Here are twenty six essential elements of home brewing, fully illustrated from A to Z.
A for Ale
It has a complex taste that is often made up off many flavours.
(see also Lager)
B for Beer
Beer is a fermented drink made from malted barley (or other grain), hops (or other bittering agent), yeast and water.
Occasionally other flavourings such as fruit or honey are also used.
During brewing, sugars are extracted from malt to make a liquid called wort. This is boiled along with hops before cooling. Yeast are added and fermentation begins – the wort becomes beer.
Ale and lager are both types of beer. The difference lies in the yeast used for fermentation.
C for Conditioning
Fermentation has two stages: primary and secondary. After the primary one, in which yeast convert sugar to alcohol and CO2, the secondary fermentation conditions the beer.
This is where yeast process the by-products of fermentation, removing off-flavours and generally improving the quality of your beer.
The process continues in bottles or kegs until the point of drinking.
D for Drinking
Drinking home brew is not about downing as many pints as possible.
The flavours of beer are many and varied and you should learn to identify them. Taste carefully, make notes and next time you’ll brew better beer.
E for Equipment
Home brewing can be done successfully with little equipment. A simple fermentation bucket and a beer kit will get you started.
All grain brewing requires a bit more, though not much, but there is no end to the equipment if you so wish.
F for Fermentation
Fermentation is the process that turns a sugary liquid called wort into beer.
Sugars that the brewer has extracted from malt are converted into alcohol, yeast and a few by-products. The latter contribute secondary flavours which are sometimes desired (in ales) and sometimes not (in lagers).
G for Gravity
Gravity is the amount of sugar in the wort and is another way of describing density. Gravity of wort decreases during fermentation as yeast turn sugars into alcohol.
Gravity can indicate the strength of a beer.
H for Hops
Brewers use the flowers of the hop plant to add bitterness and aroma. This is to balance the sweet malt flavours and prevents beer from being sickly.
I for IBUs
IBUs are a unit of measure that describes how much bitterness a given amount of hops gives to the beer. For more information click here.
J for Judging
A good way to improve your beer is to enter it into a home brew competition. You will get detailed feedback on what to improve.
Similarly, becoming a competion judge will develop your taste buds .
K for Krausen
Krausen is a head of foam that builds on top of the beer during fermentation. It dies down before conditioning begins.
L for Lager
Lager is beer brewed with bottom fermenting yeast, fermented in cool conditions. The long, cool conditioning period for this type of beer is called lagering.
It has a delicate taste, refined taste that is easily spoiled by off-flavours.
(see also Ale)
M for Malt
Malt is made by germinating grains, in beer making usually of barley, before stopping the process with heat. It contains starch which brewers convert into sugar by soaking in heated water.
N for Naming
Eventually you will have so many brews bottled and conditioning that naming will become important.
You could name them for friends and family, or your home town. Animals are also popular!
O for Off-flavours
Off-flavours develop in beer and spoil it.
Avoiding exposure to oxygen will help prevent some, as will fermenting at the correct temperature.
P for Priming
Just before bottling or kegging, brewers add a little more sugar to the beer. Residual yeast ferment this and produce gas, ensuring good carbonation and head.
The amount added varies according to style.
Lager, for example, is usually fizzy, while English ales are more subtly carbonated.
Q for Question
In my own brewing I question and experiment. Each time you brew ask what has worked and what hasn’t? What could you change next time?
R for Racking
Racking is the process of siphoning beer from one container to another. For example, from fermenter to bottle.
S for Sanitising
Sanitising kills bacteria that would otherwise infect your beer during fermentation or while stored in bottles.
Clean and sanitise everything – if you don’t you’ll eventually ruin your beer.
T for Temperature
Mashing, fermenting and storage. Temperature affects each stage of brewing and should be monitored, if not completely controlled.
Change in temperature is enough to alter a brewed beer so keep an eye on it if you hope to repeat a successful batch.
U for Units
V for Variety
There are infinite opportunities in home brewing to make interesting beers. There are already many defined beer styles, such as IPA, bock, saison etc.
With your home brewing you may invent a new one.
W for Wort
Wort is the sugary liquid produced after soaking malt in water, in a process called mashing. It is fermented by yeast to produce beer.
X for …
Y for Yeast
Without yeast there would be no fermentation. It is a kind of fungus that can transform sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Zymurgy is the science of fermentation. Conveniently, it’s also a word beginning with Z.
What would you have included in the home brew alphabet?