How Beer Is Made

When it comes to beer, the word “recipe” gets thrown around a lot (and it’s no wonder, given how many different varieties are out there). But no matter which six-pack you grab from your local refrigerated case, the basic ingredients remain the same: barley, water, hops and yeast.

In the past, when the process was still a bit artisanal, these four ingredients would be combined on an individual basis to create the distinctive drinks we enjoy today. Today, however, brewing is a highly industrialized process.

There are three main ways to make beer—extract brewing, partial mash and all-grain brewing—but they all start with heating water and grain together to create a sweet liquid called wort. From there, it’s cooled before adding the yeast, which begins to consume the sugar and turn it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation can take a few days to a few weeks, depending on the style of beer.

Once the fermentation is complete, the brew is transferred to conditioning tanks for aging. As it ages, the brew can develop a range of flavors, including nutty, fruity or spicy. It can also pick up phenolic compounds, such as hop a-acids, which provide bitterness and act as a natural preservative. Some research suggests that moderate beer consumption might actually reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, thanks to these phenolic compounds. (Of course, future clinical and in-vivo studies are needed.) But that’s another article for another time.