What’s In My Beer?

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Maria Rainier, a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education performing research surrounding online universities and their various program offerings. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

I’d like to say that I went on a pub crawl to write this bit—let’s call it investigative journalism—but I’m a little bit on the broke side of things for that kind of adventure.  Thus, I was reduced to www.askmen.com to figure out America’s favorite beers according to beer lovers.  I’ll go ahead and say Budweiser didn’t make Askmen’s cut nor will it mine.

Here’s where the investigative journalism comes in: what‘s in these beers that make them so tasty?  The basics come down to barley, water, hops, and yeast, but what, then, makes each one so noticeably different to beer snobs?

Samuel Adams

In this case, let’s look at our seasonal option, Octoberfest.  Samuel Adams prides itself on only using the two-row of the two- or six-row varieties of malted barley, giving their beer a full-bodied sweetness.  Octoberfest has a blend of caramel and pale malts.  If you really want to get snobby, they use two-row Harrington, Metcalfe, pale malts, Munich-10, Moravian, and Caramel 60; they use Tettnang and Hallertau noble hops; with, of course, their own Samuel Adams lager yeast.  For experienced home brewers looking to clone a Sam Adams recipe, don’t forget the corn sugar for priming.  All this achieves malt complexity and a smooth, sweet aftertaste.

Let’s take a second here to talk about hops.  Noble hops refers usually to four basic varieties you’ll see from here on out: Hallertau (alternatively spelled Hallertauer), named for the Hallertau region in central Bavaria; Saaz, used in Bohemia with a soft aroma and bitterness; Spalt, a German strain with a bit of spice; and Tettnang, named after a small town in Germany with a touch of bitterness.

Now, let’s review malts (read ahead if you’re ahead of my game).  When you soak grains in water to make them germinate, that’s malting.  Malts can be divided into base and specialty malts; the former sounds like what it is while caramel and crystal malts are specialty malts that are meant to add variety and detail to basic flavors; they provide “body.”  The two mentioned undergo heat treatment to convert their starches to sugars non-enzymatically.


Okay, enough with the science.  Beck’s is a classic German pilsner with a hearty taste, a good dose of hops, and a rich head.  Beck’s uses two-row spring barley, hand-selected hops from the Bavarian Hallertau (sourthern Germany) region, and even fresh glacier water from the Rotenburger Rinne.

Dos Equis

The average American’s south-of-the-border import usually winds up being Corona, but Dos Equis makes the former look pretty wimpy in comparison.  Home brewers use American 6-row, crystal malt, rice, and corn for the malt; for hops, they use equal parts Saaz and Cluster, with a bit more of Hallertaur.  Other ingredients include Irish Moss and gypsum.

New Castle

Let’s stick with imports for another minute (or two).  If you buy a can of it (don’t; go draft or bottle), the ingredients read like this: water, barley, wheat, maize, glucose syrup, caramel, E150, hops, yeast.  Home brewers use equal parts crystal, chocolate, and black malts (even a bit of biscuit malt to add more character).


The Irish know how to drink, and Guinness is proof.  They use malted barley to provide the base of their flavor and add roasted barley for more.  Their water comes from the Wicklow Mountains according to their website and their special brand of yeast.  To get a better idea of the taste, let’s refer to the home brewer again, who uses crushed pale malt, flaked barley, and crushed roast barley in decreasing amounts.

Fat Tire

Now we’re back to the continent and loving it.  Make no mistake: it may be called New Belgium but the maker is all-American who biked his way through said country some years ago.  Since no one is totally honest about their full list of ingredients (you’ll notice that you get no details from a six-pack), here’s what home brewers conclude: crystal, carapils, Munich, biscuit, and chocolate malts with some more Irish moss and a good dose of corn syrup to prime.  This makes for a rich, complex flavor that maintains smoothness throughout.


Okay, we’re back overseas, but Askmen.com agrees that Holland’s brew takes the cake.  Heineken itself claims that it only uses water, barley malt, and hops, but it’s just not that simple, is it?  The home brewer thinks there’s some crystal malt in there as well as Hallertau and Irish moss.  Our old elementary school teachers were right: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Now, it’s time for a run to the store to acquire at least one of these varieties and get my stupid on.

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About Maria Rainier

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One comment

  1. I used to really enjoy Corona, but I have to agree w/the above – once I tried Dos Equis, I found I enjoyed it much better. Had a Corona recently, and found it just didn’t suit me the way it once did.

    Interesting read!

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