How is beer made?

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A lot of labor goes into that delicious 12-ounce bottle of beer that you gulp down after work. The brewing process from start to finish consists of many little details and decisions that range from finding the right recipe to sanitizing the bottles. While each brewery puts its own spin on the refreshing libation, there's a standard recipe that everyone follows to turn a handful of ingredients into a batch of beer. Some might say it's a little miracle.

In its simplest form, beer is made in a few ubiquitous steps. The recipe includes malted hops, barley, yeast and water. Through processes called saccharification and fermentation, these four items are transformed into a single batch of beer. The characteristics of the beverage depend heavily on how it's made. A beer that has more of a kick may have been made from extra hops. 

The science behind your brew
All About Beer offered a more in-depth explanation. Typically, the first step of brewing involves malted barley. If you've never seen it before, malted barley looks like little peanuts. To extract the parts of the barley malts, the brewers will crack them, then steep them in hot water using a device called a mash tun. The product that results from this process is called wort. 

The wort is added to the brew kettle, which looks like a giant cauldron. If you've ever toured a brewery, surely you've seen a brew kettle. It's at this machine that the mad beer scientists add in the remainder of the ingredients – hops and yeast, each of which plays a special role in making a batch of beer unique.

Malts are steeped inside of the mashtun resulting in a product called wurt.Malts are steeped inside of a mash tun resulting in a product called wort.

Why beers taste different
The amount of hops and malts that each batch receives depends on the style of the beer. For example, IPAs tend to be made with more hops than wheat beers. According to Lagunita's website, their IPA is "homicidally hopped." In other words, it full of hops. Another one of the company's beers, Imperial Stout, receives its flavor profile because it's made from highly roasted malted barley. A good way to gauge what a beer will taste like is to glance the label for hops, malt and other indicators, such as alcohol by volume.

This part of the process is how beer takes on its unique flavor profile and color. A batch that receives more hops will turn out to be more bitter. The color of the beer is determined by the color of the grains. If the grain is light, the beer will look light. It's the same for amber colored brews as well as darker ones. Once hops are added, there's just one final step to the process before beer is made.

"The yeast if the last ingredient that's added to the wort, following the hops."

The yeast if the last ingredient that's added to the wort, following the hops. This is always the final step of brewing and where the magic happens. The yeast absorbs sugar while simultaneously letting out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The result is that hoppy, malty or chocolaty beer that you have at the end of a long day. But before it gets to you, the beer has to be bottled and packaged. The process for bottling beers has just as many – if not more – steps as making the beer itself. The work of the brewer is only halfway done when the beer is made. 

One hundred bottles of beer on the belt
An easy way to understand the bottling process is to break it down into a few short steps. A YouTube video created by Thomas Hooker Brewery in Connecticut demonstrated hundreds of bottles moving along an assembly line, making stops along the way. Here's how the folks at Thomas Hooker bottles beer in eight steps.

  1. Bottles move along an assembly line for a rinse cycle.
  2. Bottles are filled with beer, air is removed from the bottles and replaced with CO2 (which gives the beer carbonation).
  3. Bottles are capped.
  4. Bottles get inspected for any flaws.
  5. Bottles then are flushed in water one more time.
  6. Labels are put on.
  7. Bottles are packed by hand into their respective cases.
  8. They're then shipped off to the restaurant, bar or shop.

Every day around the country, people go to work at more than 3,000 breweries to partake in the aforementioned processes to bring you one of the world's most beloved drinks. As a whole, the beer industry provides more 2 million jobs in the U.S. Let that sink in. 

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