Beer School: The Brewing Process

20 Jul

Every brewer starts with 4 ingredients: water, hops, barley and yeast.  Yeast is weird, gross but also kind of magical — for some reason the image of the gross kid from middle school eating his scabs keeps popping up in my head … that’s what yeast is like in the trio of other noble ingredients.  But without that gross kid, middle school wouldn’t be the same and without yeast, beer could never exist.

But before yeast is added, the mash must happen.  Mashing is the part where you put your grains or extract in a large vessel and bring it to a boil for about an hour or sometimes longer.  Hops are added at different times during the boil to impart their particular characteristics in the bittering, flavoring and aroma aspects of the brew.

Next is the magic of fermentation, when the wort (the chilled result of the mashing process) gets to play with the yeast.  The sugars broken down from the starch of the grains or extract are eaten by the yeast to produce the all mighty alcohol and CO2 content.  There are three famous strains of yeast used in brewing: Saccharomyces cevisiae, this ale yeast is the variety that causes foaming on the top of the wort during fermentation while Saccharomyces uvarum is a lager yeast that is known as a bottom fermenter.  Brettanomyces is hands down my favorite yeast because it is responsible for the funky goodness that is lambic.  A brewer can choose between a dry yeast or a liquid yeast which has already been rehydrated as the yeast “starter” and offers the brewer more stability and fewer possibilities of infection in the brew.

Conditioning is another important step.  For homebrewers it means the addition of priming solution (cornstarch and water) or spiese (practice of using unfermented wort) into bottles before the beer is bottled.  This process is important to the development of carbonation in your bottles so your beer won’t be flat.  Most big breweries force carbonate their brews with specialized bottling equipment.  Conditioning can smooth out the flavors of the beer as well as provide carbonation.  It is vital that you keep an eye on the gravity (what determines or estimates the original and final alcohol content of the brew) during the whole process and before bottling.

Now go study …. which translates to, go drink a beer and think about it.

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3 Responses to “Beer School: The Brewing Process”

  1. timhampson August 10, 2010 at 3:49 am #

    Interestingly, I was doing some writing about some Belgian brewers and all insisted beer had five ingredients malt, hops, water, yeast and hops. Why do not more people talk about sugar being an ingredient of beer.

    • ahoppypipper August 10, 2010 at 10:35 am #

      Thanks for the comment! My guess for why sugar is not an ingredient commonly mentioned is that most sugars in beer come from the malt, malt extract or other grains that have a starch which is then converted into alcohol when the yeast digests them. Sometimes sugars are left unfermented and impart some sweetness in the beer. Perhaps these brewers are following a different recipe that is indicative of Belgium: I’d be interested to find out more!

      • timhampson August 10, 2010 at 11:41 am #

        Apologies my first reply to you was with another blog of mine – it should have been Tim Hampson Beer Blog http://beerandpubs.wordpress.com

        I also meant to say malt, hops, yeast, water and sugar

        Sorry for being so dumb.

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