Beer making dates back to 5,000 BC when yeast was discovered fermenting in a sugar-water mixture. The yeast consumes the sugar for its own energy and growth, and the primary byproducts are ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. Wine is made when yeast consumes the natural sugars in fruit such as grapes, and beer is made when yeast consumes the sugar derived from grain. The naturally occurring starch found in grain must be converted into sugar before yeast can consume it. Thus, beer making is a more complex art than wine making.
Making beer can be broken down into two separate processes — malting and brewing — usually performed by two separate businesses. Malting is the processing and preparation of grains for brewing and takes years of training and experience to master. Malting begins by soaking grain, usually barley, in water long enough to begin germination or sprouting. At the same time, enzymes are developing which break down starches to sugars. The grain is then heated in a large oven, called a kiln, which arrests germination and stops the growth of the grain. Other grains, such as wheat, rye, and oats can be malted, and many maltsters sell malted wheat which is commonly used in several specialty styles of beer.
The two most common methods of malting are the traditional floor malting method, where grain is literally spread across the floor to germinate, and pneumatic malting, most common today, where the environment is strictly controlled inside tanks or drums. Maltsters can malt grains for a wide variety of different types of malt, each offering a different flavour and character.
Beer has four main ingredients — malt, water, yeast, and hops — and it can be as simple or technically challenging to brew, as down home cooking is compared to gourmet cuisine. Each ingredient has its own equally important role to play in the production of beer.