Craft Beer 101

You may have noticed that here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex new craft breweries are popping up left and right and it’s hard to keep up with them all.  Well, fear not as DFW Craft Beer is doing that for you so you don’t have to!  There’s currently a craft brewery explosion going on in the metroplex as well as all over the nation and your probably wondering what this is all about?

Before we begin let me explain what differentiates “craft beer” from the big yellow fizzy guys beer:

Definition of a Craft Brewery:

Craft breweries are small

Fizzy yellow beer is for wussies

Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Craft breweries are independent

Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned by a non-craft brewer

Craft breweries are traditional

A craft brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

*Source, Brewers Association Website:

You may hear them called “microbreweries” as well but typically they brew using the traditional ingredients of barley, hops, water and yeast.  Which brings us to Craft Beer Ingredients:

Craft Beer Ingredients

In order for a brewery to be considered a craft brewery they have to use traditional ingredients.  What are they?  Water, barley or wheat, hops and yeast:



water plays a very important role in the flavor of beer.  Knowing the character of the local water source as well as how to adjust it to improve the beer is a critical skill.

Water impacts beer in three ways.  Water ions are critical in the mashing process, where the character of the water determines the efficiency and flavor of the extracted wort.  Water also affects the perceived bitterness and hop utilization of finished beer.  Finally, water adds flavor directly to the beer itself – as water is the largest single component in finished beer.

Barley (or Malted Barley):


Barley is the seed of the barley plant, it is a grain that is similar to wheat in appearance.  It is harvested mostly in the United States and in Europe.  Specific types of barley are used in the production of different types of beers, each strain imparts a unique characteristic taste and body that is suited for different beers.  Malted barley is barley that has been allowed to germinate (sprout) to a degree and is then dried.  This is accomplished industrially by increasing the water content of the seed to 40-45% by soaking it for a period close to 40 hours.  The seed is then drained and held at a constant temperature (60 F) for close to 5 days until it starts to sprout.  The barley is slowly dried in a kiln at temperatures gradually rising to 122 F for lighter malts and 220 F for darker malts.  This kiln drying takes about 30 hours. Finally, the rootlets from the partially germinated seeds are removed.



The hops used in brewing are actually the flower of the hop plant, which is a member of the hemp family.  Hops contain an essential oil with a very bitter flavor.  This bitterness counters the sweetness from the malt to create a more balanced beer, and it also acts as a preservative.  Beer makers can play with the ratio of sweet maltiness to bitterness in the final beer by adjusting the type of hops used in the brewing, when they’re added to the wort, and how long they’re boiled.


There was a time when the role of yeast in brewing was unknown.  In the days of the Vikings, each family had their own brewing stick that they used for stirring the wort.  These brewing sticks were regarded as family heirlooms because it was the use of that stick that guaranteed that the beer would turn out right.  Obviously, those sticks retained the family yeast culture.  The German Beer Purity Law of 1516 – The Reinheitsgebot, listed the only allowable materials for brewing as malt, hops, and water.  With the discovery of yeast and its function in the late 1860’s by Louis Pasteur, the law had to be amended.


Brewer’s Yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) is considered to be a type of fungus.  It reproduces asexually by budding – splitting off little daughter cells.  Yeast are unusual in that they can live and grow both with or without oxygen.  Most micro-organisms can only do one or the other.  Yeast can live without oxygen by a process that we refer to as fermentation.  The yeast cells take in simple sugars like glucose and maltose and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products.

Along with converting sugar to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, yeast produce many other compounds, including esters, fusel alcohols, ketones, various phenolics and fatty acids.  Esters are the molecular compound responsible for the fruity notes in beer, phenols cause the spicy notes, and in combination with chlorine, medicinal notes.  Diacetyl is a ketone compound that can be beneficial in limited amounts.  It gives a butter or butterscotch note to the flavor profile of a beer and is desired to a degree in heavier Pale Ales, Scotch Ales and Stouts.  Unfortunately, Diacetyl tends to be unstable and can take on stale, raunchy tones due to oxidation as the beer ages.  This is particularly true for light lagers, where the presence of diacetyl is considered to be a flaw.  Fusel alcohols are heavier molecular weight alcohols and are thought to be a major contributor to hangovers.  These alcohols also have low taste thresholds and are often readily apparent as “sharp” notes. Fatty acids, although they take part in the chemical reactions that produce the desired compounds, also tend to oxidize in old beers and produce off-flavors.

Now that we know what ingredients are used to make beer let’s move on to How Craft Beer is Made:

How Craft Beer is Made

A. Mashing:

Mash Tun

Mashing happens in a vessel called the mash tun.  This is where grains, malted barley or wheat (or sometimes just called “malt”), are soaked in hot water for about an hour in order to release the sugars contained in those grains.  We need these sugars because sugars are the food that the yeast later “eats” during fermentation in order to produce alcohol.  No sugar means no alcohol, which means no beer and that’s no bueno!.  In addition to the fermentable sugars in malt, malt also adds flavor, aroma, and body depending on the type of malt used.  Sweetness comes from malt as well which is why you often hear people refer to a sweet tasting beer as malty.

B. Sparging:


In this step the grains are rinsed with hot water in order to extract the rest of the sugar out of them.  The grains are then separated from the hot liquid in a process known as lautering.  Breweries perform these steps in a vessel known as the lauter tun, but homebrewers typically mash, sparge, and lauter all in the same vessel.

The liquid prodcued up to now is now known as wort (pronounced “wert”).  The wort is sent to another tank for the final brewing steps and the grains are now discarded.

C. Boiling the wort:

Boiling Wort

The wort, now in what is known as the boil kettle, is boiled in order to kill any micro-organisms that are present in the liquid.  A typical boil process lasts about an hour.  This is also where hops are added to the beer.  Hops require boiling water in order to release their flavor components (lupulin).  The stage in the boil when the hops are added makes a difference on the final characteristic of the beer.  Hops added in the very beginning of the boil would have a different effect if they were added near the end.  The brewer uses this knowledge to finely craft the profile of the beer.

D. Fermentation:

Fermentation Tanks

Even though most of the hard work is done on the brewers part, this step is critical.  During fermentation the hungry yeast eats the sugars that were released and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The carbon dioxide is released into the air and the alcohol stays in the beer.  This process usually takes 1-2 weeks.

E.  Carbonation:

By this step, the beer is almost ready for consumption.  If you were to consume it as-is, you would find it extremely flat and unappetizing.  What it needs is carbonation.  The head and those tiny little bubbles you see in your glass are a result of the carbonation process.  This is done by directly injecting carbon dioxide into the beer.  Another carbonation method is to add a small amount of sugar to the bottles (known as bottle conditioning).  The residual yeast left in the bottles will consume the sugar and naturally carbonate the liquid by releasing C02.

G.  Packaging:

Six Pack.

Once carbonated it is time to package the final product.  A commercial brewery will either can, keg, or bottle their beer.  Then it is out the door and into the hands of the drinker.

NEXT UP: Ales vs. Lagers!

Finally:  Ales & Lagers

Now that you know exactly what a craft brewery is by definition and what types of ingredients they use, let’s examine the two different categories beer fall under:  Ales & Lagers


An ale is a type of beer brewed using a warm fermentation with a strain of ale yeast.  Compared to lager yeasts, ale yeasts ferment more quickly, and often produce a sweeter, fuller-bodied and fruitier tasting beer.  Also, ale yeast cells tend to flocculate, or gather, towards the top of the fermentation tank (known as top fermenting).  Ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures, typically 40 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some common types of ales:

Amber Ale
American Pale Ale
India Pale Ale
Brown Ale


Lager (The German word for storage) is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures; it may be pale, golden, amber, or dark.  Also, lager yeast cells tend to flocculate, or gather, towards the bottom of the fermentation tank (known as bottom fermenting).  Lager yeasts prefer cooler temperatures, typically around 32 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some common types of lagers:

Premium Lager
Vienna Lagger


So you learned the definition of a craft brewery, learned what ingredients make up craft beer and you learned how it’s brewed.  What do you do next?  Go and have a beer!  Find one of the great watering holes listed here and order a nice local craft beer and enjoy!
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