It may be surprising to some, but most craft beers only have four main ingredients. The tiniest of tweaks in these core ingredients have a huge impact in the resulting beer. Now we all know that craft breweries add additional ingredients like fruits and spices, we’ll be focusing on the main four here. There’s also a host of bad ingredients, primarily in big beers, that we don’t know much about thanks to lack of labeling laws for alcoholic beverages. In any case, let’s get down to the big four craft beer ingredients.
Malted barley, commonly referred to as malt, is the preferred grain used by craft brewers. Although other grains, like corn and rice, are cheaper, craft brewers typically stick to malt.
So how does barley transform into malt? First, the barley is soaked in water and is given enough time to germinate, or sprout.
Then, the brewer applies heat to the mixture to stop the germination process. The malt can then be roasted to varying different degrees, which hugely affects the resulting flavor of the beer.
Definitely the most well-known of all craft beer ingredients, hops are responsible for giving some beers their signature bitter flavors. The type of hops used and when the hops are added during the beer-making process result in vastly different beers. Hop varietals impact craft beer beyond creating bitter notes. Different hop varietals, wet hops, or dry hops can bring out notes of tropical fruits or even fresh grasses.
For example, adding hops at the beginning of the boiling stage ensures that a strong bitter taste comes through in the resulting beer. While adding hops towards the end of the boiling process adds minimal bitterness but plenty of aromatics.
Craft beer wouldn’t be possible without yeast. Yeast is responsible for the fermentation process, essentially turning sugar into alcohol.
Its role is so vital that many famous brewers refuse to disclose the type of yeast they utilize. Instead, they label the yeast a proprietary ingredient and keep its identity a close secret.
While water may not seem all that special, high-quality water is perhaps the most essential of craft beer ingredients. The beer-making process is so delicate that the characteristics of the water can hugely impact the resulting beer.
Since beer is mostly water, many brewers even argue that water is its most important ingredient. Water is a leading factor that causes beers of the same style but from different regions to taste completely different.
Despite having only four main ingredients, craft beer is far from simple. Experienced brewers also utilize other ingredients for flavoring, such as peaches or cloves, which makes the number of unique beers breweries can create truly endless.