Homebrewing 101, Part Two

by: BeerAdvocate on 10-11-2000
Beer is made up of four basic ingredients: fermentable sugars (conventionally from malted barley), hops, water and yeast. There are a slew of other additives and adjuncts that you can put in your beer to affect smell, taste, color and/or mouth feel; however, the above four ingredients are essential for making good beer at home.

Malted Barley: A form of raw barley processed in a controlled environment (to let the grain germinate and sprout partially), then dried. The chief purpose of this process is to naturally create sugar and soluble starches, which are needed to brew beer. At this point, it is pale malt – the foundation of any homebrew recipe. The maltster can also dry the malt for longer periods of time at varying temperatures in order to create a full spectrum of specialty malts, i.e. Black Patent malt for Porters or lighter toasted malt for Vienna lagers or a California Common (Anchor Steam). Conveniently, malt extract can be substituted; it comes in either a dry or liquid syrup form.

Hops: A vining plant that annually produces green, cone-like flowers, hops is a cousin of cannabis and has been used exclusively in beer-making for over 200 years. Mainly a bittering agent to help balance the sweetness of the malt, it is also used for flavor and aroma. Hops are a natural preservative, and they also improve the head retention of beer. Used in the kettle and boiled, hops are where beer gets its bitterness.

Water: We know this stuff, right? When in doubt of the quality of your water, we recommend that you boil it first. This will evaporate any chlorine and help eliminate some of the unwanted hardness. You can literally spend a lifetime (and there are those that do) trying to understand the hardness and pH of water. We’ll discuss a few tweaks when we start brewing next issue.

Yeast: Microorganisms that consume the sweet, liquid mix of steeped grains and then excrete alcohol and CO2 as a by-product. There are two basic kinds of beer yeast: lager yeast and ale yeast. The difference: Ale yeast is warm (60°F-75°F) -fermenting, top-cropping yeast – meaning that, when active, it rises to the top of the fermenter and can finish fermenting an average ale in several days. Lager yeast is bottom-fermenting yeast that performs best at cooler (45°F-55°F) temperatures. It requires several weeks of cold conditioning at close to 35°F-40°F.

Beer is divided into two sects, ales and lagers. From these, there are hundreds of styles and sub-styles, some worldwide and some from a specific country or region.

Here are several basic ales:

Pale Ale: From British origins back in the 18th century. They all generally have an assertive bitterness, mild fruitiness and a crisp, malty sweetness to add balance.

Stout: Typically dark brown to pitch black in color, ranging from light, Irish-style, Dry Stouts (Guinness) to the high alcohol and much respected Imperial Stout. A common profile amongst stouts, but not in all cases, is the use of roasted barley, which lends a dry character to the beer.

Porter: Now looked at as more of a stout without the roasted barley profile, this style is the father of Stout and the first engineered beer. Stale, new and varying quality ales were blended to achieve a specific taste.

Hefeweizen: German Wheat beer that is unfiltered, which leaves a cloudy appearance; they are fruity, with aromas and flavors of banana and clove. American versions tend to be cleaner but still as cloudy, and are commonly served with a wedge of lemon.

Bitter: Ordinary, Special and Extra Special Bitters range from 3-6 percent alcohol by volume, are gold to copper in color and are light- to full-bodied. Hop bitterness is moderate for the Ordinary and more assertive for the Special and Extra Special.

And some basic lager styles:

Bock: Strong, malty lagers that can range from 6-9 percent abv, and some are aged for months before bottling. Traditionally brewed in the winter for consumption in the spring.

American lager: Macro beer or Bud-Miller-Coors, though there has been a big resurgence of the pre-Prohibition lager, which is a more flavorful brew using less corn or rice compared to modern-day versions.

Pilsner: Bohemian in origin; they are typically lighter than most lagers with a mellow palate, a spicy hop flavor and very aromatic smell from the use of Saaz hops.

So you’ve begun reading our recommendations from last issue, have a general idea as to the ingredients and might have a particular style in mind. Now it’s time to clear out your closet, kitchen area or anywhere that you can stick a 5 gallon fermenter, because next issue we are going to get down and dirty, talk about the required equipment and begin to discuss brewing your first batch of beer.

Respect Beer.
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