There are literally hundreds of different styles of beer. The basic ingredients that ever homebrewer needs are water, malted barley, homebrewing hops and beer yeast. It’s the types and combination of these ingredients that determine the result.
The amount or type of yeast used during the fermentation process can be the deciding factor between a lager or ale. To obtain a broader range of beer types, many brewers will use specialty grains in a certain way to change the color and flavor of the beer without having to add sugar during the fermentation process. Brewers will also use anything from spices to candy to fruits to help flavor their beer a certain way.
Yeast is responsible for converting carbohydrates to carbon dioxide and alcohols. Yeast can be classified in two different ways: “top cropping” and “bottom cropping.” Top cropping yeasts create foam at the top during fermentation, and typically create ales. Bottom cropping yeasts are typically used to produce lager type beers although they can also produce ale type beers.
Hops are female flower clusters, primarily used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, and typically impart a bitter or tangy flavor in beer. Before hops, many brewers would use spices or fruits as their primary flavoring ingredient.
There are also a number of different kinds of hop varieties. These include Amarillo, Centennial, Cluster and Tettnang among others. Tettnang hops are the original noble hop from Germany, although they are now grown in the U.S. in Oregon and Washington State. The tettnang hop is ideal for your finest lager and wheat beers.
Barley is the seed part to the barley plant, a grain similar to wheat in appearance. It is the specific types of barley used in the production of beer that make one different from another. Each strain imparts a unique characteristic taste and body to each of the different beers. Malted barley is barley that has been allowed to germinate to a degree and is then dried. Sending a barley seed through a germination process converts the seed to a starch. The seed’s stored energy turns the starch into a simpler sugar that is used in its initial growing stage. The germination and drying stages capture fermentable sugars, soluble starch and diastase enzymes for beer brewing. Malted barley is the eventual source of the fermentable sugar consumed by the yeast. Eventually the barley becomes a malt extract becoming a suitable ingredient for beer.
We will discuss the different categories of beer – lagers, ales and other specialty brews – in our next post.