Other than water, the main ingredient in most beers is malted barley. Barley on its own doesn’t contain the right enzymes or starches to produce alcohol. Through a process called “malting,” the grain is altered to gain these ingredients. The malting process involves partial germination of the seed followed by drying the grain with hot air to halt the process. Depending on temperature of the air used during the malting process, a range flavors can be achieved.
Hops, originally used as a preservative, have been used since the Middle Ages. Once this practice took hold, it wasn’t long until the flavors imparted by different types of hops became part of the overall beer drinking experience. Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant and impart tang and bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops also process some antibacterial properties that help prevent off flavors in beer. Today hops are used by brewers around the world to express the uniqueness of each individual brew.
When you drink beer, you are drinking mostly water. This fact means that water, and its mineral content, have a big impact on the final product. Generally speaking, water can be put into two categories: “hard” meaning it contains larger amounts of calcium, magnesium and other substances or “soft” which means it contains fewer of theses items. Brewers generally prefer harder water because calcium and magnesium play important roles in the actual brewing process. The water affects the final taste of the beer but can also impact the efficiency of the brewing process.
Yeast is crucial to the brewing process because to get beer, fermentation must occur. Alcohol is produced in beer when the yeast metabolizes the carbohydrates found in the wort, the substance produced after combining the malted grain, water and hops. Yeast can be put into two general categories: top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting. Top-fermenting yeasts, or ale yeasts, ferment at higher temperatures than their bottom-fermenting counterparts and can permeate the beer with desirable secondary flavors including apple, banana, plum and prune. Types of beer produced with top fermenting yeast include porters, stouts, pale ales and a host of rich, full-bodied Belgian and French brews. Bottom-fermenting yeasts do their work more slowly and at cooler temperatures. These beers tend to be cleaner and crisper and include lagers, pilsners, bocks, eisbocks and Vienna lagers.
Content provided by Jonathan Morgan, Martin Wine Cellar