019. Beer ingredients and brewing processes

Beer ingredients and brewing processes

Providing excellent beer service is more than pouring a beer, or even helping a customer select the right beer. You must be able to talk intelligently about the product and how it was made. You must know at least a little about beer ingredients and brewing processes.

Having the ability to talk about beer ingredients and brewing process will allow you to explain and answer a customer’s questions about why a beer tastes a certain way. You don’t need to be a master brewer, just know enough to have a basic conversation with most of the customers whom you will serve.

Besides the reading material mentioned in the reading list (part 4), the following reading materials were used for this section.

Parkes, Steve and Chris Colby. Adjuncts Explained. https://byo.com. December 2001. Accessed October 19, 2015.

Wikipedia. Yeast. https://en.wikipedia.org. Accessed October 21, 2015.

Stika, Jon. Controlling Fermentation Temperature: Techniques. https://byo.com. December 2001. Accessed November 13, 2015.


In this section we talk about the main ingredients in beer:

  • Grains
  • Hops
  • Yeast
  • Water

Some of this was introduced a couple sections back in Identify normal flavors of beer and their source.

Also in this section, we talk a little about the processes of using these ingredients to make beer.


Mainly grains are used merely for their malt, the malted sugar that will be fermented into alcohol.

But also some unmalted grains are used for brewing beer.


We already discussed some of the basics about malt. Barley is the most common grain used for beer. Its high starch content is easily converted to fermentable sugar and its shells serve as filters. We also touched on the malting process. Review the previous section, Identify normal flavors of beer and their source and read the section titled, “Malt and grain flavors.”

Now let’s look at the malting process in more detail.

Briess Malt and Ingredients Co. has a good article about the 3-steps of making malt:

  1. Steeping
  2. Germination
  3. Drying

Steeping – During the steeping process, the grains are soaked in water for almost 48 hours. Moisture content of the grain increases from about 12-44 percent. The grains, sensing the moisture, begin to sprout.

Enzymes convert proteins and carbohydrates to sugars and amino acids that the plant would use to grow. Little do they know, however, that they will never have a chance to grow into mature plants.

The experienced maltsters can monitor this process and count the percentage of grains that show a visible “chit” peeking out from the shell. When the grain is sufficiently “chitted,” it is passed on to the next step in the malting process.

Germination – Germination is the 4- to 5-day process during which the chit continues to grow, the grains are monitored under controlled humidity and stirred to keep the rootlets from growing together.

During this step, proteins and carbohydrates continue converting into sugars and amino acids while more starch reserves are opened up.

Drying – Lastly, the grains are dried, to kill the germination process.

Normally the grain would use up the precious starch reserves while continuing to grow into a plant, but we want to use those sugars for the beer.

So the grains are heated to 180-190° F (82-88° C) for 2-4 hours.

Different types of malts are made depending on the temperature, length of drying time, and moisture levels. Review the prior post for more about different malt types.

Unmalted grains

Some grains for beer are not malted. They have not gone through the malting process that germinates the grain and starts converting proteins and carbohydrates to sugars and amino acids.

In the earlier lesson, we sort of touched on “adjunct grains” and how they are used more for texture than for flavor.

Brew Your Own has a detailed article, Adjuncts Explained, that, well, explains unmalted grains in more detail.

Unmalted grains don’t have the enzyme that convert starches. Luckily, malted barley has more enzymes than are needed to convert their own starches.

So unmalted “adjunct grains” can be added in lesser quantity with malted barley. The leftover enzymes for malted barley will help convert the starches from the unmalted grains.

Some adjunct grains include:

  • Rice
  • Corn
  • Unmalted barley
  • Sorghum
  • Unmalted wheat
  • Oats
  • Rye

Rice and corn can be used to lighten the flavor and color of beer. American Pilsners commonly use rice or corn.

Unmalted barley is sometimes used to reduce costs because it is less expensive than malted barley. It can also improve foam retention.

Sorghum was used by American breweries in the 1940s when other ingredients were limited due to the war. Today, Sorghum is commonly used in Mexican lagers.

Unmalted wheat provides raw grain flavor and cloudy appearance characteristic of Belgian Wheat beers.

Oats give beer a smoothness and increased mouthfeel. Compare a stout to an Oatmeal Stout to get an idea of what the addition of oats can do.

Rye helps a lot with flavor and less with fermentables. Characteristics of rye beer are orange and spicy flavors.

(Source: Parkes, Steve and Chris Colby. Adjuncts Explained. https://byo.com. December 2001. Accessed October 19, 2015.)


As discussed previously, hops are in the nettle family and are related to marijuana. Only the cone is used, and it’s often called a “flower.” They were first used in beer about a thousand years ago.

Hop character in beer

In the basics, we can say that hops are a flower that adds bitter flavors to offset the sweetness from malt. They also add aromas and act as a preservative.

Getting more technical, hops are added to wort to release their alpha acids and beta acids.

Alpha acids have antibiotic properties to act as a preservative. They also add bitter flavors to beer.

Beta acids do not much affect the flavor of beer, but they do add aromas.

There are 2 broad categories for hops:

  • Bittering hops
  • Aroma hops

Bittering hops have more alpha acids.

Alpha acids are released when hops are boiled in the wort. So bittering hops are added to wort while it is boiling.

Aroma hops, on the other hand, have more beta acids.

Beta acids do not come out during the boil. So aroma hops are added at the end of the boil, in the last 10 minutes or less.

Essential oils from hops can add other flavors besides bitterness. However, the essential oils evaporate during the boil. So if the brewer wants any “hop taste,” she’ll add aroma hops at the end of the boil.

Sometime hops are added to the fermenter. This is called “dry hopping.”

Basic anatomy of hop plant and cone

Hops have separate male and female plants, but only the females produce the cones used in beer.

Hops are a climbing vine that grow quickly. They are trained to grow up strings and can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) tall.

The leaves look a little like grape leaves. The cones look like mini pine cones, but green and the petals of the cone are paper thin. At the base of the petals grow the essential oils and resins that brewers use.

Major growing regions

Although hops grow throughout much of the world, their optimum area for commercial farming is more specific. “Hop production is concentrated in moist temperate climates, with much of the worlds’ production occurring near the 48th parallel north.” (Wikipedia)

Areas with large commercial hop production are:

  • Hallertau, Germany
  • Yakima, Washington, USA
  • Willamette, Oregon, USA
  • Canyon County, Idaho, USA
  • Kent, UK
  • Herefordshire, UK
  • Worcestershire, UK

The syllabus lists other well-known hops growing regions:

  • Czech Republic
  • Australia
  • New Zealand


Although beer has been made for thousands of years, it was only in 1860 that Louis Pasteur discovered yeast.

Yeast are microscopic, single-cell fungi that “take in simple sugars like glucose and maltose and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products,” says John Palmer.

Convenient for us, because beer is made with sugary water (wort), and it ends up having alcohol and being carbonated with carbon dioxide. Awesome!


Yeast is part of the Fungi Kingdom.

There are various sub-species or strains of Brewer’s Yeast for ales and lagers. In fact, as of the time of this writing, Wyeast Laboratories lists 49 different yeast strains for beer. (October 21, 2015)

“Each yeast strain,” writes Wyeast Laboratories, “produces different levels of flavor and aroma compounds as well as alcohol levels even if all conditions are identical.”

Therefore, simply by selecting a specific yeast strain, the brewer has great power to affect the flavor of the beer.

In brewing, we can group yeast into 2 broad categories:

  • Ale yeast
  • Lager yeast

Ale yeast

Brewer’s Yeast is from the genus Saccharomyces. Its species is cerevisiae.

Brewer’s yeast: Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

In fact, brewer’s yeast is the same species as common baking yeast. Brewer’s yeast, however, is a different sub-species, or strain, than baking yeast.

These yeast produce esters that create fruity flavors in the beer. Some have a “phenolic off-flavor gene” (POF+) that create clove, nutmeg, and white pepper flavors in beer.

Ale yeasts ferment at warmer temperatures. (Approximately 68-72° F (20-22° C).)

(Source: Stika, Jon. Controlling Fermentation Temperature: Techniques. Brew Your Own. March/April 2009. https://byo.com. Accessed November 10, 2015.)

Lager yeast

Yeast for lager beers are also from the genus Saccharomyces. It’s species is pastorianus. It is also sometimes still called by an outdated name, Saccharomyces carlsbergensis.

These yeast do not produce esters nor phenols. So lager beers focus more on the malt and the hops character.

Lager yeasts ferment at colder temperatures. (Approximately 45-55° F (7-13° C).)

(Source: Stika, Jon. Controlling Fermentation Temperature: Techniques. Brew Your Own. March/April 2009. https://byo.com. Accessed November 10, 2015.)

Other yeast and bacteria

We previously mentioned a few other yeasts and bacteria that also are used to ferment beer.

Some other yeasts are:

  • Brettanomyces
  • Pichia
  • Candida

Some fermenting bacteria are:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Pediococcus
  • Acetobacteria

Be on guard!

Auto-brewery syndrome is a medical condition wherein a person’s gut is infected by Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This intestinal yeast causes fermenting inside the body, resulting in intoxication.

You may think it sounds awesome—until you get charged with drunk driving without even drinking!

Luckily, auto-brewery syndrome is rare and can be treated with oral antifungal medicine.

(Source: Wikipedia. Auto-brewery syndrome. https://en.wikipedia.org. Accessed October 21, 2015.)


Water makes up 90+ percent of the weight of beer

Water makes up about 90 percent of beer by weight and volume.

But it’s not just plain H2O. In fact, pure water wouldn’t make good beer.

“Many parts of the brewing process require the natural minerals found in water,” according to the Cicerone® Certification Program. “Without these minerals, the biochemistry of brewing and fermentation simply won’t function properly.”

All water contains traces of minerals

Every water source contains minerals.

Minerals in water make it “hard.” Even “soft” water has some minerals. Minerals also give water its flavor.

Some of the minerals in water are:

  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Sulfur
  • Chloride

Modern brewers adjust water chemistry to fit the requirements of the beer they brew.

When we first started talking about beer styles, we touched on the notion that the development of regional beer styles was dictated partly by different water that was available in different regions.

Beer Exam School flashcards, beer styles set. Formatted for perforated business card sheets. Compatible with Avery 8371.  

Beer Style Flashcards

When we really dug into the different, specific beer styles, we saw some specific beer styles that were affected by local water

For example:

German Pils is made with Noble German hops whose bitterness is accentuated by sulfates in the water where this style originated.

Munich Dunkel developed partly because of carbonate in the water.

Best Bitter was developed only after brewers learned how to “Burtonize” their water to make it really hard like the water that is found naturally in Burton-On-Trent, England.

According to Cicerone® Certification Program, “this indicates that water minerals have an impact beyond mere chemistry—that they also affect flavor.”

In modern times, brewers can adjust the mineral content of their water based on the style of beer they’re making.

Some breweries even have advanced water filtration systems that strip the water down to nearly pure H2O. Then they add back exact mineral profiles to mimic the water of a certain locale where the beer style originated.

Brewing Processes

To provide excellent beer service, you’ll need to be able to talk about beer with your customers. As we’ve already learned, ingredients are not the only factor that affect beer flavor, how the ingredients are used also affects the final product.

So we need to understand the basic brewing processes and be able to speak intelligently about it.

The steps described below are not instructions for brewing. Rather, this and other information throughout these study notes will give you enough information to talk somewhat intelligently about the brewing process and how it affect the flavor of beer.

I saw this billboard describing "The Pyramid Brewing Process" as seen at the now-gone brewery in Berkeley on July 5, 2014.

I saw this billboard describing “The Pyramid Brewing Process” as seen at the now-gone brewery in Berkeley on July 5, 2014.

There are 3 steps to the brewing process:

  1. Mash
  2. Boil
  3. Ferment


The fist step in the brewing process is the mash. Essentially we’re making a “grain tea.” By steeping crushed, malted grain in hot water for about an hour, the starches in the grain are converted to fermentable sugar.

Next, the grain is lautered to remove the liquid wort from the spent grain. The grains have fallen to the bottom of the mash tun and serve as a filter. The wort passes through the grains and is now a clear, sweet liquid, rich in sugars for the yeast to eat.

The grains are sparged, to rinse any remaining sugars into the wort. That means they are sprinkled with clean water, which runs through it and into the wort.


Now the wort is transferred into the boil kettle where it is heated to a boil for about 60-90 minutes.

Boiling the wort sterilizes it to remove any biological contaminants that would spoil the beer. We don’t want any living organisms in the beer besides the ones that we will introduce.

Boiling also concentrates the sugars and breaks down the proteins.

Hops are added in stages during the boil.


After the boil, sanitization is crucial. We are working with a sterilized wort, and we don’t want any contaminants introduced. So anything that comes in contact with the wort must be completely sanitized.

The wort is cooled and transferred to the fermentation vessel where yeast is added and will do its things for about 2 weeks.

It is during this time that the microscopic yeast become extremely active. In their ferocious hunger for sugar, they produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.

“After they eat all the sugar,” writes Adam my homebrewing friend via email, “the yeast goes dormant. Much of it clumps together and falls to the bottom, but some of it remains in suspension; these can be used later for natural carbonation!”

The brewer has made wort, the yeast have made beer, the world is a better place. [Tweet This]


After the beer is fully fermented and the trub has all settled to the bottom, the beer can be packaged for the consumers.

The yeast have carbonated the beer naturally with their CO2 farts and burps. This finished product, called “real ale,” is common in England, but it’s not carbonated enough for most modern commercial expectations.

The beer can be force carbonated by pressurizing it with CO2 in a bright tank, or it can be bottled conditioned by adding a little sugar to the bottles to reactivate the yeast that’s left over in the beer, just enough to carbonate inside the bottle.

Cans, bottles, or kegs? Which do you prefer? Check out this post on the MicroBrewr blog to read what my friends and I decided after 2 blind taste tests, or read what 27 industry experts prefer.

Additional insight

In the free study links section for Certified Beer Server, they advise to “find a friend who homebrews and join them sometime when they are brewing to learn how it is done.”

I can say from experience that homebrewing with friends has greatly helped me understand the brewing process. I have been on a fair amount of brewery tours. I listened as the tour guide explained the processes and purposes behind them, I observed the brewing equipment, and I even watched parts of the process.

After I helped a friend make homebrew on a couple different occasions it all sort of came together more cohesively and I understood the nuances considerably more.

I have described a very brief overview, an abridged version of the brewing process. For a more complete understanding, I highly recommend going on as many brewery tours as possible and even helping a friend make beer at home.

If you don’t know any homebrewer, look online for a homebrew club near you. Most people are eager to share their knowledge.


So this gives a pretty good start on beer ingredients and brewing processes. You now know about the basic ingredients for almost every beer, and a little bit about how they affect flavor. You know how different processes can affect a beer differently.

So feel comfortable to talk with your customers about beer, answer their questions, and provide excellent beer service.

Now we’ll go into the very last part of the syllabus, Part V. Pairing Beer with Food.

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Flashcards for this section

Based on the reading materials mentioned and my notes above, here are my flashcards for this section.

4 main ingredients in beer

  1. Grains
  2. Hops
  3. Yeast
  4. Water

What is the primary purpose for using grains in beer?

Malted sugar in grains will be fermented into alcohol.

3 steps for malting grain

  1. Steeping (almost 48 hours)
  2. Germination (4-5 days)
  3. Drying (2-4 hours)

What are some unmalted grains that are used in beer?



Unmalted barley


Unmalted wheat



What are hops?

Only the cone (flower) from the hops plant is used in beer.

Hops are a climbing vine in the nettle family and are related to marijuana.

They were first used in beer about a thousand years ago.

How do hops affect beer flavor?

Hops add bitter flavors to offset the sweetness from malt.

They also add aromas and act as a preservative.

2 elements of hops and how each affects beer

  1. Alpha acids – Antibiotic, preservative properties. Bitter flavors.
  2. Beta acids – Mostly add aromas.

What are bittering hops?

Bittering hops have more alpha acids.

They are added to the boiling wort.

What are aroma hops?

Aromas hops have more beta acids.

They are added at the end of the boil.

What are the major growing regions for hops?

Hops grow in moist, temperate climates, mostly near the 48th parallel north.


Czech Republic


Yakima Valley, Washington, USA

Willamette, Oregon, USA

Idaho, USA


New Zealand

What is yeast?

Yeast are microscopic, single-cell fungi.

They eat sugar, and excrete carbon dioxide and alcohol.

2 broad categories of yeast used in beer

  1. Ale yeast
  2. Lager yeast

What are ale yeast?

Ale yeast: Saccaromyces cerevisiae, also called Brewer’s Yeast.

Ferments at: 68-72°F (20-22° C)

Flavors: Fruity, clove, nutmeg, white pepper

What are lager yeast?

Lager yeast: Saccharomyces pastorianus

Ferments at: 45-55° F (7-13° C)

Flavors: Not much flavors, so the beers focus on malt and hops

3 other yeasts and 3 bacteria for fermenting beer

Other yeasts:

  1. Brettanomyces
  2. Pichia
  3. Candida

Fermenting bacteria:

  1. Lactobacillus
  2. Pediococcus
  3. Acetobacteria

What is the largest component of beer?

Water makes up about 90% of beer by weight and by volume.

4 minerals in water that affect beer

  1. Calcium
  2. Magnesium
  3. Sulfur
  4. Chloride

3 steps to making beer and the purpose of each

  1. Mash – Convert the starches into sugar.
  2. Boil – Sterilize the wort, concentrate the sugars, and break down the proteins.
  3. Ferment – Yeast convert the sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

Also: Packaging – Put the finished beer into kegs, bottles or cans. It can be force carbonated or bottle conditioned.


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    I'm Nathan Pierce. I drink beer, I quit my job, and I'm planning to start a brewery. I also host a podcast about how to start a brewery. So I’m studying for Cicerone® Certification Program, Certified Beer Server exam.

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