Homebrewers use a variety of ingredients to make beer. The most commonly used ingredients include malt, malt extract, hops, yeast, and water. See the descriptions of each of these below. In addition, homebrewers may use other ingredients, such as herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, sugars, unmalted grains, and more, giving homebrewers an infinite variety of flavor options when making beer.
For descriptions of a wide array of ingredients used in beer, as well as brewing equipment, procedures, and homebrew recipes, check out the American Homebrewers Association’s Homebrewopedia.
- Malt extract is made from malted barley or malted wheat to allow homebrewers to skip the mashing procedure used in commercial breweries, thus simplifying the beer making experience.
- Malt extract is used as the basis for most homebrews, providing the sugars that the yeast consumes to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- Malt extract comes in a variety of forms. You can purchase malt extract as a hopped kit in a can, plain liquid, or in dried powdered form.
- Malt extract also comes in a variety of colors for making different styles of beer, including extra light, light, amber, and dark.
Though homebrew can be made just with extracts, most homebrew recipes include some form of malted grain.
- Specialty malts, such as crystal malt, chocolate malt (not the stuff you get at the baseball park), and black malt can be added to extract brews to create different styles of beers like pale ales, porters, and stouts.
- It is possible to brew without any extracts by mashing malted grains.
- All-grain brewing involves mashing base malts such as pilsner or pale ale malts in place of the extract.
- Unmalted grains such as oats, wheat, or roasted barley are sometimes used in the brewing process as well.
- Hops are flowers used to add balance, as well as flavor and aroma to beer.
- Bittering hops - hops added early on in the boil process - provide bitterness to the beer to balance the sweetness of the malt.
- Hops added at the end of the boil, referred to as finishing hops, add flavor and aroma to the beer. Adding hops directly to the fermenter, or dry hopping, lends additional hop aroma to the beer.
- Hops also serve as a natural preservative, helping to prevent spoilage in beer.
- Hops come as either whole flowers or compressed pellets (think rabbit food).
- There are many varieties of hops available to homebrewers, allowing for great diversity of flavors and aromas.
- Different hops are used to brew different styles of beer. For example, cascade hops give American pale ales their distinct citrusy quality, fuggles hops have an earthiness common in English-style ales, and saaz hops lend the spicy/herbal character found in European pilsners.
Yeast makes beer by converting sugars from malt or malt extract into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Beer yeast is sold in two forms: dried and liquid.
There are two major classes of yeast: ale and lager.
- Ale yeast is a top fermenting yeast (meaning it is most active near the surface of the fermenting beer) that ferments at warmer temperatures, generally between 55 and 75 °F (13-24 °C).
- Ale yeast tends to produce fruity flavors and aromas, which vary in character and strength, depending on the yeast.
- Lager yeast is a bottom fermenting yeast (meaning it is most active near the bottom of the fermenting beer) that ferments at colder temperatures, generally between 32 and 55 °F (0-13 °C).
- Lager yeasts tend to be neutral in flavor and aroma and thus do not produce the fruity esters found in ale yeasts.
- Beers fermented with lager yeasts are usually cold stored at temperatures below 45 °F (7 °C) following primary fermentation for a period of a few weeks to several months-a process known as "lagering."
- Beer yeast is sold in two forms: dried and liquid.
Making up 90-95 percent of beer, water is an important ingredient in the brewing process.
- Tap water will work, but overly chlorinated water can result in harsh flavors in the finished beer.
- Chlorine can be removed by boiling or filtering, or you may choose to use bottled water.
- Factors such as mineral content and pH of brewing water can a have significant effect upon the final product, although these are of less concern in extract beers than in all grain beers.
- Certain minerals may be added to beer to achieve flavors found in beers brewed in certain areas of the world, for example the famous English pale ales of Burton-on-Trent are brewed with the very hard water found in that region.
- The more common minerals used in brewing include Calcium Sulfate (gypsum), Calcium Chloride, Sodium Chloride (table salt), and Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salt).
Water Photo © 2010 Shutterstock, LLC.