It’s A Process…A Brew Process, That Is.

Water. Check.
Grain. Check.
Hops. Check.
Yeast. Check.

So now what?

Well, like any recipe, once you have the ingredients, it’s time to put them all together. But just as you can’t expect to get a cake by throwing eggs and flour in a bowl and just baking them, you can’t expect to get a beer just by wishful thinking. If only…

While there are many, many details that go into a brew process, we will keep it simple.

The first step in the process is called mashing. The grain essentially hangs out in a jacuzzi for about an hour, which helps it break down and release the fermentable sugars. This creates a strange tea-like mixture known as wort. But don’t let the gross name fool you- this stuff is liquid gold. Well, liquid pre-beer but…you know…basically the same thing, right? The wort is then strained through the bottom of the container, or mash tun, (a process called lautering) and water is poured over the top to flush out any more sugars (called sparging).

Once all the sugars have been pulled out of the grain, the liquid is then drained off and boiled. This is when the hops are added. Other ingredients may also be added at this point, at the brewer’s discretion.  This is when all those wonderfully crazy chemical reactions happen, including sterilization (good-bye icky bacteria!) , hops aromas and flavors released, etc. In the end, we’re left with the brew liquid (now much closer to being beer!) and a solid mound of hops and residues. The liquid is separated (because who wants to drink something with chunks in it?) and cooled down.

Once the brew liquid has been cooled, yeast is added. And…we’re done! Right? Right? All our hard work has paid off and we get to drink now? Well, yes and no. While the “brewing” portion is technically over, we still have to let the yeast do its job. During the process of fermentation , the yeast eats all the sugars it can and turns it into alcohol. Whereas the brewing process only takes a portion of a day, fermentation can take anywhere from a week to over a month!

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It’s Aliiiiiiiiive!

From here, the now-beer is carbonated. This is the process by which the beer is infused with Carbon Dioxide, which adds the body and the bubbles. This can be done by a CO2 tank or the traditional/homebrew method which is done during bottling. Depending on who is brewing and its purpose, the brew is then bottled, canned, or kegged.

While it may seem like a daunting process (and definitely can be), it is certainly a labor of love, one that yields delicious results.

Oh! And can’t forget the final step, my favorite: Drinking!

Cheers.

 

Beauty and the Yeast

“I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality”
– Max Beckman

When most people say there’s magic in the air, they’re referring to a scene in a romantic comedy or the first autumn day. When brewers talk about magic in the air, they’re referring to something much different. Yeast.

As unappetizing as it may sound, yeast is the very essence of beer, and the catalyst to making the product we brew and love today. While yeast has always made the brew process possible, it wasn’t discovered until considerably late in the brew game. Yeast is a living organism but is single-celled and practically invisible, which would certainly explain the late find for this pixie dust.

So what’s the secret to this magic act? Well, behind door #1, you’ll find the brew solution, ready for fermentation. And behind door #2, you’ll find the brew yeast…asleep. Until it’s ready for action, yeast stays in a stasis and, much like most people, when yeast wakes up, it’s hungry. When added to the brew solution, yeast starts to snack on all fermentable sugars and, in turn, releases drinkable alcohol and other byproducts. Once it’s eaten its fill, yeast packs up and goes back into hibernation.

While all yeast used in the brewing process is considered “brewers yeast,” there are still different varieties, or strains. My absolute favorite strain is the wild child of the yeast world: Brettanomyces or, as its lovingly referred to, “Brett.” Brett is a wild yeast strain and it certainly behaves that way. It is pretty well the yeast that ate everything. While it probably won’t score itself a horror movie deal any time soon, it is a very important player to keep in mind. Brett eats everything, which means that it will consume all sugars of any kind in a brew solution. This can lead to a higher alcohol content but, more notably, Brett can also contribute a wide variety of flavors.

The Drink Along: The Ghost In Their Eyes | Anchorage Brewing Company

The Ghost in Their Eyes- Anchorage Brewing

First, I would encourage you to seek out any brew from this company because, let’s face it, they all look SO cool. And while you can’t judge a book (or a brew) by its cover, this one certainly is just as cool as its packaging. This is a Brett IPA, however, the hops bitterness is toned down quite a bit.  You definitely get the citrus-y juiciness that you might expect but then, if you let the taste linger, there’s that…funk. There’s honestly no better way to describe it. It’s strange but in a really good way.

Brett proves that he can pretty much hang with any crowd, although his favorite place is back at the farmhouse.

The Drink- Along: All Funked Up: Fruitus The Farmer Beescake | Against The Grain

All Funked Up Fruitus The Farmer Beescake- Against The Grain.jpg

This is a brew in the brewery’s Wild Series and boy, does it live up to that. This is a melon and honey saison.  Just by looking at it, it looks like you’re staring straight into a jar of honey. This gorgeous color is just the beginning of a seamless drink. The Brett, in this case, adds the funkiness in a different way. It enhances the melon flavor, giving a different tone than most fruit beers would. In addition, it carries its flavor all the way through instead of a big punch at the end. There are even bits of a floral feel, which adds more complexity to this already full docket of a beer.

The best way I could ever think to describe Brett is the quintessential movie version of a “bad boy teenager.” Not only does he eat your beer out of house and home (although, can’t really complain about the results in this case,) but he always leaves a funk behind him wherever he goes. He goes wherever he wants, does whatever he wants, and no one can tell him what to do. Everyone wants to be around him, but no one quite understands him.

That being said, just because he’s the stand out doesn’t mean that the other strains are any less important. They’re just overlooked because they don’t demand attention. They’re the stage crew while you’re too busy watching the actors- They’ve made everything happen behind the scenes so that the production goes smoothly. It’s a thankless job, but someone has to do it. So, here’s to you, yeast.

Cheers.

 

 

How Sweet It Is… (Malt)

“We did not domesticate wheat; wheat domesticated us.”
-Yuval Noah Harari

If water is the life-blood of a brew, grain is the backbone. It provides the necessary raw materials for yeast to turn water into beer. Unlike some of the other essential elements to the brew process, most of the affects of malt are surprisingly easy to detect, even aside from the sweetness they produce. The types of grain used provide color, flavor, even alcohol content (just to name a few.) The determining factor comes down to the grain bill, or the variations and quantities of malt used.

“Malt” (or “malting”) is technically a process, not a grain. It is the way grain becomes suitable for fermentation, through an arduous system of steeping, germinating, and then drying. “Malt”, therefore, refers to grain post-process.

It is also important to note that many types of grain may be used and certainly have a big impact on the outcome. Wheat, for instance, is going to produce a much different type of flavor than a beer brewed with Rye. The most common grain used, however, is Barley due to both availability and functionality.

When creating a grain bill for a recipe, you start with Base Malts. These are pretty well exactly how they sound- a mixture of (usually) different varieties of malt that offer food for the yeast. That is their main priority and they do it well. Sometimes, they offer slight hints of flavors such as honey or bread but, otherwise, tend to keep to their assigned task. The more base malts used, the more “food” for the yeast, and the higher the alcohol content.

Once these have been determined, other varieties of malt are added. These tend to lend more to flavor and aroma than base malts. These varieties can be categorized into Pale/Light Malts, Caramel, and Roasted/Dark Malts. The categories are named for their levels of  “malted” product. The Pale is only lightly roasted while the Dark is deeply roasted and the sugars in Caramel Malts have been caramelized. These create a spectrum of colors and flavors ranging from very light to very dark and very sweet to very toasted, respectively.

Other materials, such a corn, oats, or rice, may be used as well. These are referred to as “adjuncts” and are used primarily to adjust body and head of a beer.

The Drink-Along: Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat

Unfiltered Wheat- Boulevard

As the name suggests, this is a wheat beer. This typically means that this style was brewed with primarily wheat grain. Using wheat instead of barley does impact the finished product. Wheat tends to have higher protein yields which, in turn, makes a longer-lasting, foamier head as well as impacts its mouthfeel (the way the body of the beer feels when you take a drink.) Using wheat also tends to give the beer a slight haze, which adds to the stability of the beer. Many brewers filter this out due to consumer appeal, although some are starting to leave it natural. Usually, a hazy beer is completely suitable to drink and, in this case, will add to the experience and understanding of the beer. This style is malty all the way through, from the sweet aroma to the bread-like flavor.

And if we change the grain bill up just a bit…

The Drink Along: Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan

Southern Pecan- Lazy Magnolia

Southern Pecan is a Brown Ale, which is one of the original styles that brought me to the love of craft beer. In general, a Brown Ale has a much deeper flavor, especially when compared to a Wheat. The grain bill can include a multitude of different malts and has a lot of wiggle room. In general, though, some Amber malts are used, which gives a similar color to its name and some mild roastiness to the flavor. Chocolate malt is also used in varying quantities and, yes, it does provide a chocolate-like taste, although it won’t pass for liquid Godiva without some help. Other dark and roasted malts are added which, as you can imagine, give a roasted or toasted flavor and aroma. Some malts added may even give a Brown Ale a slight nuttiness- especially in this case, where whole pecans are added in and used just like grain.

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, the myriad of possibilities with beer is just about endless. Malt is one of the many examples of how a brewer can quickly turn into a mad scientist. It is quite enjoyable to see how changing just one element of the big picture can alter the end product so drastically- and even more enjoyable to taste it!

So here’s to the one bill no one minds paying.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Down to the Essentials

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
-Albert Einstein

Beer is living, drinkable, attainable art. But, unlike some masterpieces, it isn’t meant to be appreciated for its unattainable mystique. In fact, the more you understand about this particular craft, the more enjoyable it becomes. While there is always something new to learn, it’s pretty easy to cover the basics. We’ll save the details for later. But, for now, I’ll give you my version of beer Cliffsnotes.

The four main ingredients in any beer:

  • Water
  • Grain
  • Bittering agent
  • Yeast

Just like in humans, the majority of beer composition and the beer making process is water. While this seems pretty basic, the kind of water used can dramatically change the outcome of the beer. Think, for example, how tap water can vary from city to city. The chemical and mineral make up, additions or subtractions to the water, even place of origin can make all the difference. In fact, if you brew the same exact recipe using two different water samples, the taste is still going to vary.

Not to be outdone by water, grain also makes itself essential to any recipe. Most of the time, before brewing, this grain must go through a process known as “malting,” which causes it to become fermentable whereas it was not before. For this reason, most brewers refer to the grain part of the recipe as the “malt.” There is a wide variety of different malts (which I will explore in depth at a later time) and, depending on what is used, this changes the flavor, as well as several other characteristics. Rarely is a single type of malt used (there are exceptions) and the collection of malts, referred to as the “grain bill,” gives a beer depth of flavor and complexity.

Using only malt, however, would make the beer unbearably sweet and that is where the bittering agent comes in. Usually this is in the form of hops, although some varieties and most early beers used different sources. Hops are the flowering part of the plant Humulus lupulus and, besides sounding like a spell straight out of Harry Potter, they are responsible for balancing out the sweetness of the malt. They also add their own notes of flavor and aroma, which changes depending on kind(s).

The unsung hero of the brew, however, is yeast. This wonderful concoction we know as beer would not be possible without it. Yeast does the hard work of changing the sugars found in the malt (Yay buzz word!) into that wonderful thing we know as drinkable alcohol. While there are countless forms of yeast, only a couple are suitable to apply to the brew process.

These four elements are all widely accepted as being essential to the beer making process. So much so that, in the 1500s when Germany began to limit what could be used in brewing, these were the only four included. (To be historically accurate, it was only three elements originally but when yeast and its function in beer became better understood, the law was revised to add the fourth.) This was known as the German Purity Law(s) and, while it was not primarily put into place for quality but more for economical purposes, it does illustrate the importance of each component.

Thankfully, now however, there are far fewer limitations on what brewers can add to the process which opens up a world of possibilities. While these four elements are still necessary, there are so many options within each category and brewers are coming up with more every day. Beyond that, even, there is almost no restriction to what can be added. I have tasted beers made with donuts, bacon, even tree bark.

So let your creativity and imagination run wild.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Tapping the Keg

” I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
-John Green

I love craft beer and just about everything  the culture around it entails. But, honestly, it wasn’t always like that. I used to think it was just about the worst tasting thing I could imagine. I grew up in the land of American Lagers and I had never had any exposure to anything else so, naturally, that’s all I thought beer was. I was baffled by how many people considered beer a staple in their lives- and their refrigerators. I would watch people at barbecues and events, sipping their beers and acting as if they actually enjoyed it. I couldn’t figure out the secret- so I didn’t try. I resigned it to the “don’t know, don’t care” category and was fine with it staying that way. When I would explain this to friends that drank beer, they’d all react the same way- with a shrug and a, “It’s just an acquired taste.”

An acquired taste.

I despised that phrase. What did that even mean? That I had to just keep forcing myself to drink something that disgusted me until I convinced my brain and taste buds to become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome? That seemed far from logical. So I’d respond with the same disdainful frown and that’s how the dance went for quite some time.

I know many people who are still doing this same dance. And, I’ll give you: craft beer is not for everyone. But it is for most people. As I found out, it’s not about tricking yourself into something, it’s about figuring out what you authentically like. Thankfully, the world of craft beer is vast enough to provide countless opportunities to explore personal preferences.

For me, my introduction into craft beer was accidental. I stumbled upon hard ciders and found myself savoring the crispness and balanced fruit flavors. I began to even welcome that light carbonated alcohol flavor that had once caused me to snarl my nose up. From there, I’ll admit, it wasn’t too difficult to see the transition into appreciating beer but I was still pretty far from the willingness to try it. I do attribute the rest to surrounding myself with people who understood and had a passion for the craft.

The easiest aspect of the craft beer world to fall in love with is the people. The entire atmosphere is of joyful acceptance. I have met very few people in the craft beer world that have an elitist attitude. As with anything, I promise they exist but you have to look pretty hard in most cases to find them. I could walk into a brewery as someone who didn’t understand/care for beer or as someone who now is passionate about it, and be greeted with the same amount of respect. Most are just so enamored by the craft that all they want to do is share. It’s not about competition or exclusiveness. Quite the opposite, actually.

Hearing craft brew enthusiasts converse about beer really brings to light why it’s considered a “craft.” It’s similar to hearing an artist talk about their masterpiece. There is so much care put into every aspect and so much enthusiasm, it really is infectious. But this is one thing I’m so glad I caught.

I want to share my love for beer with everyone, especially those that find themselves in the shoes I used to be in. The world of  beer can sometimes be so overwhelming that it feels like an ocean that’s about to engulf you. Occasionally, it still feels like that- but, now, it’s in a good way. They say there is “a craft beer for everyone” and I want to help make those love connections. I want to explore and expand every step of the journey to craft beer. I hope to present beers for non-beer drinkers, provide practical knowledge about the craft for those that wish to better understand what they  drink, and review and suggest brews for those that already found -or are in the process of finding- their place in the beer world.

The phrase “acquired taste” doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve come to understand that it refers more to gaining a knowledge and appreciation, rather than a form of passive peer pressure. I hope I can help change the meaning for you, as well.

Cheers.