Sam Adams University: What it means "to brew"
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 31, 2007
By Cold, Hard Football Facts contributor Lew Bryson
You hear the word "brew" with beer all the time: brewmaster, cold brew, frost-brewed, brew a batch, cold-brewed, brew kettle, fire-brewed. Is "brew" the beer, the process, the person making it, or just something the marketers made up?
We're here to help you solve these riddles.
"Brew" is a verb, as in: "We're going to brew some beer today." You take malt, hops, water and yeast, and you do things to them, and beer comes out the other end. You brewed.
Of course, if you insist on using it as a noun – and who are we to argue? – you now have a "brew" in your hand, something to drink during the game.
All that other stuff? Frost-brewed, ice-brewed, etc.? Well, credit that to the marketing guys. Because, basically, all beer is made the same. And we don't see frost or ice anywhere.
Brewing beer is basically a five-step process. You can break it down even further. But these five steps are what you need to make good beer.
Step 1: Malt – This is the process of turning raw grain, usually barley, into malt, which is something we can ferment (i.e., turn into alcohol). We discussed malt a couple weeks ago.
Step 2: Mash – You take the malt, mix it with water and carefully heat the mixture until the starches in the grain turn to sugars. This soupy mess is called the mash. If you're stirring the mash at this point, with a big wooden stick or paddle, you can actually feel the transformation: The thick, sticky starches suddenly become slick, slippery sugars. Many small brewers filter out the spent malt grains and send them to a farmer to feed his pigs. The hot, sugary water that remains, called wort (say "wert"), is sent to the brew kettle.
Step 3: Boil – Now we boil the wort in the brew kettle (think the boiling cauldron of a witch's brew, except clean and modern) for a good hour or more. This stage includes adding hops to give the beer hop aroma, flavor and bitterness. If you put the hops in too early, these aromatic compounds will just go right up the vent stack; that's some expensive steam. The wort then goes through a heat exchanger to cool it down, and then goes to the fermentation tank.
Step 4: Ferment – Yeast is added, or pitched, to the cooled wort in a fermentation tank. Yeast is a single-celled organism, like a fungus, or many of you people. It goes to work, eating sugars and ... excreting alcohol and carbon dioxide. It takes the yeast anywhere from a day to a few weeks to do its job, depending upon the temperature, the amount of sugars it has to eat and the kind of beer you're looking to make. But once the yeast is done, once the wort has fermented, it has become beer (say "Yahoo!").
Step 5: Age – The new beer is then either pumped to a new aging tank, or left in the original fermenter for a longer period of time to age. Aging (often called conditioning) is a necessary part of the process. If you don't age the beer, the flavors don't get a chance to meld properly, and objectionable flavors that are a natural part of the brewing process – sulfur, for instance, or something called diacetyl, which smells like theater popcorn butter – get a chance to dissipate and "gas off."
When the beer's properly aged, the brewing process is done. It just needs to be packaged, but you can drink it now – and in a brewpub, you do. It's beer. We brewed it.
Now we're going to drink it.
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