The main ingredients found in beer are water, malted
barley, hops, and yeast. There are other ingredients
such as flavoring, sugar, and other ingredients that
are commonly used. Starches are used as well, as
they convert in the mashing process to easily
fermentable sugars that will help to increase the
alcohol content of beer while adding body and flavor.
Seeing as how beer is mainly composed of water, the
source of water and its characteristics have a very
important effect on the character of the beer. A
lot of beer styles were influenced by the
characteristics of water in the region. Although
the effect of minerals in brewing water is complex,
hard water is more suited to dark styles, while
soft water is more suited to light styles. I
personally use distilled water in my brewing.
Among malts, barley is the most widely used due to
its high amylase content, and a digestive enzyme
that facilitates the breakdown of starch into
sugars. Depending on what can be cultivated locally,
other malts and unmalted grains can be used, such
as wheat, rice, oats, and rye.
Malt is obtained by soaking grain in water, allowing
it to germinate, then drying the germinated grain
in a kiln. By malting the grain, enzymes will
eventually convert the starches in the grain into
Since the seventeenth century, hops have been
commonly used as a bittering agent in beer. Hops
help to contribute a bitterness that will balance
the sweetness of the malts. They also contribute
aromas which range from citrus to herbal.
Hops also provide an antibiotic effect that favors
the activity of brewer's yeast over the less
desirable microorganisms. The bitterness in beer
is normally measured on the International
Bitterness Units scale.
Yeast is a microorganism that's responsible for
fermentation. Specific strains of yeast are chosen
depending on the type of beer produced, as the
two main strains are ale yeast and lager yeast,
with other variations available as well.
Yeast helps to metabolise the sugars that are
extracted from the grains, and produces alcohol
and carbon dioxide as a result. Before the functions
of yeast were understood, all fermentations were
done using wild or airborne yeasts.
A lot of brewers prefer to add one or more
clarifying agents to beer that aren't required
to be published as ingredients. Examples include
Isinglas finings, which are obtained from swim
bladders of fish and Irish moss, which is a type
of red algae.
Since these ingredients can be obtained from animals,
those who are concerned with either the use or
consumption of animal products should obtain detailed
information from the brewer.