So that's how it's Done: Part One
For our first post here, I figured we may as well start with the basics. The procedures of brewing beer have been tested by time, and while one may study and learn more about these procedures for the rest of their lives, it is actually quite a simple process.
When brewing beer, the name of the game is sugar. Fermentable and infermentable sugars are extracted from the starches of the malted barley in a process called mash (orange box). Three different enzymes are activated when the malt gets wet and the conversion into sugar begins. The means through which you extract that sugar in the mash are relatively simple, but the variables that affect how much sugar and flavors you can extract from the malted barley are numerous. While those variables start outside of the brewery (such as, inside malt production facilities), there are many variables within our facility that we can control; those include the effectiveness of the mill (which grinds and cracks open our grain and malt before it goes into the mash), the pH content of the water that is used to hydrate the malt (some enzymes can only operate in certain pH levels), the temperature of the water that the grains are steeped in (low temps lower the efficiency, while higher temps can pull out unwanted flavors from the husk called tannins), and the duration of the time that those grains steep (not enough time may leave sugars in the grain). If any of these variables are not precise and exact, then the amount of the sugar we extract is thrown off and the recipe has not been replicated.
Once the mash is finished, normally after an hour of steeping, then the enzymes have pulled as much sugar as they can from the grain. At that point, we need to kill the enzymes in the grain, which we do by raising the temperature of the mash to 168 degrees. Once up to that temperature, the lautering and sparge, or the transfer of the wort from where the grain is steeping into a kettle, can begin. At the very beginning of the the lauter or sparge, the wort has a very high sugar content, but as it continues to transfer and as we add more water to our mash, the sugar content of the wort drops. This process, which is essentially rinsing the grain of sugar, is crucial and time consuming. During it, we measure the sugar levels in the wort that is entering the kettle. By measuring it, we are able to see how efficient we have been and if we will be able to reach our target gravity (or sugar content). Ideally, when we have transferred fifteen and a half barrels into the kettle, the wort should have a sugar content that has been dictated by our recipe.
This process of sugar extraction is merely the first phase of the brewing process: it is understanding and controlling the numerous variables that affect sugar extraction that help make beer consistently taste the same. While sometimes machines fail, or yeast goes south, when something goes wrong in the brewery, 99.9% of the time, it is from brewer error, and it it is in the process of sugar extraction that most of these mistakes can happen. After the extraction of sugar, the beer nearly brews itself, so these initial steps to successfully and efficiently extract sugar are crucial for consistently tasty beer.
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