The brewing process and our simple step by step walkthrough.
The basic ingredients and process to create beer are water and a fermentable starch source such as malted barley, beer is then fermented with a brewer’s yeast and flavoured with hops. Although all beer consists of this same process as described below, each beer style has its own “recipe” which overlays detailed instructions to each step.
Malting is the process that converts raw grain, usually barley although sometimes maize, wheat or rye, into malt. It starts by adding moisture, then moves onto germination where often a traditional floor malting germinates the grains in a thin layer on a solid floor where it can be manually raked or automated with machinery to keep loose and aerated. Once germinated the moisture is removed and the malt cleaned to remove dust and other foreign objects.
Milling crushes the malt to break apart kernels to make it easier to extract the sugars during mashing.
Mashing converts the starches released during the malting and milling stage into sugars that can be fermented. The milled grain is combined with hot water in the “Mash Tun”. This is then left to Mash for a set period with just the temperature being taken periodically to ensure we’re getting the correct sugars. By lowering and raising the temperature of the mash, brewers can control what types of sugars are created influencing the sweetness of the beer. The result of the mashing process is a sticky, sweet liquid or “wort”
Lautering is the process of straining the wort and separating the spent grain. The wort is moved into a large tank known as a “copper” or “brew kettle” ready for boiling.
Boiling and Hopping is an important stage where we sterilise the brew and decisions about the flavour, colour, and aroma of the beer are made. The wort is boiled in water with hops that add a natural preservative, bitterness, flavour and aroma to the beer. Hops can be added at different stages with earlier input adding more bitterness and then later adding more flavour and aroma, this is where the craft of brewing comes in to enable smaller brewers to put their mark and create unique beers. Once the boil is complete any hop matter is collected and it is immediately cooled to stabilise the brew.
Before moving forward it is worth noting that although above we talk about hops the water is an important element as it dictates the mineral profile of the beer. As water is the biggest element making up beer individual beer styles and recipes ask for specific target water profiles.
Fermenting is when yeast is “pitched”, or added to convert the sugar in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, giving the beer both its alcohol content and its carbonation. The process can take one of three methods warm, cool and wild. Warm fermenting produces ales and is often called “top-fermenting”. Cool fermenting produces lager and is often called “bottom-fermenting”. Whilst, wild fermenting does not add brewer’s yeast but works by spontaneous fermentation with wild yeasts and bacteria.
Conditioning is the period after fermentation where the beer is matured or aged and can take anything from a couple of weeks to several years depending on the beer style. It is also possible to dry hop at this stage for added aroma. As fermentation finishes the yeast becomes dormant and begins to settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
Filtering is not always done but this stage removes any leftover solids and yeast and produces a clearer beer than unfiltered. Different methods can be used to produce the effect the brewer wants.
Packaging consists of putting the beer into bottles, cans, casks or kegs to be delivered to outlets or direct to consumers. Brewers typically also force carbonate their beer just prior to packing although some allow for bottle or cask conditioning, meaning that instead of force carbonating, yeast and sugar are added to the beer resulting in secondary fermentation, adding extra flavour and carbonation.
By-products are created with spent grain from the lautering process and the sediment from the filtration process. This is dried and sold on for animal feed or made into yeast extract.
Enjoying the drink is the final stage and is where we the consumer have the opportunity to taste and try the many exciting beers being created by the nano- and micro-breweries.
Want to understand the brewing process even more? Then check out your nearby breweries in our Brewery guide as many offer very informative tours and an opportunity to taste different craft ales and lagers.