Seven steps to brewing perfection
Beer, largely made from a mixture of water, hops, barley and yeast, is widely considered to be one of the most popular drinks on the planet. In 2010, the consumption per capita of Beer in the US was 78.2 liters, and this trend continues to grow. While beer is popular, the way it’s made still mystifies and enchants. In this week’s article we will cover the basics of the brewing process, so you can have a better understanding of the libation you consume on a regular basis. Before we briefly look into these steps, here’s a definition and brief history of brewing.
What is brewing?
If you enjoy beer, you have probably heard the term 'bandied about', you may have even dabbled a bit your self. But do you really know what brewing is? Simply put, it’s taking a grain, usually barley or wheat, steeping it in water and then fermenting the mix to make an alcoholic beverage more commonly known as beer.
Brewing up a short history
We can’t say for sure as to when beer was first made, but archaeologists have found evidence of beer being made as early as 6,000 BC. We also know that the ancient Egyptians employed brewing techniques to make a drink similar to beer. Beer, as we know it today, is thought to have originated around the 13th century when hopped beer was perfected in modern day Germany and the Czech Republic. Hops are a natural preservative, and adding them to beer made it a viable commercial product that could be transported and sold. Probably the biggest change to the modern brewing process was the development and adoption of the Reinheitsgebot (more commonly known as the Bavarian Purity Law) of 1516. This law set a standard saying that beer is to be made up of only water, malted barley and hops (yeast was later added after pasteurization was discovered). This law still remains in use today, with nearly every German, and many worldwide brewers following the law. Advances in modern technology such as the widespread introduction of refrigeration and cheap, efficient shipping have led to wide varieties of beer being available to markets not traditionally exposed or able to brew the beverage. For the most part however, the brewing process has remained unchanged since the mid to late 1800s. Now that we know a bit more about the history behind beer, let’s look into the process of brewing itself
Barley, the most common cereal grain used in the brewing process, arrives at a malter where it is added into a tank and steeped with water for about 40 hours. It is then removed from the tank and spread out on a floor for five days where it will begin to germinate. Following germination, the grain is dried in a kiln to stop growth. The grains are then crushed to expose the part of the grain that contains starch and carbohydrates. At this point, the grain is referred to as malted barley.
The malted barley is moved to a large vessel called a Mash Tun. Hot water is added and the carbohydrates exposed during malting are broken down into simple sugars. The result of mashing is a sweet water mixture called wort.
After mashing the wort is strained from the Mash Tun and transferred to what is essentially a large kettle, commonly referred to as a Copper. The wort is boiled for between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on the type of beer the brewer is making. During the boil hops and other flavoring agents are added. Boiling serves to essentially season the beer and to sterilize it by killing any bacteria that may be present in the wort mixture.
Following boiling, the wort is cooled and moved to fermentation tanks. Yeast is then added, which will eat the sugar and convert it into alcohol. The type of yeast used will dictate the temperature at which fermentation will happen and the length of time the beer will ferment for:
- Lager yeast will ferment at temperatures around 10 degrees celsius and take approximately 30 days.
- Ale yeast will ferment at a range of 15 to 20 degrees celsius and take around three weeks.
Conditioning refers to the aging of beer, and is normally considered a part of the fermentation process. Many brewers will actually remove the beer from one fermentation tank (commonly referred to as the Primary Fermentation Tank) and into another for conditioning. As stated above, ales typically are conditioned for three weeks while lagers for 30 or more days. The time spent in the conditioning phase actually varies, with some ales being placed in oak casks and left to age for months or even years.
After the beer has aged the vast majority will be filtered to remove any foreign substances and leftover yeast. Filtering beer will also stabilize its flavor. Many beers from Belgium are actually unfiltered, so this step is skipped.
The final step in the brewing process is packaging the beer into containers that are easier to ship. This usually means putting the beer into kegs, bottles or cans that are then shipped out of the brewery. From malting to packaging, the brewing process usually takes an average of 60 days, depending on the type of beer brewed and aging process. So, next time you’re enjoying a hand delivered beer, raise a toast to the brewer in thanks for the time and dedication to your favorite beverage.