8 Essential Ingredients You Need To Brew Beer
The ingredients you need for your homebrewed beer will depend on the flavors, heaviness, alcohol content, and style of beer you’re brewing. In general, though, there are about eight ingredients you’re going to need.
To brew beer, you’ll need water, flavoring, and grain. Flavorings are essential to spice up the brew and can include herbs, fruits, and literal spices. However, before brewing, you’ll need to ensure your set-up has the right fuel.
These are all general suggestions, and the type of beer you’re making will really dictate your essential list. The rest of this article will discuss essential ingredients to consider when brewing beer, and the different styles of beer you can brew to help focus you further ingredient-wise.
1. Bottled Spring or Tap Water
Water is the primary ingredient in beer. It’s also one of the most important ingredients when brewing, as it makes up about 95% of your final product.
While distilled water can be used for your brews, it’s not ideal because each source contains different minerals and chemicals that can cause undesirable results.
Bottled spring water or tap water are better options—distilled has been stripped away of its mineral content and thus won’t affect your brew in any way (good or bad).
Sometimes distilled can affect your fermentation process, so when you read a brew recipe that gives you specific water, make sure to listen!
In the brewing process, hops are added to the boiling wort or liquid extract of malted grains (malt). They add bitterness and aroma to beer.
Hops have been used in beer for centuries for their natural preservative qualities that help preserve beer and keep it tasting its best. Hops are a natural antibacterial agent and a natural antiseptic that prevents spoilage from occurring in your brews.
Therefore, it’s an essential ingredient to your homebrew.
3. Malted Barley
Malted barley is the most important ingredient in beer. It’s used to make wort, the sweet liquid that becomes beer after the yeast has been added and fermented.
Additionally, malted barley is germinated and then dried to stop its growth, making it easier for us humans to use. It’s also milled into a powder, which makes it look like flour!
It can be added directly or mixed with other grains, such as wheat or corn, to make an all-grain recipe at home (which means you’ll actually be using malt extract instead).
As far as ingredients go, this one is pretty simple; however, knowing exactly how it’s prepared and how its properties will affect your brew day can help you make better choices when shopping for supplies online or locally.
There are also dozens of other grains you can make beer with, but barley tends to be the most accessible. Dry malt is a good alternative and can also provide a different flavoring experience.
Trub is the sediment that forms at the bottom of your fermenter. It contains yeast, leftover malt sugars, hop oils, and proteins. It’s a byproduct of fermentation—but it can also be used to make beer or distilled into biofuel.
Trub is also a good reason to ensure you’re cleaning your bottles well before you brew something new.
5. Flavoring (Fruits, Herbs, Spices, Extracts)
Flavoring is an essential ingredient in homebrewing. It can be used to add a new dimension of flavor to your beer, or it can be used to replace an ingredient that you don’t have access to. You can use several things to flavor your homebrew, including:
Fruits are one of the most common ways to add flavor to beer but proceed cautiously. They’re available in many different forms, from whole fruits to purees. Some common fruits that you can use include:
Remember that many fruits will lose their flavor when heated, so you should use them after fermentation or know that it’ll affect your fermentation beforehand because of the process and sugar.
Spices are another great way to flavor your beer, but the fresher, the better. A wide variety of spices available can be used in either whole or ground form. Most spices will lose their flavor when heated, so they should be added after fermentation has begun.
Some common spices you can use include:
- Ginger root
Herbs are more difficult to find but are worth it. It’s better to get fresh herbs rather than the ones you may find in jars already dried and ground up. Herbs such as basil or rosemary can be added whole.
In contrast, other herbs, like thyme or dill, should be added only after boiling has finished so that they retain their full flavor.
Extracts also work well for adding flavor, and you may already have a few in your cabinet. Some common extracts you can use include a vanilla extract (or imitation vanilla extract) and coffee extract (or imitation coffee extract).
While this ingredient doesn’t go in the beer, it’s an essential addition to the list. Even if you have the best and brightest of the rest of the ingredients, you can’t do much if you don’t properly fuel your set-up.
Homebrew has to be brewed with heat—and if your power or heat goes out, it can be a big bummer. Propane devices are great for home brewers because they offer electricity or gas alternatives. Depending on your set-up, don’t forget fuel before you begin brewing!
7. Yeast or Wild Yeast
Yeast is a single-celled fungus that lives on the surface of grape skins, fruits, and honey. It’s responsible for converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. Yeast is also used in many other food products, such as bread and wine!
However, yeast doesn’t act on its own. Yeast needs water (and some other nutrients) when brewing beer, so make sure there isn’t any left behind at the bottom after straining out your grains.
Yeast and wild yeast are two terms that are often used interchangeably in homebrewing. They’re not the same thing, though—yeast is an essential ingredient for making beer, but wild yeast is a byproduct of fermentation.
Wild yeast can be good or bad depending on how you want to approach your homebrew. You may want to use it as a flavor enhancer for your beers, or you might want to avoid it altogether. Either way, you’ll need to know how to deal with it if you ever plan on brewing beer at home!
One of the most interesting trends I’ve seen in recent years is the use of mushrooms as an ingredient in homebrewing. There are dozens of different types of mushrooms known for flavoring and affect, such as:
- Lions Mane
Most of these you can grab at your local store, while some you might need to hunt down at a market. Some home brewers swear by this method, saying that it adds flavor or even nootropic effects to their beer.
Some people opt for mushrooms when they’re making beer because of the way they affect your brain and body. While mushrooms have been used as medicine in ancient times, modern medicine has shown that they can help with things like anxiety and depression.
So, while it might sound strange to add mushrooms to your homebrewed beer, there’s no denying that they’re a great source of nutrients regarding health benefits like stress reduction or mood enhancement. It requires a little more attention; you can check out our article here to learn more.
Why Different Brew Types Require Different Ingredients
First and foremost, you need to set your sights on one or two types of beer.
An essential list will be two miles long if you don’t focus on something. The most commonly brewed types of beer are:
- Pale Ales
And if you decide you want to make each and every one, just know your grocery list is going to be long. However, if you decide you want to perfect your craft on one or two types of beer (and you strategically pick two with similar ingredient essentials), then you’ll be able to build your collection quicker.
If you’re unsure where to start style-wise, consider the difficulty level and your experience. While most beer recipes will indicate how difficult the brewing process is, it’s important to note that there are no clear-cut rules for this.
The difficulty level of a beer recipe is often indicated by its style. While some styles may be easier to brew, many factors can make one style more or less difficult than another—it all depends on the brewer!
For example, if you’re using extract instead of all-grain and want to add spices without getting any bitter flavors from them (which is probably why you’re doing this), then IPAs may not be your best bet when it comes to ease of brewing.
Below, I’ll go into a few different beer styles. I also do this in video form, which you can check out here:
IPA (India Pale Ale) is the most popular beer among homebrewers, with good reason! IPAs are characterized by their intense aroma, flavor, and bitterness. This can be due to several factors that include:
- The use of several types of hops.
- A higher amount of malt than in other styles.
- The addition of raw or unmalted grains like wheat and oats.
If this is the type of beer you’re brewing, hops are truly essential!
I love to brew beers of all kinds, and I’m happy to help you get started. My favorites are the hazy beers, which are becoming increasingly popular in the craft beer world.
You may have heard these called New England-style IPAs or unfiltered IPAs. They’re brewed with a particular yeast known as American Ale yeast that gives them their signature cloudy appearance and makes them incredibly smooth on the palate.
Stout or Port Beers
Stouts and porters are both dark beers. They have a higher alcohol content than most other beers and can taste bitter.
Stouts use roasted barley or malt to give them their distinctive flavor, whereas porters usually only use roasted barley. This gives stouts a stronger flavor than porters; however, it’s still possible for these two types of beer to be very different.
For example, Guinness Extra Stout has an ABV (alcohol by volume) percentage of about 4%, whereas Guinness Draught has only 2%.
Light beer is the easiest type of beer to make. It’s also lower in alcohol, flavor, and body than other types of beer.
The lighter your beer is, the less time it will take for you to brew it. If you’re just starting home brewing, I highly recommend starting with this style if you haven’t done much home brewing yet.
Pale Ale or Lager Beers
Because they’re light-bodied and low in alcohol, pale ales are usually consumed by the pint. They can be described as having a malty or bready flavor, with some hop bitterness and aroma.
The balance of these ingredients varies from beer to beer but is generally quite mild; it’s easy to see why this style has become so popular!
Sour beers are one of the most difficult to make. They require a lot more time and effort than other types of beer, but they’re also very rewarding. Sour beers are made with a bacteria called lactobacillus, responsible for giving their sour flavor to foods like yogurt and cheese.
Making this type of beer involves adding lactobacillus to your batch. At the same time, it sits in oak barrels or temperature-controlled rooms, encouraging the bacterium’s growth.
If you want to try making some sour beers on your own, check out our recipe here!
It’s important to know that cider is made with the same equipment as beer, though they’re not exactly the same. You’ll need an airlock, a fermenter, and sanitizer. If you’re planning on using a kit to make your cider, make sure it comes with these items.
Cider is an easy brew; if you’re just starting out in homebrewing and want to learn more about brewing, this might be a good place to start. When you’ve finished brewing your cider, give it time to age before drinking so that any off flavors can mellow out.