Leading through Technology: From Beer Vats to Modern Breweries

Today, I bake; Tomorrow I brew

A wort kettle in the brewhouse.

In the past, brewing was exclusively done by women. Bread was generally baked on a one day in the week. Some of the loaves were not baked all the way through, and one of these was used as a starter culture for brewing beer. Once these loaves were mixed with water, the fermentation process began, in part spontaneously, with the help of some of the ambient microbes in the room. This is probably the origin of the phrase from the Grimm's fairytale Rumpelstiltskin: "Today I bake; tomorrow I'll brew, and the next I'll have the young queen’s child." In the Middle Ages, the monks living in monasteries brewed beer in a very proficient and skilled manner. They questioned each step in the process, monitored them carefully and optimized the individual process steps gradually over time.

Refining Techniques and Technology

Today brewers around the world rely on modern brewing equipment, often manufactured by companies based in Germany. This technology enables them to deliver a consistently high quality product. One of the leading manufacturers of filling and packaging technology is Krones AG in the Bavarian town of Neutraubling.

Another important role is the dissemination of knowledge: At Germany's well-known universities research is being conducted, which has enhanced the brewing process for decades now. In utilizing the finest raw materials and working closely with maltsters as well as with hop farmers and hop processing companies, brewers make it possible for consumers to reliably and consistently enjoy their favorite beers.

Brewing – An Art in and of Itself

At the beginning of the brewing process, the malt (refined malting barley and/or wheat) is crushed at the brewery in a gristmill and then mixed with liquor (brewing water) in a vessel known as a mash tun. This soupy mixture is known as the mash. To preserve the natural enzymes contained in the malt kernels, which have been exposed by crushing in the gristmill, the mash is heated to different temperatures. These enzymes are most active at various temperature optima. Some like it hot, while others function best at lower temperatures. All of them work to transform the starch in the grain (insoluble in water in that form) into soluble maltose. During this stage of the brewing process, substances are extracted from the grain, which are important for the downstream brewing process.

Click on the image below for an overview of the brewing process.

The next step on our way towards beer occurs in a vessel known as the lauter tun, where the solid components of the mash are separated from the liquid. Almost all that is left of the solid parts of the malt are the husks that once surrounded the kernels. These must be separated from the wort, the sweet liquid containing all of the dissolved and suspended particles. Only this liquid, flowing out of the lauter tun and carrying with it all of those valuable ingredients, now passes into the wort kettle. The spent grain, or draff, is not discarded but serves as a nutrient-rich natural animal feed, or it can be used by bakers to make draff bread.

In the wort kettle, often called a copper, hops are added to the liquid wort, and the mixture is brought to a rolling boil. It is boiled for approximately one hour. Once this is complete, the particulates formed during the boil are separated from the wort in the whirlpool. The wort must be cooled down in the wort chiller before the yeast can be added.

And then fermentation can finally commence in a tank set aside for this purpose, where the yeast convert the sugars in the wort into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The CO2 gives the finished beer its sparkle. Once the yeast cells are finished with this conversion process, they are removed. The green beer, as beer requiring maturation is called, is pumped into another tank to mature. Depending on the beer style and philosophy of the brewery, the duration of this maturation may take up to three months for some beers. Those that require a longer maturation period are known as lager beers, a term derived from the German word for storage. Here, the flavor profile becomes more rounded and little by little the carbon dioxide becomes well dissolved as the beer matures. The particulate matter still contained in the beer also slowly sediments out during the maturation process. This gives the beer a fine clarity. Many beer styles, such as a German pilsner, require a "bright" appearance, that is, a complete absence of turbidity. For this reason, very often beer is filtered in an additional step to free it from any remaining particulate matter once maturation is complete. The finished beer is then packaged in bottles, cans or kegs, and then shipped to retail outlets or venues where it is served to customers.