Now that we know the ingredients, let’s move to process. Malted barley is milled slightly to crack the husk or outer shell. The barley, now known as grist, is then “mashed” or added to hot water, usually around 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Enzymatic reactions turn the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars for the yeast cells to consume. The liquid is strained to remove as many of the grain solids as possible and transferred to the brew kettle. This liquid, now called wort, is brought to a boil and remains so for 90 minutes. During the boil, hops are added. Hops added early in the boil produce bitterness in the beer. Hops added during the middle of the boil will impart flavor. Hops added at the end of the boil will contribute to aroma. Once the boil is complete, the liquid wort is cooled below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and transferred into a container for fermentation—one where excess gasses can escape while not allowing air or contaminants back into the liquid. Sanitation is critical at this time to keep yeast cells healthy. Yeast is “pitched” into the wort and fermentation begins. Controlling the temperature of the fermentation is important since a great deal of heat is generated from the process. Small-batch home brewers typically use a cool basement or cellar, while larger craft and commercial brewers use 22 edible SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS WINTER 2010
refrigerants to this end. Fermentation can take between one and two weeks depending upon the yeast. Once the yeast has consumed the sugars, they become dormant and drop from the liquid. Beer may be held at cold temperatures to further clarify the beer. For small-batch brewers, this is where the tasting and drinking of beer begins! Larger brewers may choose to filter beer at this point to achieve more clarity and extend shelf life. Carbonation may also be added. Beer is packaged into bottles, cans or kegs. All told, beer is ready to drink anywhere from ten days to six weeks, depending upon the yeast used and the style of beer desired. While beer can vary greatly in flavor, color, texture and aroma, the basic process remains the same. Brewers are highly skilled in their craft and can make small changes to the process that make a world of difference in taste and style of the beer. So now that you know the basics, head to your local brewery and enjoy a craft beer! Kris Oyler is Co-Founder and CTO (Chief Tasting Officer) of the award-winning Steamworks Brewing Co. in Durango, Colorado, which has been crafting beer in the San Juan Mountains since 1996.
Telling the story of local food throughout Southwest Colorado and The Four Corners.