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Previously dominated by corporate big hitters like Heineken and Budweiser, the UK’s beer scene has been revitalised in the last few years by the emergence of craft beer. With the Campaign for Real Ale listing 1,285 operating breweries within the UK, the largest number since the 1940s, it seems the British public has a real appetite for independent, high quality beers, and there’s never been a better time to get involved in the industry.
But if you’ve ever considered starting up your own brewery, you might have felt a bit daunted by brewing, which seems like a pretty long and complex process, with many different factors to consider. Well, in honour of Oktoberfest, we’ve broken down the process into a step by step guide.
The whole process starts off with grains – normally barley, but some breweries prefer to use wheat or rye. Before anything else you need to ensure the grains are ready to be brewed, which means milling, or breaking them up. The grains are heated, dried and cracked. This process brings out the enzymes within the barley, which are vital for the next stage of brewing.
Once the grains have been milled, they’re transferred to a container called a mash tun, where hot (but not boiling) water is added and they’re left to steep – a bit like making a cup of tea. The heat from the water activates the enzymes, which convert the starch that’s naturally present in the grains into sugar.
The brewer then separates the used-up grain husks from the sweetened liquid that’s been produced during the mashing process. This liquid is called wort and it’s the raw ingredient that will become beer, similar to dough before it becomes bread.
The next step is to boil the wort over an extended period of an hour or two. There are two main reasons for this. First of all, to ensure your beer is properly sterilised. Secondly, this is the point where hops are introduced. These flowering vines are used to provide a bitter taste which counteracts the sweetness of the wort, and also give the beer its unique flavour and aroma.
After boiling, the wort is cooled and strained of any remaining particles to leave a pure liquid that’s ready to be fermented. After moving it to a fermenting vessel, the brewer then adds yeast to the liquid. Here’s where the chemical reaction happens that transforms the wort into beer. The yeast absorbs the sugar that was created during the mashing process, and turns it into a combination of alcohol and carbon dioxide. Depending on the type of beer you’re making, this process can last any time from a few days for ale, to over a month for lager. The temperature that the liquid is maintained at will vary depending on what kind of beer you’re going for.
6. Filtering and Packing
Once the beer has fully matured, it’s filtered to remove any remaining yeast. Now it’s time to package the beer, typically in bottles, cans and kegs. At this point however it’s still lacking that carbonated fizz, so some brewers will artificially carbonate it by adding CO2 to the mix, while others will leave it to naturally carbonate within the bottle.
These are the simple steps to brewing your own beer, but it takes years of experience to master the art.