Homebrew: Know What to Buy and Where to Buy it
Beer = Liquid Bread
Just as different kinds of bread are made in the same basic way, different kinds of beers are also made by the same basic brewing method. And just as the ingredients needed to make various types of bread are very similar, so it is with beer. The ingredients may vary slightly from one beer style to the next, in their attributes as well as in the quantities required in a given recipe. Although wheat bread may look and taste different than rye bread, they are very much alike and are made in very much the same way. The same can be said for wheat beer and rye beer.
Beer’s Basic Building Blocks
Here are the ingredients used to make beer at the commercial level:
- Grain (mostly malted barley, but also wheat, corn and rice)
The malted grain is responsible for giving the beer its color, its sweetness, its body and mouthfeel, and, perhaps most importantly, the grain provides the fermentable sugars that are converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation period. Hops provide beer with piquant aroma, flavor and bitterness that offsets the cloying sweetness of the malt. Yeast is the engine that drives fermentation; yeast consumes most of the liquefied sugar provided by the grain and converts it into ethyl alcohol and CO2. Water, which accounts for about 90% to 95% of the beer, is the liquid base for all these other ingredients to be mixed into.
Thanks to the stores that specialize in modern homebrewing supplies, homebrewers today have access to most of the same ingredients used by corporate breweries everywhere. Different hop varieties and yeast strains from around the world are now available in the homebrewing market.
With the help of specially-made products, such as a malt syrup (derived from grain and made into a concentrate, of sorts) and liquid yeast strains, beginner homebrewers are able to more easily produce beers that emulate those that are commercially made. And beyond the four basic ingredients needed to make beer, dozens of other flavorings and additives can contribute unique flavors and textures to your brew, and a number of other agents that can affect the appearance of your brew. Not all of these ingredients are necessary to make great beer, but they exist for those who need or want them.
Like home cooking, homebrewing does not come with a guarantee of quality. Certain responsibilities and expectations are placed on the brewer to assure that each batch of beer turns out right, including good sanitation (making sure your brewing area and equipment is clean and sanitized) and having the necessary ingredients on hand.
Good homebrew starts with good preparation, starting with a complete list of ingredients. Before heading off to your local homebrew supply shop or submitting a mail-order form, consider all your needs. Occasionally, homebrewers fail to look beyond the beer recipe and forget the need for something as simple -but essential- as bottle caps.
Although we all like to be thrifty when we shop, high-quality ingredients are required to produce high-quality beer, so loosen your grip on the purse strings when buying homebrew ingredients.
“What about recipes”, you ask? Well, a simple internet search on homebrewing recipes should yield encyclopedic volumes, but if you are looking for a single source of tried-and-true award-winning recipes, consider browsing our blog!