The Art of Making Beer

The art of making beer is one of the most ancient endeavors of man. Any beer is made up of four ingredients: water, barley, hops and yeast.

The often overlooked ingredient, water is extremely important in the crafting of beer. Austin water is moderately hard, which is advantageous for brewing diverse styles of beer. The calcium, sodium, and other salts help the enzymes from the malting process convert starches to sugar, and help improve utilization of hop oils.

Barley provides sugars that yeast will convert into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The standard barley used in making beer is pale malt, other types of barley are also used in the brewing process; we often refer to them as specialty grains.

Hops provide at least three benefits to beer; bitterness (flavor), aroma, and to a lesser extent, preservative qualities. Hops are used to impart a bitter flavor to the beer, which counteracts or balances the sweetness of the malted barley. The result is a well balanced product. Some beers have fewer hops, like our Yellow Armadillo Wheat, leaving the crisp, tangy character of the wheat malt to dominate. Other beers have more hops, such as our Bucket Head India Pale Ale. We want these beers to have the dominant bitterness and aroma of the hops to stand out.

Yeast is the magic ingredient of beer. It is what actually “makes” beer. A single celled organism from the fungus family, yeast eats at the sugars that were derived from the malt, and breaks them down into carbon dioxide and alcohol. This natural process is called fermentation and it is how all alcoholic liquor starts. There are hundreds of different brewer’s yeasts, but they can be divided into two main classes: ale yeast and lager yeast.

Ale Yeasts
Top Fermenting
Higher Fermentation temp.
Fruitier and more complex taste
About 1 week to ferment

Lager Yeasts
Bottom Fermenting
Lower Fermentation temp.
Crisper or more neutral flavor
About 3 weeks to ferment

The Brewing Process
A brew starts in the grain room where the malted barley is weighed to roughly 2000 pounds per batch. The malt is run through the malt mill, which crushes the grain. This exposes the internal starch (the white part on the inside of the barley kernel) and partially removes the husk. The crushed grain is then transferred by the grain elevator to the grain hopper above the mash tun. As the crushed grain falls out of the hopper and 300 to 350 gallons of hot water is added, the two combine to form mash, which has the consistency of oatmeal. The mash is held at the same temperature (150 °F) for 90 minutes. During this time, alpha and beta amylases (naturally occurring enzymes in the grain from the malting process) are activated and the starches are broken down into simple sugars. Starches are simply series of sugars chained together.

The enzymes just break these chains down. After an hour, the resulting sugar water, called sweet wort, is drained off the bottom of the mash tun and sent to the brew kettle. At the same time, another 700 gallons of hot water is sprayed on top of the grain in the mash tun. This removes the final sugars from the barley and combines in the brew kettle to make 1000 gallons of sweet wort, which is then brought to a boil. During this 90 minute boil, hops are added to supply the final product with bitterness and aroma. At the end of this boil, a whirlpool is created in the brew kettle, causing the spent hops and coagulated proteins from the malt to settle in the center. The wort, now called bitter wort due to the addition of hops, is then pumped through a plate heat exchanger to drop its temperature from 212 °F to 70 °F as it travels

to the fermentation tank. The yeast is now pitched, or added, to the fermentation tank. The dormant yeast begins to reproduce and feed off the sugars. The natural by-products are alcohol and carbon dioxide. After fermentation, the beer is cooled, filtered and transferred to a bright beer tank to await packaging. A small amount of carbonation is added here to bring the beer up to the levels of carbonation required for that style of beer. After carbonation, the beer can then be sent to the kegging or bottling machine. All told, the brewing process takes around 9 hours, followed by a 7 or 10 day fermentation period for ales. It takes about three times as long to produce a lager as it does ale. Therefore, to capitalize on production ability, Thirsty Planet’s original beers will all be ales, with an occasional specialty beer being the exception.