A Brief Overview of the Beer Brewing Process

I have heard some people suggest that home brewing is hard. Whenever I’ve heard that point given it’s usually stated by someone who has never tried it. The more I read about brewing the more complicated it seems, but when I take a step back and look at the overall process it’s really very simple. Sure, there are a whole bunch of variables and ways to change or improve your beer, but the guy brewing his first batch shouldn’t be worrying about when to add gypsum or attenuation levels.

I’m about to attempt to give you a brief overview of the entire brewing process so you might can get a handle on how easy it is. I want to remove any barrier you may have with regard to the complexity and sheer work involved. While I can’t make your spouse agree with what you’re doing or make your kitchen any bigger, at least I can try to make you say, “It’s really not that complicated…” I have read books and numerous articles on the myriad aspects of home brewing, and sometimes the whole idea just seems daunting because there’s so much to it.

Home brewing beer is only as complicated as you can make it. There are some very basic steps that if followed will create great tasting beer without any worry. In the words of some anonymous person, “Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew.” Whatever you do, just keep it cool and don’t worry about it. It’s science, but it’s not exact.

To be honest, I couldn’t figure out how to write a decent summary that would be a good length for a post. I could either put it in a nutshell-type paragraph, or I could bother you to read a short story. The nutshell version won’t give you enough information, and the short story would be too long for you to sit at your kitchen table this morning to read it. Stay with me – I’ll try my best.

Beer is made by yeast turning sugars into alcohol. That could also be said for wine, so I’ll revise: Beer is made by yeast transforming the sugars derived from malted barley into alcohol. I believe for it to be classified as beer the sugars must come from barley at a minimum. There are other things that will create fermentable sugars, but we’ll stick to malted barley for now. The sugars are extracted from the grain through a process called mashing. A process called lautering has the brewer draining those extracted sugars and placing the concoction (called wort) into the boiler.

The boiler is where the magic happens. During a typical 60-minute boil, hops are added at specific times to counter the sweet taste of the wort. Sometimes the recipe will call for finishing hops, which are simply hops added at the last 10 or 5 minutes of the boil. The wort is cooled down as quickly as possible (pretty important) from a boil to 70 degrees or so and then transferred to the fermenter. This is the final step of what I lovingly refer to as “brew day” (with the exception of cleaning up), and also an important part: the yeast is added.

For those of you who don’t know, yeast is a living organism. It’s really easy to manage but it requires some attention. Yeast should be activated if it has previously been packed for shipping – sometimes brewer’s yeast comes in a vacuum-packed envelope, and the instructions say to thump the bag several times before opening. I don’t agree with that practice, but go ahead – relax, have a homebrew…

Yeast is added to the cooled wort in a little activity called pitching. After the yeast is in there and the brewer is happy with it, the lid goes on the fermenter and science and biology take over. As long as the fermenter is kept at a consistent temperature, all should be well. Room temperature (typically below 75?) will get you decent ale. The importance is stressed on the consistency of the temperature, even if it’s a bit high. In about two weeks, the yeast will transform the wort into beer. After that, the beer is bottled or kegged and carbonated in either forced or natural processes.

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