You’re standing in line at the bar, it’s your turn to order and the barman is hurrying you along to get to the many inpatient drunk patrons waiting behind you. You’re confronted with 25 beer taps of which only four are ones you recognise.
What do you do?
Don’t you wish you had some sort of craft beer guide to help you out of such a precarious situation?
Liquor Barons has your back with the second instalment of our three part Craft Beer Guide to keep those know-it-all beer hipsters at bay while you drain your brew.
In PART 2 - we get stuck into demystifying the different ingredients which go into the making of beer and shedding some light on the alchemical process which is beer brewing.
You can explore PART 1 of our Craft Guide where we unpack different beer styles from across the world here.
There are a number of different ingredients used at different stages of the production of a frothy, each bringing its own unique flavours and characteristics to the mix.
Water is the primary ingredient and most crucial element of any beer. It is the foundation and medium on which a beer’s flavours are created. The water used in brewing will either come from surface water lakes, rivers and streams or from groundwater from underground aquifers. Ground water is normally lower in organic matter such as leaves but higher in dissolved mineral content. Water’s hardness or softness is determined by brewers based off calcium and magnesium concentrations. Water’s PH levels are determined by the alkalinity vs. acidity of the water. Both these factors play a critical role in the ultimate flavour profile of the water used in a brew with higher PH beers often tasting dull. Beers with a low PH risk becoming a single note flavour and losing their complexities. The water used for brewing in Pilsen, Germany (where Pilsner was born) is very soft and free from a high mineral composition. Beer makers typically added salt to raise the water’s hardness while brewers in the UK famous for their IPAs often pre-boiled water to remove minerals and soften it up.
Carbon Dioxide (Co2):
Carbon dioxide in beers is the most common type of gas used to bubble up brews. There are two different ways a brewer can instil a level of fizz to their beer being through natural and forced carbonation. While forced carbonation occurs after both beer and carbon dioxide are sealed in a container under pressure and the liquid absorbs the gas creating that classic frothy, fizzy taste. Natural carbonation occurs during the fermentation process as Co2 and alcohol are produced as the yeasts break down sugars in the brew. This process can also be achieved after the beer has been bottled through leaving it to completely ferment the beer is left unfiltered and active yeast is floating around in your bottle.
Nitrogen or ‘nitro’ is an alternative type of gas used in the process of carbonating beer which gives a far smoother and creamier feel to its carbon cousin. A typical nitrogenated beer holds around 70% nitrogen and 30% carbon dioxide.
Hops are the flowers of a vine like plant typically added to create a level of depth or balance. A beer brewed without this essential ingredient will usually result in a sickly sweet, bland tasting flavour. It was not until the 15th century that brewers eventually settled on the use of hops to replace additives such as myrtle and spruce tips as far back as the Middle Ages. Hops can be added at all different stages of the brewing process for a range of different effects. When added early they provide a balancing bitterness while added late, leave a lasting aroma. Hops also act as a basic preservative inside beer and work towards extending its shelf life. Particularly famous for its star role amidst many North American micro-breweries, hops give us the unique citrus and pine flavours this region is famous for.
Yeast is a microscopic single cell organism which breaks down sweeter liquids, converting sugars into alcohol, Carbon dioxide and a range of different and complex flavour profiles. Out of the insanely wide variety of beer styles (some of these can be found in Part 1 of our guide), all can be categorised into two primary varieties of yeasts –Ales and Lagers. Ale Yeasts prefer warmer temperatures and need only short amounts of time to ferment while lager strains operate better in cooler climates and need to be stored for several weeks before consumption.
Barely is the perfect grain for malting, mashing and brewing and is the most popular grain used when brewing beers the world over. However, malted barley can also be substituted with a large number of alternative grains. The desired grain variety is added to the water and heated releasing the grain’s sugars to initially develop a beers sweeter flavouring and colour.
Made famous by traditional Bavarian weissbiers and hefeweizens from Germany, Wheat is often used as the grain in beer brewing when it’s not being milled into flour for bread and cakes. Wheat undergoes a malting process similar to barely but is also significantly higher in protein and starch which works to stabilise a beer’s foam and increase its mouthfeel. This basically means it creates a sturdy, longer lasting head on your beer and the sensation of fullness in the mouth when you’re sucking one back. It can even sometimes create a mild tartness to a beer. Often, unfiltered wheat beers can come out hazy due to the added protein content. Weissbiers (white beers) are typically brewed with 60-70% malted wheat combined with a smaller portion of barley grain.
Adjunct grain additives like rice and corn are often included in a malted barley brew to dilute the levels of protein to avoid the beer hazing over and turning cloudy when chilled. The stale flavour which can develop in outdated beer is also caused by precursors found in the malted barley so diluting this malt has the ability to also reduce potential staleness.
Rice is arguably the most consumed adjunct additive in beers after the world’s top selling beer – Budweiser proudly advertises its use as an ingredient on its label. Most commonly, brown rice is harvested with whole kernels being sold for local food consumption while kernels broken in the milling process are sold to breweries at reduced prices. High in starch, rice helps facilitate a dry profile but does little to affect the flavour profile of a beer.
Corn Beer’s origins date back over a millennia when pre-Incan cultures in the Andes began fermenting this indigenous grain. Corn beer or ‘Chicha’ was used as a holy sacrament, healing elixir, for bartering and is still considered a sacred beverage. Corn beer was actually the very first alcoholic drink ever produced domestically here in Australia by a man named John Boston in Sydney in 1796. Corn is largely demonised in the beer industry to be a cheaper, coarser beer product with side effects including “loss of energy, weariness, stupidity and drowsiness,” but we’re pretty sure that any beer can do this if you consume too much of it... Corn isn’t usually malted due to the difficulty of this process on this grain leaving a slight lingering corn flavour profile while its inclusion will typically lighten a beer’s body.
Oats were also used early in beer's history around the 15th century but it wasn't until the turn of the 20th century in the UK when oat-malt stouts started to be brewed. Oats bring a thickness to the mouthfeel of a beer based off the high levels of proteins, starches and gums in this grain. Used in conjunction with barley, oats create a creamy, full-bodied brew that’s as smooth as satin and stouts are a natural fit.
Rye compliments barley excellently by helping sharpen flavours and adding complexity to a beer. Rye can dry beer out making it crisp, sometimes with a hint of spice. Through roasting rye, brewers can create or further enhance chocolatey and caramel flavours of a beer. Like Oats, this grain adjunct works excellently with stouts.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Craft Beer Guide where we will unpack the beer brewing process.