HowStuffWorks.com has an interesting article on how beer is made, or to use their lingo, How Beer Works. I’ve been researching how beer is made for my home brewing experiment but this article looks at how commercial breweries do it. There are obvious similarities, of course, but there are some differences.
You start with the basic ingredients, malted barley, hops, and yeast. This is true for most beer (although you can use alternative grains like rice) but there is a tremendous variety of all three of these ingredients. Changing the combinations of these ingredients and their variations is how you come up with unique brews. The temperature and amount of time at which the barley is malted changes the flavor and color of the beer. The types of hops used and when it is added to the wort affects flavor, aroma, and bitterness. Different yeast strains lend different characteristics to the final product as well.
The biggest difference between commercial brewing and home brewing is that commercial breweries want the beer to taste the same every time. Home brewers, on the other hand, live for the variety that the endless number of variables create in their brews. Commercial breweries use special, often automated, equipment to keep temperatures at precise levels, prevent contamination, etc. They also use the exact same ingredients in the exact same amount to insure consistency.
The bottling process is obviously much different as well. I don’t know many home brewers that have an automated bottling machine in their basement that uses CO2 to pressurize the bottles.
Maybe if I get the hang of this brewing thang, I’ll open my own brewery. When that happens, you’re all invited over for a drink!