Beer is one of the top three most widely consumed beverages in the world. In spite of this fact, few people know what actually goes into the bottle.
In its most simple form, beer is made of four basic ingredients: Water, yeast, malt, and hops. Fermentation of these ingredients produces alcohol, producing a beverage that includes an average 154 calories. Beer also includes B-vitamins and minerals like magnesium, selenium, and potassium.
Beyond the basics, some beers also contain more unique ingredients, such as bananas, coffee, or even cannabis. Minor ingredients in some industrially-produced-produced beers may even include trace amounts of more unexpected substances, like formaldehyde.
There are also multiple categories of beer, each with its own unique ingredient ratios. Ale, for instance, is a general beer category that includes other types like pale ales and brown ales. Then, you have your lagers, porters, and stouts, which contain higher alcohol contents. Generally, it is the ratio of major ingredients and hop varieties that define beer types.
Major beer ingredients
Malted barley is the most widely used grain for making beer. But, malted barley is quite sweet, so hops are added into the drink to introduce a bit of bitterness to the generally sweet flavor. Then, yeast is added into the mixture, which ferments the brew.
Malted barley isn’t the only grain used in beer, however. Other grains used include wheat, maize, and rice. In some unique beers (primarily craft beer), herbs, spices, and even fruits are added to create a unique taste. Despite what you may think, the alcohol content generally varies from a mere 3% to a whopping 40% depending upon the recipe and style.
Beer is actually one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in the world. Archeologists have found evidence of fermentation dating back to 13,000 years. The earliest evidence of beer goes all the way to 3500 BC, in parts around western Iran. Needless to say, humans _really _like beer.
Over the years, the process has been refined considerably, and as demand has grown, so has the supply. Most pale lagers generally contain 5% alcohol on average. In the following few paragraphs, we shall talk about the key ingredients used in making beer.
As is the case with the human body, the most abundant ingredient in beer is water. Over 95% of your brew is made up of water. With such a large amount of your final product coming from a single ingredient, you can imagine how important it is to use good water.
Different regions have different minerals in their water supply, and this affects the taste. That is one of the main reasons why beer from certain regions was better suited to making beer than others. For instance, Dublin has considerably hard water. It contains more minerals, and as a result of that, Dublin is more famous for its stout beer.
On the other hand, the water in Pilzen has considerably soft water, which is why Pilsners and Pale Lagers from the Czech Republic are so popular.
Gypsum is a commonly found mineral in the waters of Burton, England. This makes it uniquely suitable for making pale ale. In fact, this is so popular that many famous brewers actually add gypsum to their beer. This process is known as Burtonisation!
However, you can now find stout beer or pale lagers in almost every part of the globe. These companies generally use a carbon filter to “clean” the water and then add an array of conditioners to it during the mashing stage to replicate the same water conditions as found in the water source.
This helps replicate the same conditions as found in the original source of the water in these locations.
Before we talk about yeast as an ingredient, it is important to understand what it is in the first place. Yeast are single-celled microorganisms, and they are a part of the fungal kingdom. There are more than 1,500 species of yeast in existence, and the first one came into being millions of years ago.
Yeast is used for making bread, for making antibiotics, and for ripening different kinds of cheese. Most people don’t know that fermentation is actually a natural process that occurs in nature. For instance, when berries fall to the ground in late fall, they usually contain large amounts of sugar. Yeast organisms develop naturally and ferment them. These berries then become alcoholic.
In the science of brewing, yeast is introduced to convert the sugar content into alcohol. Yeast strain does not need to be replaced, and can easily last for several generations. As a result, a single strain of yeast can be used over and over when brewing batch after batch of beer.
A vast majority of beers sold nowadays contain natural yeasts. These do not have any impact on the flavor of the beer. Brewer’s yeast is also known as Saccharomyces cervisiae. It is very dense in nutrients, containing a range of vitamins, amino acids, and protein.
Malt – Traditionally malted barley
Then, you have the malt. The starch source found in beer provides the base for fermentation, and this plays a critical role in determining the flavor, and more importantly, the strength of the beer itself. The source of starch in most types of beer is malted grains.
To malt the grain, companies soak it in the water. This causes germination to begin, and the rest of it is then dried out in a kiln. As the grain begins to malt, it releases enzymes which help converting the starches found in the grains in fermentable sugars.
To produce varying colors of the malt, the roasting times are usually different. Furthermore, the grains are also roasted at different temperatures. You might have already noticed that some beers have a lighter shade, and others are darker. That’s because darker malts usually result in darker shades of beer.
For almost all beers produced around the world, barley malt produces most of the starch. The fibrous husk found in barley malts is one of the main reasons for this. This also plays a key role during the sparging stage of the brewing process. During the sparging stage, brewers usually wash water over the barley grains (which are mashed by this point).
This creates the wort, but also produces a lot of amylase. Amylase is a digestive enzyme which plays a critical role in converting the starch into sugar. For those who don’t understand, malt provides the source of sugar found in the beer. This also plays an important role in the overall flavor and the way the beer looks.
But, how much sugar is found in sugar? Even though sugar is not directly added in the list, sugar plays a key role in producing alcohol. It’s not added separately, but it’s produced as the grains begin to germinate. So, the sugar content in beer depends primarily on the gravity of beer, and more importantly, the yeast used for the fermentation process.
However, that’s not all. Most brewers usually add other ingredients which also contain additional sugar. However, labeling regulations within the United States are quite lax, so manufacturers do not really have to specify the sugar content in their products.
In most cases, you will only find the carb contents in the beer, which often makes it quite difficult to determine the amount of sugar in a can of beer.
Hops are generally used for flavoring commercial beer. In virtually all kinds of beer made nowadays, the hop vine flower is generally used as a preservative and for flavoring purposes. These flowers are known as the hops.
So far, the ingredients used only contribute to the sweetness of the beer. The sweetness from the malt needs to be balanced, and hops provide the bitter flavor which creates a balance of sorts. The International Bitterness Unit scale is used to determine just how bitter a beer is.
Hops often contain different aromas; some are floral while others add herbal or citrus aromas to the beer. Hops also serve as an antibiotic of sorts, removing microorganisms that could have an undesirable effect on the beer. The increase in acidity of the beer ultimately acts as a preserving agent.
In most cases, hops are the only preservatives found in beer; brewer manufacturers generally don’t add any other.
Minor and Less Common Beer Ingredients
Water, yeast, hops, and barley are the essential ingredients that are used in making beer.
Beyond the four basic ingredients of beer mentioned above, there are a number of other flavorings and additives that can be added to beers to create different styles, flavors, and characters.
Let’s talk about some of the weird ingredients added in beers around the globe:
This one might come as a surprise, but bananas are actually added in some beers. Sprecher Mbege Ale is an African-styled beer that uses bananas as the main ingredient.
Fruit beers are becoming more and more common, and bananas are used in this one because of their popularity in eastern regions of Africa. It’s an unfiltered beer made in Wisconsin by the Sprecher Brewing Company, and has quite a cult following. As you can expect, this beer has a distinctively yellow color.
It’s hard not to overstate the impact that Germany has had on beer production. It is widely consumed throughout the country, and the Germans also introduced the Beer Purity Law. However, in 1996, Germany allowed the use and cultivation of hemp, and it wasn’t long before hemp was used in brewing beer.
Dupetit Natural Products created Cannabia, a unique beer that contains hemp, while still using traditional brewing practices. It is a conventional Pilsner, but while mixing it, they add an organic sugar blend, hemp, and source water. All of this happens before the beer has fully fermented, thus giving it a very distinctive taste.
Barley Tikka Vindaloo
Some might balk at the prospect of an Indian curry being added to beer, but Sharp’s Brewery does exactly that. The head brewer, Stuart Howe, has often come up with some outrageous beers over the years, and this one easily takes the cake.
Howe is a big fan of curry, and so he decided to infuse his love of curry with that of his beer, and the result was a beer that contains barley tikka vindaloo. Using traditional curry spices found in vindaloo, he created a unique beer that some like, and some don’t.
This beer contains spices like cardamom, cumin, chili powder, and ginger. Stuart even adds fennel in his beer. It might not be readily available, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you are looking for strange kinds of beers.
This is no joke. Pizza crust has officially been added as an ingredient in beer. Mamma Mia’s Pizza Beer actually contains an ingredient entitled “margarita pizza.” They simply add it in during the mashing stage, and then steep it much like an oversized tea bag.
The pizza contains garlic and basil, as well as oregano and tomatoes. The crust is also made of whole wheat. The company says that they only introduce the “essence of pizza” after washing it thoroughly with hot water. They also say that this crust is boiled for long periods of time.
Once done, a bunch of different spices and hops are introduced into the mixture. These ultimately filter into the vessel used for fermentation. After a couple of weeks, the beer is bottled and shipped off.
Perhaps one of the strangest things to come out of Oregon is a beer made using beard yeast. A brewer actually set about to create beer using the yeast found in his beard. It’s aptly named Rogue Beard Beer, too.
John Maier created the beer using the yeast from his own beard as a joke. Once he realized that this was a viable source of yeast, they set about cultivating more and more of it. While amusing, it’s worth noting that beard yeast is no more likely to encourage hair growth than any other beer (which is to say, not at all, in spite of the tall tales out there).
Cat Poo Coffee Beer
Kopi Luwak coffee is made from fermented coffee beans that are digested and then expelled from the body of a civet cat. Mikkelier Brewery uses this coffee for creating beer, making it arguably one of the weirdest ingredients used in creating beer.
Kopi Luwak is one of the most expensive coffees in the world, and the beer is not cheap either.
These are just some of the strangest ingredients that are added to beer around the globe!