Beer. It’s a lovely word. Not too long and not too short. Just the right amount of letters to form a word we all know and love. A small word in many ways which neatly covers a whole raft of different styles, tastes and appearances. Just say it to yourself now. Beer. Lovely lovely beer. A simple word which describes the product of a simple process. Get it right and you’ll be a local hero and people will throw pennies at your feet and erect statues in your honour. Get it wrong however and you’ll be shunned by many and pitied by more.
The way beer has been produced may have changed over the years, with better equipment, more accuracy in measurement and greater consistency of the finished drop. But the process is still very much the same as when the first pint was produced. It’s all about the brew.
So let’s get started. We can go one or two ways with this. You can have the detailed blow by bitter blow account of how beer is made or we can whizz through the process and not take up too much of your time. Because like me, right about now wouldn’t it be nice to be settling yourself down with a lovely pint of Abingdon Bridge and to feel yourself start to unwind. Yes it would.
So here we go.
The process of making beer, when broken down into its various stages, is really quite straightforward.
- Malted barley is mixed with warm water and forms the Mash. This stage looks a bit like porridge.
- The liquid from that Mash is drained off and referred to as Sweet Wort. It really is sweet at this stage, quite like a cup of tea with 2 sugars as it goes.
- The Sweet Wort is boiled and hops are added. Either in the copper itself or via a big tin bath contraption we call a Hop Back
- The Wort is then cooled and yeast is added.
- Leave it a few days and there you have it. Beer.
Ok there may be a bit more to it than just 5 steps but in reality that is what we do here at Loose Cannon every-day. We’re very proud of our products and can control the process in minute detail which is why when you have a pint of ours you know you’ll be having a great drink.
If though you are new to the game things can and sometimes do go a bit squiffy. Many is the time that one batch of bath tub bitter doesn’t taste quite like the last and trust us when we tell you that what it tastes like can vary hugely if you’re not careful with your brewing. It doesn’t take much to turn a great beer into a terrible beer.
Its all about the brew.
Ok. We can crack on now. The process has been simplified and you’re up to speed on how beer is made. The question now is what is it actually made of? There is no simple way to abbreviate this so with apologies for the grammar and appallingly long winded explanation I shall now hand you over to the founder of the brewery Mr Will Laithwaite to explain ingredients in more detail. Don’t fret, this shouldn’t take too long if you are a speed reader and I’ll pick you up again at the end of the next 4 paragraphs.
The style of beer a brewer wishes to make has a huge influence on the ingredients selected to use in the process. Beer is essentially barley, hops, water and yeast. Barley, as it grows in the field, must be malted before it is suitable to be used in brewing. This involves allowing the grain to begin germination, thereby breaking down cell walls surrounding the starch in the grain (the brewer needs this starch). The maltster then stops the process of germination and dries the grain in a kiln. The longer the grain is in the kiln the darker it becomes. Pale malt makes pale beer. Add some dark malt for a darker beer. The more you add the darker it gets. The grain is then crushed to the requirement of the brewer to allow access to the starch.
Hops are used to give the beer bitterness and flavour. Some hops are better at one than the other but some can do both. There is a huge variety of commercial hops out there but then thousands more growing in the wild and sometimes in peoples gardens. Hops from different parts of the world will impart different flavours and characteristics on a beer. British hops tend to be quite earthy or herbal, American hops floral and citrus while hops from New Zealand can give of a pronounced berry fruit flavour and aroma. Therefore hops are picked depending on the flavour desired in the finished beer.
Water is the main ingredient and can affect flavour, clarity, mouth feel, head formation and retention as well as numerous other characteristics. Water in one place may be best suited to pale hoppy beers whilst the water in another will make a fantastic rich, dark Porter. Modern breweries quite often wish to make a number of different styles requiring different water pH, hardness etc. Fortunately after a bit of analysis it’s quite easy to treat local water to make almost any beer style.
Yeast is a fantastic single celled organism and without it there would be no beer. There are millions of different strains of yeast and some are very good at making beer while others will do anything they can to spoil the party. Essentially most breweries pick a yeast that suits them and they stick with it!!!
Splendid stuff. You’ve made it this far. It wasn’t too bad was it, actually very informative. He does afterall have a genuine passion for the subject and more importantly knows what he’s doing.
So this is where you can stop now. Ding-Ding! End of the line, all change please.
It’s been a nice concise round-up of the process with a bit of fluff thrown in about what goes into the beer. This is a very good point to close the laptop, switch off the phone, put down the tablet or whatever you are using to read this webpage and get yourself down the pub and carry on with the great British tradition of responsible social drinking.
No? You want to know more? Well OK. I’ll hand you back to Will who, to be fair, did do a good job on that previous section so we’ll let him run with it from here. I’m off for that pint, see you in a bit.
The first part of the brew day is spent combining the selected barleys with a portion of the (now treated) water – referred to as brewing liquor. The liquor is heated so that when mixed with the grain the brewer can achieve a desired temperature in the Mash (620C – 680C). This heat along with specific pHs activate enzymes in the malted barley which break down the starch into fermentable and non-fermentable sugars. The fermentable sugars later become alcohol and carbon dioxide whilst the non-fermentable sugars give the beer body. These sugars are then drained off with the liqour to form sweet wort (non fermented beer).
The Sweet Wort is collected in a tank called the Copper (or Kettle) where it is boiled for 60 to 90 minutes. At the beginning of the boil hops are added to give the beer bitterness to counter the beer’s natural sweetness. At the end of the boil more hops are added to impart flavour and aroma. This timing here is important as hops need time being boiled to impart bitterness but boiling causes flavour and aroma oils to disappear up the chimney. After the boil the beer is rapidly cooled and moved to another tank called a fermenter.
Yeast is added to the fermenter as it is filled with non-fermented beer and gets to work immediately. Yeast uses oxygen to create new cells, once the oxygen is used up fermentation kicks in, and the yeast produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. This takes a few days and the beer is constantly monitored to establish how much sugar has been converted to alcohol and how much is left. Just prior to the yeast consuming all the sugar the tank is chilled which causes the yeast to slow down and drop to the bottom of the tank.
Racking and cask conditioning
The beer is then transferred to casks in preparation for sending to pubs. At this stage the beer will still have a very pronounced haze as there is lots of yeast still present. To ensure the beer is crystal clear when served, isinglass is added. This has the opposite electrical charge to yeast cells and so they attract each other clumping together and becoming heavier causing them to fall to the bottom of the cask. This allows clear, or as we call it ‘bright’ beer to be drawn from above the sediment. The casks are sealed and moved to a cold store for conditioning. Conditioning is when fermentation occurs in a sealed container causing the CO2 to be absorbed into the beer giving it some bubbles. This take a few days and once complete the beer can be sent out to pubs ready to be served to the Great British Beer Drinking Public!
So there you have it. You’ve just been on your own brief tour into the magical world of brewing and we hope its been interesting. We have regular brewery tours here at Loose Cannon where you can get the chance to see how the theory is put into practice. More importantly you can also try the beers. Which to be frank is really what this is all about.
That lovely simple word which describes the thing we all love and like to share with you.
To buy our beers online please visit Laithwaite's... Alternatively visit us at the brewery in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and see our selection in the brewery shop.