Now that we have your attention . . . .
Let’s pretend that you, our readers, wrote us letters. We imagine one of them would go like this:
Dear Beer Cache,
I’ve been reading your article for months now, and gee, it’s just wonderful! I never miss an article. What a great addition you are to What’s Up Yukon! After reading your last article, I’m already planning my trip to Oktoberfest next year. You make beer sound like soooo much fun! (It would go on like this for a while.)
But Beer Cache, how on earth is beer made? The whole process seems so confusing – can you break it down for me?
And they’d dot the i’s in their name with hearts to let us know how much they dig our column.
But let’s get our heads out of the clouds and tuck in on this important question – How is beer made?
At its most basic, it is made like this: dissolve barley sugars in water, and get yeast to ferment this mixture into beer. And most breweries use the following three steps (very broadly).
Step 1: The Mash
Mashing is basically steeping crushed grain, usually barley, in hot water. The idea here is to use the natural enzymes from the grain to convert its own starches into sugars.
Depending on mash temperature, you’ll have a thinner-tasting, higher alcohol beer, or a full-bodied, lower-alcohol beer. Your chosen mash temperature depends on the style you are brewing. You will want to soak these grains (mash) for about an hour, keeping the temperature constant – usually 65-70C.
Once the enzymes have done their magical converting trick, you can drain the liquid from the grains into your brew pot. This liquid gold is now called wort (pronounced “wert”).
Now it’s time to fire up the burners and get your boil on.
Step 2: Boil
There are a few reasons why brewers boil their pre-beer liquid (wort). Importantly, it kills any naturally occurring bacteria or fungus. This means that the resulting beer isn’t spoiled, as spoiled beer is headed for the drain, not your glass.
Secondly, the other main ingredient in beer – hops – needs to be boiled to release their flavour. Without boiling, hops are stubbornly unwilling to give up their delicious bitterness. Wort is usually boiled for one to one-and-a-half hours.
Step 3: Chill and ferment
Yeasts are a lot like people: they don’t like to be dunked in either boiling or ice-cold water. Yeasts are actually quite picky about their temperature, and tend to throw hissy-fits (or produce off-flavours) when mistreated. And different yeasts have different demands! DRA-MA!
Always the accommodating types, brewers have to be unceasingly kind to their yeasts: only when the wort is no warmer than 25 degrees can you add (“pitch” in brewers’ speak) the yeast. The yeast then will ferment the wort into beer.
Beer takes about a week to ferment, but an additional conditioning stage will work wonders for the beer. An extra two weeks is usually enough. Bottle it or keg it, and you’ve got beer. (Carbonation is a different article.)
All of this can be done at home, or ramped up to larger volumes. Yes, you’ll need some specialized equipment, but not so much that you can’t make your brew in a condo or basement apartment.
And, like most hobbies, you don’t have to cannon-ball into the deep end right away. Brewing can be as advanced or basic as you’d like. Using extracts (malt syrup) is a quick way to skip the mashing step and get straight to the boil. Extract or even beer kits can be bought locally.
Keep in mind, our dear letter-writing readers, that is the “500 words or less” instruction set. For more info, chat up a homebrewer, or consider dropping by Yukon Brewing to find out about their brewery tours, which are chock full of info (and, um, samples).
And aren’t samples what making beer is all about?
Please enjoy this article responsibly.