Before reaching the fermentation stage, there are several steps in the brewing process. One of the crucial steps is the creation of the wort, which gives beer its fundamental flavors, including those from the grains and hops specified in the brewer’s recipe.
Think of the wort as a “beer starter.” It is a sweet, malty liquid that starts by converting the starches from malted grains into sugar through a process called mashing. Hot water is then added to the mash to complete the conversion from starch to sugar, resulting in the wort.
The Makeup of the Wort
The wort goes through a process called lautering, during which the grain husks and other solids are separated from the liquid wort. Some homebrewers may skip the mashing and lautering stages by using a liquid malt extract instead.
The resulting wort, which is now a clean and sugary liquid containing up to 90 percent water, is ready for brewing. The color of the wort is the same as the final product. At this stage, the carbohydrate and basic sugar content may look like this:
25% higher saccharides (e.g. dextrin)
Each type of grain adds different characteristics to the flavor of the finished beer. For example, using rye in a rye IPA gives it a spicier flavor, while oats used in oatmeal stouts produce a smooth, somewhat creamier taste.
Boiling the Wort and Adding Hops
The wort must be boiled to stabilize it. Boiling is essential as it sterilizes the liquid and stops the conversion of starch to sugar.
Hops are added to the boiling wort. They serve several purposes, with the primary one being to impart the final flavors to the beer. Hops are usually added in three stages during the boiling process:
Bittering hops are added first to balance the sweetness of the wort. They are typically boiled for an hour.
Flavoring hops, which have a floral, earthy, or citrusy character, are added around 15 minutes before the end of the boil to contribute their desired flavors to the wort.
Finally, finishing hops are added at the end of the boil or immediately after. These hops primarily add aroma to the wort.
After boiling, the flavored wort is cooled and ready for the addition of yeast to initiate the fermentation process.