System of a Beverage

It comes nicely prepared and prepackaged, and some may never feel the desire to find out where it comes from. It’s a given – a nice cardboard box full with 12 cans of alcoholic goodness or a bottle with a cork. And so, the production of beer and wine are thrust into the shadows of their own consumption.

But for those who are actually involved with making the beer or wine, the methods remain an almost sacred art form.

It’s not just the good old times and the Germans who preserve the history of beer brewing. Many places today pride themselves in brewing some of the greatest beers in the world. Names such as Busch, Miller and Guinness all turned from small town surnames, to world renowned trademarks.

Tampa Bay has been a site for beer breweries for a number of years. Some of the breweries in the area included Anheuser-Busch (until it was torn down to accommodate the expansion of the theme park), the local Yuengling (America’s oldest brewery) and various micro-breweries from Ybor Gold to your neighborhood Hops restaurant.

Plenty of people know that beer is made from hops and barley. But what happens to the grains to give them the distinct aroma?

“The first step of the malting process is steeping,” said Dave Richter, the director of brewing and beverage operations at Hops. “During steeping, water is absorbed by the [barley] kernel, and the growth cycle begins. This cycle lasts 44-48 hours.”

After steeping, the barley is relocated to a compartment in which moist, cool air passes through it.

“The temperature as well as the moisture (are) monitored, and the grain is constantly turned. When the grain leaves the compartment, it goes through the last milling process before being stored and shipped to the restaurant brewery,” Richter said.

The entire process of making beer takes about two weeks. First, the grain’s starch is converted to sugar, which is later released with water to a large kettle. The kettle boils for 90 minutes, while hops are added for bitterness, aroma and flavor. Later, as the liquid passes between plates containing cold water, the yeast is added. The fungi ferment the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.

“The gases created are vented from the vessel. For the next four to five days the yeast is left to consume the sugars inside the fermentation vessel,” Richter said. “The byproducts given off by the yeast during this stage add the alcohol to the beer. Once the yeast runs out of sugars to consume, it becomes dormant and settles to the cone-shaped bottom of the tank. The temperature is dropped close to freezing, and [the liquid] is cold-conditioned for another 10 days.”

The next step is for the beer to pass through a series of filters, eliminating any leftover yeast.

“The beer passes into 220-gallon, chilled serving vessels. Once inside the vessel, carbon dioxide is added using a carbonation stone, which allows the beer to absorb the carbon dioxide. After this step is measured and approved by the brewmaster, the beer is ready to be delivered through insulated lines to the taps located in the bar,” Richter said.

While beer takes about two weeks to prepare, the subtle art of winemaking can take anywhere from three to more than 20 years.

Although Florida may not ever reach the status of France or California in the art of winemaking, there are several wineries springing up around the area. The Florida Estates Winery in Land O’ Lakes, which opened last December, is looking to harvest its first grapes within the next year or two.

“Right now, since we have not had a harvest yet, we get our wines from our sister winery in Alva, near Ft. Myers,” said Marc Wagner, director of marketing for Florida Estates. “It’s called Eden Winery and it was the first in Florida.”

But turning grapes on vines to an intoxicating beverage is quite a journey.

“All the grapes at Eden are picked by hand. Then, after the grapes are picked, they go through a process called crush, which is exactly that,” Wagner said. “They are put in tanks with internal mechanisms that twist and rotate and mush [the grapes] down to produce juice.”

After crushing, the grapes are taken to large steel tanks where they are fermented.

“If you put yeast in the juice, there is a reaction that occurs and causes the grapes to ferment,” Wagner said.

All wines are made in basically the same way.

“It’s the different kind of grape that gives the wine the flavor. Chardonnay is a grape, cabernet is a grape, merlot is a grape. But all grapes are white, it’s the [pigment of the] skin that turns wine the color it is,” Wagner said.

But wine isn’t always made with grapes.

“In addition to the wines we sell, we also have a wine called Carambola that is made of the star fruit you can get in stores. It tastes really good and is high in potassium,” Wagner said.

Contact Olga Robakat