Beer - It All Starts With Quality Ingredients
Although the scientific aspect of brewing is relatively young in relation to the practice of brewing itself, brewing science has advanced greatly in a short time. It has advanced so much, in fact, that it is now possible to brew excellent beer in your home with simple equipment without knowing much about brewing science.
Home brewers of today take for granted things that were inconceivable just a few centuries ago. We have access to pure yeast cultures, fresh ingredients no matter where we live, and refrigeration, to name just a few. We can make good beer without becoming brewing scientists because of the advances made by brewers, scientists, inventors, and engineers of the past. We don't need to look at yeast cells under a microscope or haul ice from a cave to make beer. We can know as little or as much about brewing science as we want to and still make good beer.
As with any food, beer quality depends to some degree upon the quality of the ingredients you put into it. A three dollar frozen pizza made with imitation cheese, bland sauce, and a few pieces of pepperoni tastes like a three dollar frozen pizza. It doesn't get any better than that. It will fulfill its purpose if you want something quick, easy, and inexpensive, but that's about it. But when you're talking about your homebrew for which you spend hours planning, brewing, packaging, and cleaning, isn't it worth it to start with the best ingredients you can get?
When it comes to ingredients, beer is a pretty simple concoction. You take malt, hops, water, yeast, and maybe some adjuncts and make beer. The ingredient list is nothing in comparison to say a bouillabaisse. However, the raw materials you choose for your brew should not be treated as afterthoughts. They have much to do with the quality of your finished beer. Your end product can only be as good as the ingredients you put into it. You can't start with inferior ingredients and end up with a superior beer. If you use old, oxidized, cheesy-smelling hops, it will reflect in your beer.
Quality ingredients are not always the ones that cost the most. Just like with foods from the supermarket, the extra cost of a particular item may be due to fancy packaging or expensive advertising. A specific brand may also cost more than other brands simply because the manufacturer wishes to place the item as a high-end product. Malt, malt extract, and hops are often available in bulk, and these obviously cost more than smaller packages. However, purchasing bulk packages can result in significant savings for the brewer who brews often. If unused ingredients are stored properly and used within a reasonable time, bulk ingredients can be a good way to go.
Nevertheless, sometimes you do have to pay a little more to get good quality ingredients. However, when you are brewing five or 10 gallon batches, even as much as 25 cents more per ounce of hops or per pound of malt, doesn't add up to all that much. For brewers who measure their batches in barrels rather than gallons, the extra cost of one ingredient over another may mean the difference between making a profit and losing money on a batch. But for home brewers, it may only mean a few dollars. If you want cheap beer, you can probably find lots of it at your local six-pack shop and you won't have to go to the trouble of brewing it.
You can find good quality ingredients at most reputable home brew supply shops. The same shops may also have some ingredients of sub-par quality so it pays to know what you're looking for. Suppliers don't necessarily stock poor quality items on purpose just to rip you off. There may be a demand locally for lower cost ingredients. Or a certain item may not sell well in a particular area and therefore, may be old. If you need help selecting ingredients, the staff at your local supply shop can usually offer excellent advice. They don't want to sell you inferior ingredients since they want you to remain a customer.