The beer making process has been around for a very long while, and although many of the techniques have changed over the course of time, the basic process has remained pretty much the same.
We take you through the brewing process on a commercial level, however, homebrewers will perform the exact same steps as in a commercial brewery but just on a much smaller scale and using easily attainable equipment.
Stage 1. Mashing
Mashing takes place in a vessel named the mash tun. This is essentially where grains known as malted barley are soaked in hot water for an hour in order to help release the sugars which are contained in the grains. Being able to fully release the sugars is a vital part because the sugars are the food which the yeast will later on “eat” during the fermentation process in order to produce alcohol. If there is no sugar, then it means no alcohol and that means no beer. In addition to contributing fermentable sugars, the malt also adds some flavour, aroma, and body. The sweetness comes from malt and you will often hear people refer to a sweet tasting beer as “malty’ for that exact reason.
Stage 2. Sparging
In the next step of the process, the grains are rinsed with hot water to help extract the rest of the sugar out of them. The grains are then separated from the hot liquid in a process otherwise known as lautering. Breweries perform these steps in a vessel known as the lauter tun, however, homebrewers will typically mash, sparge, and lauter all in the same vessel.
The liquid is now known as wort (pronounced “wert”). Since the wort will shortly become beer, it’s sent to a separate tank for the final brewing steps. The grains are no longer needed and therefore discarded at this point in the process.
Stage 3. Boiling The Wort
After sparging, the wort is now boiled in order to help kill any micro-organisms that may still be present in the liquid. A typical boil process will last about an hour and there is also the stage where hops are added to the beer. Hops require boiling water to release their flavour components. The stage in the boil when the hops are added makes a big difference on the final taste of the beer. Hops that are added at the very beginning of the boil would have a different effect than if they were added nearer the end. The brewer will use this knowledge to help finely craft their own profile of beverage.
Stage 4. Cooling The Wort
After about an hour of boiling, the wort is rapidly cooled down. Yeast needs to be added to the wort and if it’s still very hot the heat will just kill off the yeast. This is why the wort is cooled down to a temperature that the yeast is able to handle. It’s at this time that the brewer must be very careful and pay close attention because the wort is no longer at any extreme temperatures, it’s extremely susceptible to contamination from any micro-organisms which may be lying around. When the wort is around 80 degrees, the yeast can then be added, or “pinched” as the brewer would more commonly say. This is the final step in a typical brewing day. The next step being fermentation, which consists of waiting... A lot.
Stage 5. Fermentation
Even though most of the hard work is done on the brewers part, this step is especially crucial. During the fermentation process, the hungry yeast consumes the sugars which were released and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is released into the air and the alcohol stays into the beer. The overall process of this will usually on average take about 1 - 2 weeks to complete.
Stage 6. Carbonation
By this stage, the beer is almost ready for consumption. However, If you were to consume it as-is, you would find it extremely flat tasting and pretty unappetising. So, what it needs is carbonation. The head when you pull a pint and all those tiny bubbles you see in your glass is a result of the carbonation process. This is done by directly injecting carbon dioxide into the beer. Another carbonation method is to add a small amount of sugar into the bottles. The residual yeast left in the bottles will consume the sugar and naturally carbonate the liquid by releasing CO2. This is known as bottle conditioning and is the go-to option for most homebrewers.
Stage 7. Packaging
Once the carbonation process is complete, it’s then, time to package the final product. A commercial brewery will then decide to either can, keg, or bottle their beer. It’s then out of the door and into the hands of the happy drinker.