The Four Magical Ingredients

What’s In My Pint?

We’re all drinking it, but what do we know about what goes into it?

By Juliette Wills

holding pint of cask beer

That lovely pint of cask fresh beer that you’re dreaming of is brewed using only four basic ingredients: malted barley, water, hops and yeast. These ingredients have been used in brewing for centuries. You’d drop your horse off at the blacksmith, buy a loaf of freshly baked bread and nip into the ale house for a nice refreshing pint. Just your average Saturday. Here’s the low-down on what makes a pint of cask fresh beer

Malted Barley

milled malted barley

The term ‘malted’, comes from the process that barley goes through to be ready for brewing. That’ll be ‘malting’. During the malting process, the barley sits around for a bit to potentially germinate, a process that unlocks the sugars, protein and starches found in the seed. Once those guys are released, the drying and heating process stops the germination right there, because you don’t want the seed to grow into a new plant (think ‘Gremlins’ and how that turned out).

Malted barley supports probiotic culture growth, which aids production of good bacteria found in your gut. This means you absorb nutrients efficiently and your cholesterol levels are (pretty much) regulated. A healthy pint? Yeah, baby.

Flavours range from ‘nutty’ to ‘chocolatey’, the latter kind used to make brown ales, porters and stouts.



Pure water is essential, and the mineral composition of water is critical to the quality and consistency of beer. Traditionally, your local river would dictate what type of beer a brewery would make. The high alkaline levels in the water in London worked for porters and stouts, which were brewed in high volume and shipped overseas. New innovations in tech and chemistry now allows your basic water to be manipulated to suit whatever type of beer they wish to brew.

Nasties like chlorine and chloramine are found in drinking water (which is probably why we prefer to drink beer in the first place). Nobody wants to drink a pint of disinfectant, so if these guys aren’t removed at the start they’ll kick up a right old stink when the yeast is added.


Hops close up

Hops are the green cone-shaped flowers, or “inflorescence” of the Humulus lupulus plant. They're a climbing perennial with a distinct jackpot for craft brewers. Hidden inside each cone are tiny yellow pods or glands called lupulin—the source of bitterness, aroma, and flavour in beer. Hops are picked in late summer before being dried in oast houses. Kent has ideal soil for growing hops, and plenty of wood for the charcoal used in oast houses to dry them.

Hops don’t just flavour the beer, they help keep it fresher for longer and contribute to its frothy head. There are currently five English hops that are bought by breweries worldwide: Fuggles, Progress, First Gold, Goulding’s and Challenger.



Clever old actual-living-thing yeast! Using grain and water, the brewer creates a sugary liquid called wort (ugh) and adds yeast to it. That yeast then eats the sugar which thereby creates alcohol and carbonation – that’s your basic booze and bubbles.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae is a top-fermenting ale yeast and is very likely the yeast that was used in brewing over 3000 years ago. Top-fermenting is a process whereby the yeast likes to rise to the top of the beer as it eats. Ale yeast also tends to ferment best at temperatures between 50°f and 70°f. These lovely ale yeasts are responsible for a huge range of beer styles such as stouts, porters, IPAs and ambers. Thank you, disgusting yeast, for doing a grand job on our lovely beer.


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