Craft Beer Science
A Little Science Goes a Long Way in Boosting Craft Beer Enjoyment
Beer lovers sense the complexity of taste in fine craft beers. As you browse this website and your understanding of craft beer creation intensifies, so does your experience tasting different beers.
Adherents of craft beer science know that a degree higher here and an extra month fermentation time there can result in either a smooth maltiness, clean hop bitterness or any number of other amazing flavors. Allowed the appropriate conditions and time to ferment, simple yeast, hops, grain and water can develop cinnamon, port wine, raisin and many more flavors, with no extraneous ingredients.
Knowing how the energy from the plants, grains and yeast yields dozens of craft beer styles enriches the beer tasting experience. More and more these days, foodies, too, turn to craft beers to enhance their dining pleasure. Make sure to stop by our beer pairing page to learn which craft beer styles boost tastes in foods from different cultures and traditions.
Beer Science Basics
The best-tasting craft beers all start when we mill our malted (sprouted and dried) grain into warm water. The grain’s enzymes re-hydrate and break down their substrates, the nucleic acids, proteins and starches. We then warm this mash up to 160 degrees so that the grains’ enzymes can liberate the substances that promote healthy yeast growth and break down the starches to simple sugars. Biochemical processes between the simple sugars and yeast growth ferment into ethanol (the alcohol in beer) and natural carbon dioxide.
After giving the enzymes time to do their work, we heat the mash further to “denature” or arrest the enzymes’ chemical processes. This step halts further starch break down, in essence “fixing” the mash.
Next step is to strain or “lauter” the mash into the kettle, removing the husk material and other solids from the liquid. The mixture’s name now changes from “mash” to “wort,” pronounced “wert.” We boil the wort and add bittering hops to balance all of that sugar for 75 to 90 minutes. Along the way, we add lactic acid (produced from our “sweet wort”) to some Lightning beer styles to add a sparkling flavor. Towards the end of the boiling, we add more hops.
Once the solids in the wort have settled, we add more hops and let it all cool. Meanwhile, we put that style’s yeast strain into a fermentation tank. Using a counter-current heat exchanger, we transfer the hopped wort into the tank.
Practical Application of Beer Science
For answers to more specific beer science questions, please visit our blog or search the site. Feel free to ask your beer question, prepared of course to get a beer science answer! You can also leave comments on our Lightning Craft Beer Blog where we respond regularly. Stay up to date with the adventures at blog posts Lightning Brewery by becoming a Facebook Fan or following Lightning founder, Dr. James Crute on Twitter. Finally, don’t forget to sign up for Lightning Brewery’s email newsletter to stay up to date with beer industry news, beer science and events as well as Lightning’s spread across the United States! Ask for Lightning by name at your favorite restaurant, bar, grocery store or bottle shop.