making beer is an ancient art. before the process was refined, all people had to get drunk on was wine, and no one wanted to have to deal with snooty french connoisseurs always talking about 'hints of blackberry' or 'bottle shock'.
my dad and I have set up a ten-plus gallon all-grain brewing setup, complete with a keggerator and two taps. let's take a look at the magic behind beer brewing, shall we?
It all starts with a heaping helping of grains. These can be acquired from magazines or catalogues, the internet, or, if you have a large field of grain near your house, your backyard. Different kinds of grain produce different sugars that give the beer its color and most of its taste. For instance chocolate malt is used frequently in stouts and porters. The sugars gained from sparging the grain with hot water will eventually be turned into alcohol by a friendly dose of yeast and a week or so of fermentation.
Not a visually appealing setup, but it works. After an hour of applying 152 degree water to the grains, a release in the bottom of the cooler allows the 'wort' (unfinished beer) to drain out so that it can later be boiled. The initial water involved is not enough to produce beer (the grain sucks up a lot, as well as vapor loss), so fresh hot water is piped into the top of the system through a process called 'sparging', and after roughly an hour of keeping a nice equilibrium of inflow and outflow of sparge water, you will have your desired amount of wort.
Next, the wort is brought to a boil, at which point the hops are added. Depending on the type of brew, you add hops at different times. There are infinite permutations of how long to boil and add hops. Just keep in mind, the longer that you boil, the more vapor is released and the more concentrated and hoppy your brew will be. This is the true meaning behind Dogfish head's line of 60, 90, and 120 minute IPAs.
Here you can see that the pellet hops are contained within a mesh ball so that they do not completely dissolve out and clog the system. 'Fresh hopping' is a method that involves adding hops during fermentation, and supplies the beer with an extremely fresh, sticky, and green taste. Green Flash IPA admits to fresh hopping, and I suspect that many other bitter IPAs (Lagunitas, Great Divide Hercules and so on) use the same process.
After the desired amount of boiling is done, a cooling apparatus is applied to bring the brew down to room temperature. Cold hose water runs through the copper and out the other side. This is not entirely necessary, but if you add the yeast while the mix is too hot it will kill the yeast and no fermentation will occur. We use a standard turkey roaster to get our 12 gallon pot up to boiling temperature.
Of course, if you live in buffalo, there are other ways to cool down your beer. You may notice that if you read about Anheuser Busch's (sic?) brewing process, it mentions that they use rice in addition to grain in their beer's processing. Wikipedia says this (really): "[rice is added] to lighten the body (and cut costs) as in American-style lagers"
The results are then tested for the specific gravity and ABV and yeast is applied in the proper amounts to begin the fermentation. ABV stands for alcohol by volume, and specific gravity is a rating that helps you calculate your potential alcohol content. A high starting SG would be 1.080, a good ending SG would be 1.010.
One magical week later, your beer has undergone most of its fermentation process. The yeast has converted most of the sugar to alcohol, released carbon dioxide, and you are almost ready to have your beer. This beer is a 'packs a punch porter' that we ordered from the wonderful folks at Midwest Brewing. The nasty gunk you see around the edges is called kraeusen, which is normal residue from the thick foamy head the beer gets while it is frenetically fermenting.
At every step along the way, sanitation is crucial. Any bacteria that gets into the beer has the potential to ruin the entire batch. Here, sanitized tubing is used to transfer the beer from the pales to the 'carboy' aka big-ass jug. In these carboys the secondary fermentation will take place and the beer will do some final settling before it is finished.
Beautiful! That is 11 gallons of porter, just a few days from being ready to be carbonated. The gauges on top allow the carbon dioxide to bubble out without allowing any air in. At this point in the brewing process, oxygen is rather toxic to the brew, so gentle care must be taken when transferring the beer.
Some people choose to bottle their beers, which we have done before using reusable Grolsch bottles with stopper tops. If one were to do that, a small amount of priming sugar would be added to each bottle and the brew added. This would give the small amount of yeast left the chance to eat up the sugar and produce natural carbonation. BUT! My dad has rigged up an ingenious little keggerator in an old fridge that fits two small kegs. The carbonation is supplied by a little bit of the priming sugar method, and a little bit of forced carbonation from the CO2 tank.
A couple of days later your beer will be cold and foamy, and ready to drink! Enjoy! Quaff that shit! DIY is not easy, and the initial setup materials are rather costly. But nice kits from Midwest supply run about 40 to 50 dollars and will make up to 12 gallons or more of beer. After a few batches the savings are evident, and you cannot put a price on the deliciousness of the fruits of your labor!