Brewing Beer

Mashing barley. Warning: do not use kettle top once boiling.

I wanted to take a break from talking about finances and investing and write about one of my hobbies today, Brewing beer.

Brewing beer, an incredibly complex process engineers tend to love. Other fermented beverages like wine, cider or mead seem to be more of an art-form where the final product is somewhat out of your control. Beer is more of a combination of art and science where you generally have control of your final product.

The process of brewing beer.

  1. It starts with barley, sure we use other things like wheat or rye sometimes, but barley is always the at the center and main attraction of the show. I would argue without barley, it isn’t really a beer, however delicious it might be. After harvesting, the barley is steeped in water. The water activates germination of the kernels. Shortly after germinating the kernels are dried. This is now the base malt brewers will often use. some of these will be roasted into specialty malts to give a wide range of flavors like coffee, chocolate, caramel, etc all used just by roasting barley at various temperatures.If you venture into a home brew store, you will often find a room full of base and specialty malts for all grain brewers to choose from. Often mixing base malts with a little bit of special roasted malts to give them a specific flavor profile.
  2. Once you have purchased your grains for brewing, an “all-grain” brewer will usually have a three tank setup comprising of a “Hot liquor Tun”, a “mash Tun” and your brewing or boil kettle. after cracking the grains in the mash tun you will heat water in the hot liquor tun to a range of usually between 150 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. This water will go the the mash tun where the hot water soup will reactivate a particular enzyme in the grains from earlier to convert the starches into sugars. The lower your mash temperature is the simpler sugars you will get and the dryer, more alcoholic your final beer will be. Conversely the higher temperature your mash is the more complex sugars you will have the the more malty or syrupy and less alcoholic your final beer will be. After an hour of mashing you have an option to “mashout”. If you can control your mash temperature, you can increase the temperature to 168-170 degrees Fahrenheit to kill the enzymes. This will leave your sugar profile of your beer in place, exactly where you want it. After mashing you will drain the resulting sugar water, while filtering out the grains, into your brew kettle, then you will make more hot water with your hot liquor tun to sparge (rinse out) your mash tun in an attempt to get as much of the remaining sugars out.
  3. The resulting wort (sugar water) in your brew kettle is now boiling and hops are added. hops are used as a bittering agent to balance the natural sweetness of beer and as a natural antibacterial properties that increase shelf life after brewing. There is a huge variety of hops to choose from or a combination of which to flavor your beer with. The longer hops boil, the more bitter they make your beer, conversely the shorter they boil for, the more natural floral notes you will get in your beer. Many people will use one hop to bitter and one for aroma. While boiling, a hot break will occur when your boiling wort will foam up coagulating protiens that will drop to the bottom of the kettle.
  4. After an hour long boil you need to chill your wort down to room temperature as fast as possible. This will limit the time bacterial can grab hold of the beer and limit dimethyl sulfide’s effect on ruining your beer flavor. Chill quick enough and you will get what’s known as a cold break and end up with a clearer beer.
  5. Now the yeast gets added that will add yet another level of flavor. Yeast is often the key to particular types of beer. Lager yeast ferments at colder temperatures and give you a cleaner taste while ale yeast ferment at warmer “room temperature” and are used if you want the yeast to be more of the star of the show. Each yeast strain has a happy range where you can ferment at a higher temperature to get more fruity esters or ferment at cooler temperatures if that is not desired. Off flavors will occur when you’re too hot or you can put the yeast to sleep if your too cold.
  6. transfer the beer to a glass carboy or plastic bucket, add your yeast, cover and use a one way air lock to stop oxygen from getting to your beer. Wait 2 weeks to several months, depending on the beer, and you have a finished (flat) beer.
  7. At this point you will boil a little bit of water add a measured amount of sugar, cool and add to your beer, mix carefully not to oxygenate. Bottle your beer, cap and wait a week or so to naturally carbonate your beer. Then refrigerate and you have a cold carbonated home brew beer.

That is the incredibly complex process that is making beer. I left out some subtle nuances of the process on purpose to keep this short, but this is the gist of brewing beer.

Brewing Beer the easy way

You can use liquid or dry malt extract where mashing the grains was already done for you. At this point you can remove the mashing step and only need a brew kettle. The only down side to this is you loose control of your beer. You can steep some specialty grains before boiling and adding the extract but you will lose control of having a dry or malty beer. My experience is extracts are always more on the malty(syrupy) side.

*Personal Notes

  • I actually transfer my beer in a keg instead of bottling and force carbonate with a CO2 tank. I may sometimes add sugar and then keg, letting my beer naturally carbonate in the keg. I can bottle straight from the keg when I want to bring a couple beers to a party.
brewing beer

My beer gun for filling up bottles from my keg.

  • If you’re thinking this process is a great way to save money on your beer bill’s you may want to think again. after buying all the equipment and the cost in energy to boil you. you’re usually looking at several years for payback depending on how much you drink and how expensive/complex your equipment is. If cheap lagers like Miller lite or PBR are you’re thing, you probably will never brew cheaper than you can buy.
  • If anyone here makes air fresheners or candles.. Please make a barley mashing scent.
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