Beer has four basic ingredients: Water, Malt, Yeast, and Hops. There are many other additives and flavorings that you can use to create your own brew, but it is best to use the basic ingredients found in all beer starter kits.
Water is the most abundant beer ingredient. Bottled water is ideal, however I’ve used tap water from my home on almost all of my batches with great results. You can purchase home water test kits to make sure you are consistently getting the same results, but for the average home brewer this is not necessary.
Malted barley is a source of starch in traditionally brewed beers, however it is important to note that barley is not the only grain used in all beer. One of my favorite beers, Goose Island’s 312, has a wheat base. Oats and rye are commonly used grains, and larger breweries sometimes use rice or corn as they are much more affordable. Simple sugars are derived from the the starch in the malt, which ultimately becomes food for the yeast (which I’ll explain later). Dry Malt Extract (DME) is included in some starter kits. This cuts down significantly on the time it takes to brew your beer and makes for very consistent wort (unfinished beer).
Yeast is a common ingredient in baking and can be found in any grocery store, but DO NOT USE THIS YEAST IN YOUR BEER. Great beer is made with yeast that has been cultured specifically for brewing beer. Yeast eats the simple sugars derived from the malt, and the byproducts of the process are alcohol and carbonation. Before yeast is added to your brew, you just have brown tea (it actually tastes like tea – try it sometime before you pitch your yeast).
Hops are the flower cones from species of plants related to hemp. Hops act as a clarifying agent while stabilizing your beer at the same time. Hops also make beer taste great! There are hundreds of varieties and each one can change the flavor and aroma of your beer. I enjoy experimenting with different varieties hops, and you can use hops to give your beer that distinctive taste people crave.
I’ll be adding more information on each of these basic ingredients in my future posts, including some of the ingredients I find work the best.