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The commercial beer-making process provides the United States with the majority of the beer consumed in this country. All beer, whether commercial or home-brewed, contains four basic ingredients: malt, water, yeast and hops.
Malt is usually made from barley, and involves soaking the grain in water long enough that it begins to germinate, or sprout. During this process, enzymes that break down starches into sugars are also forming. After the grains sprout, they are heated in a kiln to a temperature high enough to stop germination and growth.
Malting is usually done commercially, since it requires a significant investment of time (one to two weeks), close monitoring, and when done outside a production facility, may yield inconsistent results. Pneumatic malting, the type most commonly done today in commercial brewing, takes place in tanks or vats and under strict environmental control.
Beginning to Brew
Brewing begins by milling malt. In commercial beer brewing, the milled malt then drops into a grist case with a valve at the bottom, allowing the grain to drop through a chute and into a "mash tun", which is a large copper or steel vessel with a screenlike bottom that will allow the brewer to strain the mash later.
Mash is a thin mixture of malt and hot water. Brewers mix the grains with water and heat them in order to stimulate enzyme production and, ultimately, to break down starches into fermentable sugars.
After mashing, the brewer separates wort (sugar water) from the grain husks by rinsing the spent grain with hot water to extract as much sugar as possible. This is called "sparging" and commercial brewers usually complete the process in what is known as a lauter tun. The wort is collected in a brew kettle and then boiled for one to two hours, thus beginning one of the most critical steps in the beermaking process.
Boiling and Fermenting
Boiling is the point at which the hops are added to the mixture. Hops give beer its distinctive flavour and are usually added at different times throughout the boiling process to impart flavour, bitterness and aroma. Once the boil is done, the hot wort mixture is transferred into a heat exchanger and rapidly cooled to 26.7 degrees Celsius, the optimal temperature for fermentation. The wort is next transferred to a fermenter, where yeast is added. Commercial fermenters are large tanks, usually cylindrical and conical in shape.
The type of yeast used is the distinguishing factor between ales and lagers. Yeast eats the malt sugar and in turn creates ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. Commercial brewers then scrape the yeast from the bottom of the tank for use in a subsequent, or secondary, fermentation. The initial fermentation takes three to seven days; the second fermentation may last as long as a few weeks, during which the beer's flavour matures, it develops carbonation and the yeast is absorbed so as to no longer be suspended in the brew.
Following the fermentation, commercial beer brewers may filter the beer for added brightness and clearness. It is then transferred to bottles, cans, kegs or serving tanks for sale.
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