What Is Beer?

Beer is a fermented, alcoholic drink made by the careful combination of water, malt, hops and yeast. It is also a culinary ingredient used by chefs to add flavor and complexity to dishes and as leavening in baking recipes.

The brewing process starts with steeping raw grains, such as barley, wheat, rice, corn or oats in hot water. This is called mashing, which results in a sweet liquid known as wort. The wort is then boiled while adding hops. The hops add bitterness and aroma, while the boiling process helps to extract sugars from the grain and cook it. Once the wort is cooled, it is ready for fermentation. Yeast is added to the wort and over time it consumes the sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once the yeast has consumed all of the sugar, the brew is transferred to conditioning tanks and can take from a few weeks to several years to age.

A well-made beer has a complex flavor with hints of malt, hops and other ingredients, such as chocolate, coffee, licorice or molasses. It also has a rich body, good head and high alcohol content. It is a staple beverage in the cuisines of many nations.

Although national definitions for beer vary, all have in common the ingredient list: malt, hops and water. Even within this very restrictive technical framework, endless debates have tried to settle the groundless question whether medieval cervoises or non-hopped English ales are real beers.