Very simply beer is made from four basic ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast...
Hops, formally known as Humulus lupulus, are vine-like plants that act as the seasoning (balancing malt sweetness) for beer and deliver bitterness, aroma and flavour. These plants grow best in cold climates (at specific latitudes), can grow up to 6m high and are harvested only once a year. During hop harvest, hop flowers are picked off the vine, dried and then used in the brewing process. These hop flowers hold resins (alpha acids) that impart flavour into our beers and also act as a natural preservative. There are many varieties of hops grown all around the world, each one offering different characters to beer. For example, Little Creatures source a range of specialty hops from the US, Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand to achieve a variety of unique aromatic and bittering characters in their beers. The intensity of the bitterness to the beer depends on when the hops are added in the brew cycle and the amount used. Added early will increase the bitterness but decrease the aroma; adding later will have the opposite effect.
Malting is the partial germination and kilning of a grain, most commonly barley and in some cases wheat, rye, or other grains. Malt starch is converted into soluble sugar during the brewing process – producing aqueous malt extract or wort. This wort fuels the fermentation process, giving malt its nickname; “the engine room of beer”. Malt gives a different flavour, colour and body to the beer depending on the style of malt used. The length, moisture content and degree of roasting (temperature) determine the colour of a beer. Malt derived proteins also contribute to the formation of the head when you pour a beer.
Water is the main ingredient in beer by volume. Local tap water goes through a serious filtration process to strip it right back. Stylised salt additions are then added depending on the beer style; keeping in mind the salt profile can greatly affect the perceived flavour of a beer. In general, sulphates will increase perceived bitterness/dryness and chlorides will make for a fuller/smoother mouthfeel.
Yeast is a single-celled organism that consumes simple sugars and converts it into alcohol and CO2. This unicellular fungus is the essential ingredient in order for the beer to go through a fermentation process and turn the hopped wort (the hoppy, sugary liquid extracted from the brewing process) into beer. Brewers’ yeast can be roughly segmented into two groups, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a top fermenting yeast which works at warmer temperatures creating ales, and Saccharomyces uvarum, a bottom fermenting yeast which works at lower temperatures, for lager beers. Different types of yeast can also affect the flavour of beer, either by accentuating the existing flavour or by adding spicy, fruity tones.
Words and images courtesy of littlecreatures.com.au