Beer is the most widely drunk alcoholic drink and the third most popular beverage after water and tea, not to mention the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage. A part of several national cultures for centuries, it is celebrated in pubs and festivals with mirth. The drink is made from cereal grains (barley is the most common, though maize, wheat and rice are other options).
Forming the main ingredient of the drink at 90-95% of its weight, water influences the final taste of beer because of dissolved bicarbonate ion and other minerals. Though flavorless, the mineral present in the water of specific regions made it one of the main factors behind the creation of regional beer with their specific features.
Malted grain (germinated cereal grain dried by a process called malting) is the most frequently used source of starch in beer. Such sources make way for the fermentable material and play a major role in determining the flavor and strength of the beer. The same grain can produce various malt colors depending on the temperatures and roasting times. The darker the malt, darker the beer. The majority of the starch in most beer comes from barley malt as its fibrous hull stays attached to the grain while threshing. It's the soul of the beer.
Hops are the blossoms of the hop vine, humulus lupulus. They are used to flavor and preserve all modern-day beer. In similar words, Salt and Pepper(seasoning) for any food dish. Thanks to their certain characteristics like bitterness, acidity, and citrus, floral as well as herbal flavors and aromas, beer is what it tastes like. If you were not aware, the bitterness balances the malt’s sweetness and the acidity acts as a preservative. Hops exhibit an antibiotic effect, which prefers the brewer's yeast’s activities over other microorganisms and helps in head retention (the time-span of a foamy head created by carbonation).
It is the microorganism, which ferments beer. Besides, yeast is also responsible for beer’s flavor and character.
The grain is harvested and processed by heating, drying out and cracking it. The main aim of malting is to separate the enzymes required for brewing so that it is ready for milling.
The distiller then steeps the malt with water and then crashes it in the mill to a fineness appropriate for a mash. The professionals ensure that the husk is not damaged as they act as a filter bed during Lautering for isolating the wort and the spent grains.
The professional pumps the mash to the mash tun. Here, a pre-set time-temperature heats the mash to change and dissolve the malt’s materials in the brewing water. While mashing, the malt enzymes break down the proteins into amino acids and the starch into sugars. In this stage, pH, temperature and duration of mashing should be monitored carefully to create optimum conditions. The dissolved materials are called extract while the solution created is called wort. It can go up to couple of hours.
Now that the mashing is done, a porous filter bed of husk isolates the spent grains (the spent raw materials) from wort. Sparging (sprinkling) water then drains out the filter bed’s remaining extract. The spent grains reach a tank meant for them and are sold as fodder for cattle.
Now, the wort is moved to the wort kettle, where it is boiled with hops, thereby releasing oils and bitter materials dissolved in the wort.
When the wort is boiling, all enzymes are deactivated to stop the constant breakdown of proteins. The wort undergoes sterilization and undesired flavor compounds vaporize from the wort, which then concentrates.
The precipitate resulting from the boiling process and the wort are separated from each other. The brewer makes sure that the wort is clear and free of impurities before getting inside the fermenting vessel as these impurities have lipids that can influence the creation of flavor elements during fermentation if present in large quantities.
Next, the hot wort passes through a plate heat exchanger for cooling. The resulting hot water collects and is used as brewing water.
The cooled wort is now carried to the fermentation tank and in the process, oxygen, as well as yeast is added to help to ferment. Oxygen is important to make the yeast capable of fermenting the wort with efficiency. The yeast metabolizes the wort’s sugars to form carbon dioxide and alcohol. The brewery collects, cleans and reuses the resulting carbon dioxide. Here you need to know that since the process generates heat, the vessel of fermentation must be kept cool for maintaining the required level of temperature.
With the completion of fermentation, the yeast is moved to the tanks for storing (part of it is used for a new set of wort and the remaining part is treated as a secondary product) and this is when the liquid is called beer.
NOTE: Ale( 15 to 25C) and Lager(10-15C) are fermented at different temperatures. Fermentation can take more time for lager beer.
In some breweries, one or more clarifying agents are added to the beer for removing yeast remainings. The agents precipitate with protein solids and are available in the finished product only in trace amounts. The beer is cooled at about -1.5oC and the method gives the beer a clean and bright look. Some clarifying agents are Irish moss (a seaweed), isinglass (from fish swim bladders) and gelatin. Always keep in mind that a beer marked "suitable for vegans" was either clarified with artificial agents or seaweed.
When the beer has cooled, it goes through filtration to achieve the low levels of early haze and to allow higher shelf life. The beer is carbonated to obtain the finished product specification for CO2 before being transferred to the beer tank.
As the filtration process comes to an end, the beer is taken to beer tanks for packaging.
Serving beer looks simple but is an art as most of the bartender makes a simple mistake.