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Beer Production Pt. 1 - Producing Wort for Fermentation

You probably all know that there are the 4 main ingredients in beer - malt, hops, yeast and water. Sounds simple but as we all know if It’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well and here at Hadrian Border we have assembled a team that does.

Let’s start with the malt. Essentially this is just cereal which has been germinated and kilned.

Any cereal can be used but in the UK, usually barley or, sometimes, wheat. However, brewers will use rice, maize, rye, oats, triticale (a wheat and rye hybrid) plus others; for example sorghum in Africa. Given the range of cereals and kilning regimes we can get many different flavour and colour spectrums.

The cereals aren’t always malted but small percentages can be used that are un-malted. Some have to be pre-cooked (to release the starches) and others don’t.

The general idea is that the malted cereals contain the key elements that turn the starch in the grain into fermentable sugars in the mash tun (enzymes).

To ensure a continual supply of malt, brewers need an annual contract with a maltster. You know what specification of malt you’re getting for the whole year at a guaranteed price. The question to ask is: what was the growing season like the previous year which will affect the quality and price?

If it’s been too wet or too dry then malt with the correct specification will cost a lot, even if it's available for purchase. Generally though growing malting barley is what we do well in the UK and we can easily find an export market for it.

A colleague in the malting industry told me, recently, that, with the worlds burgeoning population, the demand for Scotch Whisky was predicted to grow so much in the near future that the distilleries would be able to utilise all the malting barley grown in the UK. It’s the drink of choice for anyone with money. A frightening thought for the brewer.

So, in the case of Hadrian Border, we pay a premium price for the best, a malting barley variety called Maris Otter.

This is a winter variety. That is, it is sown in the autumn potentially giving a good yield the following year at harvest.

We contract to buy over 100 tonnes each year which get mashed in batches of up to 1 tonne in the mash tun. This is our maximum brew length producing 40 barrels (around 6,500 litres).

Hot water (liquor) is mixed with the milled malt at a temperature of 65 centigrade for 1 hour producing our fermentable sugars (sweet wort).

At this point you can stop for a brewer’s breakfast, a cup of the sweet wort from the mash tun (think Horlicks but less milky).

Some brewers will add commercially available sugars to cut down on cost. I remember working in a brewery years ago that added caramelised sugars to give, not only fermentable extract, but colour and the end result contributed to a mild ale.

The sweet wort now needs boiling with hops.

Again hops are usually bought on contract ensuring the correct supply for the year.

Traditionally UK brewers would buy hops grown around Kent or the West of England but new world hops have seen such an explosion of tastes and aromas that practically all brewers will use a certain percentage of foreign grown hops. We even have brewers that don’t or didn’t use British hops at all as some varieties can be too harsh for bittering and too subtle for aroma.

It took the English hop growers a long time to get their act together and start to produce some new aromatic varieties but new ones are coming through now every year.

When hops are added to the boiling sweet wort they give bitterness and aroma. At this stage we call it bitter wort.

Flavours that hops can impart are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say anything from earthy, citrus, liquorice to bubble gum and much more can be achieved.

Incidentally there really is no other use for hops other than perhaps putting inside your pillow to help you sleep. Indeed I have seen it on the ingredients list of an over the counter sleep aid. Look for Humulus Lupulus, it’s the Latin name for hops. And no, smoking it will not have any effect on you whatsoever.

Apart from extracting flavours from hops, boiling sterilises the wort, evaporates excess water and coagulates proteins which can cause cloudiness in the finished beer.

Ok, so we now have our fermentable wort. On we go to the fermenting vessels which I’ll cover in my next piece.

Hadrian Border Brewery has been producing beer at its best since 1994. With over 25 years of experience and knowledge in brewing, Hadrian Border now operates from its SALSA accredited 40 barrel plant in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and is known all over the North-East for its fine ales including – Tyneside Blonde, Farne Island, Grainger Ale and Ouseburn Porter. To learn more about Hadrian Border Brewery, visit

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