Brew School: Learning by Doing

Posted on January 6th, 2011

Despite everything I’ve been learning at the brewery I constantly want to know more. Fortunately, the brewery I work in consists of three people: the head brewer, an assistant brewer and myself. This small crew provides me with many opportunities to not only flood my mind with beer knowledge, but also get my hands into many of the daily brewing operations.

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Brew School: Brewing with Wet Hops

Posted on October 24th, 2010

Recently we brewed our second wet hop beer of the year with about 50-pounds of Cascades from the Yakima Valley. Our head brewer had the day off so I was brought in the brewery to assist with the brew day. I decided that within 6-months I want to be able to run a brewday completely solo so I decided to take the opportunity to sketch out some diagrams and take detailed notes to help me remember some of the more minute details of the process. Since there were only two of us working that day, I didn’t have to surrender my services to deliveries. This meant not only that I could focus all of my energy on brewing—loading and unloading kegs around NYC gets very physically draining—and even had some spare time to take a few photos.

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Brew School: Learn To Love The Wet Hops

Posted on September 22nd, 2010

More and more I find myself enamored with the smell of hops. Now, I’m no hophead, but there is something about dumping Amarillo pellets into the brew kettle or manning the hop back that really gets to me. Although I may go for a malty porter more often than a sharp IPA, the utilization of hops while brewing has really got my mind—and palate—intrigued.

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How Beer is Made

Posted on July 6th, 2009

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Beer is made from four basic ingredients: Barley, water, hops and yeast. The basic idea is to extract the sugars from grains (usually barley) so that the yeast can turn it into alcohol and CO2, creating beer.

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The brewing process starts with grains, usually barley (although sometimes wheat, rye or other such things.) The grains are harvested and processed through a process of heating, drying out and cracking. The main goal of malting is to isolate the enzymes needed for brewing so that it’s ready for the next step.

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The grains then go through a process known as mashing, in which they are steeped in hot, but not boiling, water for about an hour, sort of like making tea. This activates enzymes in the grains that cause it to break down and release its sugars. Once this is all done you drain the water from the mash which is now full of sugar from the grains. This sticky, sweet liquid is called wort. It’s basically unmade beer, sort of like how dough is unmade bread.

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The wort is boiled for about an hour while hops and other spices are added several times.
What are hops? Hops are the small, green cone-like fruit of a vine plant. They provide bitterness to balance out all the sugar in the wort and provide flavor. They also act as a natural preservative, which is what they were first used for. (For more info on hops take a look at our article on the subject.)

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Once the hour long boil is over the wort is cooled, strained and filtered. It’s then put in a fermenting vessel and yeast is added to it. At this point the brewing is complete and the fermentation begins. The beer is stored for a couple of weeks at room temperature (in the case of ales) or many many weeks at cold temperatures (in the case of lagers) while the yeast works its fermentation magic. Basically the yeast eats up all that sugar in the wort and spits out CO2 and alcohol as waste products. (For more info on the difference between ales and lagers check our article here.)

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You’ve now got alcoholic beer, however it is still flat and uncarbonated. The flat beer is bottled, at which time it is either artificially carbonated like a soda, or if it’s going to be ‘bottle conditioned’ it’s allowed to naturally carbonate via the CO2 the yeast produces. After allowing it to age for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months you drink the beer, and it’s delicious!

All drinks have ‘drinkability.’ Shut up, Bud Light.

Posted on July 2nd, 2009

Bud Light & Drinkability

Budweiser has recently launched a major ad campaign centered around Bud Light’s unique ability to be placed in your mouth and swallowed, or as they refer to it, “drinkability.”

This is apparently something that sets Bud Light apart from other drinks. Really Budweiser? Let’s take a look at one of those ads.

I have to agree with Budweiser on a few points. Something is generally easier to drink when it’s not being sprayed at you from a hose at full blast, or not hot sauce, or not hail (which as a solid and not a liquid is in fact impossible to drink.) Last time I checked however none of the other light beers out there were any of these things, they were in fact beer, and generally served in glasses. So unless there’s some brewing company I don’t know about making a hail and Tabasco flavored beer that’s sprayed at you from a hose, I’m not sure if Budweiser is really making much of a claim for Bud Light.