Let's Talk About Beer
Corey here! Let's talk about how beer is made.
All beer is made up of 4 major ingredients: malts, hops, water, and yeast. By using different combinations of these ingredients, I can create beers ranging from the fizzy yellow Walking Ashland to the robust chewy Charlie. There's an almost infinite variety of flavor and aroma combinations possible by using these 4 ingredients, and describing the varieties alone could fill up a book. Today, let's just focus on how they are used.
The first step in the process is unlocking the food in the malt for the yeast to eat. This is achieved in the mash. I combine water with crushed malt to create a sort of soupy oatmeal. This converts the starches inside the malt to sugar, which is what the yeast want to eat. After a period of time, the sugary liquid is separated from the grain (during a process called the lauter) and transferred to the boil kettle.
Once the sugar water (at this point now called wort) is brought to a boil, I add hops at different times for different purposes. The earlier in the 60 minute boil I add the hops, the more bitterness they provide. If added at the end of the boil, the hops contribute less bitterness and more of their distinctive flavor and aroma. Depending on the style of beer I'm making, I might add just a touch of bittering hops to balance the beer, or I might add a dump truck full towards the end for one of our hazy IPA friends.
The boiling of the wort also helps to drive off some off flavors found in the malt. There's still some undesirable compounds left in the wort from the mash, and a vigorous boil helps volatilize those compounds into the air. In addition, proteins left in the wort solidify and clump together in the bottom of the kettle, helping the clarity of the final product.
After the boil, the wort is whirlpooled briefly and left to rest. This helps those solid compounds (protein and hops) settle to the bottom of the kettle and not make their way into the fermentation vessel (FV). The wort is then simultaneously cooled and transferred into the FV at a temperature comfortable for the yeast to do their job. Yeast is added, and they go to town on all those sugars, converting them into carbon dioxide and alcohol. For a hoppy beer, I add another hop addition (the dry hop) to help enhance flavor and aroma.
Once I'm confident (via a series of really boring measurements and tests) that the yeast have finished their job, the beer is cooled (crashed) to 33 degrees. This helps the yeast and hops and all the other stuff we don't want in the finished beer to settle to the bottom of the FV. I add a clarifying agent to the cooled tank and, after a few days, transfer the beer to the carbonation tank (the Brite). The beer sits in the Brite for 24-48 hours carbonating, and then I keg the beer and put it in our cold room. After that, it's all yours!
-Corey Patterson, BBCo Lead Brewer