Q&A Tuesday: Beer, beer, beer: Brewmaster explains process

Ah, beer. Beer is, well, intoxicating. It warms and, since it's made with nourishing wheat, it even sustains.

Some people, given a choice if they were trapped on a remote island, would choose a keg of stout over a crate of food to keep them alive. As a wise waiter in Edmonds, Wash., once said: "Beer has food value. Food has no beer value."

In a land where a few choice conglomerates all make one style of beer that has become the norm for nearly 300 million people, Stew's Sportatorium Brewmaster Joe Renden is plying his knowledge of chemistry, wheat and brewing to do what monks, pub-owners and connoisseurs have been doing for centuries: Delve into the endless possibilities for creating a unique brew.

Now a brewmaster, Renden is happy to explain what he has learned.

What are the different types of beer?

There are probably over 50 styles, but there are two basic (most common) types: lagers and ales - most common mass-produced U.S. beers are lagers.

They are made with different types of yeast that ferment at different temperatures. Lager yeast ferments around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Ale yeast ferments at warmer temperatures, between 60 and 70 degrees.

Lager is German for "to store." After it's fermented, they store it for two to 12 weeks at a cold temperature - just above freezing. That cleans up the beer, clears up the flavor.

Lager generally has a cleaner, crisper taste.

Ale is more complicated, and more varied.

At warmer temperatures, different products called esters are produced, adding different flavors. High temperatures can also give it higher alcohol content, which can change the flavor.

All the things we taste in beer are metabolic byproducts.

Ale generally has a more bitter taste.

What's the allure of beer?

For me, it's like an old kitchen with all these different smells together, and you try to figure out what they all are.

We associate a lot of memories with food, and it can be very personal.

Are people missing out on beer by sticking with the norm?

Food is a very personal thing. Most people eat what they are used to eating. One time, I met an Egyptian person who couldn't believe we eat peanut butter. He thought it was disgusting.

With beer, you're just bombarded with advertisements, and it's gotta be crystal-clear and have low flavor.

Beer used to change all over the world just from things like the different water. A lot of different styles developed just from areas' geography.

Now it's like someone who just eats grilled cheese sandwiches three times a day for life. And they like grilled cheese, and they don't want to change and that's up to them.

OK, yes. In my opinion, a lot of people are missing out.

What's your favorite beer?

That's like saying what's your favorite food. You don't want to eat the same thing every day, even if you really like it.

The one that first got me real interested was a German hefeweizen.

What's the process of making beer?

We order a grain that's already been malted - roasted at different lengths to get different flavors and colors. We get yeast, a lot of water and hops. There are maybe 200 varieties of hops, depending on what kind of characteristics you want.

We just put the water through an ordinary charcoal filter. We have pretty good water over here on the west side (of Carson City), and for our beer, it's all about the water. We might add some things like calcium to help ferment.

The grain gets milled, crushed, or just cracked, really. When you crack the grain, it allows water to get inside.

Then the grain goes in a Mashtun, where it's mixed with hot water. Temperature is very important because enzymes in the grains are temperature sensitive, and you can control what enzymes are released, and the flavor, by the temperature.

Then you collect the water out from the grain; this is called the wart. You add more water to wash it and extract the sugar. You collect the wart down to a certain sugar content - the gravity and sugar content is what makes the alcohol content.

Throw in the right hops at various times. The longer the hops boil, the more bitterness is extracted. If you throw them in at the end, you'll have less bitterness and more of the hops' flavor. If you throw them all in early, the flavor will be burned off.

Then we put it into a whirlpool that will cool it, and the solids will collect in the bottom, then we put it through a heat exchanger to cool it more. If you try to introduce yeast while it's hot, you'll kill it.

It then goes into the fermenter tank. This is where you add your yeast. The wart is also oxygenated on the way to the fermenter. This takes about 12 to 14 days for ale.

From there it goes into storage tanks. Then it gets filtered with diatomaceous earth.

The last step is the serving tank, where it gets carbonated and hooked up to the taps.

What different types of beer are you making at Stew's, in the old Lucky Spur building?

Honey beer, pale ale, stout, blonde, amber, and we're going to make a blueberry beer.


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