What Goes Into Beer?

The four essentials of any beer are: water, malt, hops and yeast. With these four brewing ingredients you can brew everything from a pale American lager to a black Russian Stout. It's all in how the ingredient are produced and how you use them in a beer recipe.


We'll start with this one first because this ingredient makes up most of your homebrew. From a beginner's standpoint, if you drink the water coming out of your tap, then you can make beer with it just fine.

As your brewing techniques become more advanced and you start brewing all-grain beer recipes, then you will want to be more concerned with the hardness or alkalinity of the water. When mashing grains, water hardness is important, but as a beginning brewer, destined to start off with malt extracts, tap water just fine.

Having said this, you do want to remove the chlorine from the water before using it to brew. This should be done regardless of how new you are to brewing. Fortunately, it is easy to do. Just crushing-up a single Campden tablet and add it to the water. Let the water sit out overnight, uncovered, and it will be ready for brewing the next day. One Campden tablet is sufficient for 5 to 20 gallons of water. It will easily drive the chlorine from the water.


This is the ingredient that adds the body, color, sweetness and roasted flavors to a beer. As a homebrewer you can purchase the malt as an actual barley grain, or it can be purchased in extract syrup or powder.

Malt is made from barley. The barely is soaked in water and allowed to begin spouting (germinate). At just the right time the germination process is stopped by quickly drying the barley with hot air. This is called malting and is all done by a maltster before you even see the malted barley.

Some malted barleys are roasted to varying degrees at different temperatures. This gives the malts their variety of flavors, and the beers, their array of colors.

There are two main categories of malts: base malts and specialty malts. As the name sounds, base malts make ups the majority of a beer recipes, while specialty malts tend to be used in much smaller amounts. Specialty malts are generally more roasted, providing a significant amount of the beer's color and flavor. It is typically what makes a beer style unique and identifiable from others.

As a beginning home brewer you will most likely be using malt extract in place of the base malts. This will save you a lot of time and save you from the need of purchasing some heavy-duty homebrewing equipment that is required to process or mash the malted barley.


A hop is a climbing plant that produces a hop flower, referred to as a cone. This is the part that is actually used in a beer recipe. Hops add a tangy, bitterness to the beer along with some herbal aromas.

There are hundreds of varieties of hops, and each has its own slight variance in flavor, aroma and the amount of bitterness it contains, also known as alpha acid. Hops can be purchase as hop pellets, hop plugs or as a loose leaf. In each case it's the same hop, just processed into a different form.

A hop can be used as either a bittering hop or a finishing hop. As the name implies, the bittering hop is used to add bitterness to the beer. It is added to the boiling wort early so that all the alpha acid can be extracted into the beer wort. It is added so early in the boil that most of the bittering hops aromatic qualities have dissipated and are gone by the time the boil has finished.

Finishing hops are added towards the end of the boil for aroma purposes. By adding a hop at this later stage, the aroma can be extracted from the hops, into the beer wort, and not be boiled away.

You may have a beer recipe that calls for the very same hop to be added at both the beginning and at the end of the boil — same hop, just being used for different purposes. It's also possible to see a beer recipe that calls for several different hops being added throughout the boil at varying times.


This is the ingredient that causes all the magic to happen. Beer yeast are living organisms that are credited with making the alcohol in the beer. They do this by consuming the sugars in the beer wort and converting it all into both alcohol and CO2 gas. This is a process that normally takes about 5 days for Ales, but can be much longer for Lagers.

There are two major categories of beer yeast: Ales and Lagers. The main difference is that Ale yeast ferment on top of the wort and prefer normal room-temperature for fermenting, while Lager yeast ferment on the bottom of the wort and do better, flavor-wise, at cooler temperatures.

Just like hops, each strain of beer yeast has its own subtle influence on the beer's overall character. Most beer recipes you run across will specify the strain of the beer yeast to be used.

Related Information:

How To Brew Beer: Learn about the 3 different methods there are for brewing your own homebrew.