What are the 7 Steps of the Beer Brewing Process?

Unlock the 7 steps of beer brewing with our useful guide. From essential ingredients to advanced techniques, master the 7 steps to brew the perfect beer.

BEER

Mat Stuckey

9/30/20239 min read

a glass of beer sitting on top of a wooden table
a glass of beer sitting on top of a wooden table

How to Make Beer in 7 Steps

Beer brewing is an intricate process comprised of several distinct steps that must be executed properly to produce a quality brew. While specific techniques vary between breweries, there is a standard framework followed by homebrewers and craft brewmasters alike.

The 7 steps of the beer brewing process are Mashing, Boiling, Cooling, Fermentation, Carbonation, Bottling or Kegging, and Conditioning. Each step plays a crucial role in transforming basic ingredients into the final brew.

In this complete guide, we will walk through the 7 essential phases of beer production in detail, providing brewing beginners with a comprehensive overview while sharing pro tips for more advanced homebrewers.

The Essential Quartet: Ingredients You Can't Ignore

The foundation of any great beer is quality ingredients. While creative additions like fruit, spices, and coffee have become popular, there are four core components no beer can do without:

Malted Barley

Malted barley provides the fermentable sugars that yeast will turn into alcohol and CO2 during fermentation. Barley is first malted by soaking the grains in water to initiate germination. This converts the starch stored in the grains into fermentable sugars. The germination process is then halted by drying the malted barley.

Other cereal grains like wheat, rye, oats, and corn can also be malted and used in the brewing process. But barley remains the go-to choice for most beer styles.

Hops

Hops are the female flowers of the hop plant Humulus lupulus and impart bitterness, flavour, and aroma to beer. Hundreds of hop varieties exist, each with their own unique characteristics. Brewers carefully select hops based on the style of beer being produced and when the hops are added during the brewing process.

Yeast

Yeast is a microscopic fungi responsible for fermenting the sugars from malt into alcohol and CO2. Hundreds of yeast strains have been cultivated, with two main varieties used in brewing: ale yeast and lager yeast. Ale yeast ferments faster and at warmer temperatures, while lager yeast works slower at colder temperatures.

Selecting the right yeast strain for your recipe and managing fermentation temperature is key for desired beer characteristics.

Water

Though often overlooked, water makes up 90-95% of beer by volume. The mineral profile of water can significantly impact beer qualities. Most brewers filter and adjust their water chemistry to achieve optimal results, adding salts, acids, and other minerals as needed.

1.Laying the Foundation: The Art of Wort Creation

The first step of beer brewing aims to extract fermentable sugars, colour, and flavour from malted grains to produce a sugar-rich liquid called wort. This is done through a process known as mashing.

Mashing and its Significance

Mashing involves steeping crushed, malted grains in hot water for an extended period of time. Enzymes present in the grain break down complex starch molecules into smaller fermentable sugars. The simplest method is a single-step infusion mash, in which the grains are soaked in water at a consistent temperature ideal for enzyme activity (typically 150-160°F).

More advanced mashing techniques like step mashes and decoction mashes manipulate temperatures over time to target different enzymes and desired wort characteristics. The length of the mash rest also impacts sugar extraction efficiency and wort fermentability.

When mashing is complete, the sweet liquid is drained from the grains, leaving behind the grain husks and proteins in what is now called the mash. The sugar-rich wort is transferred to the brew kettle to begin the boiling process.

2.The Boiling Point: Transforming Your Wort

Once drained from the grains, the wort is brought to a vigorous boil for 1-2 hours. This boiling accomplishes several things:

  • Sterilisation - Boiling kills unwanted microbes that could spoil the beer.

  • Protein Coagulation - Heat causes proteins to clump together and precipitate out. This helps clarify the beer later on.

  • Hop Bittering - Boiling causes the resins and oils in hops to isomerize and release bitterness.

  • Hop Flavor & Aroma - Hops added at the end impart fresh flavour and aroma.

  • Caramelization & Maillard Reactions - Sugars and amino acids react to produce flavours and colour compounds.

  • Volume Reduction - Water evaporates, concentrating sugars, flavours, and bitterness.

The Role of Hops and Timing

Adding hops at different times throughout the boil imparts different qualities to the final beer. Hops added at the start contribute mainly bitterness, while hops added at the end provide fresh hop aroma and flavour.

Here's an overview of the hop schedule:

  • Bittering Hops: Added 60-90 minutes into the boil. Isomerized resins provide clean bitterness.

  • Flavour Hops: Added 30-15 minutes before the end of the boil. Oils partially isomerize for flavour.

  • Aroma/Finishing Hops: Added at the end or after boil stops. Minimal isomerization preserves fresh aromas.

Adjusting hop amounts and boil times allows brewers to fine-tune the bitterness, flavour, and aroma of their beer.

3.Rapid Cooling: The Third Step to Brewing Brilliance

Once the boil is complete, the hot wort must be quickly cooled to around 60-80°F before transferring to a sanitised fermenter. This is important for several reasons:

  • Prevents contamination from unwanted microbes.

  • Allows for quicker and healthier fermentation.

  • Preserves aromatics from volatile hop oils and other compounds.

Homebrewers often cool wort by placing the kettle in an ice bath. But commercial breweries and some advanced homebrew systems use a counterflow wort chiller for rapid cooling. These specialised devices pass cold water through pipes immersed in the hot wort, dropping temperatures in a fraction of the time.

The goal is to reach ideal yeast pitching temperatures as fast as possible to avoid risk of contamination and diminished hop aromas.

4.Yeast Magic: The Core of Beer Fermentation

Fermentation is when yeast metabolises sugars, converting them into alcohol, CO2, and other flavour compounds. This critical phase occurs in two stages - primary fermentation and secondary fermentation.

Primary Fermentation Explained

After cooling, the wort is transferred into a sanitised fermenter and yeast is added or "pitched". The fermenter is sealed with an airlock which allows CO2 to escape.

Primary fermentation kicks off rapidly as yeast multiplies and feasts on sugars in the wort, converting them into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. Within just a few days at room temp (or 1-2 weeks cold) fermentation slows down significantly.

Secondary Fermentation

Some brewers transfer the beer into a secondary fermenter after primary fermentation subsides. There are a few reasons for this additional stage:

  • Removes beer from the layer of sediment left at the bottom (though not mandatory).

  • Allows clarifying reactions to occur, dropping suspended particles.

  • Provides opportunity for additional conditioning, flavour maturation and alcohol fermentation.

  • Dry hopping or fruit/spice additions can be made.

After 1-4 weeks in secondary (or just primary), fermentation is complete. The beer is left to condition for a period of time while final touches are made.

5.The Fizz Factor: Understanding Carbonation

For beer to achieve that refreshing effervescence, it must become carbonated by forcing CO2 back into solution. This fizzy carbonation can be accomplished in two main ways:

Natural Carbonation

After primary fermentation, bottling the beer traps live yeast which continues fermenting residual sugars, naturally carbonating the beer over time. This requires precise calculations of fermentables.

Forced Carbonation

Injecting CO2 directly into the beer quickly carbonates it. This is achieved by either spunding (adding pressure during fermentation), or artificially carbonating before kegging or bottling.

Forced carbonation allows precise control over carbonation levels and ensures complete consistency between batches. Natural carbonation varies slightly but offers a more "authentic" character.

6.Seal the Deal: Bottling vs. Kegging

After Carbonation, it's time to package the beer. Homebrewers typically either bottle condition or keg their beer. Here's an overview:

Bottling

  • More accessible for homebrewers.

  • Allows ageing and portability.

  • Individual servings.

  • Natural carbonation method.

  • Prone to oxidation and inconsistencies between bottles.

  • Time consuming bottling and capping.

Kegging

  • Easier to purge oxygen and control carbonation.

  • Serve fresh draught beer on tap.

  • Less oxidation and consistent carbonation.

  • Requires kegerator or taps.

  • Not as portable or shareable.

  • Potential for artificial carbonation flavours.

Both methods have their merits. Bottling gives you portability at the cost of time. Kegging simplifies the process but requires specialised equipment. Many brewers keg most batches but bottle some beers to age.

7.The Waiting Game: Conditioning Your Brew

After packaging, beer is conditioned for a period of 1-6 weeks or more. This resting phase allows the beer to fully carbonate while also improving clarity and flavour.

During conditioning, remaining yeast and proteins drop out, absorbing off flavours and settling at the bottom. Hop bitterness mellows and compounds that produce fruity esters and malt aromas continue to develop.

Have patience and avoid sampling too early. Even when carbonated, the beer continues smoothing out and maturing for weeks or months after packaging.

shallow focus photography of bottle
shallow focus photography of bottle

Common Pitfalls: Troubleshooting Your Brewing Process

While the basic brewing process seems simple, many potential problems can arise if proper techniques aren't followed:

  • Off-flavours - Caused by contamination or yeast stress. Sanitise equipment, control fermentation temp, and use fresh yeast.

  • Cloudy or Hazy Beer - Proteins or starch weren't fully coagulated. Increase boil length, use finings, lower mash pH.

  • Low Carbonation - Inadequate priming sugar or incorrect bottling technique. Add yeast nutrient and avoid temperature swings.

  • Gushing Bottles - Beer was infected. Sanitise everything. Never use old yeast or transfer it with your mouth.

  • Stuck Fermentation - Underpitched yeast or fermentation temperature dropped too low. Always make a yeast starter and control temps.

There are infinite variables at play, but paying close attention to sanitization, yeast health, ingredient quality and fermentation management will help avoid many pitfalls encountered by homebrewers.

Elevate Your Craft: Advanced Brewing Techniques

As you refine your process, consider incorporating some advanced techniques to take your beer to the next level:

  • Step Mashing - Execute a series of mash steps at different temperatures to target specific enzymes and beer characteristics.

  • All-Grain Brewing - Skip the malt extract and control every ingredient by mashing whole grains for fuller malt flavour and complexity.

  • Water Chemistry - Adjust alkalinity, mineral content, and pH of your brewing water to accentuate desired qualities.

  • Dry Hopping - Add extra hops after fermentation for intense hop aroma without bitterness.

  • Barrel Aging - Mature beer for months in wine or spirit barrels to impart oak, vanilla flavours and complexity.

  • Mixed Fermentation - Introduce wild yeast and bacteria alongside conventional brewers yeast for tart, funky flavours.

  • Clarity Techniques - Fine with Irish moss, use kettle finings, filter, or cold crash to achieve crystal clarity.

Don't rush into these without mastering the basics first. But exploring advanced techniques will unlock new dimensions of control and creativity for devoted brewers.

The Tools of the Trade: Must-Have Brewing Equipment

Quality equipment tailored to your brewing approach is essential for optimising results. Here is some key gear for all-grain brewing:

  • Hot Liquor Tank - Heats strike water for mashing in.

  • Mash Tun - Insulated vessel for steeping grains to make wort.

  • Lauter Tun - Separates wort from spent grains.

  • Brew Kettle - Cooks wort and facilitates boil additions.

  • Wort Chiller - Cools hot wort rapidly before fermentation.

  • Fermenter - Food-grade bucket, carboy or tank that hosts fermentation.

  • Airlock - Lets CO2 escape while sealing out air.

  • Racking Gear - Syphon, tubing and valves for transferring beer.

  • Sanitizers - PBW, StarSan and other cleaners.

  • Yeast Starters - Erlenmeyer flasks for preparing yeast.

  • Hydrometer - Measures specific gravity and ABV.

  • pH Meter- Monitors mash and brewing water acidity.

  • Refractometer - Estimates OG and FG gravity.

  • Bottling/Kegging - All the gear for packaging.

Invest in high-quality equipment matched to your brewing ambitions. Take time to properly learn each system and how to clean and maintain it. A thoughtfully designed brewery will set you up for success.

The Brewmaster's Glossary: Terms Every Brewer Should Know

Learning the unique vocabulary and lingo used by brewers will help you communicate with other homebrewers and understand recipes, techniques, and principles. Here are some key brewing terms to know:

  • Mash - The mixture of crushed grains and hot water steeped to extract sugars, flavours, colour.

  • Lautering - The process of separating liquid wort from the grain solids.

  • Wort - The sweet liquid extracted from the mash before fermentation.

  • Pitch - Adding yeast to the cooled wort to start fermentation.

  • Original Gravity (OG) - The density of wort before fermentation measured in SG.

  • Final Gravity (FG) - Density measured after fermentation is complete.

  • ABV - Alcohol by volume. Calculated from OG and FG.

  • IBU - International Bitterness Units. Measures hop bitterness.

  • Dry Hopping - Adding hops after fermentation for aroma.

  • Trub - Coagulated proteins and hop particles that settle out.

  • Krausen - The foamy head produced during active fermentation.

  • Adjuncts - Supplementary grains or fermentables like rice, corn, sugar.

  • Break Material - Particles that settle out from the wort during cooling and fermentation.

  • Diacetyl - Butter-like off flavour produced at end of fermentation.

  • Fusel Alcohols - Harsh tasting alcohols produced by high fermentation temperatures.

  • Blow-Off Tube - Overflow tube used during very active fermentation.

  • Priming - Adding sugar before bottling to carbonate the beer.

Memorise these and other common brewing terms you come across to fluently discuss and understand the beer making process.

.....And That's How Beer is Made!

While equipment and techniques vary, all styles of craft beer undergo the same transformative 7-step journey from grain to glass. Mastering each phase of the brewing process is challenging yet immensely rewarding. With passion, patience, and care to every detail, you too can brew exceptional beer from the comfort of your homebrewery.

Remember, brewing is an art as well as a science. Don't aim for perfection, but rather consistency and incremental improvements over time. Stay curious, keep meticulous notes, and above all - relax and enjoy the brewing process! Beer crafted with creativity and passion always tastes better.

Want more on homebrewing? Head over to the Brewpedia blog now!