How Beer is Made

What is Beer?

Quite simply, beer is a fermented, hop flavored, malt sugar tea. There are four basic building blocks needed to make beer: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. Yeast, (often listed as a fourth ingredient, although not a part of the finished product) is used to ferment the hop flavored malt sugar tea into a effervescent (bubbly) liquid with an average of between three and seven percent ethyl alcohol. (In some cases, such as a Barley Wine, the alcohol content can go to almost 11%.) Both lagers and ales are made from essentially the same four building blocks with the major variation being the type of yeast used to ferment the product.

What is Malted Barley?

Malt is barley (a type of grain) which has undergone the malting process. This process consists of two primary steps. First, the raw barley is soaked in water which allows it to begin germination. This is the first phase the grain would endure if it was to grow into a plant. During this phase, enzymes are produced to be used later to break down the starches in the grain into sugars. Chemically, starch molecules are simply several sugar molecules joined together. It is these sugars that would provide the energy needed for the seed to grow into a plant. The second stage of the malting process halts the growth of the barley. Varying temperatures of hot air are used to dry the grain (kilning). Depending on the temperature and length of kilning, different colors – and subsequently flavors – of malted barley are produced. Generally, the higher the temperature in the kiln, the darker the color and the stronger the flavor of the beer it is used to produce.

What are Hops?

Hop plants are a perennial climbing vine (a member of the hemp family) which grow in cool climates such as Northern Europe, the Pacific Northwest and New England. During the hot summer days, they can grow several inches a day. Eventually a hop vine can grow to 15 - 18 feet in height. A single plant carries either male or female flowers. Brewers use only the cone-shaped flowers that hang downward from the vines of the female hop plant.
Hops provide bitterness, flavoring, and aroma to beer. Their most important role is to balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops are also used as a natural preservative - beer with hops keeps fresher longer.

What is Yeast?

Yeast is a living organism – a fungus. Yeast metabolizes (eats) sugars into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethyl alcohol. The most important thing to know about brewing yeast is that there are two primary types: Lager yeasts & Ale yeasts. Ale yeasts ferment warmer and quicker producing a fruitier and sweeter beer. Lager yeasts ferment cooler and slower producing a dryer, cleaner tasting beer. Lager yeasts have only recently become more predominant due to improved technology. Because of their slower, cooler fermentation, they are more susceptible to bacterial infections and are therefore more difficult to brew with.

How is Beer Made?

The brewing process goes as follows:
  1. A selection of malts are weighed out and ground in a mill.
  2. This ground malt, called grist, is then mixed in a large open tank, called a mash tun, with warm water (~70°C).
  3. The mixture, called mash, sits for approximately 90 minutes. During this “rest”, enzymes break down the starches from the malt into sugars.
  4. The sweet liquid is then separated from the ground malt (now mainly husks) and pumped into a large tank for heating – the kettle.
  5. The liquid is then boiled for another 90 minutes. Hops are added at precise times during the boil to properly bitter, flavor, and add aroma. Hops added early provide strong bitterness. Hops added durning the middle of the boil add mostly flavor. Hops added late in the boil add aromas.
  6. The boiled liquid, now called wort, is then cooled to room temperature and pumped into a fermenter.
  7. Yeast is added and the mixture is left to sit.
  8. Over the next 14-21 days, the yeast ferments the wort. The fermentation process is complete when all of the sugars have been converted into alcohol and CO2.
  9. The “green” or “new” beer is then cooled again, this time to 0°C, to allow the yeast to settle to the bottom of the tank. The yeast is collected and used again for the next batch.
  10. The beer is then pumped into a conditioning tank for aging.
  11. Finally, after sufficient time has passed to mature the beer, and enough carbon dioxide has been added, the beer is ready for drinking!