Beer Knowledge Series

The main ingredients in beer

Water, Grains, Hops, and Yeast

What is beer?

Merriam-Webster defines beer as: “An alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain (as barley), flavored with hops, and brewed by slow fermentation.”

For those of us who enjoy drinking beer, we really don’t think too much about the ingredients that go into our beers, we just know which beers we like, the ones we don’t, our favorite, and our preferred go to in case our top pick is not available.

Beer is one of those things in life that is greater than the sum of the parts. There are many different styles, types, flavors, and aromas. It has both Old World roots and New World connections.

Beer is something so simple yet complex.

It takes a lot of work, science, and craftsmanship to brew a great-tasting, long-lasting beer.

Beer is made from four primary ingredients: Water, Grains, Hops, and Yeast.

Let’s look at what some would call the “Reader’s Digest” of the ingredients that go into making beer. Let’s make this lite and fun just like drinking a fine Pilsner Miller Lite instead of a science project. Life is complicated enough, time to just get the cliff-notes and have time to enjoy a good cold one.


In many modern brews, water makes up 90 to 95% of the content by volume in beer. That number can go higher if the beer you are drinking is a Near Beer or Non-alcoholic brew or as low as 33% as is the case with the current world’s strongest beer, Brewmeister’s Snake Venom, which comes in with a whopping 67% ABV (alcohol by volume). How “Snake Venom” gets there is all that science stuff.

Much thought, selection, testing, and processing goes into what type of water (hard, soft, alkaline, etc.) and where did the water come from. The water is purified and checked for the proper calcium and acidic content to maximize the starch to sugar conversion and fermentation processes. If not, the water is brought up to the suitable needs to obtain this.

Hey, that was a little sciencey!

I kept it lite! I could have thrown in the “Dihydrogen Monoxide” (DHMO) to describe water and the Saccharification Rest aka the starch to sugar conversion for all the chemists reading this.


After water, the grains are the next main ingredient in the production of beer. For the grains, barley is by far the number one choice followed by wheat and then rye. The grain is responsible for helping produce the fermentable sugars needed for yeast to produce alcohol.


Hops are flowers that come from a vining plant. There are over 50 types of hops and beer is brewed only with the female flowers. Hops are what gives beer that special flavor and refreshing bitterness, distinctive aroma, and balance to the sweetness of the fermentation sugars while giving beer increased durability and stability of the foam.


Yeast is a fungus that eats the sugar in beer and expels alcohol and carbon dioxide in the process. Without yeast, we would not have beer. For beer brewing purposes, there are two types of yeast. Ale yeast is top-fermenting and Lager yeast which is a bottom-fermenting yeast.

There you have it, the four primary ingredients in the beer-making process.

See we kept it lite with very little science and hey no pop quizzes.