From hops to beer: how it’s done

By JODI WILSON/Montana State News

Montanan’s love their beer, especially locally brewed India Pale Ales (IPAs).  Todd Scott, Owner of Bozeman Brewing  Co., said that his overall favorite part about brewing beer is, “Consuming it, of course.”

But what goes into the process of making these Montana-inspired drinks?  And how long can it take for a grain to be turned into a deliciously chilled brew?

“The entire process can take three weeks to three months from grain to glass depending on the beer type,” said Scott.

“The main ingredients in beer are water, barley, hops and yeast.  These four ingredients are really all you need to make a good beer,” said Sean Topin, brew master at Lewis and Clark Brewing in Helena.

The first process is to crack the grains open, followed by hydrating and heating them in water to 147-156 degrees Fahrenheit. This can take as little as 45 minutes up to two hours.  While the grains are being hydrated, the heat of the water is converting the grain starch into sugar.

“The next step that I use is called vor lofting, which basically means there’s a false bottom in the kettle,” said Topin. “This process separates the liquids by pulling them from the bottom and putting it back on top.”

Another process called wort is used for some of the beers at the Lewis and Clark Brewery.  Wort is basically the liquid that is extracted and recirculated during the process of the brewing of beer. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the yeast to create alcohol.  The almost-beer, starts off murky during this process, and depending on how many times worting is done, the beer will reach its desired clarity.

The next step is to put the grain into a grain bed with hot water, temperature depends on desired style.  Once the grain reaches a certain level, the grain bed is dried out.  This prepares the grain for its long process ahead and its transformation from seed to beer.This part of the brewing process can take up to 90 minutes.

“We use 65 percent to 95 percent of locally grown grain barley, depending on style of course,” said Topin. Bozeman Brewing Company receives its malts from vendors in Montana, jumping the first step of drying out the grain.

Bitter addition is the second step to developing a fine IPA. Bittering additions, or bittering hops, are added to the malt mixture, which gives the beer flavoring. This can be done up to three times, depending on how much flavor the brew master decides. Bittering can take 60-90 minutes. The longer it takes the more flavorful the end product will be.

“There are also aroma additions that can be added, and these are basically added to get rid of the bitterness in some brews and can also be added up to three times.”[BW4]

Once the beer is boiled down the mixture gets transferred over to a whirlpool, which helps separates the solids from the liquids. This takes about 15-20 minutes. “This is when the mixture finally begins to resemble beer, somewhat,” said Topin.

After sending the mixture for a ride around the whirlpool, it is left to rest.  Bright clean wort is the result and is then sent to the fermenter. The fermenter is a big machine that converts carbohydrates into alcohol. This is done by raising the mixture in the fermenter to 195 – 198 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the fermenter has risen to the right temperature, the mix then goes into a heat exchanger, which drops the mix down to 50 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Next, the mix goes into the fermentation vessels, where yeast gets in line with the wort. This process helps creates the carbon-dioxide in alcohol, which is greatly important when making beer,” said Topin. Fermentation takes the longest because it needs time for the yeast to consume all the wort sugar. “It also takes time for all of the flavors to mature,” said Scott.

The brew sits in the fermentation vessels for about four days and then heads over to the bung tank.

Yes, the bung tank.

The bung tank allows for the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast to naturally carbonate the beer, helping the process of the fermentation vessels. This allows the brew master to collect all of the natural carbon dioxide off of the sides of the tank, which will become the beer.

Next, the mixture hits the cooling ramps. The brew cools at around 36-38 degree Fahrenheit.  “This is where it sits and matures for 7-14 days, depending on style of the beer,” said Topin.

And finally, after the beer has matured for the appropriate amount of time, it is canned, kegged or tanked and then sent off to be enjoyed by those who love to consume the hand-crafted beers made right here in Montana.

Edited by Sam Brown.

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