Beer Brewing 101: Comprehensive Overview of How Beer is Made

Beer is a long-beloved beverage that’s been around since people wrote down recipes on papyrus—perhaps as long as 5,000 B.C. Over the millennia that people have been enjoying beer, the techniques that used to create it have been perfected, and the range and complexity of beers has widened. One of the most exciting things about beer today is that it is as easy as ever for people to make it in their own homes or small, craft breweries. While large breweries make beers they can keg, can, or bottle and distribute all over the world, a single person may choose to make beer in their own garage, and they may end up with a product that is just as good—or better—than celebrated beers that are drunk around the world.

For people looking to make their own beer, the following information can help serve as a guide. Read on to learn about the brewing process, different techniques for brewing, how to age beer, equipment needed to brew beer, the ingredients that go into a beer, the flavors to employ, and how to contain and store it. Also, at the end, find some useful info about pouring a cold one and the best way to enjoy it.

The Beer Brewing Process

The beer brewing process has multiple steps, each necessary to create a product that is tasty and safe to drink. Here is a basic breakdown of the main steps in the process.

Milling the Grain

Beer starts with grain. Usually, that grain is oats, rye, barley, or wheat. Once a type of grain has been chosen, it is milled in a grist mill. This breaks down the grain and exposes the starch inside of its thick husk. Once the grain is milled, it’s called grist.

Mashing

Next, the grist is put into a device called a mash tun. There, a mash conversion happens when the grist mixes with hot water. Natural enzymes in the grist break the grain’s starch down into sugar.

Separating and Boiling the Wort

In the next step, a sweet liquid called wort is separated from the physical grist. This liquid is called wort. This step happens in a machine called the lauter tun. The wort sits in a vessel, where it is boiled and all grain particles are removed.

Adding Hops

Hops are added to beer to control the flavor. Very hoppy beer can be bitter and floral. Hops are added to beer during different parts of this stage, and when they are added can impact how much they affect the flavor and aroma of the brew.

The Whirlpool and Cooling

During the whirlpool phase, the wort gets filtered and clarified even father. All solids are taken out of the wort and discarded. (These solids are called trub). Then, the wort is cooled to the right temperature.

Fermentation

It’s time to ferment the beer. To ferment beer, yeast is added to the wort. This starts the fermentation process and converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide. Heat is let off when yeast ferments beer.

Conditioning or Maturation

After fermenting, beer should sit to condition to mature. Maturation allows beer to fully settle and develop a complex flavor. Maturation helps ensure that a beer goes down smooth and tastes palatable.

Filtration

After maturing, beer must be filtered. Once filtered, it is ready to be carbonated.

Carbonation

Everyone loves that frothy, fizzy taste of beer’s carbonation. That part is added during this step. There are several different ways to infuse carbonation into a beer. The most popular is when beer is carbonated with force carbonation. During force carbonation, carbon dioxide is added to a highly pressurized container. This is the fastest method and adds to a beer’s clarity.

Packaging the Beer

After the beer is carbonated, it is ready to be packaged. Beer can be packaged in kegs, cans, and bottles. This allows the beer to be distributed to the world and drank by all of the connoisseurs who love it.

Aging Beer: the Process of Cellaring

Beer can be aged in a process called cellaring. Aging beer can help improve its flavor. However, not all brewers believe that they have to age their beer. Here is more about how the cellaring process works and why people may want to or not want to age their beer.

Why Age Beer

When beer ages, it can develop more complex flavors and higher alcohol content. Organisms can continue to work on the grains or malt in the beer, further fermenting and creating a more complex brew.

Why Age a Beer

When creating a wild beer that uses organisms that are not yeast, it may make sense to allow a beer to age. Organisms will consume the sugar in the bottle, and over time, this will change the flavor and aroma of what is in the bottle.

How to Age a Beer

Homebrewers can age their beer at home. Brewers do not need special cellars or facilities to put bottled beer in in order to allow it to age or become more complex. Beer likes to age in the dark. People who brew a beer at home may age beer in a basement, in an attic, or in a garage that is rarely opened without windows. Beer should be aged in a cool climate, somewhere between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure that beer is stored upright when it is aging so that any sediment settles at the bottom of a container.

What Goes Into a Beer? The Main Ingredients

As mentioned above, beer is a fermented beverage made with grains. But there are a range of grains that can go into a beer. There are also other ingredients that make it the delicious beverage that it is. Here are some of the main ingredients that brewers need to have on hand if they plan to make their own beers.

Water

Many people don’t realize it, but the main ingredient in beer is water. Water makes up at least about 90% of a beer. Some beers are 95% water. While water is not flavorful in itself, the water that is used to brew beer can have a big effect on how the beer turns out.

Water quality can greatly affect the results of brewing beer. There are many different aspects of water quality that can impacta beer, including:

  • Whether the water is hard or soft (hard water has many dissolved minerals in it. Soft water lacks these minerals).
  • The pH of the water and how acidic or basic it is
  • Whether there is chlorine in the water and whether that chlorine can be detected in its taste
  • The actual mineral content of the water, and how that will interact with the different components used for brewing.

Grain

Grain is one of the most important ingredients in beer. Many beers use malted barley as the grain from which they are brewed. However, beers can be made from other grains in addition to barley. Some other popular grains that are used for brewing beer include wheat, rye, corn, rice, and oats

Barley or other grains are malted before they are made into beer. Then they grow through the milling and fermenting process outlined above. The grains that are chosen for brewing beer can have a huge effect on its taste and outcome. Here are the ways that grains impact the outcome of beer brewing.
  • Taste: The grains that are used to brew beer greatly impact its taste, as one might expect. A beer brewed with corn will have a completely different flavor than a beer brewed with oats.
  • Aroma: Aroma is linked to taste, but it is complex and a beer attribute all its own. The grains used to brew a beer impact the beer’s aroma, and the smell of the beer will often directly reflect the smell of the grains.
  • Alcohol content: The grains in the beer shape the alcohol content of the beer. Yeast and other organisms are used to ferment the grains and result in the beer’s alcohol content. The sugars that ferment in the beer grains to make alcohol are called maltose.
  • Feel: The components of a beer’s grain that impact the feel of a beer are called dextrins. The feel of a beer means how it feels in someone’s mouth, whether that is viscous and thin or thick and full.
  • Color: Some grains are lighter in color than others. This creates the color of the beer and can make one beer lighter or darker than another.
  • Protein content: Beers have protein in them. The proteins come from the grains that are used to brew the beer. They also are the aspect of the beer that shapes the foam of the beer, or its head.

Hops

Many people do not realize that hops are little green flowers that look like plants. Even though beer is brown and seems most likely like a beverage that comes from starchy grains, these little green flowers actually play a very important part in the beer brewing process.

Hops are basically used to balance beer. Hops can be added into a beer during a few different points of the brewing process. When the hops are added greatly impacts how the beer tastes, and whether a person can taste the hops or not when they are drinking the beer. Not all beers have hops in them, but most of the ones with the most interesting and complex flavors do.

Hops impact different aspects of a beer. The main aspects that hops can influence include:

  • Bitterness: Most people associate hops with a bitter flavor. Often, the hoppier a beer, the more bitter it is. Bitterness can help balance or cut the sweetness that results from fermenting malt.
  • Smell: The aroma of the beer is also impacted by the number of hops that are used to brew a beer. Because the hops impact the taste, they also impact the smell. Hops have a very distinctive smell, which is not too surprising since they are a flower.
  • Shelf life: Hops make a beer more stable. For beers that people want to last longer once on the shelves, they can add more hops. Hops have a component in them called beta acids, and these stave off bacteria in the beer and help ensure that the beer does not get contaminated or go bad.

Yeast

Yeast is important for beer because it is the component that makes beer alcoholic. Yeast is a microorganism that eats the sugars that happen in the malting process. When the sugars are eaten, they convert it to carbon dioxide and alcohol, and that alcohol is what ultimately makes beer the beverage that gives people that happy buzz.

Yeast might be invisible when it comes to the final product of the beer that people drink, but it does a lot of the work in a beer. There are several different kind of yeasts that brewers can use when creating beer. Two of the main kinds are:

  • Lager yeast: The scientific name of lager yeast is Saccharomyces uvarumLager yeast is a bottom-fermenting yeast. This means that it collects on the bottom while beer ferments. Lager yeast ferments at a cooler temperature than ale yeast. When a beer is brewed with lager yeast, it tends to be light and crisp and easy to drink.
  • Ale yeast: The scientific name of ale yeast is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Ale yeast is a top-fermenting yeast. This means that it collects on the top while beer ferments. Ale yeast ferments at a warmer temperature than lager yeast. When a beer is brewed with ale yeast, it tends to be heavier and more full-bodied. Ales are more complex and flavorful, and people sometimes think of them as a more sophisticated beverage.

Flavors to Add to Beer

The main flavors in beers come from grains and hops (and the other main components listed above). However, people can add a whole range of different ingredients to give them different flavor profiles.

Adding flavor to beer can happen at different points during the brewing process. Some people add flavor to the beer just after boiling the wort. Others add flavors (or hops) to the beer after the primary fermentation process has finished (this is technically called dry hopping). Finally, people can infuse flavor into a beer once it has already been cooled and the yeast has stopped working to ferment the malt. This process is called cold-crashing.

Flavors can be added to beers for specific seasons, or they may be added to beers to pair well with specific foods. Alternatively, when brewing beer, it can be entertaining and fun to experiment with different flavors, tastes, and aromas to see how changing them can impact the end result. Here are some popular flavors that people add to beers and information about how they add them.

Fruity Flavors

Some people enjoy adding fruit flavor to their beer. These fruits can be crisp and refreshing like citrus, or they can be heavier and more autumnal, like apple or pear. Fruit flavor usually makes beer sweeter and taste like the fruit that has been infused.

Spicy Flavors

To give beer a particular kick, people add spice to them. Spices can reflect seasons: like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice for winter and fall, or they can simply give complexity, like a lemongrass or turmeric, which can help a beer taste more exotic. Brewers can experiment with a range of spices for interesting results (keeping in mind that a little bit goes a long way when it comes to spice in beer).

Dessert or Coffee Flavors

Heavier or darker beers can be popular as dessert drinks. Flavors that fit with an after dinner profile can be infused into beers. People make beer with chocolate and vanilla in them, or they make beer that has coffee in it, for an added kick.

There is no limit to what flavor someone can put in a beer. The fun part of brewing is that people can experiment with different ingredients to see what flavors they end up liking best.

How to Package Beer

Once someone has finished brewing beer, they need to put it in a container so they can either keep it for themselves to drink later or so they can distribute it to others. The most popular ways to contain beer once it is done brewing is via keg, can, or bottle. Here are some of the perks of each and why people choose one type of container for beer over another.

Bottles

Bottles are the oldest and most traditional method for bottling beer. Usually, people choose to bottle beers in 12 ounce amber or green glass bottles, but bottles come in all shapes and sizes. Beers stay cold longer than cans do. Amber bottles keep light out of beer and allow it to continue to age, even once it has been packaged

Cans

Many of the cheaper, mass-market beers come in cans. Today, craft brewers around the world are also choosing to package and distribute their beer in cans. Cans are even darker than an amber bottle. In fact, they keep all light and UVA rays out. This means that a beer’s flavor will not get ruined by being exposed to light and heat. Cans do not stay cold as long as glass bottles do, but they cool down more quickly than bottles do. Some people complain that beer from a can tastes like metal or aluminum. In reality, there is a layer of coating that keeps the beer from touching the metal, so most likely people are actually just smelling the aluminum the can is made from, not tasting it. To solve this problem, people can choose to drink canned beers by pouring them into glasses and drinking straight from the glass.

Kegs

Many beers that are sold or poured at bars are sold in kegs. These kegs can be hooked up to taps that can pour large amounts of beer. Fresh beers do well when they are packaged in kegs. Because the beer must go through some kind of tube or tap when getting to a person’s glass, there is a chance that the flavor can change. Beers that have more complex, specific flavors should not be packaged in kegs. That way, there is less chance of ruining the intended flavor of the beer.

How to Store Beer Once it is Canned or Bottled

Once beer is bottled or canned and ready to be drunk, storage is important. The way a person stores a beer can affect if a beer stays drinkable, and for how long it will. If a beer is not pasteurized, it should stay in the fridge. This means that the way to keep it fresh longest is to simply keep it cold. Unpasteurized beer should be consumed within three months.

For other beers, a dark place is a good spot to store. These beers stop light and UV rays from affecting the beer and changing its flavor or resulting in bacteria. As mentioned above, it is important to store beer upright. If stored upright, not only will sediment only settle at the bottom, but only the very tip-top of the beer at the top of the bottle will be exposed to oxygen. This means that the beer will experience as little oxidation as possible, which will prolong its shelf life.

How to Properly Pour a Beer

So the beer has been stored. What if people are ready for it be poured? A fresh beer tastes good no matter how it is consumed. But pouring it properly can maximize the beer drinking experience.

To drink a beer from a pint glass, first rinse the glass with cold water. This helps reduce the friction in the glass when the beer is poured into it. Tilt the glass until it is being held at a 45-degree angle, then pour the beer into the middle of the side of the glass that is tilted. Once the beer is half poured, hold the glass straight and let the beer settle out. Then pour the rest of the beer straight into the center of the glass. Make sure there is room at the top of the glass for the head of the beer, since the foam will expand once the pouring has been completed.

By paying attention to how a beer is poured, people can ensure that they minimize the head of the beer and get to drink actual frosty liquid beer and not all the foam at the top. For people who like less carbonation however, this is a strategy they can dry. Allowing for a massive head at the top of a glass of beer will result in flatter, sweeter, softer beer, once all of the foam settles.

Ultimately, beer is considered to be one of the longest and most classic beloved beverages. Master the art of brewing a beer, then get brave enough to tweak and experiment with the process. Perfecting the craft of brewing a beer can result in a beverage that is delicious to drink and that people will want to consume again and again. Also, tweaking a perfected brewing recipe can allow brewers to come up with interesting new flavors and brews, which can be an experience in new flavors, textures, bodies, and more. Beer has been a treasured drink for millennia, and it is not expected to go out of fashion anytime soon. If they learn to brew it, people can master a skill they can harness again and again for years to come.

For those looking to enjoy and not brew their own beer, search for craft breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms with BeerMaps.