Beer Brewing

Written by Jeremy Horelick
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The process of beer brewing, according to most historians and beer lovers, dates back roughly 5000 years. It was then that the fermenting capabilities of yeast were thought to have been discovered. Since then, the process of converting simple sugars into alcohol, which is precisely what fermenting is, has been used to make not only beer, but wine, liqueurs, and soda pop as well.

Today, multiple styles of beer brewing exist. There are commercial brewers, the Anheuser-Busches and Millers of the world, who mass produce their beers for millions of drinkers. There are "batch" brewers, often known as microbrewers, who produce smaller but more distinctive concoctions. Then there are home brewers, who perform essentially the same process, only on a much smaller scale.

The Basics of Beer Brewing

Any discussion of beer brewing requires a working knowledge of the basic principles that underlie it, most of which are chemical. Most (but not all) beers are derived from some sort of grain, most commonly barley. Barley looks a lot like wheat, which is identifiable by its golden stalks that are usually portrayed in movies and TV shows as gently blowing in a field somewhere in Iowa, Kansas, or the Ukraine.

Getting these grains into alcohol form requires several processes along the way, the first of which is known as malting. Barley is malted as it germinates or sprouts seeds, which is done by immersing it in water for a specific duration of time. This soaking period (mashing) determines just how far along germination can proceed, which in turn defines the relative abundance of sugar in the malt. This is the same sugar that will eventually be devoured by the yeast in the fermentation stage.

The Mashing Stage

As the malt is heated, a step that halts the germination process by drying the sprouted grains, it sets several different enzymes to work. Their job is to help facilitate the conversion of starch to sugar, which is necessary for fermentation. The "saccharification" can be done incrementally or all at once, depending on how the brewer wants the beer to taste.

The end product, called wort (but pronounced "wert"), is then rinsed and filtered in a device known as a "lauter tun." The wort is then collected in a boiler where it's introduced to the hops, the flower of the hops vine that gives beer its unique aroma and bitterness. The presence of hops in beer brewing is important in counterbalancing the sugars produced by the malting process. Hops may be added at any point during the boil depending on how much bitterness and aroma the brewer prefers.

Commercial Versus Independent Beer Making

It's helpful to remember that the goal of most commercial beer brewing is consistency. Customers who pick up Budweiser, Coors, or Guinness have a certain expectation about their cans' or bottles' contents. For this reason, there's far less latitude involved in large-scale beer brewing.

Independent and home beer brewing affords lovers of the froth a chance to experiment with aromas and flavors. This is done by shortening or lengthening certain steps of the beer brewing process, choosing a variety of different hops, barleys, and yeasts, and trying out different fermenting, storage, and bottling techniques. All these variables give home brewers a sense of control over the end product, which contributes to the satisfaction when it comes time, several weeks later, to enjoy the results.

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