Many of us drink beer on a regular basis. Some of us even drink lots of beer on a regular basis. However despite being well acquainted, not all of us are aware precisely what beer actually is or what goes into its creation. Here we will look at precisely how beer is made and what you are drinking when you’re relaxing in front of the game or enjoying the taste of a local ale.
First of all, beer is made from four ingredients in most cases. These are grain, water, hops and yeast. Sugar is extracted from the grains (normally barley is used as the grain in question) and this is then consumed by the yeast (which feasts on sugar) before being processed into alcohol. In short, you mix sugar and yeast, and you get alcohol as a by-product. CO2 is another by-product and this too will enter the mixture.
Hops meanwhile are small green fruits that come from vine plants. These are what give you the ‘taste’ of beer. They are very beer and this helps to balance out the high amounts of sugar in the wort. They also act as a natural preservative preventing beer from going off (it also helps that alcohol is antibacterial).
To brew beer you first must take your grains (when barley isn’t used it’s likely to be rye or wheat) and then process them by heating them and thereby drying them out, and then cracking them open. This isolates the enzymes ready for mashing. Here the grains are steeped in hot water just below boiling point for roughly an hour which starts to release the sugar. At this point the water is boiled and the hops are added.
Now the wort (the name for the mix) will be cooled, strained and filtered leaving us with a nice smooth liquid. The brewing is complete – on with the fermentation. To accomplish this next step the wort will be sealed in a container and the yeast will be added to create alcohol and CO2 as described above. This process takes a few weeks however and during this time the beer will need to be stored at room temperature (lower for ales). Much of the difference between various brands of beer comes from how long they are fermented for and this is primarily what makes the difference between a beer and a lager.
Bottling and Aging
Finally the beer will be bottled in its nicely branded bottle. However at this point it will still be flat which leaves the manufacturers with two options. Either it can be artificially carbonated which is how the more prickly tasting beers are made as well as most soda drinks, or it can be allowed to carbonate naturally. This latter process is referred to as ‘bottle conditioning’ and here it is reliant on the natural CO2 produced by the yeast as mentioned previously.
The beer will then be aged by being left which can also affect the taste of it, as well as the appearance. Once it has been aged for an appropriate amount of time, it is ready. All that’s left to do is simply to open it, pour it and then say ‘aaaaaaaah’ as you slump back into your chair.