We recently took a look at water and how it plays a major part in the brewing of a well made beer. Water’s chemical composition and attributes have a great effect on how the beer is finished. But in order to create beer, we need to utilize grain to create a sugary liquid that will go on to be fermented by yeast.
There is a lot of archaeological evidence showing that both the farming of grain and the production of a beer-type beverage played a tremendous role in seeing humans moving from a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence to a society where agriculture and permanent settlements took shape. Nearly 7000 years ago, people in ancient China were producing fermented beverages. The first written mention of beer coming from ancient Mesopotamia 4000 years ago. The consumption of alcohol has long been part of people’s lives.
In the modern era, brewers predominantly use barley that has been malted. These malted grains are created by Maltsters, people who carefully process the grain getting it ready for beer production. It used to be common for the malting and brewing to happen at one facility, but this practise rarely occurs these days. Other grains like corn, wheat and oats can also be used in brewing. Maltsters begin by soaking the grain, causing it to start germination, once they reach a certain stage in growth, the Maltsters quickly dry the grain that now has a plumped endosperm rich in starch that is crucial for brewing.
Maltsters in different regions have a variety of methods to take a simple grain and turn it into something truly special. After malting, roasting the malted barley at low temperatures further developed the sweet grain and provide the deep red tones that we see in amber lagers and red ales. By roasting the malt at higher temperatures we get deep chocolate and coffee-like flavours you find in stouts and porters.
Brewers go on to carefully crack this malted grain, exposing the plumped endosperm that is full of starch. This cracked grain is then steeped in water that is in the 55 to 70 degree celsius range, this process is called mashing. The hot water activates enzymes that have been dormant in the grain. These enzymes then break down the starch molecules into a variety of sugars, some that yeast can ferment and others that are not fermentable, but leave a pleasant sweetness in the finished beer.
The brewer then goes on to carefully separate the sugary liquid from the solid material left over in the mash, then rinses the remaining grain to extract as much sugar as possible. The rinsing of the grains is called sparging. From here the brewer collects the sweet sugary liquid in their kettle and prepares to boil it. At this stage we get ready for our next ingredient, hops.