You know you've landed on your feet with a job when the latest staff activity is a microbrewing competition. Soon after I started at the synchrotron the St Arnold project was launched and in an effort to get to know some others who worked at the synchrotron I whole heartedly joined in. The object of the project is to find a brew for the Christmas party, with help from a local microbrewery. Appropriately enough I joined the McBrewers team, who'd chosen to brew up a Scottish brown ale (yum). The whole process is now complete, I write this knowing that there's a cold beer in the fridge for when I'm done, and I've have a bit of a wizzy introduction into the science (and craft) behind beer brewing.
The first stage was to boil up some water in an enormous cauldron and once it was hot add some sugar in the form of maltose syrup.
|The malt syrup being measured out.|
|The marvellous cauldron with the maltose being added|
Essentially all you need to make beer - water, yeast and a source of carbohydrates to feed the yeast. In addition to the maltose sugar, as our source of carbohydrates while the brew was hot we added a sort of tea-bag filled with malted barley. The hot water helped extract out the starches from our barley.
The sugar and barley in the liquid is the feed for the yeast, in this case we plumbed for a dark sugar like maltose to give the final beer a nice dark colour. It's important to not add the yeast into the pot while it's too hot. Yeast is a microorganism and boiling water will kill them off!
|Yeast ready for action!|
The whole brew is sealed up and contained for a few weeks to allow for the fermentation process. During this time the yeast eats away (metabolises) the sugar in the liquid to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. It's the same process that yeast gets up to in bread making (or even baking powder in cake making), with the carbon dioxide in that case causing the dough to rise. In the case of beer making the yeast picked to more efficiently convert the sugar to alcohol.
|Hops all measured out and ready to go.|
The first beers brewed would have followed this simple recipe, only in the time things have been added to enhance the flavours. A very common ingredient are hops, which are tight-bud like flowers of the plant Humulus which is pretty common in the Northern hemisphere. These give a bitter flavour to the beer, and also add some preserving power to the brew.
Once the brew has cooled down and the yeast added it was all put into a large bucket - where it was kept while the fermentation process got going.
|Great colour from the start|
|Sealed up and fermenting away. The valve at the top is to let the build up of carbon dioxide escape - other wise the beer may have quite a bit of energy to it.|
There's an even happier ending to the tale. Not only do I have some of the brew left in the fridge (it was delicious) but my colleagues at work judged our teams beer to be one of the best - so it's being brewed again for the Christmas party in couple of weeks!