If you’re just starting to learn how to homebrew, it’s important to get the basics down first. As eager as you may be to experiment with various beer ingredients and flavors, getting comfortable with the basic ingredients first will make the learning curve smoother and easier. By understanding how the most basic ingredients of beer affect its composition, taste and other attributes, you’ll find it easier and more intuitive to tweak just about any beer recipe in the future. With these points in mind, familiarize yourself with the most crucial ingredients to the beer making process, study up about commonly added ingredients and learn about some of the truly unique ways in which brewers have jazzed up craft beer recipes.
Primary Beer Ingredients
Beer can be broken down into four main ingredients: grain, hops, yeast and water. Yeasts are responsible for the fermentation process, and two main types are commonly used. Ale yeast produces a top-fermenting brew while lager yeast produces a bottom-fermenting brew. Brewers also experiment with other types of yeast, so that’s always an option. As for water, it makes up around 95 percent of beer’s composition. Needless to say, there’s no way to really “tweak” water, but it helps to use filtered water for optimal taste.
As for the other two main beer ingredients, keep these points in mind:
Grain – Malted barley is the most commonly used grain in the beer making process. Whether you use it or another grain, keep in mind that grains provide color and primary flavor; hops and yeast provide secondary flavors. It also provides maltose, which produces fermentable sugars. Additionally, grains provide dextrins that affect beer’s mouthfeel and proteins that affect the form and hold of the foam, or head. It pretty much goes without saying that grains are crucial.
Hops – A dizzying array of hops varieties are available. Hops provide secondary flavor to beer, so experimenting with different varieties is a great way to achieve unique brews. Hops create the bitterness that offsets the sweetness of the malted barley. In addition to adding aroma and flavor to beer, hops lend it stability. They contain beta acids that help to ward off bacterial contamination. In so doing, they extend the shelf life of beer, allowing you to enjoy it that much longer.
Popular Beer Recipe Additions
Given the vast array of craft beers that are out there today, it’s plain to see that brewmasters love nothing better than playing around with extra ingredients to lend their creations unique and exciting flavors. If you’re able to visit a homebrew store, you’ll find shelves lined with some of the most popular additions to basic beer brewing recipes. Fruits, for example, are quite popular. Brewers routinely add dried cherries, oranges, apples and others to their recipes. Spices like cinnamon and ginger are commonly encountered, and extras like basil, vanilla beans, coffee beans and even shredded coconut all produce unique results. Such extras can be added at two points during the beer making process. They can be added during the last five minutes of hop boil or to the secondary when you go to transfer the beer.
Crazy Beer Recipe Additions
It should come as no surprise that homebrewers and breweries alike have gone all out with some pretty extreme additions to their recipes. As long as you’re willing to potentially sacrifice an entire brew in case it turns out awful, experimenting like this can be a lot of fun. Recently in Australia, a brewer used his own belly button yeast in his recipe. Back in 2006, two homebrewers added an entire pizza to theirs. These examples, of course, are really out-there. If you’re not ready to get that extreme, consider using oak chips or barrel-aging your brews to achieve different results.
The homebrewing movement is in full swing, and it doesn’t look like it will be abating anytime soon. Once you’ve mastered the basics of brewing beer at home, the real fun begins. Delve more deeply into the different ways in which the main ingredients can be tweaked to affect your brews’ flavor, and then branch out by learning about additions and combinations to your recipes to make them all the more unique.