It better be good. In fact, water plays a crucial role in making beer. All the dissolved solids, pH, hardness (or softness), etc, make or break the beer. Those minerals impart not only a taste, but also can affect fermentation. But, water manipulation is way ahead of where we are now, discussing the basics.
Malt is a group of sugars. Maltose and Maltotriose are examples. The point of the story is this: Yeast can ferment some malts better than others. This is where distinct flavors comes from. To make beer you add several types of malts into the mix. Yeast will ferment some of them, producing alcohol (can I get an AMEN?), and leave the others alone. Once the malt is fermented, you can’t taste it. Therefore, what you are tasting is the malts that yeast can’t ferment. So, if I were to just add malt that yeast can ferment, I’d be left with alcoholic hoppy water and a stomachache.
There are hundreds of different types of malt. There are “base malts”: These are the ones that yeast ferment. The ones they can’t ferment are used to color the beer and give flavor to it. These range from very pale malts to heavily roasted malts. Some give a nutty flavor, some give a red color, some give a chocolate or coffee flavor, etc. The combinations are endless (and, they are daunting, when you first start out). So, that is why some beers taste sweeter, some taste heavier, some taste burnt (heavily roasted), and some taste dry (not many unfermentable malts), etc.
Hops are used to impart a bitter taste to beer. They help balance out the sweetness of the malt. Hops can also be used as a preservative. Hops can give beer a citrus-like bitter flavor (like Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale is a good example). They can also add an earthy flavor (many British beers have this). They can also give just bitterness (like in stouts). Well, how in the dickens can you get all those different flavors? It has to do with the boil. The longer you boil the hops, the more bitter they become.
You’ve heard of IPAs, right? If not, get your ass out of that rock you’ve been hiding in. IPAs (aka India Pale Ales) are know for their bitterness and hoppy flavors. Way back in the day, when India was colonized by the Brits, beer needed to be sent down to the troops. Well, it is a long ass trip from England to India, and they didn’t exactly have coolers then. So, they added hops into the beer barrels as a preservative. Imagine how much of that hop flavor blended into the beer on that long voyage. People loved that flavor, and the style took off.
Some people are obsessed with hops. I’m not one of those people, but I do enjoy a hoppy beer from time to time. Double IPAs (IIPA) have even more intense hop flavor and more alcohol. They are insanely popular, and very good to drink.
These are the organisms that eat malt, burp CO2, and shit alcohol. That’s right, you are drinking both the excrement and regurgitation of yeast. And, in many good beers, you are drinking the yeast themselves. There are a myriad of different strains of yeast and they can impart very unique flavors of beer. In fact, it is so critical that many brewers save the left over yeast from their batch. By doing this, their next batch will taste the same (all other things being equal). If they were to buy another yeast for their next batch, then there would be a taste difference. Commercial breweries do this too. Some of them keep their specific yeast strain locked up, so others can’t use them. It is that important.
Alcohol is poisonous to yeast (makes sense, it was shat out for a reason). So, if you want to make a strong beer (like an IIPA), you need a strain of yeast that can keep truckin’ on, even when there already is a lot of alcohol. Some yeast are poor fermenters. This can be desirable. If you want a beer that is sweeter, then you want yeast that won’t go hardcore and ferment everything they can.
Yeast also crap out many other byproducts. Some of these can be redigested by the yeast (similar to how a rabbit eats its own poo). This is where aging comes in. Yeast go batshit crazy and ferment. Alcohol and CO2 are the primary ingredients produced. But, other compounds like esters and ketones are produced (there are many more). When they are done fermenting, they will look to other sources for energy and can start digesting those byproducts. The longer they sit there, the more can be digested. This blends the flavors better and is why aging the beer is so important. It makes the beer smoother. The stronger the beer, the longer it needs to be aged, in general.
Thanks for reading and see you next week for Part 3!