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?