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Water Cooler: How beer is brewed

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 15, 2021

Foreground to background: The 1603 Kolsch Style Ale, Angel West Coast IPA and Fluffy Puffy Sunshine New England IPA are pictured in the YaYa Brewing Co. taproom in Spokane Valley last December. YaYa Brewing, owned by brothers Chris and Jason Gass, is among the newly opened breweries in the area. Yaya, at 11712 E. Montgomery Drive, will mark its second anniversary in October.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Foreground to background: The 1603 Kolsch Style Ale, Angel West Coast IPA and Fluffy Puffy Sunshine New England IPA are pictured in the YaYa Brewing Co. taproom in Spokane Valley last December. YaYa Brewing, owned by brothers Chris and Jason Gass, is among the newly opened breweries in the area. Yaya, at 11712 E. Montgomery Drive, will mark its second anniversary in October. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

It’s hard to turn a corner in downtown Spokane without running into a brewery.

The world of beer has exploded in popularity with a renewed appreciation for the art of brewing and all the customization it provides.

In order to help you better understand and appreciate your next cool glass of beer, here are the basics of how it is brewed and some of the factors that determine the final product.

In its most basic form, beer is the alcoholic product of fermenting a mixture of water, hops, yeast and malt. This applies to most all beer, whether it was mass produced, made by a microbrewery or brewed at home. Beer is specifically made with a starch-based yeast fermentation, usually using a grain, such as barley which is high in starch. Other grains such as wheat, rye, corn or oats can also be used. The grains chosen will change the flavor and strength of the beer.

The grains are milled in order to break up the kernels to allow for better fermentation. Once milled, the product is called grist.

Grist is then transferred to a mash tun so it can be mixed with heated water. This process is called mash conversion. The mash temperature usually falls between 100 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. The enzymes naturally present in the germinated grain (otherwise known as malt) will break down the starch into sugar.

Next the mash is pumped into the lauter tun in order to separate the grain husks from the liquid. The temperature is raised to around 170 degrees Fahrenheit to stop the enzymatic reactions and preserve the sugar now present in the liquid, also called the wort. The wort becomes clearer as the grain husks and particles are filtered out. The grains are rinsed in a process called sparging in order to eliminate any remaining sugars. The spent grain is often used as feed for livestock.

After the lautering is finished, the wort is transferred to the kettle to be brought to a controlled boil to condense the liquid and stop any remaining enzyme activity. The boil usually lasts an hour to two hours.

Hops, a green, cone-shaped flower, can be added at various stages of the boil in order to achieve various flavors. The variety of hop used will also have an effect on the final flavor and aroma of the beer.

After boiling and hopping is complete, the wort is transferred once more for the wort separation stage in which the malt and hop particles are filtered out and the remaining liquid is cooled before fermentation.

Brewer’s yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. The yeast eats up the sugar in the grains, it releases ethanol and carbon dioxide, transforming the wort into the alcoholic and carbonated beverage we all know and love. The beer is left to mature and allow for the flavors to develop and to create a smooth finish. The maturation of the beer can last around six weeks or longer.

Once matured, the beer is filtered (unless intentionally not filtered to create a “hazy” beer) and additional carbonation is added. The beer is transferred to a “bright tank” which is pressure and temperature controlled. Some beers are aged in a process called cellaring to help mellow and develop flavors.

After all this, the beer is finally ready to be bottled or kegged for consumption.

Rachel Baker can be reached at (509) 459-5583 or rachelb@spokesman.com.

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