The Basic Ingredients
beer consists of 4 main Ingredients:
Beer is over 90% water. Because
it is the main ingredient by volume, to brew good beer,
you need to start with good water. To keep it simple,
the water you use for brewing should be free from chlorine
or other chemicals, and should have some basic minerals.
A good rule of thumb: If the water is good to drink,
it is almost always good for brewing your own beer.
One exception is distilled water- distilled water has
no mineral content, which the yeast will need to ferment
the beer properly.
Most tap or spring water has a
dissolved mineral content sufficient for brewing with
barley malt extract. If using tap water and your tap
water is chlorinated, you should either filter the
water or boil it to remove the chlorine. Some municipalities
are now using Chloramine for water treatment. If this
is the case in your area, the water will have to be
filtered to remove the Chloramine as boiling will not
remove it. If you do not have a water filter, buy bottled
water or find a source of filtered water nearby. Many
grocery stores now have machines where you can buy
filtered water by the gallon, using your own container.
Barley malt, in whole grain
Barley malt is the chief ingredient
in beer next to water. It is the main source of fermentable
sugar, and also contains many minerals and vitamins
that help the yeast to grow. Most brewers start out
using barley malt extract, in syrup or powder form,
as in this form it is ready to boil up and ferment.
Barley malt is made from whole
barley, in a process called malting. First the grains
are sprouted and allowed to grow for a short time,
until the grain proteins have been converted into starch,
the ideal food source for young plants. When the seed
has reached the optimum starch content, the growth
is stopped by kilning the barley at low temperatures
to dry it out.
The darker specialty malts like
caramel and chocolate are made by heating the wet barley
to temperatures of about 150 oF. The heat
activates enzymes that are naturally present in the
barley grains, which convert the starches to sugars.
After the starch conversion is completed the grains
are roasted to caramelize the sugars. The temperatures
and length of time determine the final color of the
Barley malt extract is made by
mashing the pale barley malt in water to convert the
starches to sugars. After starch conversion, the sugars
which are dissolved in the liquid are rinsed through
the grains, a process known as sparging. The sweet
liquid is then condensed into barley malt extract or
spray dried into dry malt extract. This is usually
done at low temperatures in a vacuum environment to
preserve the light color of the barley malt extract.
Hops, in pelletized form
Hops, as used for brewing, are
the flowers of the hop plant, a climbing viney plant
that grows well in many climates. Hops contain acids
which add bitterness to beers is boiled for a period
of time. Adding bitterness to beer helps to balance
the sweetness of the beer, as well as acting as a natural
preservative. Hops also add flavor if boiled for a
shorter duration. If boiled for a very short time,
steeped at the end of the boil, or added fresh to the
fermenting beer, hops also add a delicate aroma to
As the oils present in hops that
add flavor and aroma are highly volatile, they are
easily lost in an extended boil. Thus , many recipes
for beer call for adding hops in 2 or 3 stages:
Bittering or boiling hops: If
boiled for over 45 minutes, a significant amount of
bittering from the hops is dissolved into the beer.
Flavor Hops: If boiled for 10-
20 minutes, the flavor compounds are released into
the beer without adding too much bitterness. Most of
the aroma is lost, even with a shorter boil.
Aroma or finishing hops: A delicate
hop aroma, a desired characteristic of many beers,
is infused into the beer if the hops are added in the
last 5 minutes of the boil, or steeped at the end of
the boil, or added to the fermenter. Adding hops in
the fermenter is called dry hopping.
Hops have not always been the
primary herb used in beer. Centuries ago, many other
herbs were used to add bittering, flavor, and medicinal
properties to beer and other fermented beverages. Some
of the herbs traditionally used in beer include mugwort,
heather, and wormwood
of yeast available to home brewers
(clockwise from top left)
liquid yeast in a foil self starting pouch
2 sizes), White labs liquid yeast in a 35
tube, Wyeast liquid yeast in a 150 ml tube,
dry ale & lager yeast's (Vierka Lager,
Edme Ale, Munton's Gold Ale, and Danstar
Ale) , and dry wine yeast (Red Star and
Without yeast, beer would not
exist. Yeast is a unique single cell organism that
eats sugar and expels alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeast
comes in many variations, or strains, and there are
two major categories of yeast that determine the type
of beer produced.
Ale yeast is the most commonly
used by home brewers. Ale yeast is top fermenting,
meaning that it concentrates near the top of the fermenting
beer. Because it thrives in warmer temperatures, usually
between 60 to 75 oF, ales can be fermented
at room temperatures without any temperature controlling
equipment. Examples of beers fermented with ale yeast
include Pale Ale, Nut Brown Ale, and Stout.
Lager yeast is a bottom fermenting
yeast that ferments at lower temperatures, usually
between 45 to 60 oF. After the lager is
fermented is is often allowed to condition in the fermenter
at very low temperatures (usually between 35 to 45 oF)
for 2 to 8 weeks. This process is called lagering.
Examples of beers fermented with lager yeast include
Pilsner, Marzen, and Bock.
Yeast for home brewing is available
in two forms, liquid and dry.
Dry brewers yeast is similar in appearance to common
bakers yeast (unless you want beer that tastes like bread,
stay away from bakers yeast for brewing), having a grainy,
powdery appearance. To produce this yeast, the living
yeast cells have been dehydrated carefully so that the
water inside of the living yeast cells is removed without
killing the yeast. When the dry yeast is introduced to
liquid, it becomes rehydrated and is ready for brewing.
To achieve the best results when using dry yeast, it
is a good idea to rehydrate the yeast in water, and then
add the rehyrated yeast to the unfermented beer. Dry
beer yeast is inexpensive and has a shelf life of 1 to
2 years if stored in a refrigerator. The selection of
dry yeast is limited, however.
Liquid brewers yeast is hydrated yeast in a hibernating
state stored in a liquid, and is available to home brewers
in two forms. Some yeast is available in a tube or vial
that is ready to pour into the fermenter; no preparation
of the yeast is required. Dozens of strains, both ale
and lager, are available. Liquid yeast in this form is
very perishable and is usually only viable if used within
4 months of production, unless a starter is made (see
our brewing tip, making
a yeast starter).
yeast is also available in a foil self starting pouch.
These pouches have a small bubble of sterile nutrient
solution sealed inside, floating in the liquid yeast
solution. Before brewing, the small inner bubble is popped
to mix the nutrients with the yeast. This new source
of nutrients causes the yeast to "wake up" from hibernation
and start to grow. This causes the foil pouch to swell,
indicating the yeast is ready to add to the fermenter.
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