Friday, August 17, 2012

Guest Post: Learning to Make Beer!

While I'm cruising around the Baltic Sea, Alisha is here to tell you about one of my favorite SOS projects to date: making beer! Alisha is a certified master brewer--pretty cool, huh? She's been gracious enough to share her talents with us. We only have a couple more weeks before we can drink the beer. I can't wait!! 

I helped my wonderful SOS friends learn how to make beer! They were a huge help, learned quickly and make brew day a lot more fun. Our beer, a Scottish Style Ale, turned out great!  Here's a photo explanation of the process:

First, we ground malted barley:

Working hard and still smiling!

Next, we mixed the ground malt with hot water.  Enzyme from the malt are activated at certain temperatures (in this case, we aimed for 155-160 ℉) which then break down the starches in the malt into short chain sugars (glucose and maltose, primarily). These sugars are what the yeast will eat later to produce carbon dioxide and, most importantly, alcohol! 

Right on target

We then let the mixture of grain and hot water, called the mash, sit for about an hour, to allow for sufficient starch conversion.  After an hour, we drain the hot sugary liquid, called wort (pronounced like "wert") out of the grains.

Mmmmm, sweet, sweet wort
Draining the wort: lautering
It's hard not to be excited when making beer

Now it's time to boil. This is when you add hops to the wort. Boiling the hops isomerizes the bittering compounds in the hop resin, called alpha acids, which makes them soluble in liquid. Boiling also sterilizes the wort, adds color, concentrates the solution and kills the rest of the enzymes so they can no longer convert any more sugars. It essentially sets your sugar profile for good.  

After the boil, we cooled off the wort as quickly as possible using a crude, but effective, heat exchanger made from copper tubing and a hose. We wanted the wort to be between 70-80℉; a good temperature in which to pitch the yeast. Before we added the yeast, we took a sample of the wort to measure it's specific gravity with a hydrometer, which tells us the amount of dissolved sugars, among other things, contained in the liquid.  This helps us tell the wort's alcohol potential. 

After pitching the yeast, we shook the fermenter to add oxygen to the wort. Oxygen is necessary for yeast health and growth. And we want those little buggers as healthy as possible so they'll ferment well. There is a great saying: "Brewers make wort; yeast makes beer.

Now all we had to do is sit back and wait for the yeast to do it's job. One week after the brew day, I moved the now beer to a different container to further condition, and another 2-3 weeks later, the SOS folks helped me bottle our delicious Scottish ale.  

A success, I'd say and I look forward to brewing another batch with everyone! 

Wow, who knew there was so much science in beer making? Good thing we had a master brewer to show us the ropes. Thanks for stopping by Alisha. I can't wait to drink our Scottish Ale!


  1. It was so much fun! :) Can't wait to try it .

  2. I am also stoked about trying the beer, and I am really happy to have the process explained in writing. I mostly held the strainer and tried to look busy. That said, I would be game to help with the next batch... not that Alisha has any shortage of volunteer assistants.