23 Aug 2013

On ingredients. What ingredients?

A few weeks ago I was having a chat with U Medvídku's brewmaster Laďa Veselý, who, in between beers, told me something rather curious:

They had received a visit from Státní Zemědělská a Potravinářská Inspekce (State Agricultural and Food Inspection), who warned them about a couple of shortcomings in their labels, among which was the mention of yeast as an ingredient.

You can imagine my friend's surprise (he's been a brewer for decades and has worked at the Brewing and Malting Research Institute). And yet, it seems that yeasts are not an ingredient in beer according to Czech legislation.

That's something that may have made sense 200 years ago or so, but that sounds rather absurd nowadays, and not only if we are talking about unfiltered or bottle conditioned beers. On the other hand, I also remember that Pilsner Urquell booklet I read once that said that the beer was made with three ingredients, explaining that they didn't consider yeasts as such because they were removed once they'd done their job.

There is some logic into it. When I mentioned it on my Facebook page, someone commented that, strictly from a biological point of view, yeasts aren't and ingredient but an agent, since, according to this person, beer isn't made with yeasts but by yeasts, which is something similar to what Laďa was told by the SZPI inspector.

Once again, this will sound absurd to anyone with a modicum of knowledge about brewing, but what would happen if we applied the same logic to the other most commonly used ingredients?

There's no doubt about water. Someone once said that beer is actually enriched water, and maybe they are right.

Regarding hops, another one of the commenter on FB said that, with that logic, they aren't an ingredient since it's mainly the alpha-acids what it's wanted from them, but I see it very much like a relationship between juice and fruit; once we have extracted what we need from the product, the rest is thrown away like a peel.

The malts, on the other hand, there we have something interesting. What yeasts ferment isn't the grain, but sugars that aren't even naturally occurring in the grain, as it's case of the alpha-acids in hops, but are the result of the enzymatic hydrolysis of grain's starches that takes place during the mash. Once enough starch has been transformed into sugars, the grain is of no further use for that batch of beer and will not play any other role in the process.

So, and always applying SZPI's logic, if yeasts can't be considered an ingredient, why can malts? Of course, just the suggestion of that is even more absurd than the Czech legislation, and not only because malts provide to beer a lot more than starch/sugar, but it still gives you something to think about.

Na Zdraví!


  1. As always, somebody tries to be strict to the letter but then it quickly starts to sound ridiculous. Life outgrows law and those who don't understand this ridicule themselves. Common sense FTW!

  2. I think the question of yeast is a little different than the other ingredients. It is an agent; malt, water, and yeast are not. A good many beers are served with not a cell of yeast in the can. Nevertheless, I take your point about the law--stupid.

    There are some other issues here though that are actually dicey. Brewers occasionally add certain ingredients to clarify a beer, or cause the yeast to drop out of suspension. Are they "ingredients?" They don't add anything to the flavor, only spend a time in the beer and are not present when it's served. What about carbonation when it's introduced artificially? (These are both pertinent to Reinheitsegebot, and issues Germans have had to monkey with. For example, you can force carbonate a beer, but only if that carbonation was harvested during fermentation.)

    1. And we can continue, what about the mineral salts, etc. that are used to modify the properties of the waters to make them more suitable for different styles? Aren't they ingredients?