A Quick Overview of Beer in 5 Minutes
History of Brewing
In Mesopotamia there is evidence of beer from barley via a poem honoring Ninkasi, the patron goddess of brewing. A quick time vortex over the middle ages, 1st and 18th century to 1516 and we land in Bavaria where there was a purity law that defined beer and what was legally able to be classified as beer. This became federal German law in 1919 which still stands today.
Now we know how beer started, what makes up good beer.
Hops (humulus lupulus)
The female hop flower produces a cone that provides beer its distinct flavor, aroma and bitterness. Hops produce two types of acids – alpha (bittering) and beta (aroma). These are activated when boiled at designated time intervals. Bittering occurs early in the boil or isomerization and to retain the delicate beta hop flavours and aromas we make late additions to impart fruity, woody, spicy and herbal characteristics of the species.
Malt / Malting
Barley, wheat, rye, oats, rice, corn and sorghum are soaked in water and allowed to sprout and then quickly dried with hot air. This process is known as malting and allows the development of enzymes to convert starch into simple sugars. The wide selection of malts can impart a range of flavours within beer depending on their level of kilning and roasting.
These are other ingredients not listed above.
Adjuncts impart flavour, texture, head retention or additional fermentable sugar for the yeast to ferment. The style will depend on the adjunct, what good Belgian strong ale would be complete without the addition of Candi Sugar.
As a rule of thumb without water there is no beer, just a dry mix of ingredients that would be impossible to digest. Water is used throughout the process from mashing, lautering, sparging, cooling and cleaning. The critical component to get right is the water PH which assists in getting the right mash PH.
A single-celled microorganism that is born to reproduce. There are two common types of yeast, top and bottom fermenting. These single-cell microorganisms have a sole purpose of converting fermentable sugars into alcohol.
The HOT side of beer creation
Beer creation starts from taking the raw ingredients outlined above and transforming them. The hot side combines all the processes to create quality food for yeast to metabolise during fermentation i.e. malting, kilning, mashing, lautering, boiling and hopping.
Milling prepares grain for the extraction of starches and ultimately aids in simple sugar conversion. During the milling process the grain is cracked, this exposes the endosperm and the outer husks of the grain are released which act as a filter during lautering. The aim is for the greatest yield of wort from the grains utilised.
Mashing uses the milled grain, adjuncts and water at a set temperature to allow enzymes to convert starches to fermentable sugars. The end result is wort with a gravity reading that allows us to understand what fermentables we have available during ferementation.
Lautering or wort separation is the process to wash the undissolved solids from the mash grain and extract the greatest amount of simple sugars with the ultimate goal of producing clear wort. The 3 steps of lautering can consist of mashout, recirculation and sparging.
The final stage is boiling. This process extracts the desirable flavours from the hops, sterilization of bacteria and microorganisms, protein coagulation, enzyme inactivation from the mash and the development of the colour of beer.
The COLD side of beer creation
The cold side is where the beer can be won or lost. This includes fermentation, maturation and filtration.
Fermentation is where yeast is added to consume the fermentable sugars in the wort and covert this into CO2, alcohol and over 600+ other byproducts. During this phase of fermentation the CO2 is expelled and alcohol retained.
Filtration occurs throughout the beer creation lifecycle by reducing yeast and haze particles giving you that all important beer clarity. The most important filtration step is to make sure there is microbiological stability. This process assures there are no physiological changes to the beer during storage and prolongs shelf life.
After fermentation is complete, the beer is classified as green beer. It is a common practice to let the beer go through a maturation stage to clean up and allow flavours to develop, add complexity and improve and round off the rough edges.
Final steps before consumption
We have completed the hard yards by: preparing our ingredients, creating a healthy environment, producing the right amount of simple sugars and made our beer. Now it’s time to create the carbonation fizz, bottle or can our product.
Carbonation is the process where CO2 is either created or manually added to the beer, producing fine bubbles and helping create the trademark head of beer. Natural carbonation can be achieved by bottle conditioning through the addition of priming sugars or manually injecting CO2 into the fermented wort.
Bottle conditioning involves secondary fermentation where residual yeast and sugar ferment, producing CO2. The CO2 is captured within the bottle and carbonation naturally occurs.
The key to storing beer is to avoid light, humidity and temperature extremes. All of these environmental factors will ruin all the effort spent to date creating that perfect drop of liquid gold. Higher alcohol beers with dark malt characteristics can be aged and benefit for a longer cellaring time. Conversely highly aromatic/hopped beers should be consumed as fresh as possible to take advantage of the floral and citrus flavours and aromas which degrade over time.
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