Malt, hops, water and yeast form the building blocks for a huge range of diverse flavours in beer with the different variations on these ingredients creating a myriad of different styles from light lager to imperial stouts. Just these four ingredients are responsible for the vast majority of craft beers we drink.
In fact, the famous Reinheitsgebot, or German beer purity law, restricted brewers to using just these four ingredients. A superseding law did allow the use of wheat, however, outside of Germany brewers are free to use all manner of ingredients with natural flavourings like fruit, honey, coffee and spices used to great effect in some limited edition brews.
But let’s get back to basics. I have previously looked at hops and malt, so to round out our look at beer ingredients are water and yeast. Water is the predominant ingredient in beer and the quality and chemical makeup has an impact on the quality of the final beer. The type of water in certain areas also affected the style of beer that developed there. Some classic beer styles are, in part, the product of the particular water profile of the region the styles developed, such as with the soft water of Plzeň where Pilsner developed or London with its hard water which gave birth to Porter.
Yeast, this wonderful microscopic organism eats up the sugars from the malt and in the process, produces alcohol and Carbon Dioxide. Other serendipitous by-products of this is the production of flavours and aromas. Different yeasts strains produce different flavours such as Esters, which are an organic compound produced by yeast that produce fruity aromas and flavours such as banana, plum, apple, apricot. Phenols are chemical compounds that can come from several sources and can be undesirable in many styles, however, the strains of yeast used for Hefeweizen or some Belgian beers produce desirable phenols with spicy flavours and aromas like clove, & vanilla.
So, the next time you pick up your basket of craft beers in O’Briens take a look at the ingredients, it may surprise you how many different flavours and aromas can come from just four ingredients.