Beer is a simple beverage to make. More than anything else, it takes time and patience. The main ingredients in most beers are water, grain (malt), hops and yeast. The type and amount of each of the ingredients influence the flavor of beer. It’s also determined by the process of brewing used, and by any other ingredients added.
Water is the main ingredient in beer. You might not think of water as being an important ingredient, but if you’ve ever made beer out of tap water or hard water then you know it makes the beer taste terrible. The purer the water, the better the beer.
Barley is the most common grain used in making beer, although any grain will work. Barley is made into Malt Extract by a process called malting. This means letting the barley get ready to grow, including sprouting roots, then heating the barley enough to stop the growth process without killing certain enzymes in the plant. This is then made into Malt Extract. The degree of darkness in the beer is determined by the degree of roasting done to the barley in the Malt Extract (light, dark or stout).
The flowering vine humulous lupus is what gives us hops. The dried flowers are what we use as hops in beer. Hops are added during the boiling process, and there are many different kinds of hops to choose from to give different flavors and aromas to your beer. Some Malt Extract comes with hops added (called pre-hopped malt extract).
The last ingredient in basic beer is Brewer’s Yeast. This kind of yeast activates the beer fermentation process along with the sugars in the barley malt extract. Using different temperatures to ferment your beer affects the yeast in different ways, and gives you different beers.
To get an “ale” flavor, ferment at 65 to 75 degrees F for about 8 days. For a “lager” you want your beer fermenting at 34 degrees F for 30 days. For a stout you want to ferment at 68 degrees F for about 6 to 10 days, and also use dark Malt Extract and no sugar in your brewing process.
You can add a variety of ingredients to alter the flavor, aroma and texture of your beer. It is best top add them in small quantities during the boil part of the brewing process. If you have cheesecloth, wrapping the added ingredients in cheesecloth and suspending them in the liquid during the boil will add the flavor without the need for straining the beer.
Just about any spice can be added to beer: all spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander and others make a nice compliment to the dark roasts. Adding molasses instead of sugar can also give you a richer, sweeter beer with a nice amber color. Almost any fruit can be used, although cheesecloth sacks are essential for using fruit as the boil causes it to disintegrate into pulp.
You can even determine the flavor of your beer by the container it ferments in. Some people see the container type as another ingredient. Metal or plastic containers wont add or take away from the taste, but wood casks can have a big impact on the beer. Some people seek out old oak barrels and kegs to reuse for their beer to give it a rich, meaty, oak flavor. Using wood like apple, hickory or cherry can also change the taste of the beer being brewed. The fermenting beer soaks up the natural flavors of the wood during the fermenting process. This is much more subtle than adding flavors during the boil.
You can also change your beers flavor by adding a subtle ingredient like sugar. Different types of sugar, including honey and molasses, can change the flavor of your beer dramatically. Adding honey or molasses can also give your beer a richer, more interesting color. Honeys give the beer a deep amber glow, while molasses creates a deep, dark nutty brown.
Whatever flavor you are looking for, there is an ingredient that will infuse it into your beer. The key to great beer is fresh, quality ingredients. Take your time and experiment with different flavors. You’ll be amazed at the endless variety of beers there are and how soon you learn to crack the code behind your favorite brew.