Turning Grain, Hops. Water and Yeast into Beer

I brew at the brewhouse built and maintained by the members of a homebrew club, CHAOS.  As far as I've been able to find, CHAOS is the only club in the country that maintains a brewhouse. Because we're located in the heart of Chicago, many of us who are members have limited space at home to brew, and the brewhouse provides us equipment, space, temperature controlled fermentation capability, as well as the opportunity to brew with other club members and friends. 

Our brewhouse uses many processes and pieces of equipment. We buy malted grain in bulk (55# bags), usually pale ale and Pilsner malts. The first step on brew day is to crush the grain in the grain mill.

After milling the grain, we need to convert it into wort, the sweet water that beer is made from. The grain is soaked in hot water at a specific temperature (usually between 148F - 158F degrees) to activate enzymes that extract sugars from the grain. This is called mashing the grain and we do it in a piece of equipment called a mash tun, constructed from a beverage cooler. 

When the mash is done, we drain the liquid into a 20 gallon pot and bring it to a boil. As the wort boils, we add hops.

Hops are a critical ingredient in beer. They impart bitterness (to balance the sweetness of the malted grain) and also flavor and aroma. The level of bitterness depends upon the hop variety and length of time it is boiled. Hop flavors and aromas vary from variety to variety, making the selection of the type of hops an important step in beer making.

After a 60 minute or longer boil, the wort is quickly cooled to around 60-65 degrees and transfered to a carboy. We use a piece of equipment called a counterflow chiller, which runs tubing with the hot wort through other tubing containing cold ground water. After the wort is chilled, yeast is added - these little sugar eaters produce CO2, alcohol, aromas and flavors. There are many strains of yeast available to brewers, each imparting differing flavors and characteristics to the beer. 

Key to making great handmade beer is controlling the temperature at which the yeast do their work of fermentation. Our brewhouse has a large, temperature controlled fermentation chamber or room. Brewers put their fermenters in the room, which holds a steady temperature of 65F, an appropriate fermentation temperature for most ales.

We usually use glass carboys as our fermentation vessels, but plastic carboys or buckets can also be used, or stainless steel containers 

Lagers are fermented with different yeast which require a lower temperature. Afterwards, they are aged, usually for about a month, at near freezing temperatures. Ales can also benefit from this 'cold crashing', which helps with the beer's clarity. The CHAOS brewhouse has three large refrigeration units dedicated to lager fermentation and lager aging.