Beer, in the most general sense, is a mildly alcoholic beverage made from a fermented liquid extract of grains. Unlike winemaking, which is keyed to an annual harvest cycle, brewing is largely an “anytime” process, in which a given type of beer can be made by recipe, when and where the brewer wants. All beers are produced by more or less the same process, but minor differences along the way make all the difference in flavor, aroma, color, strength, and other attributes of individual beers and styles.
The basic ingredients of beer are water (up to 95 percent of the finished product), barley (and sometimes other grains), hops, and yeast, all of which are readily available to West Coast brewers. Most of the West was settled near sources of water, particularly the soft, neutral runoff from rain and snow that falls on the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and other West Coast mountains. A lot of the barley used here is locally grown, although some brewers prefer the flavors of imported grain.
The first step in making beer, malting, usually takes place in a separate facility from the brewery. While it is possible to make beer from unmalted grains, malting converts barley to a form in which much more of the carbohydrates are available for fermentation. Roasting the malt stops the germinating process, which would otherwise turn the grains into green sprouts, and dries the malted grains so they can be stored without spoiling. Equally important, the degree of roast determines the color and flavor of the malt, from pale golden to almost black.
In the first step in the brewery, mashing, crushed malt grains are combined with warm water in a large vessel called the mash tun. In a few hours, the water dissolves the maltose, as well as small amounts of protein and other carbohydrates. The choice and combination of malts, from pale golden through various shades of brown to nearly black, determines the color and flavor of the resulting liquid, called wort, and whether the final beer will be a delicate, pale golden lager, a thick, blackish stout, or anything in between.
After filtering, the wort goes into a brew kettle for the actual brewing, in which the wort is boiled with hops to destroy any remaining enzymes or spoilage organisms and to extract the flavor of the hops. Brewers can select among dozens of varieties of hops, some with more bittering power, others especially aromatic. Because much of the aroma of the hops is lost in boiling, brewers sometimes add more hops at the end of the brewing stage.
From the brew kettle, the wort is strained again and rapidly cooled (sometimes using an intercoolerthat warms the next batch of wort) to the proper temperature for fermentation. The brewer introduces a carefully cultivated strain of yeast, a single-celled fungus which grows rapidly in the wort, feeding on the sugar and converting it to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. Here again, the brewer has choices to make: for ales, to ferment at warm cellar temperature with "top-fermenting" yeasts (so called because they form a thick, foamy mat on the surface of the liquid), or for lagers, to ferment at colder temperatures with a different variety of yeast that remains suspended throughout the wort and is known as "bottom-fermenting."
Over the next few days (up to two weeks in the case of lagers), the yeast cells consume the sugar, then gradually die off for lack of food and settle to the bottom of the vessel. At this point the beer is transferred to another container for a resting or conditioning period. Ales are gener- ally ready for consumption after just a few days, while lagers (which take their name from a German word meaning to store) are held for at least two weeks at near-freezing before being packaged. After a final filtering (omitted in some cases, such as hefeweizens and "cask-conditioned" ales), the beer is put into bottles or kegs for sale. With a few exceptions, beer is at its best as soon after packaging as possible, and should be enjoyed within weeks or at most a few months.
• From the Beer Belt (includes recipes)
• Pizza and Beyond (recipes)
• From the Spice Bazaar (recipes)
• Malt and Hops, Meet Ginger and Soy (recipes)
• From the Home of the Chile Pepper (recipes)
• Beer in the Melting Pot (recipes)
The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook
From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.