Brewing Ingredients

Written by Steve Cannon on January 1, 2022


Beer is composed mostly of water. Regions have water with different mineral components; as a result, different regions were originally better suited to making certain types of beer, thus giving them a regional character. For example, Dublin has hard water well suited to making stout, such as Guinness; while Pilsen has soft water well suited to making pale lager, such as Pilsner. The waters of Burton in England contain gypsum, which benefits making pale ale to such a degree that brewers of pale ales will add gypsum to the local water in a process known as Burtonisation

Starch Source

The starch source in a beer provides the fermentable material and is a key determinant of the strength and flavour of the beer. The most common starch source used in beer is malted grain. Grain is malted by soaking it in water, allowing it to begin germination, and then drying the partially germinated grain in a kiln. Malting grain produces enzymes that will allow conversion from starches in the grain into fermentable sugars during the mash process. Different roasting times and temperatures are used to produce different colours of malt from the same grain. Darker malts will produce darker beers.
Nearly all beer includes barley malt as most of the starch. This is because of its fibrous husk, which is important not only in the sparging stage of brewing (in which water is washed over the mashed barley grains to form the wort) but also as a rich source of amylase, a digestive enzyme that facilitates conversion of starch into sugars. Other malted and unmalted grains (including wheat, rice, oats, and rye, and, less frequently, maize (corn) and sorghum) may be used. In recent years, a few brewers have produced gluten-free beer made with sorghum with no barley malt for people who cannot digest gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley, and rye.


Hops are the female flower clusters or seed cones of the hop vine Humulus lupulus, which are used as a flavouring and preservative agent in nearly all beer made today. Hops had been used for medicinal and food flavouring purposes since Roman times; by the 7th century in Carolingian monasteries in what is now Germany, beer was being made with hops though it isn’t until the thirteenth century that widespread cultivation of hops for use in beer is recorded. Before the thirteenth century, beer was flavoured with plants such as yarrow, wild rosemary, and bog myrtle, and other ingredients such as juniper berries, aniseed and ginger, which would be combined into a mixture known as gruit and used as hops are now used; between the thirteenth and the sixteenth century, during which hops took over as the dominant flavouring, beer flavoured with gruit was known as ale, while beer flavoured with hops was known as beer Some beers today, such as Fraoch by the Scottish Heather Ales company and Cervoise Lancelot by the French Brasserie-Lancelot company, use plants other than hops for flavouring

Hops contain several characteristics that brewers desire in beer: they contribute a bitterness that balances the sweetness of the malt; they provide floral, citrus, and herbal aromas and flavours; they have an antibiotic effect that favours the activity of brewer’s yeast over less desirable microorganisms; and they aid in “head retention”, the length of time that the foam on top of the beer (the beer head) will last The preservative in hops comes from the lupulin glands which contain soft resins with alpha and beta acids Though much studied, the preservative nature of the soft resins is not yet fully understood, though it has been observed that unless stored at a cool temperature, the preservative nature will decrease Brewing is the sole major commercial use of hops


Yeast is the microorganism that is responsible for fermentation in beer. Yeast metabolises the sugars extracted from grains, which produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, and thereby turns wort into beer. In addition to fermenting the beer, yeast influences the character and flavour. The dominant types of yeast used to make beer are Saccharomyces cerevisiae, known as ale yeast, and Saccharomyces pastorianus, known as lager yeast; Brettanomyces ferments lambics and Torulaspora delbrueckii ferments Bavarian weissbier. Before the role of yeast in fermentation was understood, fermentation involved wild or airborne yeasts, and a few styles such as lambics still use this method today. Emil Christian Hansen, a Danish biochemist employed by the Carlsberg Laboratory, developed pure yeast cultures which were introduced into the Carlsberg brewery in 1883 and pure yeast strains are now the main fermenting source used worldwide.

Clarifying Agent

Some brewers add one or more clarifying agents to beer, which typically precipitate (collect as a solid) out of the beer along with protein solids and are found only in trace amounts in the finished product. This process makes the beer appear bright and clean, rather than the cloudy appearance of ethnic and older styles of beer such as wheat beers.
Examples of clarifying agents include isinglass, obtained from swim bladders of fish; Irish moss, a seaweed; kappa carrageenan, from the seaweed kappaphycus; polyclar (a commercial brand of clarifier); and gelatine. If a beer is marked “suitable for Vegans”, it was generally clarified either with seaweed or with artificial agents, although the “Fast Cask” method invented by Marston’s in 2009 may provide another method.

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