The Meaning of Wort Concentration
The original wort concentration, also known as the original gravity of wort, is a measure used in brewing to indicate the concentration of fermentable sugars in the wort before fermentation. The term “degree” in beer refers to the wort concentration. To understand the concept of wort concentration, let’s first learn how beer is made.
The wort concentration is used to determine the sugar content of the raw material before fermentation begins. It is an important indicator of the potential alcohol content of beer. For example, a wort concentration of 1.040 is equivalent to producing a beer with approximately four percent alcohol by volume.
The Meaning of Alcohol Concentration
Alcohol content in beer is a result of fermentation, during which yeast converts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other compounds such as ester alcohols. Alcohol content is expressed as a percentage of alcohol in the total liquid volume of beer and is denoted by %. The higher the wort concentration, the higher the alcohol content.
Alcohol content in beer is typically measured as mass volume percentage (M/V%). For example, when a beer label indicates “12 degrees,” it refers to the original wort concentration, corresponding to an alcohol content of about 4%. Generally, beer has an alcohol content ranging from 2-5%, with light-colored beer around 3.3-3.8% and strong-colored beer around 4-5%. German beer tends to have higher alcohol concentrations, ranging from 5-9%. Wheat beer is known for its rich aroma, bitterness, and higher alcohol content.
It is worth noting that the wort concentration directly influences the alcohol concentration. Higher wort concentration results in higher alcohol content, indicating better quality to some extent. Craft beers brewed by microbreweries usually have wort concentrations ranging from 12° to 20°, nearly double that of industrial beer. Therefore, those accustomed to drinking industrial beer might find craft beer to be significantly stronger and more flavorful.
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The Principle of Beer Brewing
In the brewing process, yeast breaks down sugar into carbon dioxide and alcohol. In general, the higher the sugar content in the wort, the higher the alcohol content of the final beer. However, it is practically impossible for yeast to decompose 100% of the sugar, resulting in residual sugars that contribute to the sweetness of the beer.
So, is a higher wort concentration always better? How can we adjust the wort concentration and alcohol content? In practice, the quality of barley malt plays a crucial role. A higher-quality malt yields more sugar and results in a higher wort concentration. This leads to a stronger-tasting beer with a prominent malt flavor and higher alcohol content.
If the majority of customers prefer higher-alcohol beers, it is possible to increase the malt content to produce a stronger beer. Conversely, if customers are accustomed to drinking lower-alcohol industrial beer, reducing the amount of malt or increasing brewing water can dilute the wort concentration, resulting in lower alcohol content and a milder taste. In fact, this is how large-scale breweries dilute their beers. The brewing process should align with local market demand and cater to the taste preferences of the majority of customers.