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.