What’s in beer anyway?

Beer typically has only a few ingredients, but that still makes it more complex (some say more interesting ???? ) than other alcoholic beverages. Wine is essentially just fermented grape juice, cider is fermented apple juice, perry is fermented pear juice, and mead is fermented thinned out honey… but beer is more than one main ingredient.

The sugar that gets fermented to make beer’s alcohol comes from the wonderful grain known as barley. Depending on the style of beer, there may be some smaller proportion of wheat, oats, rye or even corn and rice.  The sugars from the barley and grains is suspended in water. Water is a hugely important ingredient because it makes up over 90% of a beer in almost every style of beer! Also, sometimes a local water source has different minerals which can make a big difference in the flavour a beer.

The sweetness from the grains is balanced or complemented by bitterness from hops. A little bitterness sometimes also comes from the grains, if they are well toasted before using them. Besides bitterness, hops can taste and smell like so many things! From fruity like citrus, apricots, pineapple, to herbal or grassy like menthol and green tea, even sticky pine resin or woody flavours and aromas… These are pretty magical flowers!  Finally, fermentation only happens because tiny organisms eat the sugar and transform it into alcohol and carbonation. These tiny organisms are almost always yeast. In very peculiar beers, certain bacteria are used instead of (or in addition to) the yeast, which creates a totally different flavour. Yeast sometimes stays out of the flavour and aroma game, letting the grain and hop qualities take centre stage. On the other hand, a brewer may choose a more characterful yeast that makes its own flavours and aromas – including tastes like black pepper or clove, and fruitiness like banana or apples and pears.
Even with just those four components- grain, water, hops and yeast- the combinations are pretty endless. Beyond these, brewers may add any number of weird and wonderful ingredients: spices of all sorts, citrus peels, marshmallows, birch twigs, fruit purees, chocolate bars, chili peppers, coconut flakes, breakfast cereal… If anything unusual has been added, they will be sure to note it on the label!  We’re sure you can find something delicious from your friendly – and creative! – local brewery.