Module 02: Malting Technology and the Science of Mashing
Module two jumped straight from history right into the science of mashing. But what is mash you may ask? Mash is the result of your malted grains steeping in hot water. They’ve been rehydrated, activating the malt enzymes to convert the grain starches into fermentable sugars. It’s basically the beer base that we would add hops and other flavorings to. The wort (the liquid from the mash) is then extracted and that is what ferments into the alcoholic beer we all know and love.
These classes bring me right back to high school chemistry – full of balancing equations, converting measurements, and chemical reactions. It was definitely a walk down memory lane and I was happy to pick it back up so quickly! Without trying to get too complicated, I’ve laid out a basic overview of the start of the brewing process:
So I think as everyone already knows, most beers are about 90% water. Along with water you also need some malt, hops, and yeast for a standard recipe. Of the four primary ingredients, water is the best regulated and least variable since you are typically getting water from a standard local or state source. But you still have to pay attention to the types of ions and minerals that may be in your source water supply. Depending on what ions may be in your local water (e.g. Calcium, Sulphate, Chloride) affects how you have to treat it (e.g. adding acid to balance out alkalinity). Depending on the style of beer you are brewing, you have a target pH of the mash that you will need to adjust for. The level of the pH in your mash and wort can affect the finished beer flavor, character, and taste.
Next, to make beer you, of course, need your source of starch. Malts (grain seed) are often used – like barley, wheat, oats, rye, sorghum, or even corn or rice. After evaluating, choosing, and cleaning your grains, you’d steep them in water causing the grain to swell and aerate. The water would then be drained and the grain would begin to germinate (aka sprout). This is beginning the enzymatic activity. After about five days, you need to stop the germination process and remove the moisture by drying it out via kilning. The amount of time and temperature that you dry out the grains can affect the flavor of the malt.
The malted grain we just dried out through kilning, will be milled, turning it to fine grist. We will then add hot water to the grist, starting our mash. The starches will break apart and enzymes will turn it into fermentable sugars. The liquid will then be extracted from the mashing process – this is the wort. This liquid contains the sugars that will then be fermented by yeast to produce alcohol.
While making the mash and wort you’re creating the beer’s fundamental flavors. You’d can add hops during this process as well, but unfortunately, that will have to wait until module three to find out more about that!
And if you missed my last post about module one and the archaeology of brewing – check it out!