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Hops spring eternal!

I was born and grew up in Bavaria, so beer has always been omnipresent in my life. Whether at a village festival or a country fair, in a beergarden or a pub, on a night out or at a veal-sausage breakfast – in Bavaria, beer is ubiquitous and universally celebrated. At all times of day and in all seasons of the year.

And that’s precisely where the origins of my problem lie: beer has always been around, and as is sometimes the case, you tend to take the obvious things for granted.

Although I grew up in a family of brewers, which meant I acquired a certain basic knowledge of brewing, as far as the details of the actual process were concerned my exiguous expertise was quickly exhausted. But that’s all over now! After all, I ’ve got enough experts close at hand to consult. And that’s precisely why I’ve decided to declare war on my ignorance of brewing! The result? Veni, vidi, vici!

Ok, that’s perhaps a bit exaggerated. But at least I now have some superficial knowledge of how brewing works. And so that you, too, can show off your nerdy knowledge at the next opportunity, I’m sharing my mental achievement with you!

Below: brewing explained for complete beginners!

At the beginning of the brewing process, the malt is ground in a grist mill. The malt grist thus obtained is mixed with water in the mash tun to form what is called the mash, and then heated up. Why is this? The natural enzymes of the malt grains convert the water-insoluble starch of the cereal into soluble malt sugar (known as maltose). During this phase of the brewing process, the substances in the malt that are important for brewing are transferred into the solution.

Enter the lauter tun, where the solid constituents of the mash are separated from the liquid. Brewers refer to them as spent grains (these primarily comprise the husks of the cereal grains) and the wort. The wort contains all the soluble substances of the malt grain. It now flows out of the lauter tun, and with its valuable constituents is passed to the wort copper. The spent-grains by-product is not thrown away, however, but is used as natural animal feed, for example.

The next step now is to add hops to the liquid wort, and boil it for about an hour. This is done in the wort copper. The more hops the brewer adds, the tangier the beer will taste later on. The hops used will be aroma or bitter hops, depending on the type of beer involved.

In the whirlpool (yes, that’s actually what it’s called), the remaining turbid matter is then removed from the solution. In the wort cooler, the wort is then cooled down before the yeast is added. Fermentation now begins.

In the fermentation tank, the yeast then comes into play: it converts the malt sugar, which has previously been dissolved in the wort, into carbon dioxide and alcohol. It’s important in this context which yeast is used. Depending on whether it’s top- or bottom-fermenting yeast, you will get top- or bottom-fermented beer. But explaining this topic in more detail would offer sufficient content for a separate article!

Once the yeast has played its part, it is removed. And hey presto: the “green beer” is ready! Before being filled, however, the beer is allowed to rest for a bit! Depending on the type of beer involved, this “bit” can take up to three months.

There are three reasons why the beer has to rest:

  1. 1. The beer’s taste is rounded off. The residual sugar remaining is broken down almost in its entirety, and unwanted aromatics are expelled.
  2. 2. The carbon dioxide is bonded, and gives the green beer its effervescence.
  3. 3. The remaining yeast and the protein flakes settle to the bottom and the beer becomes clear.

After its rest, the beer is once again vigorously “shaken up”. The subsequent filtration serves, for clear beers, to remove the final remaining suspended yeast and other turbid matter.

Last but not least, the beer is filled in bottles, kegs or cans!

As you can see, the whole thing isn’t really all that complicated! Broken down to its essentials, a brewing process of this kind is unexpectedly easy, and can be understood without a vast amount of background knowledge. So never lose your curiosity about the whole wide world, and ask about the things that interest you, even if at first you think “Oh, that’s much too complicated for me”! After all, hops spring eternal in the human throat 😉

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