Beer Brewing 101

<warning1> This post is going to make me lament about how or why I haven’t been to Doolally yet. </warning1>
<warning2> This post is going to information. Not essentially interesting. </warning2>

My Twitter stream threw up this link the other day. And when I read it, I plugged that external hard drive in. And retrieved a bunch of pictures from 2008 – when I first brewed beer with a bunch of friends.

They’d usually shop for supplies at a store called American Brewmaster, off Capital Boulevard inRaleigh, NC. It’s a fairly large store. To the left, is a freezer and a glass cupboard that contained yeast and an innumerable variety of hops, respectively. You walk to the right and you see a whole lot of brewing equipment – huge drums to store the wort (hot beer mixture), funnels, siphons, bottles, bottle caps, swing and bail top bottles. Walk further down and you see a whole selection of books on beer-brewing and wine-making. Turn to the right and you come to the most awesome collection of malt and flavours that you may EVER see. And to the back, there’s a chakki where you can weight out the quantity of the type of malt you need, and run it through the machine, where it gets finely powdered and then gets emptied into a paper bag.

What goes into your typical beer:
1. Wiki defines brewing as the production of beer through steeping a starch source (commonly cereal grains, that is malt) in water and then fermenting with yeast.
2. The malt provides the enzymes and starch. The starch will be broken down into simple sugars by the enzymes. These simple sugars are used by the yeast, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.
3. The colour of the beer is determined by the intensity of the reaction between the amino acids and the sugars, when you’ve set the beer away to ferment. The colour also depends on the amount of heat generated during this reaction. I’ll get to that later in the post.
4. Hope, of course, are the prime flavouring agent in beers. They also act as a stability agent, how, I’m not entirely sure. I can read up and let you know (and I, most probably, will). But then, you can do that too, right?
5. And then there’s water. Like @cgawker’s bio says “disappointed with everything except water.” Alright, I took that Twitter bit too far. My apologies.

Now, the pictures you will see below are from a little over two years ago. I brewed with this set of friends on several occasions. And I *really* can’t seem to remember what we had brewed this particular time. I’m fond of dark beers. I cultivated a taste for good beers from Matt and Henry, who I usually brewed with. They usually did stouts. And this one, here, looks very dark. I’m assuming it’s a stout.

Matt’s dad has been brewing beer for decades now. That’s how Matt was drawn into it. So the recipes we used were handed down to us by Tom, Matt’s dad. I’ve met him on a few occasions. He’s a fun guy. The last I heard, he had set aside some onion flavoured beer. *puke* But yeah, sometimes it’s about experimenting.

(P.S.: Oh why I’m using their names as opposed to pseudonyms, the way I usually do, is that there are too many Matt’s and Henry’s and Tom’s in USA. If you know who I am, you probably know who they are. If you don’t, it’s unlikely you’ll be successful in finding out who I am any way.)

Here’s a quick run-through on the basic process. Of course, different beers have their own temperatures and specific gravities (which decide the alcohol content). For that, you should refer to a book or an online source. BeerSmith has a few good recipes, along with details about how much of each ingredient you need and what specific gravity, percentage alcohol and carbonation levels you should expect when you’re done with the entire process.


Step 1:

Sanitizing is probably something you need to make sure you do before you brew or bottle. We had washed the bath tub out with clorox, so that we could sterilize the larger vessels and the plastic barrel in which the beer was going to ferment. All the equipment was also thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Hot water and clorox usually do the trick.


Step 2:

Water is brought to a boil. The malt extract is added and the mixture is further boiled for anywhere between an hour and three hours, depending on the variety you’re brewing, of course. The hops go in towards the end. The malt plus boiling water smells pretty nasty. But when the hops go in, you can actually tell the distinct aroma. You need to check on the mixture every 10 minutes or so to ensure it doesn’t boil over.

The actual brewing

Step 3:

The hot mixture (which is called wort, as I mentioned earlier) is siphoned into a fermenter, typically a glass carboy, and is covered with a stopped. It is then brought down to room temperature. We used a plastic carboy because the glass ones are fairly expensive.

Step 4:

The specific gravity of a small sample of the beer is measured at this point, using a hydrometer and a sampling tube.

Step 5:

More water (at room temperature) is added to the carboy to achieve the typical 5 gallon batch size. Now, yeast is added to this container. A stopper with an air lock are fixed onto the mouth of the barrel/carboy to seal it and prevent contamination or infection by other bacteria. The carboy is then set away for at least a couple of weeks in a dark and warm area (remember doughs and bread?). Your beer may run the chance of erupting or overflowing is the yeast growth is too rapid or too pronounced. We had that happen a couple of times. It was exciting, to say in the least. The cleaning up that followed was a bitch. Carbonation, which occurs during the fermentation process can be observed through the air lock.

Bottle Caps, d-uh.

Step 6:

The bottles are sanitized as are the bottle caps. Also, the siphoning equipment and the bottling bucket.

Beginning the process of sanitization
Cleaning out the bottles and sterilizing them

Step 7:

The beer is now fully fermented and is ready to be bottled. Priming sugars (corn sugar, for instance) are mixed with the beer at this point. The beer is then siphoned from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. This step, which is the ‘racking’, ensures that the sediment (malt and hops) is left at the bottom of the carboy. The beer should be exposed as little as possible to the air outside, to prevent contamination.

Step 8:
Sampling, again:

The specific gravity is measured at this point again. Using this value and the value you had measure in Step 4, you can arrive at a figure for the percentage of alcohol your beer contains.

The Bottling Plant

Step 9:

The beer is siphoned from the bottling bucket into individual bottles and then capped.


Step 10:

Wine, cheese, all that. *smiley face* Only, beer needs to sit around only for a couple of weeks more. This aging process ensures that the yeast ferments with the added sugars and creates the carbonation you like in your beers. This *could* extend up to six weeks.

Bottled and ready to drink in a couple of weeks

Step 11:

Put those bottles in the refrigerator. And throw a party.

So, when I read this post, I begin to think how shoddy it is. No figures, no math, no excessive details. But then again, I called it Beer Brewing 101. So clearly, you need to get an idea of things here. And refer more reliable sources or take an advanced level to get to know the process better.

And about my favourite beers? I’ll write another post, I promise.


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