Beer has been a preferred beverage since ancient times, amongst many cultures, genders and all ages, and so the same passion for this prodigious beverage has found its footprints here in Stellenbosch, the wine capital of the Western Cape.
Notably known as Stellenbrau, they are the first operational microbrewery in Stellenbosch, and this is where they share their vision and passion for this golden liquid that so many have enjoyed since the beginning of time, or perhaps the “Beerginning of time.”
Why beer – and why Stellenbrau?
Because people drink it, love it, and for Stellenbrau – awesome to make.
The Stellenbrau team share a common goal of quality craftsmanship, product consistency and brilliant customer service. The Newspaper recently visited Stellenbrau where Stephen de Jager, the Brew Master explained how this luscious drink ends up inside your glass.
The beer making world is filled with possibilities; this is mainly due to an enormous variety of raw materials that’s available to the brewer. In beer they use Malted Barley, Water, Hops and Yeast, but everybody knows that version. Stephen explain how this all works together at Stellenbrau and how it affects the consumer’s experience as the gratified consumer of a Stellenbrau pint.
Quality of all raw materials is simple: What you put in, you’ll get out. If you put your trust in mediocre raw materials, you will simply get average beer.
That’s why Stephen believes in top quality raw materials in all sectors. Malted Barley is obtained from Germany and provides consistent extraction results – a test to see if the conversion from starch to sugar of the grain is consistent with their specification. Hops is from local origin.
Yeast, the brewer’s best friend by far, is also the most secret. These little single cell organisms, of which they put millions in the wort, are actually the “beer makers.” That’s right; brewers create the perfect biological environment, the wort – the sugary liquid obtained from the mash, enough food and plenty of oxygen.
Then the yeast is pitched, and if they’re happy, produce the perfect batch of exceptional beer. The process however is a bit more complex, Stephen explains.
“There is a saying that water is your most important element in making beer, since it makes up 95% of the final product; I fairly say all raw materials are equally important in making a premium beer.
Stellenbrau’s water supply is quadruple filtered using trap filters for the first two stages, to capture any solid particles, and then the second two stages are activated carbon filters to eliminate chlorine and unwanted metallic elements in the water. This leaves them with the perfect balanced water conditions for optimal brewing,” Stephen says.
When taking a closer look at the process of brewing, it all starts with a thorough inspection on all raw materials to distinguish if it meets their strict requirements. Then follows the very important milling stage where they crush the malted barley open to expose the inner starch.
However, they do not mill the grains to a fine powder, they only crush open the kernels, since they believe they are not making mealie-meal or baking a bread, but rather, making beer. They also need the husk of the kernel to be just cracked and in whole condition. Once the malted barley has been milled, inspected and passed, they fill the mash tun – the vessel where the conversion of starch to sugar occurs with enough warm water to specification.
This water, also called strike water, will be at an exact temperature and volume. The rakes inside this vessel are switched on and they mix in the crushed malted barley with the water.
The rakes help to gently and evenly mix the grist and water together. After mixing, they leave these two together to know each other better. The enzymes present in the malted barley starts converting the starches to sugars, or better known as maltose. After the set time in the mash tun and after continuous gravity tests – the concentration of sugar in the water followed by the pH tests, the Brew Master carries out an iodine test to obtain results of complete conversion of starch to sugar by the enzymes.
The next phase is called lautering; this is where they separate the sugary liquid, called the wort, from the grains in the mash tun, and it is important that the husks remain in a just-cracked condition. This is where it comes in very handy, the husks of the malted barley being dispersed throughout the mash acts as a natural filter. Almost like mixing clay with rough sand.
All the grist lies on top of a finely perforated sieve-like false bottom that forms part of the “filter”. The wort is then circulated by pumping the strong wort from the bottom of the vessel to the top, mixing it. The wort is lautered via gravity and is collected in another vessel called the underback. The Brew Master also perform a step called sparging, where they add warm water to the grains during the lautering stage.
This is done to collect most of the sugars by “rinsing” the grains as the water runs through it.
The collected wort is now transferred to the boil kettle where the wort undergoes a vigorous boil. Boiling has few purposes namely to boil off DMS, due to evaporation achieve the correct original gravity, sterilize the wort and utilize the hop resins and oils for bitterness, taste and aroma.
After boiling they transfer the wort to the whirlpool where it circulates the wort to collect all the vegetal matter from the hops and coagulated proteins in the centre of the whirlpool, let it rest and then they drain the unwanted matter.
After a nice rest in the whirlpool, and drained, the wort is cooled from a temperature of between 90-100°C to the required temperature for pitching the yeast. While cooling the wort, oxygen is injected directly into the cooled wort. The yeast now acclimatises to their new home and starts metabolizing. The yeast chows away on the sugars, excretes alcohol (ethanol) and “farts” carbon dioxide (CO2).
This process is called fermentation, the actual beer making phase. The temperature of this process is electronically controlled and kept at the optimum fermentation temperature for the yeast to do its work.
Like all, when engaged in physical work they generate heat, the same with yeast, it generates heat and by the amounts they multiply, it heats up the beer, therefore they need cool the beer to the correct temperature.
Gravities, being the measurement of the amount of sugars left in the beer, are taken daily to monitor the progress of fermentation.
After fermentation they condition the beer; this is where colour and flavour development takes place and the yeast clean-up, the yeast literally cleans up after themselves by consuming by-products which it contributed during fermentation.
When this conditioning phase is completed, the Brew Master get the beer sparkling clear via two methods, their Craven Craft Lager is filtered while their Alumni Ale and Governor’s Red Rooibos Lager undergo the traditional method of Finings.
The final beer undergoes various tests to determine if the beer meets Stellenbrau’s strict requirements and guidelines after which they package their beautifully hand crafted product for the customer’s sincere enjoyment.