The process of brewing beer has remained basically the same since man began making beer approximately 7,000 years ago. It all begins with milling the grain and ends with enjoying a fresh brewed glass of beer.
Whole grains are milled to make it easier to extract the sugars required for making the wort.
The process starts with mashing and takes place in a vessel called the mash tun. The mash tun and boiling kettle are large metal tanks with openings to add grains, hops and other ingredients. This is where the grains (known as malted barley, or malt) are soaked in hot water to release sugars. The sugars are the food that the yeast “eats” during fermentation to produce alcohol. Malt also adds flavor and body to the beer.
The sparging process includes rinsing the grains with hot water to extract the rest of the sugar. The grains are separated from the hot liquid in a process known as lautering. Lautering is done in a vessel known as the lauter tun. The liquid is now known as wort (pronounced “wert”). The wort will become beer after it is sent to another tank for the final brewing steps. At this point the grains are repurposed or discarded.
Boiling the Wort
The wort, now in what is known as the boil kettle, is boiled for about an hour in order to kill any micro-organisms. Hops are added to the beer at this point. The stage in the boil when the hops are added makes a difference and influences the final character of the beer. Hops added in the beginning of the boil have a different effect than hops added near the end. The brewer finely crafts the profile of the beer, by controlling the hop additions.
Cooling the Wort
The wort is rapidly cooled, about an hour after boiling. Once the wort reaches about 80 degrees, the yeast is added or “pitched”. The wort is cooled to a temperature that the yeast can handle so as not to kill it. This is the last step in the typical brew day. The next step is fermentation, which is largely a waiting period.
The fermentation process is crucial. During fermentation the yeast consumes the sugars that were released and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is released into the air and the alcohol stays in the beer. This process usually takes 1-2 weeks. Fermentation tanks can easily be recognized by their cone-shaped bottoms.
The beer is almost ready for consumption with one key thing missing. Carbonation. At this point the beer it is extremely flat. The head and those tiny little bubbles you see in your glass are a result of the carbonation process. This is done by directly injecting carbon dioxide into the beer. This process takes about 48 hours to complete and once it is complete the beer is ready for serving.
Then it is on to the tasting room or out the door and into the hands of the drinker. CHEERS!