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How Is Beer Made? Step One: Grains

I know what grains are! They make bread, right?

You might be asking and telling yourself. You’re correct, they do make bread. But they also make ‘liquid bread’, aka beer (and whiskey, vodka, and almost every other type of consumable alcohol except wine and mead).

But I thought beer had barley, hops, water, and yeast?!

Again, you are correct. That is the ‘original’ recipe for what we know as beer today. However, as time has gone on, we have added and subtracted different grains in place of just barley. So, in reality, beer is grain, hops, water, and yeast. There is a plethora of grains available to make beer in today’s world. Some beers contain one grain, some contain multiple, and some even contain things that aren’t grains, but serve the purpose as such (we will dive into this later).

Bowl of barley.
Many people believe barley is the only grain used in beer, but that is no longer true. Did you know this is what barley looks like?

Okay, speaking of purpose, what is the purpose of grains in beer?

Grains are the base of the beer. They impart the most flavor, body, and mouthfeel. They, along with hops, set beer apart from other fermented beverages. Grains contain sugars that can be extracted when they reach near boiling temperature and are steeped for a specified amount of time. The type of grain, temperature, and total time of wort (aka the hot grain water) determine how many sugars are pulled out. Typically, you want your wort to be about in the range of 148 – 154 degrees Fahrenheit, for an hour, as temperatures and times above this can cause ‘dry’ beer.

Some beers have more sugars to pull out, which means a higher final ABV. Some beers have fewer sugars, so they will be “smaller” beers. There is no one single way to do this, it all depends on the beer. Styles are the biggest determining factor in how long and at what temperature you steep your grains.

Be sure to check out our next post in the How Is Beer Made? series, hops! And be sure to enjoy a cold beer in the meantime, hopefully with us!

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