Best Practices

The CBG Technical and Education Committee provides opportunities, resources, and acts as a hub of communication for Colorado breweries to elevate their knowledge of quality and safety practices

Enzymes in Brewing

August 16th, 2017

It’s no big secret in the brewing industry that yeast likes to gobble up sugar to create one of the most magical libations out there. Beer. But where do the sugars come from? How are they created?

Sugar Formation
The majority of sugars used in the brewing process come from starches that are derived from the malted barley used in the mashing process. During the malting process, maltsters trick the barley kernels into thinking it’s time to sprout by soaking them and getting them to spring into action. This germination process loads the grains with the carbohydrates and enzymes necessary to help the grain grow until it comes out of the ground and can start producing energy via photosynthesis.
This is where we humans hijack the process. Instead of letting the seeds sprout and grow, we dry them out to shut down the process, giving us modified malted barley that is loaded with the starches and enzymes necessary to create the sugars needed to make the nectar of the gods…

What are Enzymes?
So what are these magical molecules that turn starches into sugar? Enzymes are made of amino acids strung together to form a protein. The order of the amino acids is very unique and it is this uniqueness that allows the enzymes to unfold into very specific shapes to do very specific tasks. Because of this the enzyme is very limited in what it can do, but man is it effective at what it does.

How do they Work?
The basic function of an enzyme is to act as a catalyst for specific chemical reactions, helping to speed up the reaction. The shape of the complex, folded chain allows smaller molecules to fit inside and interact with the enzyme. The spot on the chain where the smaller molecules interact is called the active site and this is where the magic happens. For instance, if you take two glucose molecules and bond them together you get maltose.

The maltase enzyme is designed solely to take the maltose molecule and break it into two glucose enzymes. It’s the only thing it can do. But it’s a world leader at what it does. Nobody is better.

Types and Function
There are many enzymes that are active in the brewing process. Below is a table that lists several enzymes and their role in brewing.

The Importance of Temperature
When most brewers think enzymes, alpha and beta amylase come to mind. During the mash process alpha-amylase creates soluble, non-fermentable sugars out of the long, complex insoluble starch molecules that are then broken down even further by the beta-amylase enzyme into fermentable sugars. Similar to humans, both of these enzymes have a temperature range where they work best Alpha-amylase works best in the range of 145°F to 158°F while beta-amylase works best from 131°F to 149°F.

So here’s the tricky part. We need both of these enzymes to work to give us the sugars we need but there’s a fairly small range where both are effective. Both enzymes are most active at the upper end of their respective temperature ranges, but this is also where the temperature starts to deform the enzymes by changing their shape. This process is known as denaturing and it renders the enzyme unable to do its job. So we need to strike a temp that is near both ranges. If we run the mash at a lower temp, say 148°F-150°F the beta-amylase stays active and creates more fermentable sugars, resulting in a drier beer. If we have a slightly higher mash temp, around the 152°F-154°F range, we start to rapidly denature the beta-amylase, resulting in more non-fermentable sugars giving a beer with more body.

Time to Study
Obviously there’s a lot more going on than is talked about here but it gives you a quick look at enzymes and the importance they play in the brewing process. Other factors such as pH and mash concentration also effect enzyme efficiencies and should be considered in your process. Study up on these factors and learn to make your process the most efficient it can be. It’ll make better beer, and we’ll all benefit from that.

Jason Ford, Founder/Brewmaster Broken Compass Brewing

Water is Beer, Or at Least Most Of It

June 29th, 2017

Over the last few years in California where I worked brewing in the San Gabriel Valley there was a cruel and pernicious drought that dried several reservoirs and dropped the water table on several aquifers across the state. You can blame climate change or overexploitation but the fact is that this kind of situation will push everyone to reconsider their consumption habits, location selection, hell, even the product composition in some cases.

In blessed places like the Colorado Front Range, a lot of the supply comes from surface sources like reservoirs and streams that have a consistent, yet not constant supply from snow runoff and are reliable in composition. Other parts of the state are not so fortunate and have a mixed supply of surface and aquifer water while others only use wells as sources. In terms of availability a study supplied by the USGS in 2006 suggests that every state will be importing water from foreign sources (Oceans, Canada, other states) by the year 2050, except for those states around the great lakes.

In summary, water is variable, scarce at best and its use needs to be reduced. The fact is that as brewers we frequently care extensively for the quality and supply chain of malted barley or wheat, adjuncts, hops and specialty ingredients, often forgetting that without water we are…well, not brewing.

Water standard use for brewing ranges from “world-class” around 2.5 Barrels of water/Barrel of finished beer (BWBB) to “standard” 5.5 BWBB to extreme >10 BWBB. If you think of it, it is ridiculous to think we need 10 times more water than the beer we produce with it.

So, what’s the answer? The easy answer is “use less water”. Well duh, we know that, but when you have limited resources, low supply pressure, limited time for sanitation and the focus is on making killer beer, the usages generally go up and quickly are out of control. The fact is that a water-reduction approach needs to start with a process approach, more than a “shut the hose” thinking. A water reduction program is expensive, complicated and requires a lot of attention. Plus, we are brewers and brewing is what we do…so the answer needs to start with brewing.


If you work on your Lautering Efficiency (LE), you can save double the water. Here’s the math:

Think of a Lauter where you get 10 Bbls of a standard Plato wort and you use 20 Bbls of water (during sparge, cleaning, underlet, etc.) at a 70% LE. This is a use of 2 BWBB. If you, by means of process optimization (mill grind changes, mash mixer agitation reduction, enzymes, reduction of beta-glucan-rich materials, sparge temperature optimization) increase your LE to 80%, you will use THE SAME AMOUNT OF WATER and get 11.36 Bbls of wort at the same Plato. That mean you will go down to 1.72 BWBB which is a 12% reduction!!!

On the example above, you didn’t do anything but get better all around, no expensive system from your favorite engineering supplier, no reduction on sanitation (a classic) and you also increased your profitability by paying attention to the process itself.

Cleaning cycles on process equipment

Yep, let’s go there. And the first thought is to reduce them. Perfect. True. Ideal…Nah!

The schedule will give you many times the reduction than simply reducing the cycles. Here’s the math:

Say you have a cycle that lasts 60 minutes and uses 40 Bbls of water (overall including pre-rinse, makeup, cleaning and final rinse(S)). Say you have this cycle every day for 5 days…that means you have used 200Bbls. If you reduce the rinse cycle on each cleaning program lets say 20%, you will save somewhere between 10-15% of the overall water (remember you still have the pre-rinse and cleaning cycles).

If you only consolidate two days of brewing on an overnight or afternoon shift, you save 20% of the water by eliminating one cycle. Didn’t even touch the cleaning program or routine.

Fermenter Capacity

If you fill your fermenters to 50 Bbls and clean it with 40 Bbls of water every cycle, and you have 20 cycles a year, you use 0.8 BWBB. If you increase your fermenter capacity by 10% (using foam control, temperature cycles, etc.) you will go down to 0.72 BWBB which is a reduction of 10% also.

As you can see, there are significant implication to optimizing your process, reducing cycles and increasing equipment utilization. If additional to this you match it with a reduction campaign and a cultural shift to make all brewers conscious of the importance to reduce water usage, you’ll be on your way to achieve best-in-class status for any size operation.

Bernardo Alatorre. Production Manager, Avery Brewing Company.

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