How is Beer Made in a Brewery?

A Behind the Scenes Look

BREW-ed’s tours focus on education, and on every tour we take a behind the scenes look at brewing from start to finish. Obviously not everyone can visit Asheville and take a brewery tour, so here’s a breakdown of the process for those who can’t participate. Whether you’re brewing five gallons or five thousand gallons at a time, the steps are more or less the same.

The Process

Milling the Grain- Malted barley is the base of every grain bill and the hulls of the grain must be cracked before it is added to the mash tun.  Typically a roller mill is used.

Mashing- The brewers mix the milled grain with hot water and allow it to sit for nearly an hour at a temperature of ~150F degrees. During this hour, natural enzymes in the barley break down starches in the grain and convert them into simple sugars necessary for fermentation.  Colors and flavors from the grain are also extracted.

Recirculating- At the end of the mash, brewers will draw the liquid through a screen at the bottom of the mash tun and dump it back on top of the grain in the tank.  This recirculating helps compact the grain to the bottom of the tank, creating a natural filter and leading to a clearer beer later.

Lautering and Sparging- These old German words mean “to collect” and “rinse” and it is during this step that sweet wort is collected from the bottom of the mash tun and pumped into the boil kettle.  During this process, more hot water is used to rinse the grain, collecting as much sugar as possible.

Boiling- This part of the process sanitizes the wort and also allows brewers to add hops for bitterness, flavor and aroma.

Chilling- The wort passes through a heat exchanger on its way to a fermentor, chilling it quickly before fermentation.

Fermentation- This is how the wort turns into beer.  Yeast from the saccharomyces genus are added to the fermentor, and the yeast consume the sugars extracted from the barley earlier in the process.  As sugars are consumed, ethanol and CO2 are produced.  The carbon dioxide is typically vented to avoid pressure build up.  At the end of fermentation, the yeast naturally settle to the bottom of the tank.

Carbonation- The fermented beer is moved from the fermentor to a brite tank in many breweries.  Brite tanks are pressurized tanks in which the beer will be artificially carbonated with carbon dioxide from an outside source.  Some breweries will naturally carbonate their beers, allowing extra yeast and extra sugar into the sealed bottle or keg to perform a secondary fermentation. In the sealed vessel the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go and carbonates the beer. From there the beer goes into packaging and off to the consumer.

We do Brewery Tours

Hopefully this takes some of the mystery out of brewing. If you’d like to see the process for yourself, we encourage you to sign up for a Brewery tour