Almost all beer contains only four ingredients: barley, water, hops, and yeast.
Different styles of beer are created by variations in the brewing process, which consists of four stages.
The first ingredient to come into play is barley, which is grain (or, in other words, a seed). The seeds are soaked in water for about two days and allowed to begin their development into plants. Enzymes are released that break down the proteins and starches in each grain into simple sugars meant to nourish the baby plant. However, once this process has begun, the barley is cooked in a kiln, arresting the growth process while the enzymes are at their peak of production. This is called malting.
In the mashing stage, the grain is actually transformed into sugar. The grains are crushed into a fine powder, or grist, and then soaked in water. Proteins are broken down; these eventually give the beer its body. Starches are broken down into simple sugars that nourish the yeast. Complex sugars remain to give the beer its malty taste. The mash is heated and strained to yield a substance called wort.
Next, the wort is brought to a boil and the flowers of the female hop plant are added. Bitter resins and aromatic hop oils are released. The variety of hop, the amount added, and the point or points in the boil at which they are added all contribute to the flavor of the beer. They add bitterness when added early to the boil, flavor if added in the middle, and aroma when added at the end.
The wort is then cooled and moved into a fermentation vessel. Yeast is added and allowed to consume most or all of the sugars in the wort. This is the fermentation process during which alcohol is produced. The process takes about ten days. Each brewery has its own strains of yeast, and it is the yeast that determines the character of the beer. The beer is then separated from the yeast (racked) and then aged and carbonated by conducting a second fermentation in a closed container, or by adding carbon dioxide artificially. Filtering the beer will give it a sparkling clarity.
How to Make Your Own Beer
If you’re interested in brewing your own beer, you can! Home brewing has been legal since 1978. All you need is the right equipment and the materials to make the beer.
Some of the equipment and supplies include:
- brewpot: A large pot that can hold about eight quarts of liquid.
- blow-off tube/siphon hose: A plastic tube about five feet long that fits snugly in the top of the fermenter. You’ll be using this hose to transfer the beer from one container to another.
- fermenter: A big container that lets your beer ferment. Aim for a minimum of seven gallons.
- airlock and stopper: A little gadget that releases carbon dioxide from the fermenter without letting air in.
- bottles: What, you want to drink your beer out of bowls?
- bottle caps and capper: A quality capper can save time and beer.
- bottle filler: This way, you can fill bottles with ease.
- racking cane: A cane-shaped length of plastic tubing used to siphon your beer from one container to another.
And of course the ingredients. If you’re a beginner, it’s easiest to buy a beer kit. A beer kit provides you with all the necessary ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions. If you prefer to work with your own recipe, you’ll need:
- a packet of yeast powder
- corn sugar
- a big can of malt extract
Once you have your equipment, sanitize everything. Bacteria and fungi are everywhere. If enough of them get into your beer, you won’t have good beer. Then follow these steps to making your own beer.
- Bring about 2 gallons of water to a boil.
- Add malt and four pounds of sugar. Allow the wort to boil for at least an hour, stirring regularly. Add your hops some time during the hour, depending on how you want your beer to taste.
- While boiling the wort, stir the yeast powder into a cup of warm water and then cover it. Also fill your fermenter until it’s about half full of water.
- Once you’re through boiling the wort, pour it into the fermenter. Cap the fermenter and wait until it’s cooled to about room temperature. Then add the yeast solution. If you add it when the wort is too hot, the yeast will die.
- The initial fermentation will be rapid, resulting in “blow-off” foaming out of the fermenter. To prevent it from getting all over the floor, affix your plastic hose to the top of the fermenter. The free end of the tube should be placed in a bowl of water. The foam will be emptying into the bowl.
- Once the fermentation slows, remove the tube and attach the airlock and stopper. Place the fermenter in a dark place and leave it alone for six to fourteen days until the mixture stops bubbling. This is the primary fermentation.
- Once the mixture stops bubbling, the day of bottling has arrived. Boil three cups of water and add one cup of sugar. This will be your priming solution. After about twenty minutes, allow the solution to cool. Remove the airlock, open up the stopper, and pour the solution into the mixture. Mix it with a racking cane. Then remove the cane and wash it. Close the stopper.
- Attach the racking cane to one end of the plastic hose (now called the siphoning hose). Place the bottle filler on the other end. Open up the stopper. Place the racking cane through the hole until it’s about two inches from the bottom of the fermenter.
- The lid of the fermenter should have a stem into which you can blow to increase the air pressure. Now, get a clean bottle. Fill it to within an inch of the top. Cap the bottle. Five gallons of wort should fill about 50 bottles. Keep filling until the wort is about three to four inches from the bottom of the fermenter. Avoid drinking that (the dregs) as it may give you digestive problems.
- Let the bottles of beer sit in a dark place for about a week so that it can age and carbonate. This is the secondary fermentation. After that, you’re ready to sample your own beer.