Craft beers have been made for centuries and the process has not changed much over that time. In fact, the less the process has changed, the better the beer seems to turn out! Learning the exact way new craft breweries operate and exactly how they make each delicious craft brew for us aficionados would take decades. However, we can give you a pretty simple breakdown of the system right here to get you started.
Every craft brew starts in a mill. Grains must be properly milled, resulting in the hull of the grain remaining mostly intact, otherwise, you go from brew to eww in just one bad batch. Not only the milling is important, though. You have to source quality grains for the process to get amazing results and that is exactly what craft breweries do!
Yes, healthy grains really are an important ingredient! As any craft brewing company from Germany to Palm Beach can tell you, the grains can make or break a beer.
After milling, the grains are sent to a mash tun, where they are mixed with super hot water to create a hearty mash. Think along the lines of steel cut oatmeal. Same principle, different results. The temperature of the mash affects the entire result, as it will affect what type of beer is created.
After about an hour, the brewer raises the temperature to a massive 200 degrees, which is a process called mashing out. This sounds like a type of dance right? In a way, it is. As this is the last dance for the grains before they head to the lauter tun.
Here the mash begins the lautering process, during which the wort is drained off and sparge water is slowly added. Brewers are extremely careful during this process in order to preserve the tannin that gives the beer its bite.
After the lautering process is over, the sweet wort is brought to a boil for a duration of about two hours. This process is an absolute necessity for a few key reasons such as:
After the lautering process, the mix is sent to have the hops and any gooey proteins collected and then it is quickly cooled to preserve the flavor, which can turn fast if left hot!
Now the soon-to-be beer is sent to the fermentor! This is likely the step that everyone will recognize, with much thanks given to movies about moonshiners. In the fermentor, yeast is added and this is where the awesomeness of a good brewer really shows. At this point, they must decide whether they want an ale or a lager.
At this stage, they either toss in ale yeast or lager yeast, which act in entirely different ways and require a huge difference in temperature. Ale yeast creates a pillow that nearly looks like lemon meringue, while lager yeast sits at the bottom, chilling out (literally, lager is made at a far lower temperature).
After fermentation comes conditioning, during which the beer sits for up to a week while the yeast sucks up any off flavors that may have resulted during the fermentation. This process is pretty straightforward with the beer just hanging out until the yeast goes dormant and falls to the bottom. It is then collected so that all is left is the beer itself, our favorite part.
Now that the beer itself has been “made”, it needs to be aged. This can be done in a variety of ways, from typical metal cask aging to the delicious spirit barrel aging that is becoming popular again. The type of aging affects the resulting craft brew in different ways. While some brews may mellow out and gain a lower ABV through the aging process, some end up with a higher ABV instead. Each batch is an individual result and often the brewer takes the best of the batches and blends them together to create the final craft brew that goes to packaging.
From here comes the packaging, which is a handy step. Without this step, it would be nigh impossible to carry beer! Though I suppose having to drink it or lose it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we had a driver to take us home from the brewery.
And that, my friends, is how a craft brew is made, from start to finish, in our terms. We hope you get a chance to visit a few craft breweries and take a tour of their facilities to see for yourself how the process develops.