Creating beer is known as brewing. A facility dedicated to brewing beer is referred to as a brewery. Beer production can also take place at home, often in a space known as a brewhouse. Companies engaged in beer production are commonly called breweries or brewing companies. When beer is made on a non-commercial scale for personal reasons, it is typically referred to as homebrewing, regardless of where it is produced. In history, domestic beer was often referred to as farmhouse ale.
Brewing’s goal is to converts the starch source into a sugary liquid called wort. Then to transform the wort into the alcoholic beverage known as beer through a fermentation process facilitated by yeast.
The first step, called mashing. This involves mixing the starch source (typically malted barley) with hot water. Hot water, referred to as liquor in brewing terms, is combined with crushed malt or malts (referred to as grist) in a vessel called a mash tun. This mashing process typically lasts 1 to 2 hours and results in the conversion of starches into sugars. Subsequently, the sweet wort is separated from the solid grains, and the grains are rinsed in a process known as sparging. This rinsing allows the brewer to extract as much fermentable liquid from the grains as possible. The separation of the spent grain from the wort and sparge water is known as wort separation This is traditionally accomplished through lautering. Some modern breweries use filter frames for a finer grist.
Most modern breweries employ continuous sparging, where the original wort and sparge water are collected together. It is possible to collect second or even third washes from the not entirely spent grains as separate batches. With each run producing a weaker wort and subsequently a less strong beer. This process is known as parti-gyle brewing.
The sweet wort collected from sparging is then heated in a vessel called a kettle or “copper,” traditionally made from copper. It is boiled, usually for around an hour. During this time water in the wort evaporates while the sugars and other components remain. Boiling also deactivates any remaining enzymes from the mashing stage. Hops are added during boiling to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Depending on the duration of boiling, hops contribute varying levels of bitterness, with longer boiling times reducing hop flavor and aroma.
After boiling, the hopped wort is cooled and prepared for fermentation. In some cases, the hopped wort may pass through a hopback, a vat filled with hops, to add aromatic hop flavoring and serve as a filter. Typically, the hopped wort is cooled for the fermenter, where yeast is introduced. During fermentation, which can take anywhere from a week to several months depending on yeast type and beer strength, the wort transforms into beer. As fermentation progresses, yeast particles and other suspended matter settle, eventually resulting in clear beer.
During fermentation, much of the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape through a trap, resulting in relatively low carbonation. The carbonation is often increased through pressurized carbon dioxide when transferring the beer to kegs or bottles or by adding sugar before bottling, allowing carbon dioxide to naturally carbonate the beer. Fermentation can be conducted in two stages: primary and secondary. Secondary fermentation is often used for long-term storage or achieving greater clarity.
Once fermentation is complete, the beer is packaged into casks, kegs, aluminum cans, or bottles, depending on the type of beer.
The fundamental ingredients of beer include water, a starch source (typically malted barley), yeast, and a flavoring agent such as hops. Different types of grains and adjuncts like maize, rice, wheat, or sugar may also be used, especially when combined with malted barley. This mixture of starch sources is collectively referred to as the grain bill.
Water plays a crucial role in beer, accounting for 93% of its weight. While water itself is generally flavorless, its mineral content, specifically bicarbonate ions, can influence the taste of beer. Regional differences in water composition have historically led to unique beer styles associated with specific areas.
The primary starch source for brewing is malted grain. Malted barley is the most common choice, as the malting process activates enzymes that convert starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. Roasting times and temperatures vary, producing different colors of malt and, consequently, darker or lighter beers.
Hops, which are the flowers of the hop vine, serve as the primary flavoring and preservative agent in beer. Hops contribute bitterness, aroma, and flavor to beer, and their bitterness level is measured on the International Bitterness Units (IBU) scale. Different hop varieties can impart a wide range of flavors, from floral and citrusy to earthy and spicy. The timing of hop additions during brewing also affects the flavor and aroma characteristics of the beer.
Yeast is responsible for the fermentation process, converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Two primary types of yeast used in brewing are ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lager yeast (Saccharomyces pastorianus). These yeasts operate at different temperature ranges, producing distinct styles of beer.
Adjuncts like maize, rice, wheat, or sugar can be used to supplement the grain bill, affecting the flavor, mouthfeel, and alcohol content of the beer. Adjuncts are often used in the production of lighter beers like American lagers.
Known for its clean and crisp taste, lagers are fermented with lager yeast at cooler temperatures. They include varieties like Pilsner, Helles, and Bock.
Ales are fermented with ale yeast at warmer temperatures, resulting in a broader range of flavors and aromas. Styles include Pale Ale, Stout, and IPA (India Pale Ale).
A type of pale lager, Pilsners are characterized by a balanced bitterness and a bright, clear appearance. The Czech Pilsner and German Pilsner are famous examples.
Stouts are dark, rich beers with flavors of roasted malt, coffee, and chocolate. Varieties include Dry Stout, Sweet Stout, and Imperial Stout.
IPAs are known for their hop-forward flavors, offering a range from citrusy and fruity to piney and bitter. Subtypes include American IPA, New England IPA (NEIPA), and Double IPA (DIPA).
Wheat beers are brewed with a significant proportion of wheat in the grain bill, resulting in a light, refreshing, and often cloudy appearance. Styles include Hefeweizen and Witbier.
These beers intentionally incorporate souring bacteria or wild yeast strains during fermentation, leading to tart and acidic flavors. Varieties include Berliner Weisse and Gose.
Belgian ales encompass a wide range of styles, known for their complexity and fruity, spicy, and estery flavors. Examples include Belgian Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupel.
Porters are dark ales with flavors of roasted malt, caramel, and chocolate. Variations include Robust Porter and Baltic Porter.
Saisons, or farmhouse ales, are often fruity and spicy with a dry finish, originating from Belgian and French farmhouse traditions.
These are just a few examples, and the world of beer offers countless other styles and variations. The diversity of beer styles allows enthusiasts to explore a wide range of flavors and experiences within the realm of brewing. Read more about Beer Styles.
Throughout history, brewing beer has been subject to legislation and taxation, and starting in the late 19th century, taxation regulations in the UK largely restricted brewing to commercial operations. However, the UK government eased these regulations in 1963, followed by similar moves in Australia in 1972 and the US in 1978. Individual states in the US could still pass their own laws governing production, and this change allowed homebrewing to become a popular hobby. Learn more about Ancient Beer Brewing.