What is a Craft Brew?

The Brewers Association defines craft brewer as “small, independent, and traditional.” Small in production, producing 6 million barrels of beer or less, independent in ownership, being at least 75% owned by a craft brewer and not a larger corporation, and traditional in that flavor derives from high quality ingredients—flavored malt beverages are not considered craft brews.

The Beer Essentials

There are four main ingredients that build the foundation of all beer recipes: (1) water, (2) malt, (3) hops, and (4) yeast. In order to appear savvy in the craft beer world you should know how each of these ingredients effects the final the product.

Water makes up over 90% of the beer in your pint glass. There is about 5 liters of water used for every liter of beer produced. The water used to make beer has a strong impact on the beer’s overall flavor. There are many brewing companies that are known for the type of water they use to brew their beer. Pilsner, for example, gets its crisp, light taste from the soft waters of Pilsen, Bohemia.

Malted Barley

Barley must be malted before it can be used to make beer. Soaking the barley in water for a few days allows it to germinate and bring out components necessary for fermentation to take place. However, the malt is not only credited for adding alcohol to the beer making process, but also flavor, aroma, and body. It gives the beer in your pint its unique flavor. The malt effects a beer’s sweetness similarly to how grapes effect on a wine’s sweetness.

Hops are a plant used to add spice to a beer. They are used to add bitterness to the beer in order to balance the sweetness provided by the malt. The hops will effect a beer differently depending on when it’s added—if it is added earlier in the brewing process, it will make the beer more bitter, and if it is added later, it will be less bitter.

Yeast is the mystical fungus that converts the sugar in the beer into CO2 and alcohol. Ales and lagers are the two main types of yeast. If you’ve ever been beer shopping and wondered why one type of beer is considered an ale and another a lager, it is referring to the type of yeast used to produced the beer. The difference between the two is that ale yeast collects at the top of the beer and produced using warmer temperatures while a lager yeast collects at the bottom of the beer and is produced using cooler temperatures.