Posts Tagged ‘how-to’

A quick and easy explanation of how we turn a simple glass of water into a pint of smooth, balanced, golden ale.

Beer is made by a simple and natural process.  Yeast converts sugar and water into alcohol and CO2 (googlefermentation reaction).

First we convert the starches from grains into sugar with warm water and end up with sugary water.  Then we add flavor, and then we add yeast.  We wait patiently while yeast converts the sugars in the water to alcohol, then we carbonate it and have beer.

Step One:  Starches –> Sugar



We start with grains (usually barley, there are many types, prepared in many different ways for many different flavors – munich malt, golden pils, etc. ), put them in warm water (170˚ F) for a while, and let enzymes naturally convert the starches in the grains to sugars (this is called MASHING).  At this point it looks like a bucket of oatmeal.

[Note: you can also use malt extract, which is what is found in most all-inclusive homebrew kits; this is concentrated sugar water from grains, which merely needs to be mixed into a large pot of water, then skip to Step Three: Add Flavor]

Step Two: Strain

Next we strain the oatmeal, rinse it with clean water to get all the sugar out (this is called SPARGING) and we put the sugary water (called WORT) in a pot on the stove and bring it to a boil.



Step Three: Add flavor

Much of the flavor of beer comes from the different types of grains used; adding hops adds bitterness and aroma.  There are many different varieties of hops, with many different flavors.  Depending when you add the hops during the boil (the boil usually lasts an hour or so), you will get different results. For example, hops added at the beginning of the boil contribute towards bitterness; hops added at the end of the boil generally add aroma.

Step Four: Add yeast

After the boil, we cool the wort (sugary water) and add active live yeast.

Step Five: Wait.

Put the liquid in a vessel to allow the yeast to ferment the sugars.  For homebrewing, we usually use a 6-gallon glass container known as a carboy. The carboy has a one way valve on it that allows CO2 to be released (so it doesn’t explode) but doesn’t allow wild yeast and other microorganisms to get into the beer (this would spoil it or at least add off-flavors).  We leave the carboy wrapped in a blanket (this blocks the light and helps to maintain the correct temperature) in the basement for about 2 weeks, until all the sugar is converted to alcohol.

Step Six: Carbonation

At this point, we have fully ready beer, except it is flat.  There are two ways to add carbonation. First is put it in a keg, attach a CO2 tank, and force carbonate it.  The second way is more natural, which is by doing a secondary fermentation (usually in bottles). [NB: Champagne is carbonated the same way].  We take a little corn sugar, dissolve it in warm water, and add it to the beer.  Then we put the beer in sterilized bottles and put caps on.  We wait another two weeks or so for the yeast to ferment this new sugar, but this time the CO2 is not allowed to escape, and it carbonates the beer.  This secondary fermentation is also known as CONDITIONING.  After two weeks, crack open the beers and drink them with friends.


Feel free to ask anything about this process in the comments below.

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A little background…

I’m going to start a brewery. Soon.

That’s pretty much it.

Ok there’s more. Let’s do a quick recap. Senior year of college, some friends of mine started making beer. They were chem majors, which was a nice touch. A few batches in, I joined the fun. Over the next 18 months or so, we got better at making beer, bought more equipment, stepped it up from extract to partial-mash, and really started pumping out the beer. At one point the three of us were doing 2-4 batches a month. Dead Bunny Brewery - Pulled Pin Porter We generally had about 3 styles of beer, 30-50 bottles each, sitting around waiting for a friend to drink them. We started labeling the  beer under “Dead Bunny Brewery”. Pulled Pin Porter was one of my favorite names.

And it was good.

Fast forward another year (of non-brewing.. sad face) and I move to Denver. This is May, 2008. I start brewing again. One of my friends had all the equipment, so I grabbed my share and did my first all-grain full-mash batch.

For the uninitiated, there are three basic levels of the home brew. There’s the extract, the partial-mash, and the full-mash / all-grain. Extract brewing is by far the easiest and most consistent, but is very limited. You essentially take some malt extract (molasses-esque stuff) in a can, boil it in some water, maybe add some hops or other flavors, add yeast, let it sit for a few weeks, bottle it, wait some more, drink it. It’s awesome, the house smells great while you’re cooking, and start to finish (before all that waiting) is at most 2 hours.

Partial mash is more like making tea. It’s a lot like extract brewing, except while the water is heating up to boil, you steep a bag of grains in the soon-to-be beer. This converts a few starches to sugars, but mainly just grabs some color and flavor. In the end, the meat of the beer is from the extract. And yes, I just said meat and beer in the same sentence. This will be a theme.

All grain brewing is another beast unto itself. This style is extremely similar to how commercial breweries do their thing. The main difference is volume. Most homebrewers brew 5 gallon batches. Commercial brewers talk about their batches in barrels (bbl). A barrel is 31 gallons. It sounds arbitrary, but that’s how the government taxes them, so all things are measured this way. I think the federal tax is $7 / barrel or something.

Anyway, back to all grain. This process is lengthy. You take some grains, between 10-20 pounds, usually, and mill it nice and fine. Then you put the grains in a bag – much like a cheesecloth material – and let the grains sit in hot water for an hour or so. This is called Mashing. You then drain the liquid (called wort), run some more water through the grains, and take what you have and boil it. So far we’re at almost 2 hours of work, and the boil hasn’t even started yet. You boil the wort, add hops, cool it down, add yeast, and then follow the usual timeline (wait, bottle, wait, drink). I’ll write a full “how-to” at some point. But trust me, it’s lengthy. Our last batch took close to 10 hours, start to finish.

Alright back from the tangent. Our beer turns out really well. Like, really really frickin’ good. All the time. Knock on wood. Some friends and I get to talking, get to drinking, get to talking and drinking, and lo and behold, we decide it’s time to open our own brewery. This had always been a plan for me, but now (let’s call it August), it was the plan.

And thus begins the epic adventure of trying to start an extremely expensive start-up during a recession. Who’s excited? I know I am.

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