Basic Brews

They say the best thing to cleanse a palate after an extensive wine tasting is a refreshing cold beer. So it goes without saying that at The Cellars we need to keep plenty of beer cold it the fridge for those long gruelling wine tastings. Given that the range of beers at The Cellars is currently expanding, we thought we’d do a basic run-down on brewin’ an ale (or lager, your choice really)…

Beer is traditionally made from malted grains (typically barley), water, hops, and yeast. Some beer styles call for wheat to be mixed with the barley. Some breweries even use corn and/or rice mixed with barley in an attempt to reduce costs.

The malted barley is steeped (soaked) in very hot water for up to several hours, very much like a cup of tea. This liquid is called the sweet wort. The steeping of the malted barley converts the starches present into fermentable sugars, thus the sweetness. The wort is then rinsed from the grains and put into the boiling kettle. The wort is boiled for anywhere from 1 hour to several hours. During the boil, hops are added imparting bitterness to balance the sweetness of the wort. Near the end of the boil, more hops can be added. These hops are added to create the nose or flowery aroma in the beer.

The wort is then drained away from the hops and is chilled very quickly and placed into a fermentation tank. Yeast is then pitched into the wort. There are two basic styles of yeast:

1) Bottom fermenting yeast – producing Lagers – that is, cooler ferment at the bottom of the vessel resulting in crisper, cleaner beers

2) Top fermenting yeast – producing Ales – that is, warmer ferment at the top of the vessel resulting in richer, fuller beers

The yeast begins to convert the sugars into alcohol immediately (usually within the hour). After this conversion, some styles of beer call for more hops to be added to impart more hop aroma to the beer. This is called dry hopping.

After proper aging in the fermentation tanks, the liquid can be primed for bottling or kegging. For brewing the beer is primed by adding more fermentable sugar that will produce the carbonation evident in the beer. Commercially brewed beers are force carbonated by injecting carbon dioxide into the beer under pressure.

Most beers should be enjoyed within three months of bottling, lest they begin to lose their flavour and freshness. However, some beers require extensive aging to develop complexity (eg Coopers Vintage Ale and home-brews). Still others are ready to drink immediately but can further improve with age (eg Chimay Grande Reserve/Blue Label)