Beer is a pretty simple drink, there are four basic ingredients: water, malted grain (usually barley), hops and yeast.
The water is the blank canvas, onto which we put all of the flavour and alcohol using the malt, hops and yeast. It is drawn from our local source and we monitor pH levels to make sure it is consistent and provides the best possible flavour.
The grain is malted; this is a process by which barley or wheat is induced to germinate and then roasted. There are different levels of roasting which create lighter and darker malts. The malt is then milled to create the grist which is the actual malt ingredient used in the brewing. The malt provides the starchy sugars which eventually turn into alcohol. Different types of malt (depending on the grain used and the extent of the roasting) give our beer its basic flavour. We use a wide range of different malts to create variety in the beer that we brew.
The hops give the beer another layer of flavour, by adding bitterness and aroma. They also have an anti-bacterial quality which acts as a preservative; something that is essential to the natural, unpasteurised beer that we make. As with the malt, we use a range of hops to give our different beers their unique characters.
To brew beer, the first step is to heat the water, which is known as liquor, this is then mixed with the malt in the mash tun. You can see Colin ‘mashing in’ here. The mashing-in creates a porridge-like mixture which stays in the mash tun for an hour or so as the starch from the malt washes out into the liquor. This gives us the sugars that we need for brewing. The liquid that is created at the end of this process is known as the wort.
The wort is run into the copper. The copper is basically a big kettle (ours has two electric elements) which boils the wort. It is at this stage the hops are added. The boil lasts for a couple of hours or so and adds flavour, bitterness and aroma to the wort from the hops. There are usually three ‘hoppings’ during this stage. The earlier ones put in the bitterness, the later ones adding aroma. At the end of this the wort is left to settle before being transferred to the fermenter.
Once in the fermenter yeast is added; this is known as pitching the yeast, which Colin can be seen doing here. The yeast feeds on the sugars creating the alcohol and also the fizz (carbon dioxide). We check the alcohol levels (ABV) throughout the fermentation process and gradually cool the beer to slow and, once the alcohol content is right, almost halt the fermentation process. The cooling is done by pumping chilled water around the ‘jackets’ of the fermenters (which are doubled skinned for this purpose).
The beer spends at least one week maturing in the cold store before it is ready for drinking. It needs this time because we are creating real, live beer which needs to fully develop its flavours and grow to its final strength. A real beer is not something to be rushed.