Making Your Own Beer
Brewery is a complicated process. There are multiple steps to making a good brew, a shortlist of which can be found here, but the general gist of it is split between three primary steps: mashing, boiling, and fermenting.
You will need a lot of tools at hand if you wish to prepare your own homebrewed beer, not the least of which will include strong sanitizers for everything that comes into contact with your drink. For smaller-scale production, you will want to get portable equipment which may include or be limited to a beer-making kit. For those of you with warehouses or bars, larger equipment will be required.
Before you begin, be sure to look up other guides on how to brew. You cannot rely on a single article’s worth of information, and safety and precision are key. This is less of a guide and more of an overview on the process. Measurements will not be included, nor will any in-depth recommendations on ingredients or alternate steps.
First, you must obtain malt, which can usually be found online or at dedicated stores. Otherwise, you can make your own malt through a somewhat lengthy process. Take your cereal (raw grain, not boxed breakfast food) and steep it in water. Then, allow it to germinate, aka sprout. Finally, you must heat it in a kiln, which opens the grains to allow for the next step in the brewing process.
Next, take your malt and mash it. Larger productions do this via a mash tun, but at home you can do this with a brewing kettle and a grain bag. Typically, mashing takes place by steeping your malt in hot water, followed by boiling it. While mash tuns can do this process mostly automatically, at-home brewery will require careful management so as not to ruin the flavor of the beer.
For small-scale production, this may also be where you add your hops for flavoring and preservation. This entirely depends on your recipe, so pay close attention to when you should add them, and how.
Either way, the mashing process will provide you with sweetened water known as “wort”. While the name may be extremely unappetizing, this is the foundation for your beer. It should be properly strained so no remaining grains slip their way into your drink.
This step is done to properly extract the necessary sugars and carbohydrates from the grain, and into the wort. Beer is made by fermenting those sugars into alcohol using specialized bacteria known as yeast. Yes, that’s right, alcohol is really a byproduct of bacteria eating sugar, which is why it’s technically toxic to the human body. Don’t worry, though, your liver is designed to filter these toxins out of your body, and humans are theorized to have literally evolved to drink alcohol.
That fun fact might be hard to believe, until you realize that alcohol, and beer in particular, have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years. That’s plenty of time for us as a species to have developed a natural positive biological response to alcohol, despite how bad for us it might be. So next time you go out drinking with your friends, you now have this fun little tidbit to throw at them out of nowhere.
Now, larger productions will infuse their wort with hops. This is usually done in a large container like a kettle, also known as a “copper”. Many people will also add additional flavorings to this process, but the general idea is to boil the additions into the wort. Before the next step, any remaining solids are to be removed from the mixture entirely.
By the way, hops are a type of flower (though they more resemble pinecones due to their shape) that come from the Cannabaceae family, aka the hemp family, of plants. That’s right, hops come from the same type of plants as cannabis, though they do technically come from different plants. Between the four “big” recreational drugs of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and cannabis, two are linked to the same family of plants. The more you know!
Fourth on the list for large-scale productions, and third for smaller ones, the wort is rapidly cooled. At home, you can do this by keeping your wort in its kettle or pot and placing it into an ice bath. Factories pump the wort through a heat exchanger which places the wort at a desirable temperature for the next step.
Next is the crucial fermentation step. Large-scale productions will move their wort to specialized fermentation tanks, like what can be found at https://abs-commercial.com/120-bbl-fermenter/, while small-scale productions can rely on smaller fermenters with air seals. Once in its new container, yeast is added to the wort to begin the process and the container is sealed. The fermenting liquid is maintained at a middling temperature, depending on what the resulting drink is supposed to be. Between ales and lagers alone, there is a ten degree difference in storage temperature.
Speaking of ales and lager, the difference between the two is how the end steps are performed. “Lagering” is a long process that involves keeping the alcohol at a near-freezing temperature for a long period of time. This is part of what makes them stronger in flavor than ales, as they have had more time to develop, and the byproducts of fermentation have mostly diminished.
Finally, the resulting beer is moved from the fermenter into either a small container or a keg, depending on the quantity. Sediment is to be left behind as to not introduce unwanted mess to the drink. Depending on the process, no matter if it’s factory-made or homebrewed, there is usually a carbonation step added here, though it depends heavily on user-preference how this happens. Some people will use sugars to carbonate, while others will simply force carbonate with CO2. Either way, the beer is usually stored at room temperature afterward, except for lagers which undergo the aforementioned cold storage.
And we’re finished! We’ve properly produced our own beer, though how we did so probably differ wildly. As with much food/beverage production, there is a lot of experimentation or varying recipes involved, so the exact measurements, the length of each step, and even simply how you store it can be extremely different. Other alcoholic drinks have similarly complex production, which makes all of them unique in flavor and content.
Capping Us Off
You’ve made your drink, and now you can enjoy it to your heart’s content. As always, be responsible when you drink so you can do so without regrets, but don’t let that get in the way of your fun. There’s a lot of depth to the world of beer – and that’s ignore the rich histories of wines and whiskeys – and you can savor that participate in that history with your own hands.
Whether it’s homebrew or factory-made, beer is beer. That’s a rule of society at this point, which isn’t surprising given how involved the beverage is in our collective history. Beer is beer, as it always will be, so drink up and make merry! You didn’t just spend a whole day brewing not to enjoy the fruits of your labor, right?