How Beer is Made, Simplified

Image courtesy of MPR News

Image courtesy of MPR News

Beer drinking is a sport and a fun one at that, but many people are interested in either how it's made they want to make beer themselves. 

When you take a brewery tour, it may seem intimidating because of the giant vats, space required, and all of the manufacturing accouterments. But, when you break it down, all beer is made largely the same way with some variations depending on style and recipe. 

First a brewer needs the right equipment. For the simplest setup you need sanitizer to clean the equipment, a kettle for boiling, a container for fermentation, a secondary vessel for bottling, a large spoon or mash paddle to stir the boil with, and most importantly, the ingredients: water, malt, yeast, and hops.

Next you need to sanitize all of your equipment, and I mean everything. Sanitization helps to prevent nasty microbes from destroying a beer, and it happens to many brewers, from the home brewer to the big guys like Goose Island

Fermenting in a carboy Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Fermenting in a carboy

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

After that it's time to start the boil by filling your brew kettle with water and applying heat. Once the boil starts, a brewer will remove the heat momentarily and stir in the malt slowly. When the malt has been stirred in, a brewer returns the kettle to the heat and lets it starting boiling again. 

When the boil has started again, this is when the brewer adds the first batch of hops, known as bittering hops. Generally after this the boil is maintained for about 60 minutes, though this can vary depending on the hops used. When the hour is up, that's when the heat is turned off and a brewer adds flavor and aroma hops and lets them steep for about 10 minutes. The resulting product is what's known as wort. 

Next, the wort needs to be cooled as quickly as possible to below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. There are many ways to do this, but some home brewers use something as simple as a cold water bath or a cooler full of ice.

Once the wort has cooled, the brewer transfers it to a fermentation vessel, which is most commonly a carboy for the home brewer. After that more water is added to the vessel to bring it up to a full batch (five gallons for the home brewer commonly). 

The final step before fermentation is adding the yeast to the fermenter, also known as "pitching" the yeast. The fermenter is then sealed and the fermenter is moved to a clean, dark, and cool spot.

Over the next 7 to 10 days the yeast go to work converting the sugar in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide; foam will begin to rise inside the fermenter as it happens. A brewer keeps an eye on the fermentation and when bubbling slows or stops and the foam starts to recede, fermentation is done and it's ready to be bottled, though some recipes call for a second fermentation.

The beer is then transferred from the fermenter to a bottling vessel and ultimately, into your mouth!