In order to brew your own beer, you must understand an important question: what is beer made of. Some of the roles that the ingredients play might surprise you. For instance, did you know that both hops and marijuana are members of the same hemp family of flowering plants named Cannabacea. How about the role that yeast plays in the beer making process? Strap on your learning hats (with beer holders attached, of course) and be prepared to go on one hell of a sudsy adventure.
Barley is the seed of a grain that appears similar to wheat. Barley can’t be used to make beer until it goes through a process called Malting. Malting allows the seed to open the husk and begin to sprout. At this point it is considered ‘green malt’. At this point, the barley contains a number of nutrients, which are mainly starches, that are important for the seed to grow. During the beer making process, the brewer converts the starches into fermentable sugars that the yeast will eat to produce CO2 and alcohol.
The malting process involves stopping the germination (or growth of the seed) so that we can use the nutrients to make beer. The green malt is dried and parts of the malt is removed (such as roots) to prepare it to be made into beer. Temperature is varied during the malting process in order to change the color and flavor of the malt.
The hops we use for beer brewing is actually the female cone of the hop vine. Hops are often associated with beer more so than most of other ingredients, for good reason. Hops have played an important role in the making of beer for over a thousand years. Beers such as India Pale Ales are known for their bitterness, strong flavor and complex aroma. These characteristics come from the type and quantity of hops added during various stages of the beer making process. Hops not only add oils that impart these flavors and aromas but also play a key role in eliminating the formation of any bacteria that could spoil the beer. There is over a hundred different types of hops used for beer making. (Bad pun ahead) Now that’s a trend I could hop on!
Of all the single-celled organisms in this tiny blue dot we call Earth, I must say that yeast is my favorite. They are like a little beer engine doing what they can to eat all the delicious sugars and fart out CO2 and alcohol. While yeast farts usually have a different meaning (you’ll know the feeling after kicking back a few yeasty beers), the so-called ‘farts’ of yeast are integral to the brewing process. Without them, we would not have the sugar to alcohol conversion that makes beer.
The type of yeast has a huge impact on the flavor and outcome of your home-brewed beer. Combining the right yeast, malt and hops can make that perfect brew. So how do you choose the right yeast? The big difference is between whether it is an Ale Yeast or a Lager Yeast. Ale Yeast is top fermenting, which means that during fermentation this yeast rises to the top and does most of it’s job near the surface. It ferments at a higher temperature around 68-72 F (21 C). Lager Yeast is, you guessed it, bottom fermenting. It prefers much cooler temperatures, around the 45 to 50 F (10C). Due in part of the cooler temperature, lagers are a little trickier to brew at home unless you have a dedicated fridge.
Water comprises something like 97% of beer. That’s actually a statistic I made up- but I theorize is probably not too far from the truth. Beer is mostly water, so if there is something wrong with the quality of your water, the taste of your beer might suffer. Varying levels of minerals in the water can affect the beer’s taste. The most important takeaway is to make sure the water is free from fluoride or other items that might negatively impact the taste. When in doubt, buy a few gallons from the store.