What are brewing enzymes and how to use them

While sipping a mug of beer, we may appreciate the taste, the aroma, the quality of the drink, but we never think about the complexity of the production process. For the result to be satisfying, …

a close up of a glass of beer with drops of water

While sipping a mug of beer, we may appreciate the taste, the aroma, the quality of the drink, but we never think about the complexity of the production process.

For the result to be satisfying, in fact, it is essential that every step, from the choice of the right raw material to bottling, is carried out with care, attention and choosing the right tools.

Among these is undoubtedly the basic recipe to be followed to brew beer. Some necessary questions to ask yourself may concern the grains to be used. Is barley alone good enough or is it necessary to add others? To what extent? In what proportions?

Often, the answer to these questions also conditions all the choices to be made thereafter and the processes involved.

Among the most important steps, without which it would be difficult to brew beer, is mashing, the pre-fermentation stage, if one can call it that, of the entire brewing process.

The purpose of mashing is to bring the soluble substances of the cereals used, first and foremost the malt, into solution, so as to obtain a wort that has the right characteristics to ferment, in the jargon ‘mash’, in the right way.

What technically happens at this stage?

At this stage of beer processing, it happens that certain substances have to be degraded to create the conditions necessary for a quality end product. For this to occur, enzymes must enter the field, proteins that perform the arduous task of catalysing chemical reactions, activating those degradation processes, useful, for example, to allow the beer to reach a certain pH or ‘simplify’ the protein chain up to clarification and regulation of the turbidity of the final liquid, or even to produce the right amount of foam.

In addition to those produced naturally during mashing, which takes place by mixing cereals with water at a certain temperature, there are various brewing enzymes on the market, which aim to optimise precisely this type of reaction and achieve the end result more easily, even if the environmental conditions are not optimal.

Most popular beer enzymes and how to use them

Some types of beer enzymes have certain enzymatic specificities. That is, they have the task of triggering and catalysing certain reactions more quickly which, under natural conditions, would not take place or would take place much more slowly. For this reason, many breweries include specific enzymes in the mashing process in order to bring the wort to the level of beer they have in mind.

Among the most common, one can distinguish, for example, β-glucanases, so called precisely because they perform the important task of degrading beta-glucans, making the wort less viscous and, therefore, easier to filter. They do this by attacking the walls of unmalted cereals, often used in beers, as well as the gummy components, but without affecting the proteins they contain. But there are also β-glucanases which, precisely because of this, can lead to better fermentation of beer.
There are also protease and peptidase enzymes, which are useful in degrading proteins so that the yeast used for fermentation has a good viability and acts in the best possible way.

But these enzymes also act on the body of the foam and the turbidity of the beer, simplifying precisely the protein chain in the wort. Certain types of protease are also used in the production of gluten-free beers, acting precisely on this protein.
There are still the diastase enzymes, which have the delicate task of saccharifying the starch into sugars that are more easily fermentable by the yeasts, so as to obtain more alcoholic, dry and sparkling beers.

But there are also phytases that facilitate the acidification of the wort, which are more difficult to find commercially, as modern industry is now discontinuing their use due to the prolonged production process they would require.

Delving into these aspects can contribute to a closer understanding of such a popular, young and fresh beverage as beer, and to comprehend how complex the processing behind the production of a quality product is.

Admiring the body of a beer’s foam, its taste, its transparency or cloudiness, are all aspects governed by the enzymatic reactions that take place in the mashing process and which, as we have just seen, are never left to chance.

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