What’s in My Beer?
Beer is one of the most versatile beverages in the world and comes in a huge variety of flavours and styles. From Indian pale ale (IPA) and stouts, to lager and amber ale, there’s a world of difference across the styles, leaving something for everyone. For the most part, all beers are made from just 4 key ingredients, expertly blended and manipulated by brewers to produce a spectrum of tastes and aromas.
Malt is the backbone of any beer, from craft lagers to real ales. In British beers malted barley is normally used to create a range of styles, though many other grains - such as wheat, corn, rice, rye, etc. - can also be used. Barley provides more sugar than most other grains, and provides a fuller flavour, making it the number one choice for brewers across Britain and around the world.
The sugars derived from malt will later be transformed into alcohol, but there’s much more to malt than sugar. Malt provides a wealth of flavours depending on how it is produced and also contributes to the body and colour of the finished beer. There are three main types of malt, split into further sub-categories.
- Base malt; used in large quantities, base malts are lightly kilned and packed full of starches and sugars. They offer flavours such as nutty, biscuity and bready, and are mainly used to provide sugar.
- Crystal malt; is base malt that has been steeped in water, and then roasted to varying degrees. This allows the sugars within to caramelize, creating a range of sweet, toffee like flavours. Darker versions are roasted longer, creating more intense flavours and providing a red to dark brown hue in the finished beer.
- Roasted malt; comes in a veritable rainbow of varieties, from lightly roasted amber malt, to pitch black patent malt. These malts contribute largely to the colour, and are often used in amber ales, dark beers and stouts. Flavours range from biscuity and nutty, to roast coffee and bitter chocolate.
While malt provides sugar, colour and flavour, hops are responsible for the bitterness that beer is famous for. Hops also have antibacterial properties, helping to preserve beer and extend its shelf life. They’re also used to contribute to the aroma of beer. In traditional British real ale, the aroma is fairly subtle, however modern craft beers have transformed the humble hop from bittering agent, to star of the show.
Styles such as American pale ale and IPA are very hop forward, often using huge amounts of modern aroma hop varieties from the US, Australia, New Zealand or Europe to create a flavourful and aromatic brew. Craft beers in the UK are now also using more powerful bittering hops to create ever more bitter beers to balance out the big hop aroma.
Though beer is made up of around 95% water, it is often neglected as brewing ingredient. However, it plays a vital role and can have a huge impact on the finished beer. A beer brewed in one part of the country will inevitably taste different compared to the exact same recipe brewed elsewhere. This is all down to the water chemistry.
The mineral make up of water alters the body, mouthfeel and flavour compounds of any beer. This is why historically, certain areas are famed for producing certain styles. Pale ales from Burton on Trent, Stouts from London, Pilsner from Czechia - all became sensational beers thanks to the local water used to brew them.
Many people will tell you that British real ale is a living product, and this is true. More specifically, the yeast inside is living. There are billions of microscopic yeast cells thrown into a batch of beer, dutifully eating the sugar and converting it into alcohol and co2.
But yeast offers more than just alcohol creation. There are hundreds of different yeast strains, all offering different characteristics. Yeast can add its own flavour and alter the body and mouthfeel. Typical yeast flavours include the following, and can be considered desirable in some styles, or an off flavour in others.
● Green Apple
The 4 essential ingredients listed above are present in just about any beer. However, artisan beers in the UK and around the world are now beginning to feature a few additional ingredients. These adjuncts are used to create new flavour profiles, playing off the characteristics provided by the essential ingredients.
Fruits, berries, vegetables, coffee, lactose sugar, chili peppers, herbs, sugar and spices are just some of the additional ingredients spicing up craft beers across the UK. More extreme brewers have been known to add anything from fried chicken to dollar bills in the brews! The only limitations are the imaginations of the brewer, which paves the way for some exciting craft beers!
You can explore the many different flavours and styles of beer, by browsing online beer shops. In this way, you can see just how 4 simple ingredients can be manipulated to create a treasure trove of flavour!