101 Brewing concepts

Welcome to our first 101. Today we’ll be covering the basic concepts behind brewing. How do they make that tasty beer and cider? What are the principles behind it all?

Brewing at the very basic is about turning sugar into alcohol. Bam! There, lesson over. Phew, I thought these 101’s would be a pain to write. What? I have to provide more? Uhh…

Let’s start with beer brewing.  The concepts are the same for cider or wine, but the ingredients and some of the processes are different.

Brewing happens when yeast eats up, or converts, the sugars in a liquid to alcohol. To be more accurate, yeast converts carbohydrates into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process is known as fermentation and has been used in both baking and alcoholic beverages including beer, cider and wine.

The liquid with all the sugars in it is called wort. There’s a number of ways to produce a wort. Historically this involves activating grains to turn them into a malt grain. These malt grains are then soaked at specific temperatures to get the starch out and letting natural enzymes break down the complex sugars into simple versions. This is called mashing. Nowadays home brewers can skip this step and just buy these sugars as liquid malt extract or dry malt extract.

Next step is to boil the wort and add additional flavours. Hops is added at this stage and other ingredients as well. This is where the beer really starts taking shape. Flavour, colour and aroma characteristics are all laid down. Again, these days its possible to have liquid malt extract with hop flavours already added and this step can be skipped for beer making.

Cider is different here as sugars from fruit are usually already simple. So malt grain is not used and mashing is not required. Fruit is crushed and/or pressed to produce the juice used. Typically there are no additives like hops, but that doesn’t mean adding hops or adding malt isn’t allowed.

Usually a filtering or straining process is done to remove any unwanted bits, like hops. Then cooling the wort is required. Finally the wort is transferred into a fermentation vessel where the yeast is added, also known as pitching. Over time the yeast eats up the basic sugars and converts them into alcohol. Temperature is important here and requirements change on the beer/cider style and yeast used.

A number of brewing techniques require conditioning of beer which requires it to be transferred, or racked, into a new vessel. Depending on what the purpose is this may be classified as secondary fermentation.

After fermentation and conditioning is completed the beer is bottled or kegged. In both instances the beer needs to be carbonated. Some modern processes involve force carbonation of the beer before bottling. Usually the beer is filtered before this occurs making the beer/cider cleaner; although most home brewers don’t filter as commercial breweries would.

The other option to carbonate is to allow bottle conditioning. This requires yeast to still be present and usually needs extra sugars, known as priming. The bottled beer/cider is sealed so that carbon dioxide from the yeast process isn’t lost.

To summarise:

For beer Malt from mashing (or other ways) is used to produce wort. This then has additives like hops put in during the boil. For cider the crushed/pressed fruit sugars used to produce the juice.

After cooling yeats is pitched in and allowed to ferment. If conditioning is required it can happen before bottling or kegging. Carbonation is done via forced carbonation of bottle fermentation/conditioning.

There’s a fair bit there. If you’re after some more of the details I would recommend checking out the Wikipedia article on beer brewing.

– Mikey

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