Join Date: Mar 2009
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Liked 2 Times on 2 Posts
I don't want to give anyone in here the impression that I was some "master brewer" that made beer for national taste testing competitions. I was always interested in chemistry in general and I came across a book called "The Lore of Still Building" which explained the process of malting wheat or rye or barley or whatever, then using the enzymes to produce sugar from starch, and then fermenting that sugar to produce ethyl alcohol. And, that book also explained some of the ingenious designs that people have used in making stills. I found all of that very interesting, and so I started making wine when I was 21, beer shortly afterward, but I never did build a still or make hard liquor. I've always been interested in the role alcohol has played in human society and our history.
But, I should say right now that the one time I tried making beer from scratch, by malting barley and grinding up baked barley and hops, I can't say I got any better a beer than I did from a $12 beer kit. I found it to be a lot of work, messy and the results were disappointing. I got better results faster and easier from store bought beer kits than I got from going through the whole process from scratch.
It's not just my own opinion, as all of my friends at that time agreed, that the beer I was making from kits tasted better than those sold by brewerys. The reason why is that it wasn't until you started drinking beers made from kits that you started to notice a "metallic" or "chemical" taste in the beers made by breweries. I really don't know what causes that, but I suspect the difference is in the carbonation. When yeast ferments sugar, the result is the formation of "sediment" at the bottom of the fermenter. People buying beer don't want to see any sediment at the bottom of their bottle cuz they think "Yuck, what's that crap?" so breweries will use compressed Carbon Dioxide to carbonate their beer just the same way as soft drinks and "sparkling wines" are carbonated at the factory. The amount of carbonation has a huge impact on the taste of any beverage, and you know if you've ever compared the taste of distilled water and soda water.
When you make your own beer, you carbonate it by dissolving more sugar in the beer immediately before bottling it. The added sugar causes the fermentation process to start up again inside the bottle (which is exactly how champagne is carbonated), and the result is that the byproduct of yeast fermenting sugar is CO2 produced which is trapped inside the bottle. As that "secondary fermentation" proceeds, you get more and more CO2 dissolved in the beer, and that's what causes both home made beer and store bought champagne to be under pressure when you first open the bottle. You don't find hardly any pressure when you open a bottle of store bought beer, and I think they must add something to the beer that keeps the CO2 in solution rather than have it reach it's natural equilibrium with the pressure in the airspace above the liquid.
Anyhow, it's been my experience, that by adding sugar to the beer before bottling results in a natural carbonation, and I don't know if that natural carbonation results in a smoother, more agreeable taste, or that breweries add something to keep the CO2 dissolved in the beer that causes store bought beer to have a metallic or chemical taste to it. (You get sediment in each bottle of champagne too, just like you do in home made beer, but they use a special process of turning the champagne bottles upside down and freezing the necks so that the champagne bottle can be opened and the frozen sediment removed so that you never find sediment in store bought champagne that you otherwise would find if they didn't remove it.)
So, I believe the difference in taste between home made beer and brewery beer is in the carbonation process, and I can assure you that well made beer (even if it's made from a kit) DOES taste better and is more pleasurable to drink than any beer made by a brewery that I've ever tasted.
Anyhow, I tried making "mead" once, which has been made in the northern latitudes of Europe for as long as wine has been made in the southern latitudes, but I can't say I really liked the stuff. It basically tasted like watered down vodka, but it did have it's own characteristic taste that neither water nor vodka have.
Anyhow, I've always found it extremely interesting that the sugar (glucose) molecule is fundamental to the metabolism of all living things on this Good Earth because it was undoubtedly fundamental to the primordial algae in Earth's early oceans from which all life subsequently evolved. A tree, for example, makes sugar molecules by combining water from the roots, CO2 from the air and energy from the Sun to produce glucose molecules. That is the one and only thing that photosynthesis produces; glucose molecules. But, there are two different molecular structures (or "isomers") of C6H12O6 and if you stack up one kind of glucose molecule like bricks in a wall, you get starch, which is what cereal grains, rice and potatoes are made mostly of. If you stack up the other kind of glucose moleculel, you get cellulose, which is what cotton is made of and wood is mostly made of. In fact, everything in every plant, including the itchy stuff in poison ivy, was somehow made from lowly sugar molecules.
Plants provide their seeds with a packet of "energy" to get them off to a good start when they start to grow. That energy supply is in the form of a supply of starch. Seeds contain a supply of starch and an enzyme called "Diastase". When a seed starts to grow, the diastase enzyme in the seed starts converting the starch back into glucose to provide the energy needed for the plant to grow.
To make the sugar needed for alcohol, farmers in Europe and in America used to germinate seeds so that the seeds started to sprout, and the "root" of the seed would emerge from the seed husk. Once the root was about the same length as the seed, then the amount of diastase in the seed had reached it's highest level and conversion of starch into sugar was at a maximum. This process is called "malting" and Moonshiners would then stop the seed's germination by baking the germinated seeds, or at least Sun drying them. They would then grind up the germinated seeds and grind up a much larger amount of ungerminated seeds (typically barley for some reason) and mix the two together in water to make a thick "mash". The diastase enzyme from the germinated seeds would then mix with the starch from the ungerminated seeds in the mash to convert the starch into sugar (glucose) molecules. Once that mixture was sweet to the taste, yeast would be added to ferment those sugar molecules into ethyl alchol molecules. As that fermentation occured, the mash would taste less and less sweet, and would be converted to "sour mash". It wouldn't have actually tasted sour, it just wouldn't be sweet anymore, and therefore would have been CALLED "sour" to identify it as having already been fermented. It certainly could never have tasted any more sour than ethyl alcohol, or vodka, neither of which has a sour taste. From there, it was just a matter of distilling that liquid to concentrate the alcohol in the vapours that boiled off. There, now everyone reading this knows more than 99% of the people out there about how to make moonshine. And, of course, everyone reading this also now understands why the myth that this process gone awry would produce methyl alcohol (which when consumed would cause people to go blind and die) is untrue. The fact is that seeds contains starch. Diastase converts starch to sugar. Yeast converts sugar to ETHYL alcohol. The misinformation that it could produce methyl alcohol instead was propogated by both the US and Canadian governments to discourage people from making, buying and consuming moonshine to ensure people bought (and paid the high taxes) on government approved spirits. So far as I know, it's simply not possible for any still to produce methyl alcohol instead of ethyl alcohol, and so it's not possible to go blind or die from drinking moonshine. It's just one more lie told to us by our respective governments in order to get us to do what they want.
(Incidentally, it was actually Louis Pasteur who discovered that there were different kinds of micro organisms that grew naturally on grape skins, and that the yeast that converted sugar into ethyl alcohol would occasionally lose the battle for dominance to other microorganisms that converted the sugar into acetic acid (vinegar). Until Louis figured that out, then why "wine" would occasionally turn into vinegar was the greatest mystery of the middle ages. Louis, with his microscope, and working on a commission from the government of France (cuz wine was so important to the French economy) found that the wine didn't turn into vinegar as had been thought. He discovered that the grape juice usually turns into wine, but will occasionally turn into vinegar instead depending on which of the various micro-organisms growing on the grape skins is more successful in reproducing, and that depended on the conditions during the early stages of fermentation. Modern winemakers add something called "Camden Tablets" to their grape juice to kill ALL the micro-organisms in the grape juice, so that when the yeast it added, it has no competition in converting the grape juice sugars into alcohol, thus insuring that you get wine instead of vinegar every time.)
And, it's interesting to me because the same ancient technology that produced wine and beer is where the future lies as modern day researchers try and figure out how to convert CELLULOSE back into sugar, and ferment that cellulostic sugar to make ethyl alcohol as a substitute for gasoline.
Last edited by Nestor_Kelebay; 10-22-2009 at 01:20 AM.