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Brewing beer at home is easily within the reach of just about everyone. You don't need any special skills to make beer; the process is really simple. If you can make macaroni and cheese or bake a cake, you can make beer. It's easy and safe, and legal in all but a few states. This guide, and the articles linked below, will walk you through each step in the process. You will find both simple instructions for beginners on making good beer, and more in-depth analysis and advanced techniques to help experienced brewers make great beer.

Overview of the Beer Brewing Process

The Beer Brewing Process
1. Preparing the Ingredients
2. Cleaning and Sanitation
3. Making the Wort
4. Boiling the Wort
5. Cooling, Racking, and Aerating
6. Pitching the Yeast
7. Primary Fermentation
8. Conditioning the Beer
9. Packaging and Carbonation
10. Dispensing and Serving

Brewing in a Nutshell

Beer, wine, cider, and mead are all made by the same fundamental process: fermentation. In fermentation, yeast is added to a sugar solution. The yeast eats the sugar and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. The brewer's only jobs are to make the sugary solution and create the best possible conditions for the yeast to do their work.

In beer brewing, the sugar solution is called wort, and the sugars come primarily from malted barley and other grains. This solution is then boiled with hops, which add flavor and bitterness and act as a preservative, before the yeast is added and allowed to ferment.

That doesn't sound so hard, does it?

Brewing for Beginners

Brewing can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. Many homebrewers like to "geek out," getting very involved in the details of their beer. Others prefer a more laid-back, seat-of-the-pants approach. Whichever camp you fall into, though, it's probably a good idea to start out with a simple stovetop brew before moving on to a more advanced recipe.

The articles below are organized in ten steps. For each step, the accompanying article contains a section "For Beginners", which explains the basic procedures usually recommended for beginning home brewers. These procedures assume that you are brewing a recipe using malt extract and, optionally, steeping specialty grains, then performing a partial boil in a relatively small brew pot on a stovetop and fermenting in a plastic bucket fermenter. Don't worry; each of these terms is also explained in the appropriate section.

Keeping Log

The brewing process is a relatively lengthy one and besides the recipe many parameters along the way matter for the final result. Because of that a good brewer keeps notes on how a particular batch is prepared so he/she can fine-tune or trouble shoot it later.

The Ten Steps of Brewing

The beer brewing process can be summarized in ten easy steps:

  1. Preparing the Ingredients can be as simple as smacking a smack pack, or it can involve complicated questions of water chemistry.
  2. Cleaning and Sanitation are surprisingly important, which can intimidate beginners, but modern cleaning and sanitizing products make it easy.
  3. Making the Wort, as unfermented beer is called, can be done either by carefully extracting sugar from grain, or with malt extract, a kind of pre-made "instant wort".
  4. Boiling the Wort sterilizes the wort and also helps extract flavor, aroma and bitterness from the hops you add during the boil.
  5. Cooling, Racking, and Aerating are the steps needed to prepare the wort for fermentation.
  6. Pitching the Yeast is brewing jargon for adding the properly prepared yeast to the wort.
  7. Primary Fermentation is when the yeast changes the wort into beer.
  8. Conditioning the Beer involves optional extra steps to finish the fermentation and add character to your brew.
  9. Packaging and Carbonation in a bottle or keg will make your beer ready to drink.
  10. Finally, Dispensing and Serving your finished beer is what brewing is really all about.

Each step is explained briefly below, or follow the links to the main article on each subject for detailed information.

Home Brewing Equipment

These articles, and especially the "beginner" sections, assume that you have a basic home brewing "starter kit". These kits usually include:

Specialized equipment needed for certain techniques or procedures will be described in the text, or you can visit the Beer equipment page for a more in-depth discussion.

Home Brewing Step By Step

Preparing the Ingredients

Before beginning to brew, make sure that you have gathered all of the ingredients you will need. Some ingredients, notably yeast, will also require some special preparation in advance of your brewing day.

Cleaning and Sanitation

There is one thing that the homebrewer must not ever forget: all around us (and especially on us!), there are invisible bacteria, germs, and stray yeast, and they would all like to get into your beer and infect it. It is important to give your yeast a head start on fermentation before any of these other organisms can take hold. The most important way you can do this is through careful cleaning and sanitation of your equipment.

Sanitation is more than simple cleaning; chemical sanitizers (or, less frequently, extreme heat) must be used to reduce microbial life beyond what you can accomplish with soap and water. See the main article on Cleaning and Sanitation for detailed information on cleaning and sanitizing processes, products, and equipment.

Making the Wort

The wort (pronounced "wert") is the sweet, sugary liquid that is fermented to produce beer. Wort can be made by mashing malted grains in water for specified times and temperatures. Mashing activates enzymes in the malt which convert starch into sugar. However, beginning homebrewers (and many more experienced homebrewers) can skip this step and begin brewing right away with pre-packaged malt extract, which is wort that has already been made and then concentrated for use by home and professional brewers.

Boiling the Wort

After the wort has been created or collected, it is boiled together with hops and sometimes other ingredients. Among other things, boiling breaks down hop oils allowing them to dissolve, resulting in the flavor, aroma and bitterness which will carry over into the finished beer, and sanitizes the wort to prepare it for fermentation.

Cooling, Racking, and Aerating

There are a few additional steps required to get the boiled wort ready for pitching:

  1. The wort must be cooled to a temperature just below the ideal fermentation temperature for the strain of yeast being used. The temperature will rise slightly as the fermentation process begins. It is important to cool the wort quickly to cause lipids and proteins in the wort to flocculate (cold break )and drop out of solution to prevent off flavors and result in good clarity in the finished beer.
  2. The wort must be transferred from the brew pot into the fermenter
  3. Enough oxygen must be introduced into the wort to allow for efficient fermentation. After pitching, yeast will reproduce until it uses up available oxygen and other nutrients. Adequate oxygen is necessary to achieve the proper yeast cell count for fermentation.

The main article on Cooling, Racking, and Aerating article explains why and how each of these intermediate steps is performed.

Pitching the Yeast

The term "pitching" refers to the rather simple act of adding yeast to the cooled wort. The specific steps you will need to follow will depend on whether you are pitching a new container of dry or liquid yeast, pitching yeast cultured from a commercial beer, or re-using yeast from a previous batch.

Primary Fermentation

A Carboy fermenting beer with a Three Piece Airlock on top.

Now you just have to provide the right environment and let the yeast do its work. This is where the wort becomes beer.

Conditioning the Beer

Once primary fermentation is complete, advanced home brewers may want to condition their beer through processes such as secondary fermentation, cold conditioning of ales or lagering, barrel aging, or krausening.

Packaging and Carbonation

Once all of the above steps are finished, you have beer...flat beer. Carbonation can come either from yeast and priming sugar or from a canister of compressed carbon dioxide, and the carbonation is normally done in the beer's final serving container, be that bottles, kegs, or casks. See the main Packaging and Carbonation article for details.

Dispensing and Serving

Finally, it's time to have a homebrew! Visit the Dispensing and Serving page for information on the best way to pour from a bottle-conditioned bottle, information on kegerators and other contraptions for serving draft beer, and information on tasting beer like a pro.

More information

More information on specific brewing steps, techniques, and practices can be found on this and other sites:

Common Problems and misconceptions

All of this may seem complicated to new brewers, and since brewing is an art as well as a science, it can be hard to tell at first when you've done everything right. New brewers will certainly have questions about the process; some will be answered by our list of Frequently Asked Questions.

External Links

See also

See the categorized articles below for more detailed information on the brewing process.