What's actually in beer?


You don’t know what beer is, do you?  Have you ever gone to a brewery and looked around and thought, “wait what the heck is in this stuff??”  Some of you know exactly what’s in beer, and what each part does.  If you do, you’re good.  You can move on with your life.  And then there are the others who have no clue what the heck that stuff is.  You may not even know what kind you like because you don’t know the kinds.  You may say, “yea, I know some ingredients like hops and alcohol” but alcohol isn’t an ingredient. 

So here we’re throwing you some knowledge about what’s in the stuff so you don’t look stupid in the future.  I’ll also tell you generally what each part does so you can know what makes IPAs bitter so you’ll know what to avoid if you hate that stuff.  

Now people put some awesome/crazy stuff in beer to push the limits of taste like marshmallows, jalapenos, and peanut butter.  These are just some extras for ya, they aren't essential for beer.  So don't be surprised that raspberry isn't on this list.

There are 4 MAIN INGREDIENTS to beer.  Ok, let’s go.



The first stop on our beer journey: water.  You knew that.  I mean you must have known that, right?  It’s a liquid…let’s assume you knew.  This baby is like 90% of what beer is.  The process of brewing beer is long, and requires water to be boiled for quite a while (60 – 120+ minutes).

There’s hard water, soft water, and a mix of both all over the world.  Also, specific areas like Plzeň, a city in Bohemia (where Pilsners were first born) are known for their type of water. 

Honestly, as long as the water is drinkable, it can make good beer, and brewers can change the composition of the water by adding some ingredients in the boil.

What it does to your beer

Makes it liquid....


 Malted Barley

Barley is a grain.  This stuff has all the sugar in it that the yeast eats up to make alcohol.  That’s kind of weird, right?  I mean it’s not just any grain.  You can’t throw some wheat bread in a glass of water and call it beer.  It needs to turn into malt.  That means it has to go through a process of Malting.  This is where the barley sits in some water for a while and germinates so it has the components it needs to go through fermentation. 

Some real famous beers skip this step and add corn or rice as substitutes instead of barley to save some dough (Budweiser, Coors, Miller, others).  FUN FACT: In Germany there is The Reinheitsgebot “Purity Law” that actually states it’s illegal to make a beer that has anything more or less than these four ingredients.  Budweiser is illegal in Germany and not considered beer.  Classic.

What it does to your beer

This stuff actually does a lot.  Basically any color there is in a beer is because of the barley.  You know how Stouts and Porters are so dark?  LOTS of dark Barley.  You know how lagers and pilsners are so light?  Light Barley.  I mean those were some incredibly generic statements, and there are tons of different types of malts that can all do different things for your beer.

Not just the color though.  Barley contributes a lot to the flavor and aroma of that brew.  Is it sweet and smells like bread?  BOOM barley.

Straight to the point

Lots of it in stouts and porters.  Dark color and sweet drink.



 Oh, you only like IPAs?  That’s the only kind of beer you drink?  We all know that guy (I’m kind of that guy).  Well without these little nuggets of spice and bitter, we wouldn’t have any IPAs or Pale Ales orrr…beer in general.  So, yea these things are good.

There are dozens and dozens of types of hops grown all around the world and each one offers a different taste, aroma, and feel to a beer.  Plus some have some sweet names like Centennial, Galaxy, and Mosaic.

Hops basically look like green little pinecones.  That’s honestly the best I can describe them.


What it does to your beer

BITTER.  THEY ARE BITTER.  Malt is the sweet stuff, and hops balance that out so beer isn’t a candy drink from Willy Wonka.  If you’re drinking a beer and it’s super bitter, that’s because of the hops.  Depending on when you add hops in the brewing process, they affect three things: bitterness, aroma, and taste.  The early you add them, the more bitter the beer will be.  The later, the more of the aroma and flavor is going to be coming out.  Hops contribute to the fruity (various types), floral, earthy, or spicy flavors in beer.

Straight to the point

Lots of them in IPAs and Pale Ales.  Bitter.



Oh, yeast.  This is the stuff that makes your beer a beer and not some a disgusting kid’s drink.  Probably the weirdest part of this whole process, but yeast is alive.  Its whole existence is to eat when it wants and chill out when it’s done. 

Yeast eats sugar and spits out alcohol and CO2.  Yeast feeds off the sugar from the malted barley mentioned above.  Yeast is unreal sensitive though.  It has to have these perfect conditions for it to come out and play or else it’s just going to sit and home and do nothing.  Right temperature, right timing, right amount.

What it does to your beer

Makes it alcoholic.  It’s a big deal.  Yeast changes the flavor of the beer a little bit depending on the type, just like every other ingredient here.  Fruity, spicy, I’ve also seen a lot of “banana notes.”  Don’t understand that one, but there ya go.

Straight to the point

It makes your beer alcoholic.



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Brad Ledford