March 23rd, 2010
The First Sip: The Technicality Behind Drinkability
The First Sip is a virtual beer flight written by Brian Royo, the brewer out at No Label Brewing Company. He will select a beer style, pick a few craft or micro brews that he’s been sampling, and discuss what he likes about them. For the beer connoisseurs, it’ll be a unique chance to hear a local brewer’s thoughts on what makes these beers great. For the novices and aspiring beer knurds, he’ll walk you through what you should be looking for in a good beer and offer some suggestions on quality suds for you palette.
Now that we have a couple of articles under our belt, I thought that we could take this opportunity to get a little more technical with the beer we taste. In order to do this, we will talk about what exactly beer is and the ingredients that make beer. Then, we will get into the process of brewing beer. Finally we will cap it off with an evaluation of a beer (always end on a high note).
Beer is basically fermented malt sugars with hops added for flavoring, aroma and as a natural preservative. What is in beer? First, let me preface that many books have been written about each of the ingredients in beer. It will be impossible to discuss every aspect of each ingredient in one article. Back to what is in beer, to myself and other craft brewers a beer consist of 4 ingredients: Water, malt, hops and yeast. Depending on the beer, other ingredients such as coriander, orange peel, fruits and spices can be added.
Water is water right? Wrong. Beer consists of over 90% water, so it makes sense that the profile of the water will have a significant outcome on the flavor of the beer. The water profile as well as the acidity (pH) of the water can produce many different flavors and accentuate malt or hops in a beer. Also, the water profile will traditionally determine the style of beer you will brew. For example, hard water will typically be used for strong, hopped ales. Soft water will typically be used for low hopped pilsners. Back in the days, a style of beer was named from the region it came from, hence the name Pilsner, which came from the town of Pilsen, Czech Republic. For the typical home brewer though, filtered water out of the faucet works just fine for most beers.
Malt, or malted barley, is the backbone of a beer. This gives the beer its base flavor and color. To make beer, you need sugars (or maltose) for the yeast to ferment. The barley provides these sugars. But, before you can extract these sugars from the barley, the barley must be malted. What is malting you ask? Malting is when the barley is allowed to germinate and then is quickly heated to stop the germination process. And what is germination? Remember back in elementary school when you put a bean seed in a wet paper towel, stuck it in a bag, and then watched it grow. When that seed began to split and something started coming out if it, that process is germination. The germination exposes the accessible starches (sugars) so that a brewer can easily and effectively extract them. After the malted barley is heated to stop the germination process, it is then either ready to use or can be roasted. The roasting will provide darker malts which will intern provide darker beers and beers with more toasty or roasted flavors.
Hops are flowers that have essential oils that add bitterness and aroma to beers. This bitterness helps balance the sweetness of the malt. Hops also act as a natural preservative. There are many species of hops. Some hops provide more bitterness while others will provide more aroma. The amount of bitterness from the hops depends upon the species used and how long it is boiled. Hops can either be added to the beer during the boil or during fermentation, which is called “dry hopping.” Dry hopping can be used to provide that distinct hoppy aroma to the beer. You will find these in IPA’s, Pale Ales, and ESB’s
Yeast is a fungi that “eats” sugars and produces CO2 gas and alcohol as a byproduct. There are basically two different types of yeast when it comes to beer. Ale yeast and Lager yeast. Ale yeast are “top” fermenters and ferment at warmer temperatures, between 64-72F. Lager yeast are “bottom” fermenters and ferment at cooler temperatures (55-38F). Within each of these two types of yeast are hundreds of different strains which will add different flavors. Some of these flavors include: Phenols, which give off spicy, clove like flavors, can also give a medicine like flavor; Esters, which give a fruity, banana taste and Diacetyls, which give a buttery or caramel like flavors.
Now that we have discussed the ingredients, let’s talk about the process of brewing beer. There are many different ways to brew beer and no one way is correct or incorrect; it’s all a matter preference for the brewer and the type of beer that is being brewed. The concept is basically the same for each.
There are four main components to the brewing process: hot liqour tank, mash/lauter tun, Boiling Pot, and fermenter. Grains (malted barley) are mixed with hot water in the mash tun. The amount of grains depends on the style of beer and the specific gravity of that style. In general, the higher the specific gravity, the higher the alcohol. The grains soak in the hot water for roughly an hour. During this step, the heat from the water converts the starches to sugars. After an hour, this sugary water, known as wort, is transferred to the boiling pot. The grains that remain in the mash tun are rinsed with some more hot water to help extract the remaining sugars that may have been left behind.
Once all the wort has been collected, it is then boiled. The wort is boiled for about an hour. During the boil, hops are added. The amount of hops depends on the style of beer. This is given in international bitterness units (IBU’s). Generally speaking, the higher the IBU’s the more bitter the beer will be. This does not always hold true. Sometimes the IBU’s will be high but the specific gravity will be high as well. Earlier we talked about how the hops balance the sweetness of the beer. Higher Specific gravity beers will be sweeter beers, in general. So, you can have a beer with high IBU’s and high specific gravity but the beer will not taste as bitter as that of a beer with a high IBU and low specific gravity. Again, that’s generally speaking.
After the wort has been boiled and hops are added, the mixture is chilled as quickly as possible and transferred to the fermenter. Chilling is usually done with a heat exchanger. The wort is chilled so that the yeast, which would die if it were put into the boiling mixture, can be added to it. Earlier, we discussed that Ale yeast will ferment warmer than Lager yeast. Because of this, the wort only needs need to be chilled to that of the desired temperature of the yeast to be added. If it were an Ale yeast, it would be around 68F. Once the yeast is pitched (added to the wort), the fermenter is sealed with an air lock or blow off tube. Remember earlier, yeast will produce CO2 gas, this gas has to escape without introducing any outside air. If you were to completely seal the fermenter, you would have a sugary bomb on your hands. That’s no fun and your wife will not appreciate it!
The style of beer determines how long the wort will ferment. It could be 1 week to a few months. Once the fermentation is complete, the beer is chilled and can be filtered to remove any yeast particles. This will clarify the beer. Many craft brewer will only chill their beer to clarify it. Others will use a porous filter to remove the big yeast particles. The mass produced beers are filtered so much that they strip all the flavoring from the beer. Drinkability? Yeah, your drinking alcoholic water. Anyway, the beer is clarified and CO2 is added to give it the fizz and the cute little bubbles.
That’s basically it for the brewing process.
Now that all the learning is over, lets enjoy a St. Arnolds Spring Bock and dissect it a little bit.
From the St. Arnolds website, the spring bock has the following specifications:
Original Gravity: 1.064
Bitterness: 24 IBU
By Weight: 5.1%
By Volume: 6.4%
Here is what was written about the Spring Bock in the first article:
“What first caught my attention after I poured my first glass was the clarity. St. Arnolds Spring Bock was a fantastically clear amber color, very pleasing. The aroma was sweet, malty with noticeable hops. First sip…sweet, malty, little more of a bite than the others I tried, seemed to have more hops but very refreshing. This beer had a medium body with a definite alcohol feel. I thoroughly enjoyed this Bock; it was well balanced between the malt, sweetness and bitterness. “
Transpose that to the specifications. The specific gravity is average to slightly above average which would explain why it is a little sweet and malty. The IBU’s is about average maybe a little above which would explain the slight bitterness compared to the gravity. Color is…well the color…its copper. Alcohol content is 5.1%, definitely higher than that of mass produced beer but not too high. This is a good beer!
Well, that’s it for this week. We will have a tasting at Frontier Fiesta this coming Saturday. The beer to be tested? Barley Wines! Email me at email@example.com if you would like to attend.
Support your local brewery!
- Brian Royo
No Label Brewing Co.