The Brewing Process Behind a Great Craft Beer: Worts and All

hops-bob-the-beer-engineerI have talked with many people over the years about making beer and wine, and it really surprises me that most people really have no idea how it is made.  I know you don’t have to understand the thermodynamics of the vapor pressure cycle to appreciate your beer staying cold, but I do appreciate a craft beer more because I understand the fundamentals of brewing.

It starts with malted grains.

Malted grains are made from raw grain (usually barley). When they are wetted and the germination process starts, the grains are dried and/or roasted to halt the process and give the grain color and character.

Mashing is next.

The brew master picks various grains depending on his profile or recipe and mashes this in hot water.  Mashing is a soaking process at a certain temperature (about 155° F) for about an hour.  At this temperature various enzymes are release in the malted grain and they convert the complex starches in the grain into simple and complex sugars. The mashing process extracts these sugars along with flavor and color.

Then add the hops…

7536172262_e03d833f6c_cThe sweet liquid (called wort) is then heated to a boil, again for about an hour, and hops are added at various times during the boil.  Hops have a couple of functions. Originally hops were added to beer to balance out the sweetness that is left over from the unfermentable (complex) sugars. Then because of its preservative abilities (they are slightly acidic) they can kill many microbes that can spoil beer.  Now its functions have increased.

The first hop that is placed into the boiling wort is considered the bittering hop.  Later into the boil a second hop may be added.  This is considered the tasting hop.  At the end of boil you will add the aroma hop.

Now for the cooling process.

After the time is complete (usually an hour), the wort must be chilled to the desired temperature (72°F for ales and cooler for Lagers).  This cooling process does two things.  First and foremost it gets to the proper temperature for fermentation, but the thermal shock breaks up proteins in the wort that can give the beer a wet cardboard taste. Does anyone really know what wet cardboard taste like?

This is pretty much the end of the brewing process.  The Brewmaster does not make beer, they make wort. Wort is a sweet to very sweet liquid full of color and character.  Beer is made by those lovable tiny creatures we call yeast.  The yeast eats the simple sugars, and converts this into alcohol and carbon-dioxide (this takes about a week). Now it is called BEER.

I know this is very brief, and there are many, many details in this process that can make or break a beer. So keep in mind when you are sitting around and enjoying that dark and rich Baltic Porter, and watching the sun go down, think about what the Brewmaster was thinking when picking those special grains and hops, and how much care went into that drink in your hand, and say thank-you.

Take care and drink wisely.


The Next Era of Craft and Specialty Beers: More Flavors, More Pairings, More Complexity

Sampling the Tried and True… and the New

shutterstock_196920290Well, my annual party has come and gone.  I invited a few other brewers for the first time to show their creations.  You know, things like Banana Nut Ale sound so wrong, but wow does it taste so good.  And Peach-Flavored Wheat–who would have thought it’d make for a truly great summer beer?  These two made great additions to my Dry Hopped Pale Ale, Wood Aged Amber, Irish Red, Baltic Porter and Bourbon Oak Aged porter, all served on my two Marvel Beer Dispensers.

The most important thing to me is, keep an open mind.

Since our coming of age out of the lager era, our first taste of craft beer was either a pale ale or maybe an Irish Red.  It is amazing how far we have come in the past 25 years.

I look at the menus at the new brew pubs, read the descriptions and think to myself: What happened to just making a great pale ale?  Why does life and beer have to be so complicated?  But then I try them.  A great pale ale (such as Sierra Nevada or Founders) might make you say to yourself, “Yup, that’s good,” but when you try a specialty beer and say, “Wow, where did that come from?”  That is the difference.

Brewers have been pushing the envelope for the past few years to places where I never would have thought.

In the Midwest I saw it starting with Shorts Brewing in Northern Michigan. They would put together flavors that made you say, “What are you thinking?”  Just like the peanut butter and jelly brew I sampled at the Michigan Winter Beer Fest.   The results were… WOW.

Now most brew pubs have the standard line and a one or two tap handles of the specialty beers.  This has allowed us as consumers to, in some cases, indulge in sensory overload.  That is when you go to your favorite party store, look at the cooler case and just try to pick what’s for dinner tonight.

All this rambling actually leads me to me point. (And you didn’t think there was going to be one.) With all the craft beer and specialty beers available, we need a better education on how to drink and what to drink with.  In the old days of light lager/pilsner, you had your Pabst with your Cheerios, and Miller with your pizza.  Now you need to start drinking your bourbon aged porter in a snifter glass at 58 degrees, while sitting out on your deck watching the sun set, engaging in deep conversations about the meaning of life.

I have been looking for that educational book or class and have yet to find it.  Don’t get me wrong,  I still have a dry hopped pale ale with my Wheat Chex now and then, but I know there are better combinations.  Stick with me, guys, and I’ll share my discoveries on the best beer pairings with you in another post.

Take care and drink wisely,


Hi, I’m Bob. Let’s Talk Beer.

Bob the Beer Engineer

Craft beer, the next frontier.

This is my passion, and my mission is to seek and inform you about brewing and the dispensing equipment that makes great beer taste even better. And take to you to where everyone wishes to be.

I happen to be living a very good life right now. I design Marvel undercounter refrigerators, including beer dispensers and wine chillers. I also am a home brewer. The two fit together very well. I am able to marry my love of chemistry, micro-biology, and physics together to brew many ales and test out the equipment that dispenses them.  It’s how I got the nickname Bob the Beer Engineer.

My passion for brewing started in 2007, looking for a change after 15 years of wine making. I was never much of a beer lover, I only drank to be social. A friend convinced me to give it a try, and after a few brews I was hooked. Now after seven years developing beer dispensers and 174 brews behind me, life is pretty good.


This is my home brewery, Just Bull Brewery, where all the magic happens.

Currently I am getting ready for my 25th yearly gathering to celebrate home brewing and home wine making with the many people I have met over the years. I brewed five different beer batches for this gathering, including dry hopped pale ale, Irish red, Amber aged with toasted wood chips, Baltic porter, and bourbon aged porter.

None of this would be easy without my two Marvel Beer Dispensers, both of which are currently storing corny kegs. If you are a brewer you know this term. If not, think of it as the old soda pop syrup keg used before they switch to plastic bags and boxes.

Well that is my story, and I’d like to hear yours.  Hope you join in on our discussion about the biology, chemistry and enjoyment of craft beers.

Take care and drink wisely,