The Principles of Brewing Beer

Brewing beer is a very simple process with three basic steps:

1.  Making a tea from grains (barley or wheat).
2.  Fermenting that tea with yeast.
3.  Flavoring the beer.

The difficulties come in as one attempts to control various qualities of the beer.  This, however, should concern to commercial beer-maker rather than the home brewer who just needs good beer.  We don’t care how Mayans or ancient Chinese people brewed beer.  We don’t care about the 50,000 possible varieties of beer that can be made.  We want to make beer to drink regularly.  The American  obsession with variety is vanity.  If you are interested in talking about varieties and flavoring and bottle styles before you yet have a drop of beer, this article is not for you.  It explains the essential principles of brewing beer  for those who want to make beer.

Note:  The details of these steps for home brewing are provided in our articles, “How to Brew You First Batch of Beer” and “How to Build Your Own Home Brewery”.  Here we are seeking to know the essential principles of the craft.

Step One:  Malting

To create the “grain tea” we must steep grains in boiling water as we do tea leaves to make tea.  However, because grains have a hard outer shell that will protect the starches, we must open the grains to yield their starches more readily.  This is done by “malting”.  Malting consists of three steps:

1.  Sprouting the Grains:  the grains are soaked in water for 40 hours so that they sporut.
2.  Drying the Grains:  the sprouted grains are spread out for 5 days to dry out
3.  Roasting the Grains:  the dried sprouted grains are roasted to complete drying and prepare for “mashing”.
4.  Crushing the Grains:  the roasted grains are crushed to expose the starchy center of the grain.

Step Two:  Mashing

A stainless mashing tun with bottom and spigot strainers.

A stainless mashing tun with bottom and spigot strainers.

1.  Mashing:  Crushed Grains are soaked in hot water in a large pot called a “mashing tun”.
2.  Saccharification:  Starches in the grains are converted by enzymes in the grain into simpler sugars desired for the fermentation process to follow.  After sufficient time, the temperature is raised to destroy the enzymes and end the conversion process.
3.  Lautering:  The grains are strained out of the mix and a rich sugary liquid, called “wort”, is drained.  The production of this wort is the goal of the mashing process.

Step Three:  Flavoring

The wort collected is moved to a boiling pot where hops and other flavoring ingredients are added.    The solids in the mix are strained out and allowed to settle to the bottom before the flavored wort is drained off into another container.

Step Four:  Cooling

chillerThe flavored wort is then cooled as quickly as possible, either by setting the pot into an ice bath or by setting a “wort chiller”–coiled copper tubing through which cold water is run–into the pot (see right).  The wort must be cooled because the yeast added in the next step will be destroyed by heat.  The faster the wort is chilled the better.

Step Five:  Fermentation

While there are many styles of airlocks available for purchase, the idea is simply to allow the tank to be sealed in a way that allows pressurized gas to escape without  letting air in.  That is done by sealing the tank with water as you see.

The simplicity of a water-based airlock.

The chilled wort is then moved to a tank in which it will begin fermentation.   Yeast is added to the wort and goes to work upon the sugars, converting them into (a) alcohol and (b) carbon dioxide.   The carbon dioxide, which is a gas, must be allowed to escape, which is done by sealing the fermentation tank with a pressure-releasing lock.

Note:  Don’t be intimidated by this talk of gases and pressure-release seals.  This pressure-release system is not complicated at all.  The gas is allowed to escape through water.  The water allows pressurized gas from inside the tank to get out, for it bubbles up through the water, but does not allow low-pressure air to get in.  “Airlocks” are available for purchase, but the idea is very simple.

Step Six:  Conditioning

The beer is then moved to a second tank in which it will be stored.  Fermentation will continue, though much more slowly, and the taste and quality of the beer will stabilize over time.  The beer will be kept in this stage until the time comes from drinking or bottling.

Step Seven:  Bottling

The beer in storage may have some sediment that needs to be filtered out as the beer is moved into a contained that will make bottling convenient.  This is usually a bucket with a spigot at the bottom that easily fits into the mouth of a bottle.

Conclusion

As you can see the principles of beer-brewing are very simple and much of the modern talk of brewing completely unnecessary for any of us to worry about.  Americans love to make things complicated because they have access to so much nonsense, and everyone is trying to sell things that are unnecessary.  Beer brewing is a very simple process to understand.  The question now is simply how should you, in your unique situation, brew your own beer?

Our Self-Sufficiency program teaches that the first step is to use what you can produce and then to work to produce what you use.  In brewing, this means buying the basic supplies that you can later produce one-by-one until you become a self-sufficient brewer.  We can help you do that at Beatitudes Farm & Market, and you can trust that we’re not going to try and sell you anything unnecessary.

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