The Importance Of Fermentation In Breweries
Beer making relies heavily on the fermentation process. In fact, it is this process that aids the production of alcohol mainly beer. This is why you will sight large fermentation vessels/tanks in any brewery you visit. These tanks are where the wort and yeast is added to initiate fermentation. Without this unique process, it would be otherwise impossible to produce large amounts of brewed alcohol, but just how important is fermentation? In order to understand its importance and benefits, we first need to define what fermentation is.
What is fermentation?
In biological terms, fermentation is a metabolic process by which living organisms convert glucose/starch into alcohol or acid. It also involves the production of energy without using oxygen. In beer brewing, this is the process by which yeast converts sugar (found in wort and molasses) to ethyl alcohol and CO2. The fermentation process needs to take place in cool temperatures, which is why the tanks and vessels feature chillers. There are various kinds of portable and fixed chillers used by modern breweries. You can read more information about fermentation cooling and how the different chillers work. It is also advisable to review various cooling equipment before making an investment.
How it takes place
As aforementioned, breweries accomplish fermentation in special tanks/vessels. Once these vessels are installed, they are cooled down to an initial starting temperature. Yeast added to the tanks followed by cooling wort that contains sugar. If the beer is stout or lager, the temperature is maintained at around 48º F (Fahrenheit) or 9º C (Celsius) for up to six weeks. If it is an ale, the temperatures are a bit higher (68º F/ 20º C) for about two weeks. Fermentation process begins almost immediately producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermentation tanks are usually tightly sealed with a thin pipe being the only vent within the system. This vent is provided to allow CO2 escape. No air from outside can enter the vessel. As alcohol production continues, yeast and wort sediments/residue settle at the bottom of the tanks, which are usually cone shaped to allow easy to remove and replace yeast.
Why is it so important?
Fermentation is a critical process in the production of beer and wine. It must be accomplished within the best conditions to ensure quality and consistency. The two most critical factors are oxygen and temperature. Fermentation allows yeast to breakdown glucose into alcohol. The yeast will break down glucose for energy and the alcohol and CO2 are simply by products. This only happens when there is no oxygen present, which explains why the tanks remain sealed during the fermentation process. If there is oxygen present, the yeast will use it and produce more yeast and CO2. If this takes place, it could cause a myriad of oxidation reactions that eventually spoil the final taste of your beverage.
Temperature is another important variable. Although yeast grows and multiplies faster at higher temperatures, it is not the best environment for beer production. As the yeast grows, it produces several other compounds known as esters. Allowing too much ester can compromise the quality of beer you get. As such, the fermentation tanks must be kept at low temperatures to slow down and manage the production of esters.
Fermentation gives beer its characteristic flavor and nutrients. Unlike other processes such as distillation, fermentation retains the enzymes and nutrients found in the wort. However, these are simply the benefits. The process should be achieved in a highly regulated environment to ensure consistency in flavor and quality. It is also worth noting that fermentation continues even after the beverage has been bottled albeit in significantly lower proportions.