The Many Variables That Make a Beer

Packets of hops.

When we asked how Belgian beer could be so cheap, Matthew Curtis suggested on Twitter that their tendency towards relatively conservative hopping could be part of the answer.

This got us thinking. After all, though hop aroma is not something we especially associate with Belgian beer, it is certainly not the case that Belgian beer is bland or homogenous.

Hops are great — we love them — but their amount and variety are far from being the only variables a brewer has to play with.

In fact, two beers made with simple pale malt and ‘boring’ Fuggles could end up tasting and looking completely different, and equally mindblowing, if the following variables were carefully manipulated by a skilled brewer. (Or screwed up by a lazy one.)

Sugars
Dark or clear? Unrefined? Caramelised?
Long boils to darken/caramelise sugars in the wort.

Yeast
Strain selection.
Fermentation temperature.
Blending of multiple strains.
Refinement/customisation in the lab.

Water/minerals
Mash liquor chemistry/softness.
Boil liquor chemistry/softness.

Malt
Custom/homemade malts.
Creative ‘misuse’ of specialty malts.
Belgian/German/British/US version of standard types, e.g. Pilsner malt.
Mash temperature and timing.
Extracts.

Additives
Heather (as in Williams Bros. Fraoch).
Salt (as in gose).
Spices (e.g. coriander).
Herbs.
Chocolate.
Coffee.
Lactose and other unfermentable sugars.
Soured/stale/aged beer.
M&Ms, otter spittle, Mr Kipling apple pies, and so on.

Conditioning
Temperature.
Carbonation levels.
Wood ageing.

And finally…
Hop freshness/age.
Timings of hop additions.
Extract, pellet or whole leaf?