I Love the Smell of Wort in the Morning

Craft Beer


Let’s talk craft beer.

We assume that if you’re too particular to drink the sex-in-a-canoe brew that Big Beer has flooded the market with, you’re a thoughtful beer drinker more interested in taste than tipsy. Given the palates of most Americans, that puts you in the ranks of the fortunate few. Let’s face it: you’re a beer snob. But at least you’re not a wine snob. What is it with hipsters and spoiled grape juice, anyway?

Snob or not, we figured you might be interested in the process of how brewers make these beers. There are some intricacies involved with some of them that complicate the issue, so we’ll just do a high-level overview.

As you probably know, it all starts with malt. But do you even know what malt is? (If you were wondering: it is, in fact, the same ingredient that turns your shake into the semi-frozen confection affectionally called the “malt,” short for “malted milk.” It’s also used in Whoppers candy and other malted milk balls). Malt is a grain, usually barley but sometimes wheat, that the brewer has allowed to sprout. Ideally, it should sprout until the new plant is twice the length of the barleycorn.

At that point, the grain is roasted and ground. As with coffee, the darker the roast, the darker the beer. The brewer boils and mashes the malt in water to produce the wort (pronounced “wert”) that eventually becomes beer. In the old days, the different types of beer were distinctive because of the quality of the local water. This is less of an issue now that we can easily filter or distill the water.

Speaking of distilling, some heathens add yeast to the mash, let it ferment, and then distill it to produce various types of whiskey. But true connoisseurs boil the wort with hops, introducing a bitterness that offsets its natural sweetness. (Beer without hops is ale, though even brewers rarely use that term accurately.)The boiling process requires at least an hour for the hops and malt to chemically react enough to produce fine beer. After the wort cools to room temperature, the brewer adds sugar to give it an extra alcoholic boost as it ferments. Then it’s put into a fermenting container along with a bit of yeast. Fermenters include a one-way airlock that lets most of the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast escape. When the bubbling stops, the beer is ready for bottling and aging(at least a week) before drinking. The carbonation comes from residual fermentation after a little more sugar is added.

One final note: wort ferments because all those yeast beasts multiply like mad and eat the starchy molecules of the malt and the sugar, converting it into CO2 and the longer-chain hydrocarbons we call “alcohol.” The more fuel for the yeast, the longer fermentation lasts, and the stronger the final product. When the fuel is gone, the yeast spores up and falls to the bottom of the container, clarifying the beer.

Just wanted to make it clear that that the ambrosia we all love basically consists of yeast poop and farts.

I’m sure you’ll agree, though, when we say, “Ehhhh, so what?”

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