Welcome to Life Unplugged  
Skip Navigation Links
Green Building
Alternative Energy
Alternative Fuels
Garden and Pantry
Home Jobs
Everything Else
wort during boil Learn How to Brew Beer
by staff writer

Before mega-breweries began plastering their logos at every sporting event, beer was handcrafted in small batches. Today's ales, stouts, and lagers all have roots in regional specialty beers that have evolved over the centuries. Forget the commercial, watered-down beer you're accustomed to and discover what has been lost by brewing your own beer at home.

wort in glass carboy All beer begins with malted grain -- typically barley. Grain is malted by allowing seed to germinate and then drying it in a kiln to create enzymes. These enzymes convert starches stored in the grain into sugars that are necessary for later fermentation. Malted grains may be roasted to alter the resulting beer's color and flavor. The malted grains and other whole grains are then milled or crushed to create grist.

Mashing is the process of combining grist with hot water to induce chemical changes. This often involves several stages in which different temperatures activate individual enzymes. Although the temperature differences appear minimal, characteristics such as cloudiness, head retention, and potential alcohol are all directly influenced by the mashing. Once mashing is complete, lautering and sparging can begin.

In lautering, the wort is drained from the mash tun and is recirculated through the grain bed until the flow becomes clearer and contains little or no debris. The grain bed acts as a filter, and the circulation helps to dissolve and collect the fermentable sugars. Additional hot water is then run through the grain bed in a process called sparging to extract any remaining sugars. Sparging is complete when the draining wort is clear and no detectable sugar remains.

The collected wort is boiled for approximately an hour to sterilize the container and pasteurize the wort. Different types of hops are added at various intervals during the boil; this varies with the recipe. The hops are a bittering agent that enhances the flavor of the beer and also serves as a natural preservative. After the boil, the wort is cooled and transferred to the fermentation chamber, which can be a steel cylinder, plastic bucket, glass carboy, or wooden cask.

lager style home brew beer Yeast is then added to the wort and fermentation begins. Fermentation may take as little as a week or as long as a few months depending on the strain of yeast used, the temperature, and the amount of fermentable sugars in the wort. The beer may be transferred into a secondary fermentation chamber to separate it from the sediment that develops, or it may be bottled / kegged immediately. Most beer benefits from aging, which can take from four to eight weeks depending on tastes and the style of beer.

The process of combining malted grain, hops, yeast, and water to brew beer is easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master. This article is by no means a step-by-step tutorial on how to brew beer, but it should serve as a good overview of the brewing process.

If you are interested in learning more about brewing beer, visit the HomeBrew Garage where a beer mechanic is always on duty.