Have you ever wondered: what’s in a beer? Sure, you’ve heard about malt and how beer is brewed and fermented. But what else is in the most popular alcoholic beverage in the U.S. and how is it made?
History suggests that people started drinking beer 8,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest drinks in existence. The ancient Sumerian civilization brewed beer so rich with nutrients that it was consumed more than water. It seems not much has changed – to date, beer remains a well-loved drink, with or without occasion
Despite its popularity, though, most people don’t know or care how beer is made. But, you may have noticed that not all beer taste the same. Then, wouldn’t you want to know what factors affect your favorite beer’s flavor?
Before your beer is poured into a bottle by alcohol filling equipment or into a glass from the tap at your watering hole of choice, beer’s four basic ingredients undergo five main processes.
The process of beer brewing starts with harvesting grains, heating and drying them, and then cracking them. The grain used for most beers is usually barley, though variations include wheat and rye. The process of heating, drying, and cracking—malting, in short—is done to isolate the enzymes needed for the next step.
After the process of malting comes the mashing. In this step, the malted enzymes steep in hot water for about an hour to activate and prepare them for fermentation. In this step, the malt enzymes are activated and the grain starches are converted into sugars for fermentation. The grains are then pulled from this sugary water, leaving the wort or essentially unfermented beer.
For the third step, brewers boil the wort for about an hour. In this process, spices and hops are added to the boiling wort, releasing flavor into the unfermented mixture. What are hops? These are the small cone-like green fruits of a vine. Hops add the signature bitterness associated with most beers to balance all the sugar in the wort. Hops also act as a natural preservative, which was why they were originally used in beer brewing.
Afterwards, malt and hops particles are removed, leaving liquid that’s ready to be fermented.
The fourth step in beer brewing is the process of fermentation. Once the wort is cooled, strained, and filtered, it’s transferred to a fermenting vessel. This is when you add the yeast, which acts as the catalyst. The yeast reacts with the sugar in the wort and creates alcohol. While staying in storage at room temperature (for ales) or cold temperature (for lagers) for several weeks, the yeast will basically eat up the sugar content in the wort and produce alcohol and CO2.
5. Bottling and Aging
Now, you have an alcoholic beer. Yet, the beverage produced after fermentation is flat and not carbonated. Think of a bottle of soda left uncapped for hours. Beer is better carbonated so it either undergoes the process of artificial carbonation like that of sodas or it’s going to be bottle conditioned, allowing the CO2 content to carbonate the beer inside the bottle. After a few weeks, your beer is ready to drink!
The way beer is made is a fascinating process. Its delicate steps and subtle changes in different elements can provide flavors distinct from one another. With the care and precision that goes into crafting this beverage, it’s no wonder it’s a deliciously popular drink across the world.