What Is Beer? Part II

April 18, 2019

The Art & Science of Making Good Beer

We're back with our next part in our series: What Is Beer? This week we're here to tell you how your favorite brewers make their beer.

You need four main ingredients to make beer: barley, water, hops, and yeast. What will ultimately happen is the barley will extract sugars that the yeast will consume and turn into CO2 and alcohol. Thus, beer!

The first part is called milling or malting. This is when the barley (or other grain, depending on the type of beer) are harvested, heated, dried, and cracked to extract the fermentable sugars.

brewers malt

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

After the wheat grains are malted, they go through a process called mashing (not to be confused with smashing, the act of getting smashed). This is when the sugars get extracted by being steeped in hot – but not boiling – water, sort of like tea. Steeping should take about 60-90 minutes. The enzymes from the grain are converted into sugars during this part.

brewery kettle

Photo by Daniel Vogel on Unsplash

Then the sugars are rinsed from the grains during lautering. The result is a sugary liquor called “wort.” This is not a typo. The wort also gets rinsed to make the sugars more soluble.

brewer pouring hops into bucket

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The boiling process happens next. This is when the wort is pumped into a kettle for about 60 minutes as hops and other spices are added. Hops that are added as a bittering agent are added early in the boil, while hops added for flavor are added later.

copper kettle in a brewery

Photo by Claude Piché on Unsplash

After the wort is boiled it goes through the cooling stage. It must cool as quickly as possible in order to minimize the chance of bacterial contamination. The wort then gets strained and filtered.

Once the wort reaches the desired temperature, yeast gets added during fermentation. This stage can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of beer. For ales, the beer must be stored for about two weeks at a room temperature. Lagers must be stored for several weeks at a cold temperature. During the fermenting stage, yeast consumes the sugars and produces CO2 and alcohol. The byproduct of yeast is what gives the final product complexity.

silos in a brewery

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

After fermentation is complete, the remaining yeast is removed from the beer during conditioning. The remaining beer is bottled and stored. And at this point, you can work on your consumption tolerance, AKA conditioning for weekend revelry.

two brewers enjoying their brews

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

Got a better way of cooking up good beer? Share your family-and-friend-award-winning brews or homebrew-gone-wrong stories with us.

Check back next week for our final part in the series – styles and new trends.