The Brewing Process
- The main ingredient of quality beer is malted barley. The malting process takes place before breweries purchase barley. It involves wetting (steeping) and sprouting the barley just enough to start breaking down the walls enclosing the starch storages inside the barley. This will help brewers in their attempt to convert the starch to sugar in the brew process. Then the barley is dried, or sometimes even roasted, in a highly controlled manner. This gives the malted barley its specific characteristics such as color and flavor. Dark malts have been roasted longer or at higher temperatures than light malts. Only the finest domestic and imported malted barleys are used in our ales.
- To start the brewing process, bags of various types of malts are dumped into the malt mill and cracked open (not ground) between two adjustable steel rollers to create “grist”. The internal starch is exposed, while the husk is left intact (this will be important later in the lautering process). The grist is then transferred to the hopper, a cone-shaped stainless steel object located above the mash tun. The grist drops by gravity from the hopper through a hydrating collar into the mash tun. The collar sprays hot water on the grist as it falls.
- As the hot water and grist fall into the mash tun, the brewer stirs the mixture (now called the “mash”) with a paddle to provide thorough mixing. The mash remains in the mash-tun for several hours while the starch of the grain is converted into simple sugars. Certain enzymes in the grain are responsible for this conversion which is controlled by the temperature of water and mash. The sugary liquid trapped throughout the mash is called wort (pronounced “wurt”).
- The next priority is to get this wort over to the brew kettle without bringing too much of the grain particles with it. The grain husks (which were left intact in the milling process) make a bed on a perforated screen midway through the vessel. Both of these working together act as a “double filter bed”. The wort seeps through the bed and the screen and is pumped over to the kettle (leaving the other particles of grain behind). This process is called lautering. More hot water is sprayed over the bed through a rotating arm. This is called sparging. Sparging helps free any sugars trapped in the husks and the grain bed to get the best utilization from the mash.
- Once the wort is pumped over to the brew kettle, it is brought to a full boil. Hops are added to impart bitterness, flavor and the aromatics of the beer, and also act as a natural preservative. When the boil is complete (about 90 min. to two hours), the wort is rapidly pumped in a circular motion, or “whirlpooled”. This results in the hops’ residue and other protein sediment settling in a cone-shaped pile in the bottom of the brew kettle. Some people also call this a “hop island”. The purpose of this is to separate the solids from the wort which is important in the transfer of the wort to the next vessel (fermentor).
- The wort is then pumped from the brew kettle through a plate heat exchanger where cold water cools it from near boiling to approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The water that passes through the heat exchanger is heated as it cools the hot wort and is stored in the now clean mash tun. This hot water is later used for cleaning or brewing.
- From the plate heat exchanger, the wort is pumped through hoses to one of four fermentors (the large stainless steel tanks in the brew house). Brewer’s yeast is “pitched”, or introduced to the wort, as the wort is being transferred to the fermentor, and before the wort reaches the door of the fermentor. This is when the fermentation process begins. The yeast consumes a portion of the sugars in the wort and converts them to alcohol, carbon dioxide and yummy beer flavors (basically a huge yeast orgy of eating and reproduction). The primary fermentation takes about five days. When fermentation is complete, the fermentor temperature is lowered which causes most of the yeast to ‘fall asleep’, or flock out and settle to the cone-shaped bottom of the fermentor.
- When the yeast has settled out, it is either harvested into a sterile stainless steel bucket and used for a future brew, or it is thrown out. Then the beer is transferred to a conditioning vessel in the icehouse where it matures for a period of two to four weeks. This allows the final flavors to develop and any sediment or yeast to settle out.
- After sufficient aging, the beer is either filtered to a serving vessel (if it is a lighter beer), or just transferred (if it is a darker beer). Filtering is basically for cosmetic purposes only. Once the beer is in the serving vessel, it is carbonated by forcing carbon dioxide through a carbonating stone with thousands of tiny holes. Directly from these tanks (collectively called Grundys), the customer receives one of the finest handcrafted beers in America. So drink up! As you can see, it took a lot of work to make our beer the best it can possibly be.