What does it mean for a beer to be malt-forward, hop-forward, or even yeast-forward? It all starts with a beer’s ingredients.
From just four simple ingredients—water, malted grains, hops, and yeast—brewers are able to make seemingly endless flavor combinations. Beer can range from crisp, bready lagers, to pine and grapefruit-laden pale ales, to dry, peppery saisons, all the way to rich, toffee-like barleywines and creamy oatmeal stouts. Within each of beer’s key ingredients, there’s an enormous variety of flavors – believe it or not, even the mineral make-up of water can have a significant impact on the flavor of a beer. (Not to mention all the other things that can be added to the brewing process like spices, fruits, barrel usage etc.)
Now, let’s break down some of these beer ingredients and their unique flavor profiles.
The flavor of a hop-forward beer is predominantly coming from, you guessed it: hops! Hops are the fluffy, pine-cone shaped flowers, or cones, of a plant called Humulus lupulus. Hops are used in beer for their preservative qualities, to add balance and bitterness, and a host of different, delicious flavor contributions. Hops can be herbal and peppery, impart resiny notes of grapefruit and pine, intense tropical fruit notes like melons and pineapple, or even flavors like vanilla.
A hop-forward beer like our own Allagash Hop Reach has hops added at multiple stages of the brewing and fermentation process. We use some bittering hops early on to add balance, and various additions later on to add even more hop aromas and flavors. The final impression you’re left with as a drinker is a beer filled with hop notes of tropical fruit, citrus, and pine with just subtle undercurrent of malt.
This is a good view to have if you’re looking to experience all the aromas in Allagash White.
Malted grains are the primary sugar source used to make beer. When a beer is described as malt-forward, that means that the malted grains are the leading flavor contributor, as opposed to hops or yeast. With a malty beer, you can expect a range of malt-derived flavors – everything from bread, biscuit, and toast, to nutty toffee, caramel, coffee or chocolate.
Lighter beers like our Nowaday, a blonde ale, highlight the bready, cracker-like flavors from the lightly toasted grains used in the recipe. We let Nowaday ferment at slightly cooler temperatures to allow those subtle grain characters to shine. On the darker side, Allagash North Sky, our beloved stout, has malt-derived flavors of graham cracker, dark chocolate, and roasted coffee which come from a complex combination of two row malt, torrified wheat, chocolate malt, roasted barley etc. Other malt-forward beer styles to look for include helles, marzen or Oktoberfest, amber lager, dunkel, bock, brown ale, and English porter.
Yeast is a single-celled microorganism that turns brewer’s wort into delicious beer. Yeast can create a clean and simple flavor profile that allows hops and malts to shine, or it can contribute considerably to the overall flavor profile of a beer. Yeast can provide fruity flavors like banana, pear, apple and raisins, or spicy flavors like white or black pepper and clove.
Take for example, Allagash Tripel, our Trappist-inspired Belgian-style ale. The recipe for Tripel is rather simple: base malts, a single hop, some simple table sugar, and our house Belgian yeast. The flavor, however, is replete with notes of honey, passionfruit, and some subtle warming spices – all of those beautiful tastes are coming from our yeast. Other yeast forward beer styles include hefeweizen, weizenbock, biere de garde, saison, witbier, dubbel, and Belgian dark strong ale.
Not all beers fall into just one of these single ingredient-focused categories. Some beers truly strike a balance between two or more ingredients that shine. A Belgian style dubbel, for example, is both yeast forward and malt forward with malt derived notes of caramel and toasted bread, and yeast derived notes of raisin, plum, and spice. A beer like an English IPA is both hop forward and malt forward, with bready, biscuity, caramel malts, layered with notes of floral and earthy hops. Also, our flagship witbier, Allagash White, while certainly yeast-forward, maintains exceptional balanced flavor from bright, lemony wheat and a clean, dry finish.