Hit a local brewery tour on a sunny Saturday afternoon and you're guaranteed a good time. But if you're unfamiliar with the brewing process, much of the "technical stuff" can go in one ear and out the other. We recently enlisted brewmaster Jamie Fulton of Community Beer Co. as tour guide for a virtual trip around the brewery to show you how beer makes its way from grain to glass.
Let's start in the brewhouse, otherwise known as the "hot side."
Use a mouse or your finger to pan around this 360-degree video. Click the numbers to get a step-by-step video tour from Jamie Fulton.
Grain: Malted barley is largely regarded as the soul of beer because it's the backbone of color and flavor profile. It does, however, need to be milled or cracked open to expose its sugars before use. Milled barley is called "grist" and is stored in what's known as grist hopper. On brew day, a brewer simply opens a valve to introduce the grain to water to start the beermaking process.
Mash tun: This piece of equipment is where the magic begins. Grain is mixed with water to break down specific enzymes that convert its starches into fermentable sugars. How much a brewer decides to break down or "mash" the grain depends on what kind of beer he or she is brewing. Thicker, more full-bodied beers require less breakdown, while lighter brews can be mashed until the enzymes essentially dissipate.
Lauter tun: Fulton calls this the "most complicated vessel in the brewhouse." It takes the first step toward clarifying beer by separating the liquid from the solids, such as barley husks and flowers. Brewers "sparge" the grain during this process, meaning they soak the grains with additional water to extract as much sugar as possible. The end result is a sweet base liquid for beer known as "wort."
Boil kettle: The wort is pumped into a next vessel known as the boil kettle, where brewers turn up the heat to sterilize the liquid. This process takes about an hour, during which brewers add hops to balance the sweetness of the wort. They add hops at different stages of the boil depending on the recipe; for example, an IPA requires hops to be added later in the boil to garner certain bitter and effervescent characteristics.
Whirlpool: Once sterilized, the wort undergoes an additional clarification process known as "whirlpooling," so called because of the tank. Wort spins around the vessel so all remaining solids drift to the bottom. This also removes the little bit of fat in beer. "So beer is a fat-free food," Fulton laughs. Brewers often add additional hops during this process.
Let's move to the fermentation area, otherwise known as the "cold side."
Use your mouse or your finger to pan around this 360-video tour. Click the thumbnail to get a video tour from Jamie Fulton.
Fermentation tanks: These vessels are where wort becomes beer, but that doesn't happen overnight. As the wort is pumped from the whirlpool into fermenters, it passes through a heat exchanger that drastically drops the temperature. Brewers introduce specific yeast strains based on the beer style that then feed on the sugars to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. That's where the booze and carbonation come from. Both the length and temperature of fermentation depend on the beer style. Generally, ales ferment at higher temperatures (68-72 degrees Farenheit) for shorter periods of time, while lagers ferment at cooler temperatures (45-55 degrees Farenheit) for longer.
Accessories: Community Beer Co. uses several other tools in the brewing process. First, is a yeast propagator (above), which uses oxygen to help small yeast cultures grow to the point that they're healthy and large enough to ferment a batch of beer. The propagator injects the yeast as wort is transferred into the fermenter. The second tool is a HopGun (below), which brewers use for dry-hopping. They insert fresh hops into the device, then circulate beer from a fermentation vessel through the gun to impart additional flavor to the beer. Fulton says they also use it to infuse certain recipes with vanilla and coffee.
Brite tank: Once a beer has fermented and matured, it moves to a brite tank where it sits ready for packaging. By this time a beer is done and ready to drink.
Packaging lines: Hope you're thirsty, because it's almost time for a pint. From the brite tank, beer is moved through a network of pumps and hoses to fillers, either for cans, bottles or kegs. (In Community's case, it's all three, depending on the brew.) After that, it's shipped and awaiting customers in bars, bottle shops and grocery stores. Cheers!
Videos by Vernon Bryant/Staff photographer