Four timeless ingredients

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Four timeless ingredientsWater, malted barley, hops and yeast are the timeless basis of a good brew. While other ingredients such as corn, herbs, spices and fruits

have made appearances over the years, these four key ingredients remain unchanged.

Used in various combinations, their combinations result in a vast variety of beer styles from the lighter pilsners and pale ales to rich, dark milk stouts and porters.

Here’s our guide to the four key ingredients in a beer:


1. Water

Water, known in the brewing world as “brewing liquor” is closely tied to beer quality. Many successful breweries have sprung up, around quality water sources. Newlands Spring, the site of the current SAB Newlands Brewery, is testament to this, as are the world famous breweries at Plzen, Buron, Munich and Dublin.

The “hardness” of water is one of the most important factors that have an influence on the beer outcome. This refers to the presence of certain minerals in the water. Iron, sulphate, magnesium and chlorine are all minerals which impart certain characteristics.

Water is vital at several stages of the brewing process: as a cleaner and soaking medium in the malting process, and as a catalyst for enzymes during fermentation.

2. Malt

In South Africa, barley is largely grown in the Caledon region of the Western Cape, as well as near Douglas in the Northern Cape. SAB owns and operates the two major maltings plants in the country; the largest in Caledon malts 13 500 tonnes of barley every month.

“Malted barley”, or “malt”, gives beer its colour, body and much of its flavour. While generally referring to the barley grain, “malt” can also refer to other grains such as wheat.

The malting process involves three main stages aimed at developing the starches vital for the fermentation process:

  1. Steeping: Harvested grain is sorted and soaked in water
  2. Germination: The grains are kept in a controlled environment to encourage starch formation
  3. Kilning: This halts the grain sprouting at the optimum time through high temperature exposure.
  4. Roasting: Sometimes a fourth stage is included in the process where the grain is then roasted to impart a caramel or chocolate flavour (as in the case of Castle Milk Stout).

3. Hops

Hops have been integral to the brewing process since their introduction in the early 12th Century.  While they act as a natural preservative they also add a necessary bitterness to the brew.  Some hops are chosen specifically for their aroma while others for their bittering properties.

South Africa has its own three varieties of hops, specially bred for this climate: Southern Promise, Southern Dawn and Southern star. They are mostly grown in George in the Western Cape.

Harvested hop cones are dried and for the most part turned into pellets, though some breweries use them in their natural state.

4. Yeast

Yeast has always played a crucial role in brewing. Being a microscopic fungus, it essentially feeds off sugars and produces two vital elements of the beer: carbon dioxide (bubbles) and alcohol.

Each and every brewery will use a certain yeast which imparts certain flavours. There are hundreds of different yeast strains around the world!




Without these four ingredients beer as we know it would not exist. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.




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