Grain to glass: What happens before that craft beer ends up in your pint glass?
By Kyle Lieving, Head Brewer at Chucktown Brewery
From grain to glass, this is what a typical day is like for me, as the Head Brewer at Chucktown Brewery.
Craft beer is having a moment, and breweries are popping up all over Charleston. One of the newest additions isChucktown Breweryand we’re honored to be a part of this thriving local beer scene.
Most of us have our favorites from the brewery we love to frequent, the beer we always order when we get there, or the type of beer we generally like to drink. We’re fortunate to have so many options in Charleston. But what does it take to get that delicious beer into your pint glass? I’ll walk you through the beermaking process. From grain to glass, this is what a typical day is like for me, as the Head Brewer at Chucktown Brewery.
We currently have about a dozen beers on tap at Chucktown Brewery.
In total, it takes about two weeks to brew a beer. The process can be shorter (as little as 10 days) or longer (up to 3 weeks), depending on what you’re brewing, and the end result you're looking for. Day one is prep, gathering ingredients and getting everything ready to brew. You want to make sure everything is clean and ready to go before you start. This is when most brewers mill their grain as well. It can be time-consuming, so it helps the actual brew day run smoother when you do this in advance. Milling removes the starches and sugars out of the grain, which is a key step to producing alcohol.
On day two, we start filling up the water tanks and getting them to the proper temperatures. This is key because a few degrees up or down can change how a beer tastes when it’s finished. A good brewer will add different chemicals to the water, depending on the type of beer they’re planning to brew. Once the temperature hits its mark, that’s when the fun begins.
Milling removes the starches and sugars out of the grain, which is a key step to producing alcohol.
We mix all the grains and other fun additives (cereal, cakes, chocolate) to make the mash. You want a good mix, so the starches transfer over. Next, we start moving the liquid wort over into the boil kettle. This is where we add the hops. The boil lasts about an hour — though, some can take longer depending on beer style and what you plan to do with it.
After the boil is complete, we run the wort through a heat exchanger to cool it down in order to add the yeast. Yeast won't survive well in boiling temperatures, so we want to make sure we get it to the sweet spot before adding, and then let the magic happen.
Over the next couple of weeks, we check the gravity readings on the beer. This lets us know what the alcohol by volume (ABV) is, and if the beer has stopped fermenting. After a few days of no movement, we assume it no longer is and do a diacetyl test. Diacetyl is an off-flavor that tastes like butter. If it tastes like butter, it sits for a couple more days until that taste goes away. During this process, we sample it each day for other off-flavors as well.
After fermentation, we change the tank to a cold temperature to get the yeast out of the beer. Then we dump it to add hops and other flavors. We keep tasting daily until we like the outcome, then dump the hops and flavor additions to carbonate it. Depending on the style of beer you’re going for, it should be ready to serve in 10-21 days. Keep in mind, carbonation levels vary depending on that style. Once we get it where we want it, we put it into kegs so it’s ready to tap and pour into your glass.
After fermentation, we change the tank to a cold temperature to get the yeast out of the beer.
We currently have about a dozen beers on tap at Chucktown Brewery. You can also find us on tap around town atThe Basement,Bay Street Biergarten,Evo,andStones Throw Tavern.Next time you’re on King Street, stop by Chucktown Brewery and try one of our tasty brews!