What's In A Beer?



A beer is more than what is in the cup. It is an experience with friends, a cool down after a long day at work, a moment to relax, and if you make it yourself it is a slow pour of cold success.

To understand how to make beer it is important to start with the basics. There are four main ingredients found in every beer. Various styles add a special kick of flavoring, but all types begin with this basic beer ingredients list.

So, what is in a beer you ask…  

  • Water
  • Grain
  • Hops
  • Yeast

Keep reading to discover how each ingredient impacts the final product. Sure, there can be more than four ingredients in your beer, but these are the four main ingredients found in every batch brewed. So, the next time you hear someone ask, “what is beer made of?” you can tell them this…


Water is the main ingredient in beer. In fact, it makes up 90 to 95 percent of your beer’s contents.

The quality of water used for brewing is vital for the finished product. The minerals and pH balance of your water directly impacts the taste.  These components can be manipulated to change the taste and achieve the requirements for the different types of beer you are brewing.  

Don’t just turn on the tap and hope for the best. Pay attention to this critical ingredient in your beer to achieve the desired results. You can brew beyond the limitations of your local water supply.

To learn how to manipulate the water in your beer read Treating Homebrew Water.


What does a beer contain beyond water? The next important ingredient is grain.

Grain provides color, the primary source of flavor, fermentable sugars (called maltose that interact with the yeast to create alcohol and carbon dioxide), protein which helps form the head, and mouthfeel (also known as dextrin).  From this list alone its easy to see that without grain there would be no beer.

While a variety of grains can be used malted barley is the most common.  This is because barley has a high starch content, the necessary enzymes to convert starch to sugar, and the proteins needed to interact with the yeast. The husks of barley are an added bonus, which can act as a natural filter during the mashing and sparging process.

Other grains such as oats, wheat, rye, rice, corn and sorghum are used for brewing beer. Often you will find corn and rice in mass produced beers. However, these are generally used as a supplement to the barley to produce a different texture, head, flavor, and aroma or to control costs. They are not used alone, but as an addition to the barley. 

Choose carefully. The grains you use will directly impact the flavor and overall quality of your beer.


What are hops?

Hops come in the form of a small green bud that adds to the overall complexity of the final product. They are typically grown between the 30th and 50th northern latitude. Or more simply put in Oregon, Washington State, Germany, England, and Belgium. However, scientists have been working diligently to create new hops in places like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and even South Florida. 

Hops can come in different forms: concentrated, pellet and whole. They can be added at many different points during the process, each having a different effect on the beer.  Hops are added at the beginning of the boil for bitterness (this is where IBU ratings come into play) or at the end to give defined tastes and aromas to the finished product. You can also add them in during fermentation, a practice commonly used in hop-forward beers like pale ales and IPAs.  This technique is called dry hopping.

When brewing what is important to remember is that hops provide aroma, flavor, bitterness, and stability (or shelf life) to beer. For those with a green thumb it is rumored that using homegrown hops can be the most rewarding ingredient of all!

*Didn’t get enough about hops? Try The Hops List (Book). You’ll find information on 265 varieties of hops from around the world!   


Yeast’s primary job is to turn the sugar, provided by the grains, into CO2 and alcohol.

In general there are two types of yeast, ale and lager, and each makes a significantly different style of beer.  Beers that use ale yeast are fermented at a warmer temperature and the yeast collects on top during fermentation. Examples of ales would include pale ale, IPA, stout,s, and porters (as well as many others).

Beers that use lager yeast are fermented at a cooler temperature and the yeast drops to the bottom of the brew. Lagers typically have a light and crisp flavor profile.  Examples of lagers include pilsners, helleses, and bocks.

Now That You Know, MoreBeer! Please

One of the great things about beer brewing is that you know exactly what you are drinking. When you brew your own it is easy to answer, “what is in my beer.” The personalization and long wait toward completion make that glass 100 times more enjoyable than popping open a mass produced can.

The best way to answer what’s in a beer is hands on experience. It’s time to make your own batch!

If how to make beer is new try your hand at one of these simple starter kits. For those of you more seasoned give some of the Project Extreme Brewing recipes a go!


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