Beer produced in Lancaster County primarily uses only four brewing ingredients. Originally, this was based on the Rienheitsgabot which was a German Purity Law of 1516 designed to uphold the purity standards of the brewing industry.
The four brewing ingredients are water, malt, hops, and yeast. The slightest variation in the composition of these ingredients can have dramatic affects on the quality of the beer.
There are some exceptions, however. For instance, sometimes dextrose is added to increase the amount of fermentable sugar. This is to avoid the beer becoming too sweet with the use of malt flavors.
Beer is composed mostly of water. For this reason, it is very important to the finished product to use only the best quality of water available.
Many people believe that one of reason why Lancaster beer is considered so much better than others is because of the high-quality of the municipal water supply available over the years.
The water that flows through Lancaster County is generally soft and slightly acidic. It is also very rich with calcium. This type of water is extremely critical for brewing.
Malted barley is barley kernels that are harvested and soaked in water to encourage growth or germination.
By encouraging the barley to germinate, the brewer develops the plant's enzymes which are so necessary for the brewing process.
When the barley kernels reach the ideal point of growth, the kernels are placed in large large ovens and kilned. This is stop the growth or germination process while reducing the moisture level as well.
While in the oven, the barley can be roasted at different temperatures and for different periods of time. By doing so, the brewer can vary the different colors, darkness, and flavor of the malt. This, in turn, leads to the different colors and complex malty flavors of the beer.
Hops are cone-like flowers of the humulus lupulus plant and grow in different regions of the world. The cone of the female hop plant contains resins which provides bitterness and aroma. This adds balance to the finished product.
The flowers are used either in whole form or processed into hop pellets which is more stable.
In addition to adding bitterness, flavor and aroma, the hops also serve as an antiseptic to the final product. This function was particularly useful during the days before modern refrigeration was common.
Yeast is a single cell microorganism that is used to convert the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The tiny organisms are propagated and maintained under strict laboratory conditions at the Lancaster breweries.
There are two types of yeast used for the two types of beer. First, there are top-fermenting yeasts which are used to produce ales. Second, there are bottom-fermenting yeasts which are used to produce lager beers. There are some exceptions and different strains of yeasts are sometimes used for some specialty beers.
If you would like to know how the Lancaster breweries take these brewing ingredients and convert them into the finished beverage, take a look at the
Lancaster brewing process.
Or, if you are a history buff, learn about the
history of brewing in Lancaster County.
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