Let’s kick it off! For the first article on this site, let’s take a look at how our favorite beverage is actually made. I believe that if one understands the actual brewing process, the work and the labor that goes into making that wonderful brew, one gains a deeper appreciation for the drink, thus increasing our enjoyment of it even more! Increased knowledge AND enjoyment? That’s a Win-Win if I’ve ever heard of one!
The 7 Step Process
Here are the seven steps that turns malt into that golden beverage of the gods!
Step 1: Mashing
This step takes place in something called a mash tun. Malt grains, short for malted barley, are soaked in hot water for roughly an hour. This releases the sugar contained in said grains, which is important because sugars are the fuel for the yeast during the later fermentation stage. Without sugars there can be no alcohol (which is why they are known as sugar alcohols), and without alcohol there can be no beer! The malt also adds flavor, aroma, and body to the beer, giving it its sweet taste, hence the term ‘malty’ being used to describe sweet tasting beers.
Step 2: Sparging
In Step 2, sparging, the grains are then rinsed in hot water to extract the remaining sugars from them. Following that, the grains are separated from the hot liquid in a vessel known as the lauter tun (the process itself is called lautering), however home brewers typically perform the mashing, sparging, and lautering all in the same vessel. The hot liquid (sans grains now) is referred to as ‘wort’ (but pronounced ‘wert’), which sounds like some sort of witches brew, however this wort will soon be miraculously transformed into beer. The grains have served their purpose and are discarded.
Step 3: Wort Boiling
The wort is transferred to a tank known as the boil kettle, which boils the wort in order to kill any bacteria or microorganisms present. This usually takes about an hour; and hops are also added to the beer during this process. This is because hops required boiling water in order to release their flavor components; also of note is that the stage in the boil when the hops are added will influence the final characteristic of the beer. Hence, the specific stage at which the hops are added is at the discretion of the brewer, who manipulates this factor in order to finely craft the beer’s profile.
Step 4: Wort Cooling
After the hour of boiling is up, it’s time to rapidly cool the wort. This is because the yeast is going to be added to the wort and if the temperature of the wort is too high the yeast will be killed and the fermentation process will not be able to occur. Caution must be taken by the brewer at this stage with regards to sanitation: as the wort is no longer boiling hot, it is susceptible to outside contamination. Once the wort is cooled to about 80 degrees, the yeast is added (the brewing terminology for this is ‘pitched’). This is also the last step in a typical brew day.
Step 5: Fermentation
The hard work has largely already been done, and this step is mostly just a waiting process, although it is no less crucial. The yeast feeds on the sugars present in the wort and converts it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol remains in the beer (duh!) while the C02 is released into the air. This step takes around one to two weeks.
Step 6: Carbonation
The beer is almost ready! Almost, but not quite; if you were to consume it directly after fermentation, you would find it to be disappointingly flat and unappetizing. This is because it lacks carbonation, which gives the beer its ‘head’ as well as those tiny bubbles you see in your glass. This step is done by a direct injection of carbon dioxide into the beer or by adding a small amount of sugar to the bottles (which the residual yeast will consume and release C02, naturally carbonating the liquid in a process known as ‘bottle conditioning’; this is also the method commonly used by homebrewers).
Step 7: Packaging
Basically done! Now just time for the packing, the beer is either canned, kegged, or bottled. Then it is off to the drinker to smoothly slide down our throats! Mmmmmmmmm
That’s it folks! The beer making process in a nutshell. We hope you found this post informative and that you will have a greater appreciation of the golden brew moving forward.
Remember, beer is a carbohydrate heavy drink, so if you frequently partake, don’t forget to get your exercise in and the other parts of your diet in order (especially getting a proper amount of protein; I rely extensively on delicious whey protein shakes).
Until next time!