Every Friday, I will spotlight one molecule/chemical process/etc. and talk about it. My hopes are to make seemingly complicated, science-related topics easier to understand and fun to learn about! I aim to gain practice in being able to explain these things in a simple way and I am excited to share my new knowledge with you!
Today, in honor of my return to the University of Delaware for a reunion with my friends, the topic of choice is the process of brewing beer!
The grain goes for a relaxing soak in a vat of water, then is spread out and germination occurs. During germination, enzymes cut long starch molecules into smaller ones. The grain is then heated in a kiln to dry.
The dried grain is cracked, or split, so water can be more easily absorbed later for easy extraction of the necessary sugars.
The grain continues on in its quest by next being dropped into a hot tub of scalding water to extract the sugars. After soaking here, the sugary water is drained (a process called “lautering,” if you would like to impress your friends) and this liquid can now be called “wort”.
The wort is then, well, boiled! This is done to sterilize the wort. During this time, hops (the flowering body of the hop bine plant) are added to the mix and adds flavor and aromas to the beer. The boiling process also stops any enzymatic activity and allow other chemical reactions to occur. After this, the wort takes a spin in a whirlpool where larger, heavier particles are separated from the solution. Shortly following, the wort is cooled very quickly to a temperature that yeast will not be destroyed in the fermentation process.
The treasured yeast is added to the mixture in this stage. Yeast is a microorganism that enjoys feasting on sugars (originally extracted from the grain) which are turned into (lucky for us) alcohol and carbon dioxide!
Once the sugars in the mixtures have been nearly completely digested, the beer is cooled to encourage the yeast to settle out and nudge proteins to group together and settle out as well.
This step varies among beer batches, and not all beer is actually filtered (which is why you may notice that some appear more cloudy than others when chilling in your glass).
Self explanatory. Then, the beer is shipped out for consumption!
Pretty cool, huh? Who would have known that the casual can of beer you chug on a Friday night went through such an ordeal to get there! One of my secret dream jobs is to work in a brewery, taking care of the yeast and overlooking the meticulous chemical processes that occur there (not to mention the employee discount!).
Have a safe and happy weekend!