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How to Make Beer: The Ultimate Guide For Homebrewers
Beer is one of the oldest beverages in the world and it has an incredible history. In fact, humans have been making fermented beverages for thousands of years. The first documented beer made with cereal grains was brewed about 5000 years ago. Would you believe that it is the third most popular drink on the planet? So, let's talk about how to make beer.
How Beer is Made
Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from four primary ingredients - water, malted cereal grains, hops, and yeast. It is created by converting starches from cereal grain into a sugary liquid during a process called mashing. The liquid is then boiled, often with the addition of hops, which is a bittering agent and a natural preservative. After that, it is cooled to room temperature and yeast is added. Yeast eats sugar in the liquid and produces alcohol in a process called fermentation. At this point it’s officially “beer” and is either bottled or kegged and carbonated, to make it fizzy. The amount of time it takes to make beer ranges from 1 to 4 weeks for an ale and as long as 6 months for a lager.
The 4 Steps To Making Beer
Since its inception, the quality of beer has improved dramatically. Beer making equipment has improved, as have the ingredients. The process has also evolved slightly over time, but actually remains largely the same. There are 4 primary steps to making beer:
- Brew (mashing and boiling)
- Ferment and Condition
- Package (keg or bottle)
Another important part of brewing is the boil. The brewing process takes several hours and includes the following steps:
- Clean and Sanitize - Thoroughly clean all brewing equipment with PBW, then sanitize with StarSan.
- Crush Grain - Crushing grain in a grain mill. If using a Clawhammer BIAB system, crush grain to .025” (using the smallest setting on the mill) for maximum efficiency. If using any other system, crush somewhere between .035” and .045”.
- Mash Grain - During the mash, enzymes (alpha and beta amylase) found within malted grain are activated by creating a slurry of milled cereal grain heating it to a temperature between 140-158 F. The activated enzymes break down starch found within the grain and convert it into sugar.
- Boil - The liquid, now called wort, is boiled to increase the concentration of sugar and kill unwanted bacteria.
- Add Hops - During the boil, hops are also added. Hops are responsible for beer’s characteristic bitterness and boiling beer actually increases hop bitterness.
- Chill - Once the boil is complete, the wort is cooled to room temperature.
2. Ferment and Condition
One of the reasons beer is so popular is the alcohol contained within it. Humans enjoy the feeling of relaxation and euphoria that it causes. One of the most fascinating things about beer is that alcohol isn't an ingredient that is merely added to beer. It's actually created during during the fermentation process.
During fermentation, yeast eat sugar and produce carbon dioxide, alcohol, and a lot of flavor and aroma compounds called esters. So yeast is arguably the most important ingredient in beer. And fermentation is undoubtedly the most important process. Fermenting beer is relatively hands-off and should go without a hitch assuming some basic steps are taken to create a healthy environment for the yeast to grow. The fermentation process is completed by following these steps:
- Transfer - After brewing, the next step in the process is to transfer the chilled wort to a fermentation vessel. This is best done by siphoning or pumping it from the brew kettle into the fermenter.
- Aerate - Oxygen is one of the worst enemies of finished beer. Oxidized beer is often described as tasting like wet cardboard. However, yeast need oxygen at the beginning of their life cycle to adequately finish the fermentation process. Aerate wort by shaking sealing and shaking the fermenter for 2 minutes. Ideally, this will achieve a dissolved oxygen level of 6-8 ppb.
- Seal - The fermentation vessel should be sealed with an "air lock." An air lock is a simple device that lets gas out but won't let any air in. It's necessary because as yeast grow they produce carbon dioxide. This gas must be released. Keeping air out is necessary for preventing contamination of the beer by wild yeast and bacteria and also for preventing oxidation.
- Ferment - Two of the most important elements for proper sanitation include cleaning and sanitation. Aside from that, the fermentation vessel should be stored somewhere with a relatively cool and stable temperature (68-70F for ales and 48-58F for lagers ). An opaque fermentation vessel should be used or it should be stored in a completely dark room or closet. The fermentation process will take 7-10 days for ales and 3-4 weeks for lagers.
Once fermentation is complete the liquid is now officially beer.
However, it will need to be "finished." Here are the steps that one needs to follow:
- Conditioning - The beer is technically finished now now but it may be a bit cloudy and may also taste and smell a little rough around the edges. The best method to smooth everything is give the beer some additional time to allow yeast to metabolize less than ideal flavors. he two best remedies are time and temperature. Sample the beer. If any off flavors are present, give the yeast another week or so to mellow everything out.
- Clarify - The beer may also be cloudy and have a "yeasty" character. This can be eliminated by a process called “cold crashing” (reducing the temperature to near freezing). Cold crashing at 34 degrees for 4 days will cause a lot of the solids to drop out of suspension. Some homebrewers will also add fining agents (like gelatin) further improve clarity. Lager beers are stored at very cold temperatures for weeks to several months to improve both clarity and taste.
After the initial stage of conditioning, the beer may taste and look good, but it is likely flat (uncarbonated) and needs a home. Typically home brewed beer is first packaged and then carbonated. In terms of packaging, bottling, canning, and kegging are all options at the home level. Bottling requires the lowest initial investment because craft beer bottles can actually be reused and bottle cappers and caps are relatively inexpensive. Kegging is perhaps the most expensive initial investment, as it requires kegs, a co2 tank, a kegerator, and a tap, but it’s by far the most convenient. Electric canners are somewhat expensive and new cans need to be purchased for each new batch of beer. The only real benefit to canning is being able to take home brewed beer places where glass is undesirable (pools, etc), so it’s probably the least popular option.
Home brewers typically package their beer before carbonating. It’s either transferred to bottles or kegs. When transferred to bottles the beer is “bottle conditioned,” meaning that it is naturally carbonated with the addition of a bit of priming sugar and sometimes additional yeast. The yeast will eat the sugar and create carbon dioxide. Because the beer is now in a sealed container, the CO2 gas gets absorbed into the liquid. When transferred to a keg beer is typically “force carbonated,” meaning that a CO2 tank is attached to the keg and the keg is pressurized, causing the gas to be absorbed by the beer.
The easiest way to carbonate beer is to transfer it to a keg and "quick carb" by increasing the preassure to about 40psi then shaking the keg for several minutes.
Beer Making Methods
Although there are 4 primary steps to the beer-making process, there are actually three primary ways to make beer using those steps. The The three primary methods used to make beer are as follows:
- Extract brewing method
- Partial mash brewing method
- All-grain brewing method
Making beer using the extract brewing method is generally considered the easiest. Partial mash brewing is often used by intermediate brewer. Making all-grain beer is considered the most difficult and is where the experts generally find themselves. However, there is nothing wrong with beginners attempting all-grain batches and even the experts brew using the extract method from time to time.