The idea of a refreshing glass of beer can be a pleasure to many, something cool and tasty to reward yourself with.
For many, though, drinking the beer is their only involvement with it.
Most of us are simply unaware of the complex brewing techniques that brought it to them, and all the science that went into obtaining that gleaming, golden pint.
Those who homebrew their beer (make it at home) especially need to know all about the technique.
A “wort” is a part of the brewing process, essentially the beer before it is fermented (fully converted into the final drink).
It may not be the most appealing term, particularly when associated with a delicious drink, but it’s far more positive than it sounds – and an important aspect that we’ll be looking at in this article!
What Is The Wort?
The wort is the liquid that is extracted from the mashing process, which is where grains are combined with water and heated.
The resulting wort will give the beer its flavor and contains the sugars that will be fermented to create alcohol.
Wort contains proteins that will give the beer a firmer head and a better flavor, which will be important to the drinker.
Additionally, it is filled with amino acids that give nitrogen to the yeast, which is helpful because it encourages the yeast to multiply more.
It’s all a very technical process, but the outcome is well worth it!
What Is The Wort Production Process?
- Malting, Milling, Mashing
To start the process that will ultimately end up with wort, the first thing a brewer wants to do is obtain malt.
This is a cereal-type grain that includes barley, which has been dried through a “malting” process.
Once they have the malt, the brewer passes it through a mill.
This refines it in a way, splitting the grain husks so that the starch inside them is accessible, which will make later chemical processes much more easy.
Hot water is then added to the milled grain, in a process called “mashing”.
This combination of heat and liquid is done to allow the malt’s enzymes to alter the starch, breaking it down into sugars for the wort.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – this is getting too much like a secondary school chemistry lesson! But it isn’t quite as bad if we break it down ourselves.
Basically, enzymes are just proteins, but proteins that help kick chemical reactions into action.
In order for the enzymes to change the starch into sugar, a small process called “steeping” is done.
This is all about leaving a solid to soak in a liquid.
To picture it better, imagine how they prepare your favorite tea bags! They leave tea leaves to soak in water, extracting the flavor and nutrients.
This is much the same, only the end result will be far more alcoholic!
This intriguingly-named step is all about separating the elements, parting the mash into the brown liquid mort and the leftover grain.
This part of the process has three bits to it. The “mashout” heats up the mash further and makes the wort more fluid, which is what we want if it’s to be successfully turned into a drink.
Then comes “recirculation”, which uses a lauter tun (also a great name) to filter more, before “sparging” begins.
This involves water carefully being trickled through the grain in order to get the sugars out – but be careful! If the temperature is wrong then you may extract more than sugar, and risk ruining the final drink.
The next step involves adding hops, the flowers that give beer its bitterness and fruity aroma.
However, before this can be done, the brewer wants to boil the mixture they have so far. This is to disinfect it, making it clean and free of any harmful bacteria.
Once this is done, though, it’s time for hops! Wort is actually quite sweet naturally, so the hops are needed to make it the opposite – bitter.
Different types of hops are added at different times, each with their own benefit.
The first are “bittering hops”, which are added and boiled in the wort for about 90 minutes or fewer.
This will be the longest part of the boil, giving it the time to remove resins, which give it that bitter touch.
Around 15 minutes from the end of the boil, “flavoring hops” are put into the mix.
Unsurprisingly, these give the drink its taste! Then, at the boil’s end, the “finishing hops” are put in. This removes the oils, giving it smell and flavor, too.
It’s always good to take a rest, and beer production is no different.
One such pause can be used to test the acidity of the mixture, lowering its pH to the correct range.
However, most modern malts are made in such a way that they often don’t need this acid rest.
More useful is the saccharification rest, popular with homebrewers, which helps to melt starch’s chemical bonds and turn the starch into sugar that’s ready for fermenting.
- Cooling And Pitching
Speaking of fermentation, we’re almost there! After the boiling of the hops process, the wort is cooled right down to a temperature that is going to help the yeast work best.
The wort is put into a vessel made especially to help fermentation, then supplied with oxygen, before the yeast is added (“pitched”).
Fermentation can now begin, and the wort can be transformed into something deliciously drinkable!
It’s taken a lot of science, and a lot of processes with extraordinary names, but now you know what “wort” is and the absolutely essential part it plays in creating everybody’s favorite alcoholic drink.
It seems a miracle that humankind ever discovered beer, but clearly a lot of research and thought has gone into refining the delicate process.
If you fancy getting into homebrewing, the information here is a crucial basis, and understanding each step may mean that you can soon be creating your very own pints!