The fine craft of brewing beer today is at its core simply a natural biological process produced by the fermentation of cereals with the help of the living organism yeast.
There are four essential ingredients needed for brewing beer – malt, hops, yeast and water. Each impact the color, aroma and taste of beer to varying degrees.
The Brewing Process
- After being harvested, barley is turned into malt by being given just the right amount of moisture and warmth for its kernels to geminate. The malted barley is then dried – and for some brews roasted.
- Malt is mixed with other grains (such as corn or rice) and hot water in a “mash tun” until the natural enzymes change the starch into maltose sugar producing what is known as “mash.”
- Mash flows into the “lauter tun” which looks like a huge cylinder and contains strainers that remove the empty barley hulls. When the grains are removed, what is left is called “wort.”
- The wort is then run into a giant copper kettle to be brewed with hops that are added at various times during the process to impact different levels of bitterness flavor and aroma.
- Once the hops are strained off the wort, it is pumped to cooling tanks and poured over refrigerated coils.
- The cooled wort is then sent to a “fermenter” where yeast is added.
- After the yeast has done it’s proper amount of work, it is removed from the brew and the beer is pumped into aging tanks.
- Once aged, the brew is given a final filtering and a bit of carbonation.
- Finally the beer is packaged and sent on its merry way to be drunk.
Made from grain, malt is to beer what grapes are to wine. It is often referred to as the “soul of the beer.” Barley is the most commonly used grain for malting – steeped in water until it partially germinates and is then dried in a kiln. The more intensely kilned malt, the darker the beer. Depending on the style of the beer being brewed the brewer may use just one type of malt or as many as seven.
The hop is a climbing plant like a vine. Often referred to as the “spice of the beer” the hop cones are the only bit of the hop plant used in brewing. In fact, only the female hop flower is used, as it produces tannins that help clarify and preserve the beer. In addition, it has the resins and essential oils that are the principal sources of a brew’s aroma and dryness. A variety of hops can be used in beer with each hop having a distinct flavor, bitterness and aroma. Hops help to preserve beer, act as filtering medium in the brewing process and improve the foam-holding capacity of the beer.
Yeast is the microorganism that feeds on the sugars in the malt to produce the alcohol and carbon dioxide of the beer. It is often referred to as the “lifeline of the brewery” with each brewery’s unique yeast strain being secretively guarded from competitors. There are two main yeast types used in brewing – Ale yeast and Lager yeast.
Beer is compromised of 90 percent water with its harness and mineral content determining the character and style of the beer brewed. Softer water is typically used in Pilsners while harder water is most commonly used in brewing Ales.