Brewing is the process of producing beer through fermentation. Almost all beer contains only four main ingredients: malted grain, water, hops, and yeast. Different styles of beer are created by variations along the several main stages of the brewing process. The key ingredient is the malted grain, which can vary from barley, wheat, or rye depending on the region.
First, the grain or seed requires a couple days to germinate to make malt. The malted grain is then cooked and dried in a kiln arresting the growth process while a number of enzymes convert starch in the grain to sugar. The length of roasting time will greatly influence the color of the malt, which in turn, will directly impact the color and flavor of the beer.
After dried, the grain kernels are crushed into a fine powder called grist and mixed with heated water in a vat. Proteins are broken down, giving the beer its body. Starches are also broken down into simple sugars that nourish the yeast, playing a vital role in the fermentation process. The sugars remain to give the beer its malty taste. While this mixture is being heated, various temperature rests, or waiting periods, activate different enzymes that convert the starch into fermentable sugars such as maltose. Temperatures generally used during the several temperature rest periods start at around 100 F and rise to a range of about 150 - 160 F. At this last rest period, if using a temperature at the lower end of this range, more low-order sugars are produced crating a beer lower in body and higher in alcohol. A rest at the higher end of this range creates more high-order sugars resulting in a fuller bodied beer and lower alcohol content.
As the mixture is being heated, the mash is strained to further separate the liquid from the grain, creating a substance called wort. Additional water may be sprinkled on the grains to extract additional sugars called sparging. This two-stage process of separating the solid and liquid and rinsing with water is called lautering. The resulting liquid (wort) is moved into a kettle where it is boiled with hops. Bitter resins and aromatic hops are released contributing to the flavor of the beer. Hops add bitterness when added to the boil early, flavor if added during the middle, and aroma when added at the end. The wort is then sent into a whirlpool at the end of the boil where the more dense solids are forced to the center of the whirlpool tank. At this point the wort is cooled in preparation for the fermentation process. During the cooling process, oxygen is sometimes dissolved into the wort to help revitalize the yeast.
Yeast is added to the wort in a fermentation vessel which is allowed to consume most or all of the sugars contained in the wort. The sugars then metabolize into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Once the sugars have been mostly digested, the fermentation process slows with the yeast settling at the bottom of the tank. The beer is cooled to around freezing which helps the proteins settle out with the yeast. Pressure within the tanks is maintained to prevent the beer from going flat. After a couple weeks, the beer is placed into conditioning tanks for a period anywhere from a week to several months before being filtered. Various filter methods are employed to further define the style of beer that is being produced. Some filters will remove much of the yeast, hops, and other grain particles. Tighter filters even strain out color and body from the beer. Once the filtering process has been completed, the beer is packaged into containers and leaves the brewery, usually either in bottles or kegs.
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