Tag Archives: CO2

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.

Beer School: The Harvest

18 Jul

After a full year of blogging about beer and food, I’ve realized that perhaps not everyone reading this blog is a die-hard beer geek and might be interested in the basics of what makes beer awesome.  Therefore, in the next weeks I’ll be rolling out Beer School 101.  The first installment covers “The Harvest”, wherein I’ll discuss the growing of hops and barleys, and the different varietals among them.

THE HARVEST:

Hops are an essential ingredient to beer and are a product of a female plant.  They provide an array of different flavors and aromas in beer when used at different periods of the beer making process which will be discussed in greater detail later.  As for growing hops, something I have yet to try, their process is fairly easy and has been likened to the rapid growth of kudzu.  They are trained up stakes or trellises as they are a climbing plant.  Only the cones/flowers are used in the brewing process and look like spikey, leafy pine cones but smaller and bright green.

Pictured above are fresh hops which can be used in brewing but offer some difficulties in consistency for the brewer.  More commonly, hops in pellet form are being used for their increased stability and consistent flavor delivery during the boil.  If you have access to your own fresh hops, you can crush one of the cones between your fingers then drop in the bottom of a glass and pour say an IPA over it: having crushed the cone you’ve released the aromatic oils of the hop flower which can greatly enhance your drinking experience.

There are many different varietals of hops, each with their own distinct profile that results in a spectrum of flavors and aromas.  Two uses for hops are bittering and finishing: bittering is used to make a beer have a bitter bite to it while a finishing hop is used to produce certain aromas that are citrus/piney/resinous/floral/grassy.

Barley is the second ingredient essential to beer.  It can be grown in two-row or six-row which indicates the style of beer in which it will be utilized.  The row number refers to the amount of barley on the plant that will later be husked for use.  The lower the row number = the higher amount of sugar available for fermentation which yields a higher alcohol content.  Most English Ales and traditional German brews use two-row for this very reason while American ales sometimes use six-row if they’re using additives such as corn.  Barley is malted for brewing use, meaning the barley is soaked in water until it germinates which gets the enzymes working so the starch of the plant turns into usable sugars.  Remember that sugar is what the yeast will feed on later to create alcohol and CO2.

I could go on and on about the complexities of these two important ingredients, but hopefully you get the general idea.  Now you know a little more about what goes into that beautiful thing called the beer in front of you.  Cheers!

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