classified into aroma hops and bitter hops. Brewers often use a blend to strike the perfect balance, and even add hops at different moments in the brewing process to create a more refined taste.
Hops also have an antioxidant effect; they are used as a preservative that slows the aging of beer.
The ‘integrity’ of beer
Water is the unsung hero of beer’s ingredients. It constitutes up to 90% of the final product and affects the appearance, flavour and aroma of the beer through its mineral content.
Water is often boiled, filtered, tested and tasted before entering the brewing process. The ideal brewing water has a neutral taste and is soft.
The ‘body’ of beer
In addition to the barley malt, brewers may use other cereal grains to produce a lighter, crisper, and milder profile. Corn adds a subtle sweetness and lightness. Rye provides a spicy flavour and increases the colour or head.
Crisp, refreshing flavour
Wheat lightens the body and produces a crisp, refreshing tart flavour. Rice softens the body and feel, increases the alcohol content or adds sweetness. Oats provide a silky feel and mild flavour.
The ‘sweetness’ of beer
Fruits, as well as vegetables, can dramatically impact the flavour of beer. Belgian lambics most commonly use fruits like raspberry, cherry and peach, while some adventurous lambic brewers have used everything from bananas to black currant.
Raspberries and cranberries are also used in the non-lambic brewing world. In North America, pumpkin beer is sold in autumn, and some beers are spiced with hot chili peppers.
The ‘flavour’ of beer
A range of ingredients are used to create different beers with distinctive flavours: coriander is used in Belgian ‘witbier’ or wheatbeer, juniper berries in Finnish sahti, nutmeg and cinnamon in some winter beers, and ginger in many others.
Honey and sugar
In Ethiopian honey beer, honey is used primarily for its sweet flavour. Candy sugar, a common ingredient in strong Belgium ales, increases a beer's strength.