Wort: the magical liquid that becomes beer – the all grain version.
What is wort? Wort is beer in its infancy, and like all infants we want to protect it from harmful nasties that could infect or otherwise make it sick or contaminated.
But where does wort come from? How can we protect it? How long does it take for this sweet wort to become beer? These are a few of the questions you may ask yourself.
So you’ve sanitized all of your equipment and heated your mash water to the proper temperature. The mash cycle is complete, sparging has been done, and now you have a very sweet liquid grain. This liquid has a name: Wort. The wort is placed in a brew kettle on the burner to be heated to a rolling boil. As hard as it may be to believe – especially if you couldn’t resist tasting the wort right out of the mash tun – this almost sickening sweet liquid will eventually become beer.
First we go through a boiling process. It is during this process that we add hops and other ingredients referred to as adjuncts. (We’ll talk about adjuncts later) The same as opposites attract and compliment each other, so it is with wort and hops. Kind of like peanut butter & jelly, night & day, Bonnie & Clyde… OK, those last three comparisons are probably a stretch, but you get the picture: The wort is dependent on the hops and the hops are dependent on the wort.
Together the bitterness of the hops balances out the sweetness of the wort. Depending on the style of beer and the amount of bitterness desired, you add hops at different intervals throughout the boiling process. (We will discuss hops and their different characteristics in greater detail in a future article)
I find that most of my boil periods are for 1 hour, but this can very by recipe and preference. So for the sake of this article we’ll say you added the hops when required and the wort has boiled for an hour. During this boiling period your infant wort is pretty safe from all the nasties that may try to do bad things to it.
But alas the time has come to end the boil. Going forward, it is critical that everything is cleaned and sanitized properly. This can be the difference between drinking your beer and dumping your beer; opening a beer and pouring a glass with a perfect head, or having Old Faithful blow all over the place. Sanitation is one of the most important, if not the most important, step to producing great beer. It doesn’t matter how well you did in all the other steps, if you fail to sanitize everything properly.
While the wort was boiling it was pretty safe, but now as it cools it is more susceptible to the undesirable nasties that seek to ruin your brewing experience. Not to worry: I’m sure you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and you can chill out over a cold home brew while the wort is chilling in the kettle. Quicker is better when chilling your wort down. Once the wort has cooled to the desired temperature it is time to rack or transfer the wort into your primary or first stage fermenter.
By now you should have properly prepared the yeast and it is ready to be pitched into your primary fermenter. At this point you’ll take a reading of your wort’s gravity, but that’s another topic we’ll save for a future article. Play ball! Now you can pitch the yeast. From this point forward, when the wort comes in contact with the yeast magical things happen, and it begins to ferment. Our sweet little infant is no longer going to be as sweet and innocent as it once was.