A series of four classes on how to brew beer
By Shawn Gatesman
Brewing beer is a wonderful hobby and can be nearly as simple or complex as you desire to make it. This will be the first article in a series that explores the world of homebrewing and how beer is made. Here we will focus on the essential ingredients, and why they matter, along with the general processes that go on in the beer making process.
The Ingredients to Brew Beer:
Malt – malted barley grains (or wheat, rye, oats, sorghum) which contain starches used (converted) to create sugary wort, which is fermented into beer. Malt can be in the form of the whole grains, or extracts (dry and liquid). BASE malts give the beer most of the fermentable sugar that yeast converts to alcohol and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). Base malts in some cases leave minimal flavor behind. SPECIALTY malts offer a variety of color and flavor characters and often useless fermentable sugar.
Malt Extracts – typically your base malt only. These are made from actual malted grains, and then the wort is concentrated to a liquid (LME) or a dry (DME) malt extract. These are used in extract brewing, as well as at times added to all-grain recipes as needed.
Hops – flowers from a vine-like plant. These flowers have both compounds that offer bittering, to balance out the sweet malt flavors of beer, and also flavor and aroma compounds. There are many varieties, and they offer an array of bittering, character, and aroma characteristics. How hops are utilized in your beer can be nearly as important, if not more so, than what hops you use. Hops are typically dried and packaged for use. They are often further processed into “pellets,” which makes them more stable for storage.
Yeast – a fungus (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that is used to metabolize sugars in wort (un-fermented beer) and convert them into alcohol and CO2. The two primary types of yeast are ale and lager yeasts. There are many strains of brewing yeast within these two types and can offer little to extreme flavor and aroma characteristics to the beer. We could NOT have the beer without this tiny small “Friendly Fermenter”!
Water – we all know what this is. You need good tasting water to have good beer. When brewing with malt extracts, water chemistry is not as important as it is in “all grain” brewing.
Adjuncts – this is a word that merely means other ingredients you add to beer, typically for flavor, aroma, or body contributions, that are not fermentable (sugar, malt) and not yeast or hops.
Mashing (“All grain brewing”) – the process of mixing cracked/crushed malted grains with hot water (usually to a net of around 150 degrees), to convert the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars (glucose, maltose, and others). This conversion occurs by activating enzymes that are in the malted grains. The enzymes come from a specific malting process where grains are partially germinated and then dried.
The Boil – once you have sweet wort, by AG brewing, extracts, or a combination of the two, it must be boiled for several reasons. 1) sanitation 2) driving off compounds that can later lead to off flavors, 3) boiling the bittering hops to create the bitterness desired through “isomerization” of hop compounds. A typical boil lasts from 60-90 minutes.
Chilling – after the boil, the wort must be cooled to correct temperatures for the yeast you are using (pitching temp.). The faster this can happen the better. It makes for cleaner wort and minimizes the chance of infection. Once the wort is cooled below 160 degrees, care must be taken to see EVERYTHING it touches is clean and sanitized!
Fermentation – is the process by which yeast “eats” the sugars in the wort, and creates flavors, alcohol, and carbon dioxide (CO2). This process can be very temperature sensitive, as the yeast will behave differently (and create different flavors) at different temperatures. Most Ale Yeast strains ferment between 60 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Lager yeasts are generally in the 40’s and 50’s.
Ready for more? Click here for Homebrewing 102