Beer making dates back to 5,000 BC when yeast was discovered fermenting in a sugar-water mixture. The yeast consumes the sugar for its own energy and growth, and the primary byproducts are ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. Wine is made when yeast consumes the natural sugars in fruit such as grapes, and beer is made when yeast consumes the sugar derived from grain. The naturally occurring starch found in grain must be converted into sugar before yeast can consume it. Thus, beer making is a more complex art than wine making.
How Beer is Made | Types of Beer
Brewing is fundamentally a natural process. The art and science of brewing lies in converting natural food materials into a pure, pleasing beverage. Although great strides have been made with the techniques for achieving high-quality production, beer today is still a beverage brewed from natural products in a traditional way. Although the main ingredients of beer have remained constant (water, yeast, malt and hops), it is the precise recipe and timing of the brew that gives one a different taste from another. The production of beer is one of the most closely supervised and controlled manufacturing processes in our society. Apart from brewing company expenditures on research and quality control designed to achieve the highest standards of uniformity and purity in the product, the production of beer is also subject to regular inspection and review by federal and provincial Health Departments. Substances used in the brewing process are approved by Health Canada. On average, a batch of beer will take about 30 days to produce. To be more specific, brewing takes nine and a half hours, while fermentation and aging combined take between 21 and 35 days for ales and lagers respectively.
Pure water is an essential ingredient in good beer and brewers pay scrupulous attention to the source and purification of their brewing water. The water used in brewing is purified to rigidly-set standards. If it does not have the proper calcium or acidic content for maximum activity of the enzymes in the mash, it must be brought up to that standard.
Barley is used to make brewers’ malt. At the malting companies, barley is soaked, germinated (sprouted), then dried and/or kilned/roasted to arrest further growth. During the period of controlled growth in the malting plant, specific barley enzymes are released to break down the membranes of the starch cells that make up most of the kernel. But these are internal changes only; apart from a slight change in color, the external characteristics remain essentially unchanged. When the malt leaves a malting plant, it still looks like barley.
In the brewery, the malt is screened and crushed rather than ground to flour in order to keep the husks as whole as possible. This process not only prevents the extraction of undesirable materials from the husks but also allows them to act as a filter bed for separation of the liquid extract formed during mashing.
Malt is added to heated, purified water and, through a carefully controlled time and temperature process, the malt enzymes break down the starch to sugar and the complex proteins of the malt to simpler nitrogen compounds. Mashing takes place in a large, round tank called a “mash mixer” or “mash tun” and requires careful temperature control. At this point, depending on the type of beer desired, the malt is supplemented by starch from other cereals such as corn, wheat or rice.
The mash is transferred to a straining (or lautering) vessel which is usually cylindrical with a slotted false bottom two to five centimeters above the true bottom. The liquid extract drains through the false bottom and is run off to the brew kettle. This extract, a sugar solution, is called “wort” but it is not yet beer. Water is “sparged” (or sprayed) though the grains to wash out as much of the extract as possible. The “spent grains” are removed and sold as cattle feed.
5. Boiling and Hopping
The brew kettle, a huge cauldron holding from 70 to 1,000 hectoliters and made of shiny copper or stainless steel, is probably the most striking sight in a brewery. It is fitted with coils or a jacketed bottom for steam heating and is designed to boil the wort under carefully-controlled conditions. Boiling, which usually lasts about two hours, serves to concentrate the wort to a desired specific gravity, to sterilize it and to obtain the desired extract from the hops. The hop resins contribute flavor, aroma and bitterness to the brew. Once the hops have flavored the brew, they are removed. When applicable, highly-fermentable syrup may be added to the kettle. Undesirable protein substances that have survived the journey from the mash mixer are coagulated, leaving the wort clear.
6. Hop Separation and Cooling
After the beer has taken on the flavor of the hops, the wort then proceeds to the “hot wort tank”. It is then cooled, usually in a simple-looking apparatus called a “plate cooler”. As the wort and a coolant flow past each other on opposite sides of stainless steel plates, the temperature of the wort drops from boiling to about 10 to 15.5 °C, a drop of more than 65.6 °C, in a few seconds.
The wort is then moved to the fermenting vessels and yeast, the guarded central mystery of ancient brewer’s art, is added. It is the yeast, which is a living, single-cell fungi, that breaks down the sugar in the wort to carbon dioxide and alcohol. It also adds many beer-flavoring components. There are many kinds of yeasts, but those used in making beer belong to the genus saccharomyces. The brewer uses two species of this genus. One yeast type, which rises to the top of the liquid at the completion of the fermentation process, is used in brewing ale and stout. The other, which drops to the bottom of the brewing vessel, is used in brewing lager.
In all modern breweries, elaborate precautions are taken to ensure that the yeast remains pure and unchanged. Through the use of pure yeast culture plants, a particular beer flavor can be maintained year after year. During fermentation, which lasts about seven to 10 days, the yeast may multiply six-fold and in the open-tank fermenters used for brewing ale, a creamy, frothy head may be seen on top of the brew. When the fermentation is complete, the yeast is removed. Now, for the first time ,the liquid is called beer.
For one to three weeks, the beer is stored cold and then filtered once or twice before it is ready for bottling or “racking” into kegs.
In the bottle shop of a brewery, returned empty bottles go through washers in which they receive a thorough cleaning. After washing, the bottles are inspected electronically and visually and pass on to the rotary filler. Some of these machines can fill up to 1,200 bottles per minute. A “crowning” machine, integrated with the filler, places caps on the bottles. The filled bottles may then pass through a “tunnel pasteurizer” (often 23 meters from end to end and able to hold 15,000 bottles) where the temperature of the beer is raised about 60 °C. for a sufficient length of time to provide biological stability, then cooled to room temperature.
Emerging from the pasteurizer, the bottles are inspected, labeled, placed in boxes, stacked on pallets and carried by lift truck to the warehousing areas to await shipment. Also in the bottle shop may be the canning lines, where beer is packaged in cans for shipment. Packaged beer may be heat-pasteurized or micro-filtered, providing a shelf-life of up to six months when properly stored. Draught beer, since it is normally sold and consumed within a few weeks, may not go through this process. The draught beer is placed in sterilized kegs ready for shipment.
The word lager is derived from the German verb “lagern”, which means: to store. During the late middle ages, before the days of refrigeration, fermentation was a hit-or-miss affair, especially during the hot summer months. To ensure a supply of beer for the summer, brewers in the Bavarian Alps stored kegs of spring brew in icy mountain caves. As the beer slowly aged, the yeast settled, creating a drink that was dark but clear and sparkling with a crisper, more delicate flavor. In 1842, lager acquired its familiar golden color when a brewery in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia perfected a pale, bottom-fermented version of the beer. Lagers typically take more time to brew and are aged longer than ales. Lagers are best enjoyed at cooler-than-room temperature.
American Lager – This is basically the main style of beer in America. It is a mass produced, inexpensive product that’s aimed at the broadest possible demographic. Since it is very watery and has little flavor characteristics, it is the least likely to offend a large number of consumers. In the health craze of the 70’s brewers started offering Light Beer. Light Beer is simply an American Lager with an even lower gravity. American Lagers achieve a low gravity by adding corn or rice syrup.
Pilsner – Pilsner style beer originated in Plzen, Czechoslovakia in 1842. It was the very first light colored beer. Today, it is the world’s most popular style of beer. The original Pilsners’ defining elements were the extremely soft water that was pumped locally and the unique aromatic hops that were also grown nearby. Pilsners are malty sweet, and well hopped. Caramel flavors are often noticed accompanied by medium to high bitterness. Pilsners have a good amount of carbonation and are clean and crisp.
Bock – Originating in Germany, Bock beer is a hearty beer with high alcohol content. Contrary to the rumor, bock beer is not what’s cleaned out of the bottom of the vats at the end of the year! Bock beer has a pronounced malt flavor with just enough hop bitterness to tame the sweetness. The German word for lager “lagern” means to store. This being said, Bock beer is a well lagered. In other words, the beer is matured for a long period of time during the second fermentation. A variation on Bock beer is the Doppelbock. A Doppelbock has a higher gravity and slightly higher alcohol content. Traditionally, most all breweries end the names of their Doppelbocks in “ator” (such as Optimator or Salvator) which makes them easy to find.
Oktoberfest (Marzen) – Marz, the German word for March, is when the last batch of beer was brewed before the warm summer months (before refrigeration). This beer was stored in Alpine caves to keep cool and consumed throughout the summer. At harvest time and the beginning of the new brewing season (around October), the remaining beer in storage was taken from the caves and consumed during a celebration. This celebration still takes place in Munich for 16 days and ends on the first Sunday in October. This beer is amber in color and is slightly heavy. It is malty sweet as typical with beer from southern Germany and Austria. There is low to medium bitterness but enough to offset the sweet. This is a favorite of many.
Helles – The main beer consumed in Bavaria. Helles is a pale lager that is light in color, not taste or calories. It is low in alcohol and intended to be an everyday or session beer. The main quality that separates a Helles from a Pilsner or Pale Lager is a less potent hop aroma and flavor. Only a mild, short lived bitterness should be expected.
Dunkel – Commonly known as German dark beer. It’s basically a Helles with additional roasted malt added for color and a toasty, chocolate-like taste. Contrary to its reputation, it is really not as heavy or strong as many would think. It is slightly more bitter than a Helles, but the bitterness is a result of the roasted barley rather than from hops.
Bock Beer – The other bottom-fermented beer is bock, named for the famous medieval German brewing town of Einbeck. Heavier than lager and darkened by high-colored malts, bock is traditionally brewed in the winter for drinking during the spring.
Although the term covers a fascinating variety of styles, all ales share certain characteristics. Top-fermentation and the inclusion of more hops in the wort gives these beers a distinctive fruitiness, acidity and a pleasantly-bitter seasoning. All ales typically take less time to brew and age then lagers and have a more assertive, individual personality, though their alcoholic strength may be the same. Ales are best enjoyed at room temperature or slightly warmer.
Barley Wine – Despite its name, Barley Wine is indeed an ale (beer). Barley Wine is a very intense and complex beverage with alcohol content equal to most wines. It is not for the faint of heart. It has a hearty, sweet malt flavor which is offset by a strong and bitter flavoring from the hops for balance. Because of the preserving qualities of alcohol, this is the best beer for storing over a long period of time. The color ranges from copper to medium brown. The strong scent of malt, hops, and even the alcohol are evident. You can even feel the warmth of the alcohol as you swallow. The bitterness ranges from medium to the highest of all beer types.
English Bitter – There are three classic styles of English Bitters. They are the Ordinary (mild), the Special (moderate strength), and the Extra Special (a stong bitter). They are typically characterized with traditional hops such as Kent Goldings, Fuggles, or Brewers Gold. Just as they range from mild to strong, the color and alcohol percentage also follow. Here is the technical information for the average Special Bitter:
Pale Ale – As in the English Bitters, there are varying styles of pale ales. They all share a pronounced hop flavor and aroma with low to medium maltiness. There is also a good deal of fruity esters. Among the types of pale ales are the English, the India (IPA), and the American. English have a dry character usually due the high sulfate content of the water. The India Pale Ale is usually stronger and hoppier because the higher alcohol content and hop acids acted as a preservative on the long boat journey from England to its colonies in India. The American is usually amber in color and has a bit more maltiness flavor than the other two. When brewing pale ales, fresh, quality hops is a necessity. Here is the technical information for the India Pale Ale:
Scottish Ale – Scottish ales are close cousins to the English ales with the exception that they are usually darker, maltier, and have less carbonation. They range in color, maltiness and strength in the order of Scottish Light(60 Shilling), Scottish Heavy (70 Shilling), Scottish Export (80 Shilling), and the Strong Scotch (wee heavy). The term 60-80 shilling dates back to when beer was taxed by gravity and strength and is still the way to order a Scottish ale in a Highland pub. The Strong Scotch is usually dark brown, high in alcohol (6-8 percent) and can have a lightly smoky character. Here is the technical information for a Scottish Heavy Ale:
Belgian Strong Dark Ale – Belgium is known for having hundreds of unique styles of beer. One of my favorites is the Belgian Strong Ale. Though very diverse, they are usually medium to dark in color with a high alcohol content. They are very malty and with a low hop flavor and aroma. The most important ingredient in this style of beer is the strain of yeast. The yeast and warm fermentations create a unique biscuity flavor with fruity and spicy overtones and a good deal of carbonation. These beers are usually very aromatic and are best served in a goblet so as to better smell the beer while drinking. Often considered the champagne of beers, the Belgian Strong Ale is definitely a beer to be savored. This is also one of the harder beer styles to try to achieve at home.
Porter – The Porter’s name comes from the Porters at London’s Victoria Station. They would frequently mix several styles of beer into one glass and drink large quantities of the mixture. A style was eventually created to approximate this blend and came to be known as a Porter. Arthur Guinness and Sons was the first brewer to offer a Porter commercially. Later on, they increased the alcohol content of the Porter and the new drink became known as the Stout Porter (which eventually became Stout). The Porter is a good beer for those who want a full flavored, dark beer without the bitterness from the roasted barley that a Stout now possesses.
Imperial Stout – The Czarist rulers of Russia so loved the English Stouts that they would have it shipped to them from England. The beer didn’t hold up too well on the long journey, so the English increased the gravity and alcohol content just as they did when creating the India Pale Ale. Thus the birth of the Russian Imperial Stout. An Imperial Stout is dark copper to very black in color. It has a rich and complex maltiness with noticeable hop bitterness. The two main ingredients are the dark roasted barley and black malts. The Imperial Stout is like the espresso of beer styles, full flavored and intense.
Porter and Stout – Whether dry or sweet, flavored with roasted malt barley, oats or certain sugars, stouts and porters are characterized by darkness and depth. Both types of beer are delicious with hearty meat stews and surprisingly good with shellfish. The pairing of oysters and stout has long been acknowledged as one of the world’s great gastronomic marriages.
Dry – “Dry” refers to the amount of residual sugar left in a beer following fermentation. This type of beer is fermented for longer than normal brews so that practically all of the residual sugar is converted into alcohol. The result is a beer which consumers describe as having a crisp flavor, clean finish and very little aftertaste.