Son Tra, Da Nang.
Okay, you already know that beer is a combination of water, grains, yeast and hops.
But really, what does that mean? It means we owe a great deal of our happiness to the hardest working employee in the brewery, the single cell organism called yeast, who tireless converts sugars to alcohol. Without yeast, beer would just be a sweet barley tea or something like porridge. Who’s going to get excited about that? Here is the simplest explanation of how yeast work their magic:
In the craft beer industry, this process typically takes close to a month. Mass produced beer can go from grain to glass in less than half the time.
Mass produced beers typically use one to two kinds of base malts coupled with low cost hops. Production happens with massive, highly automated systems to achieve a beer flavor that is always consistent and appeals to the largest number of people at the lowest price point possible. Mass production has become the norm in order to meet huge global demand, but in the past three decades, craft beer has been making a come back. (At one time, all breweries were small and crafty).
When people talk about craft beer, they mean beer that is produced in smaller batches with a heavy focus on richer mixes of malts (grains) and more pronounced use of hops to give the beer more depth, greater aroma and often higher alcohol when compared to mass produced beers. This beer is called craft because the brewer is more intensely involved in all steps of production and must also apply artisanal skills to achieve the desired flavor and consistency from batch to batch.
It has been said for centuries that beer is “proof that God loves humanity”. There is much myth and legend wrapped around that statement and the origins of beer. Typically it is cited that a group of Christian monks discovered that boiled grains left in a pot or vat exposed to air began to bubble. The bubbling liquid began to produce alcohol through fermentation, as if magically touched by the Hand of God. That liquid when transferred to a closed container continued fermenting and became a bubbly intoxicating drink…thus proof that God loves us.
However, the history of beer goes back much further, with a 6000 year old recipe found on a Sumerian tablet and chemical analyses of 7000 Egyptian pottery with beer residue. Remember learning about the origins of agriculture and rise of civilizations in grade school? Remember terms like “the Fertile Crescent” and “Rise of Civilization”? This leads us to our favorite theory of the origin of beer, proposed in the early 1953 by botanist Jonathan D. Sauer who asked: “Could the discovery that a mash of fermented grain yielded a palatable and nutritious beverage have acted as a greater stimulant toward the experimental selection and breeding of the cereals than the discovery of flour and bread making?” Sauer’s argument is elegant. He points out that early grains have very low nutritional value and flavor, and it was simply too much work to grow enough for breads. But, the grains could make a nutritious and tasty fermented drink, which was a greater motivation for growing grain.
Since the 1950s there have been a growing number of research papers on this topic and evidence that beer making may have driven the rise of agriculture and civilization. Another recent argument is that we actually needed beer to become civilized because beer loosened up our creativity and thus fueled the higher values of civilization—beyond merely eking out an existence. We all know someone who becomes a philosopher by the second or third point.
What do you think? Want to know more? Try reading:
Beer is not difficult to make. It has been done on wood fires with clay pots and in farmhouse kitchens for much of human history. Today’s beer, though, tastes very different than the brews made through most of our history. Today, beer is generally clearer, cleaner tasting and more consistent that centuries past because our knowledge base is more uniformly taught amongst brewers and our technology is cleaner.
When you visit a brewery you may be struck by all the stainless steel, pumps, hoses, pipes, canning equipment and water everywhere. All of this equipment is designed to allow brewers to create optimal conditions to extract the right sugars from grains and feed those to yeasts under optimal, controlled conditions. Key to all good brewing is cleanliness. Breweries are made with lots of stainless steel to allow the brew team to wash down and sterile all parts of the system that comes in contact with the beer.
If you hear about “infected beer” that typically doesn’t mean the beer is spoiled and will make you sick. Humans have been drinking “infected beer” for most of our history, and that infected beer was generally safer than the usual water sources. When a beer is infected, it means there are other wild yeast types, bacteria or fungi competing with the pure yeast strain used by the brewer. This creates flavors or aromas that change the taste of the beer. That change is often not desired by the brewer but sometimes it may pleasantly surprise the brewer.
Modern brewing equipment is designed to minimize infections and allow the brewer to produce the same flavor of a beer time after time. This is what consumers generally prefer.
The brewery looks complicated but is conceptually simple, as follows:
You have a big kettle called a mash tun which is where the malts are boiled to release sugars. This mixture is called the “mash”. It looks (and tastes) like porridge. This mash may go through two temperature changed to extract two different groups of useable sugars to feed the yeasts during fermentation.
After mashing, the mixture is strained through a process called lautering. This giant strainer may sit at the bottom of the mash tun or may be a different vessel. Lautering simply separates out the liquid, now called “wort”, from the solids.
The wort is now boiled for a period to further break down the sugars and to allow bettering to take place by boiling in hops and other flavors (such as orange peel, flowers, etc.). Once hops are added, the wort gets a bit cloudy from all of the suspended hops. This liquid is then pumped to another vessel where it spins around the edge of vessel creating a whirlpool before it is ready to pump to the fermenting side of the brewery. The whirlpool causes much of the hop particles to settle into a cone shaped pile in the middle of the vessel.
After the whirlpool the hot wort, which is at around 65-80 C needs to be cooled down quickly to a temperature that yeast require, such as around 18C. This is done by pumping the hot wort through a heat exchanger.
The vessels for mashing, lautering, boiling and whirlpooling are called the brewhouse or brew deck. We often refer to it as the hot end of the brewery.
Once the wort is cooled it goes into fermentation tanks. Those are usually cone shaped to allow the brew team to remove the used up yeast, hop particles and other solids that settle to the bottom of the tank during fermentation and resting. Yeast and additional hops are added to the wort and the system is closed to allow the yeast to get busy converting sugar to alcohol. When fermentation and resting are complete, you have beer.
The beer is now ready to drink. For brewers and visitors, it’s a joy to draw the first taste of a beer from the tank.
Finished beer is then transferred into cans, bottles or kegs and sent on its way to eager customers.
What if we told you that there are basically only two types of beer?
Sounds crazy when you hear names such as lagers, pilsners, ales, IPAs, stouts, etc. Technically, though, all beers fall into two main families: Ales and Lagers—with some hybrids and wild yeast styles in between. These are big families though with the Brewers Association recognizing around 80 Ales styles, over 30 Lager styles and around 37 hybrids.
The key difference is found in the kind of yeast used to prepare the beer. Ales are fermented with a yeast the floats on top of the wort and prefers warmer fermentation temperatures. As you can guess, lagers are fermented by yeast that acts at the bottom of the tank. Lagers also generally fermented and held at cooler temperatures longer to get higher clarity. Here is a simple graphic that shows where some of the most common types of beer fall within the two families:
Some of the more common or recently popular types of beer include:
With nearly 150 beer styles currently recognized by the Brewers Association, the above list barely taps into the breadth and depth of beer. Later posts will elaborate on beers we find interesting or that are up and coming.
Want to learn more? Take a look at Brewers Association’s 2018 list of beer styles found here.
Try our tap room at 493 Tran Hung Dao street in Danang.
In a perfect world, 7 Bridges would be found everywhere. Currently we are in Danang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with new venues offering our products each week. If you have a favorite venue that’s not selling 7 Bridges, let us know and we’ll ask. Here are some of our venues: