Wondering how to make beer? You need just 4 natural ingredients: water, malted grain (usually barley or wheat), hops and yeast. The process starts when the brewer mixes a measured amount of crushed grain with a measured amount of water heated to a specific temperature to make a solution known as a mash. The heated water activates enzymes in the grain. The enzymes act on the starch in the grain and convert it to sugar. After a complete starch conversion (which can take up to an hour), the brewer is ready to draw off the sugar-laded liquid from the mash. Known as wort, this liquid can be dark or light in color, depending on the type of malt used. Since a lot of sugar can cling to the grain even after drawing off the wort, the brewer rinses the grain with more warm water to remove any remaining sugar in a process called sparging. Sparging can take an hour or more.
Next, the wort goes into a large kettle where it boils for a fixed length time, usually an hour or more. During the boil, the brewer adds hops that both flavor the beer and add a bitter (but pleasant) flavor to the beer. Hops are the flowers of a climbing herb, humulus lupulus, and will give the beer aroma as well and flavor as well as bitterness. The bitterness of the hops balances the wort’s natural sweetness and helps to preserve the finished beer. After the boil, the brewer cools the wort and transfers it to a sealed vessel for fermentation. Before sealing the vessel, the brewer adds a measured amount of specialized brewer’s yeast to the wort. The yeast begins to act on the sugars in the wort, fermenting them into alcohol. Carbon dioxide gas (CO2) is a by-product of fermentation.
The type of yeast used contributes significantly to the beer’s real character or style. There are two varieties of specialized yeast used in beer brewing – ale and lager yeasts. Ale yeasts ferment well at room temperature, while lager yeasts require lower temperature, usually in the 40s or 50s. If either yeast is fermented at too high a temperature, off flavors will result. Temperature control during fermentation is critical.
Bottling is the last step after a fermentation process that can last from a few hours to a few days. To bottle, the brewer carefully draws the finished beer out of the fermenter, leaving the yeast and hops behind. To carbonate the beer, the brewer adds a measured amount of sugar. Then he siphons the beer into bottles, capping each bottle securely. The sugar he adds just before bottling reacts with the small amount of yeast left in the beer to ferment it just enough to produce more carbon dioxide (CO2). After bottling, the brewer will store the beer for at least two weeks, so the carbonation has a chance to develop. Because of the cap, the CO2 cannot escape. When poured, the beer will have its familiar bubbles and creamy head, thanks to the CO2.
And that’s how to make beer!