Just like the finest restaurant meal or the most delicate white wine, craft beer is a handcrafted, artisanal product. In the hands of Hong Kong Beer Co's experienced brewers, over 100 craft beer styles - such as IPAs, pale ales, stouts, saisons, and pilsners - can be brought to life in single batches with individualized skill, technique, and creativity.
Craft beer has four core ingredients - malt, water, hops, and yeast. If you’ve ever wondered how these four simple ingredients combine to make over 100 glorious and distinctive craft beer styles, the following primer on the brewing process will catapult your understanding.
First, malted barley or “malt” is milled into crushed kernels called “grist.” The grist is added to a vessel called a “mash tun.” Boiling water is added to the grist to make a “mash” that looks like oatmeal and smells like delicious, sweet bread. The mash tun has a good stirring mechanism known as a “mash rake” to keep the temperature of the mash uniform, an efficient heating method that will not scorch the grist, and proper insulation to maintain rest temperatures for up to one hour. At the right temperature, natural enzymes in the malt break down the malt’s starches into sugars (for fermenting) and dextrins (gives the beer mouthfeel). A slightly lower-temperature mash creates crisp, dry beers, while higher temperatures produce sweeter, richer beers.
Next up, the liquid “sweet wort” is separated from the mash solids in the “lauter tun.” The lauter tun has a slotted, perforated floor, also called a false bottom, that holds the spent milled grains, while allowing the sweet wort to filter through the grain bed and collect in the space beneath.
The sweet wort is piped into the “brew kettle” where it is boiled for 60 to 90 minutes. During the boil, hops are added to create “wort” (pronounced “wert”). Hops are the flowers, or cones, of the plant Humulus lupulus. There are currently over 170 varieties of hops from which brewers can choose. Hops help to keep beer fresher longer, help beer retain its head of foam, and add aroma, flavour, and bitterness. Some hops are intended to be used early in the boil to impart bitterness while others are prized for their distinctive aroma and are meant to be added at the end of the boil, during the whirlpool, or during fermentation in a process known as “dry hopping.”
After boiling, wort enters the “whirlpool,” a vessel that separates out any leftover grain and hop fragments. As the hot wort is swirled in the whirlpool tank, the centripetal forces cause the sediment to gather in the center of the bottom of the vessel, forming a “trub cone” and leaving the rest of the wort clear. Whirlpool hopping adds less bitterness than kettle hopping (since the temperature of the wort is lower than during the boil) and instead captures volatile hop aroma oils that would otherwise boil off quickly at higher temperatures. Once the wort comes to a rest, it is pumped through a heat exchanger that allows for a controlled cooling of the wort and then into a fermentation vessel and the trub cone is discarded.
Fermentation is the process whereby “sugars” are converted by “yeast” to alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat. The specific strain of yeast and the fermentation temperature are critical to the outcome of the fermentation, not only in the ability of the yeast to metabolize the wort contents to produce alcohol and distinctive flavour characteristics but also in the capacity of the yeast to tolerate the byproducts of its own metabolism, most notably alcohol. There are literally hundreds of varieties of yeast; and yet, brewer’s typically jealously guard their yeast strains (with some strains remaining unchanged for decades due to serial repitching of the collected yeast at the end of fermentation). Most beer fermentations are complete within 4 to 10 days at which point the beer is considered to be “green” or “raw,” and ready for maturation.
Many of our beers are “dry hopped,” a process in which, after the beer has completed primary fermentation, hops are added back to the beer to steep. Dry hopping contributes huge amounts of aroma to our beers without significantly increasing their bitterness. This process is very much like making tea by steeping tea bags in room temperature water. Typically a slow process, we are able to accelerate and enhance the steeping by using a “hop gun” which rapidly recirculates the beer through the late addition hops.
Maturation includes all transformations between the end of primary fermentation and the removal of yeast from the beer in preparation for packaging. During maturation, the full flavor of the beer develops as any remaining compounds are reduced, either by the continuing action of the yeast or by other organic chemical pathways.
The beer is chilled and “cellared” like wine for approximately 2-4 weeks (depending upon the beer style) in "storage tanks" before it is packaged at our brewery into kegs, bottles, or cans. To preserve maximum freshness, finished beers are placed in our onsite cold-storage room, where they are kept at 4° Celsius for a short time until they are delivered directly to our customers in Hong Kong.