Where does beer come from?
Updated: Jan 15, 2019
I get asked this a lot. How do you make beer? Which to me translates to where does beer come from. I think about this quite a bit. When someone is drinking a beer, any beer, the amount of people, technology, transportation equipment and ocean liners it takes to deliver that simple beer to you is inspiring, if not downright mind boggling. Let's get started.
Barley: This is where it all starts. Barley farmers from the US, Canada, Germany and more grow on an estimated 60 million acres of land. Mainly used for beer, this is the base ingredient for beer,(wheat and rye are used as well). This produces 140 million tons of grain.
Malting Company: Barley by itself won't make beer. These seeds need to be sprigged to life by a Malting Company and then roasted and toasted to achieve their distinctive flavors. Malting companies require large sophisticated equipment and buildings to pull this off, so you don't find a lot of them around the world. Rather the ones you see are big, like Weyermann in Bamberg, Germany.
Hops: Without hops, beer would be pretty boring. Hops are the spices of the beer world creating bitter, tropical, citrus flavors that balance out the sweetness of the beer. Grown as bines or long vines they require specific growing conditions and also equipment for harvest. Hops look like tiny pine cones and its impossible to harvest them by hand. Brewers frequently contract for hops to make sure they get the varieties they want as there are 100's to choose from.
Yeast: You can't make beer without yeast, and the yeast plays maybe the biggest part in the whole beer equation. Pitch to little, your beer is sweet. Yeast not healthy, it throws off strange and not so nice flavors. Yeast is finicky, real finicky. It has to be fed with sweet wort, oxygen and maybe even some yeast hulls if its going to be healthy enough to finish the job. It also needs to be at the right temperature to create just the right flavors. Out of everything I do, yeast management is the hardest.
Shipping: One of the elements of brewing beer that I completely underestimated was shipping. The amount of stuff that has to be shipped with a brewery is incredible, and its heavy. That is especially true of malt. Each bag is 55lbs and in a small 7 barrel batch of beer you may use around 500 pounds. The malt has to be shipped from a country like Germany to the US, then shipped again to my brewery. This is true not only of the barley but of the hops as well. Not nearly as heavy as the malt, about 7-11 pounds for a 7 barrel batch, hops come from Idaho, Germany, Eastern Europe and Australia.
Brewing: Oh yeah, that part. It might be easy to think this is the only thing that matters but its not. Brewing really takes on a lot more than simply boiling the beer. There is milling the grain to get it just the way you want. Cleaning all of the equipment, hoses and fittings to make sure there is no contamination. Carefully getting your beer to hit all of the right "checkpoints" to ensure that the proper alcohol level is achieved. Then carbonating it just right for the style you are looking for. Brewing takes one of the days but there is a lot more days to ensure the beer is perfect.
Serving: This may sound the simplest of them all. Pull on the tab, the beer comes out. But those beer lines have to be cleaned on a regular basis to make sure no mold or off flavors come into the final product. Kegerators and CO2 has to be at just the right level to push the beer out with just the right amount of foam. And of course, a pleasant smile goes a long way to enjoying your beer!
I've left out a lot of other factors that go into getting a pint in your hand. Like the role distributors, retail establishments and government play in getting you a simple beer. From farm to table, getting a beer to you is no small feat. If it wasn't so hard, it probably would not taste so good!