The technical fundamentals of beer brewing


This section explains the technical fundamentals of the beer brewing. They are pivotal to understand the beer whole history and to emend the usual misconceptions[1]. This history encompasses all the beers brewed since the origin of the brewery on all continents. It is therefore necessary to go beyond the limits of the European brewing tradition to understand and comprehend the brewing traditions and techniques of other continents.

We cannot succeed without starting from the technical basics. Biochemistry helps us to figure that out.

The starch alone characterizes all beers from their origin on the surface of the globe. Neither the aromatics, hops, nor the microorganisms that trigger fermentation are specific to the brewing of beer. Only the processing of starch differentiates beer from other fermented beverages (wines based on fruit, berries, sap or sweet exudates, meads from various wild or beekeeping sources of honey, fermented milks).

To know what "All Beers" means, we must review ancient and modern beers, describe their technical brewing processes to ascertain they belong to a core of identical technical principles. In such an historical context, the word "Beer" includes all fermented beverages from starch regardless its plant origin, the methods used to convert these raw starches into fermentable sugars, their appearances, their tastes or their alcoholic contents.

Based on this inventory, we can describe the generic brewing processes. From this result, we derive a General definition of Beer.

The fundamentals are set out in this order:

  • The Starch, the raw material for the brewery, a highly diversified plant resource that is widespread throughout the world. It is important to know the extent of this resource in order to search for historical beers, which have sometimes disappeared. The chemical structures of starch explain the technical constraints of beer brewing.
  • The general brewing diagram. The beer brewing is a sophisticated biotechnology. It is made up of 3 main operations: raw starch treatment, conversion of this starch to fermentable sugars, and alcoholic fermentation of these sugars.
  • The 6 Paths for brewing, so called because they summarize the 6 possible methods to convert starch into fermentable sugars, a fundamental operation of the brewing process. These are the 6 basic processes used throughout the long world history of brewing.
  • The Definition of Beer is simply the formatting of all the technological characteristics described above into a single wording.
  • The Ancient brewing schemas through the ages. They result from the crossing of the 6 brewing primary methods with other material or cultural constraints. These vary according to the regions of the world and the times. The adaptation of the basic brewing diagrams gives rise to multiple technical variants. Contrary to popular belief, brewing has never ceased to evolve for thousands of years.


These technical fundamentals raise a number of observations and questions:

Since its origin, the beer has been the fruit of human intelligence, of its progressive mastery of the biotechnologies which condition its making. Chance plays no role in the history of beer. Unlike the history of wine dominated by immediately available sugars and spontaneous fermentation processes (Brewery = Intelligence, work, technique).

If the long history of beer brewing is based on the implementation of 6 different brewing methods, have they conditioned the evolution of brewing in certain regions of the world? Is there an original core of mixed fermented beverages (half beer, half wine, half mead) from which beer broke away several millennia ago to become the distinct group of beers? Once autonomous, did the family of beers draw up specific brewing traditions for each region of the world? Can we speak of historical beer brewing basins characterised by different brewing raw materials, specific brewing methods and a socio-economic role for the beer specific to each of these beer brewing basins?



[1] Sometimes heard or read: "Beer is made with fermented hops!", "Beer is brewed with malt only", and so on.

01/04/2013  Christian Berger