How OMB Makes Its Beer
An illustrated guide to the beer-making process at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery
Olde Mecklenburg Brewery is olde school. It makes beer according to the Reinheitsgebot, a German purity law from 1516 that limits beer to four ingredients: water, barley malt, hops, and yeast. Here’s how they do it.
1. Mill Room
You’ve gotta start somewhere. Workers bring fourteen fifty-five-pound bags of barley malt from Bamberg, Germany, into the mill room, where, one bag at a time, rollers crush and separate the husks from the starchy insides. The result (called the grist) is drawn up through a pipe into a grist hopper. No liquid yet. If you see this and can envision a glass of beer, you’ve got a great imagination.
Time: one hour
2. Mash Ton
Brewers drop the grist out of the hopper and mix it with hot water to create an oatmeal-like substance called mash. Different temperatures cause different things to happen. At 122 degrees Fahrenheit, proteins start breaking down. At 145 degrees, enzymes start converting starches into sugars. “This is where we’re doing the first part of the magic,” says OMB owner John Marrino. This process has a big impact on the finished taste. Although right now it tastes nasty. And it’d burn your mouth.
Time: three hours
3. Lauter Ton
OMB pipes the mash into a fifteen-barrel tank, where everything is whirlpooled around to separate the solids and the liquids. Remember the husks from the barley malt? They form a filter at the bottom, and the hot, clear, sweet liquid that’s pumped out is called wort. It’s not drinkable yet. But we’re getting there.
Time: four hours
Hip-hop hooray. Now OMB boils the wort and introduces the first of two hops, green flower clusters that give the beer its bitter flavor. With ten minutes left in the boiling process, brewers toss in aroma hops. If you take the OMB tour on Saturdays, there’s a good chance you’ll get to sniff the hops. Staff say they see two reactions: long, loving sniffs from the men and wrinkled noses from the women.
Time: one and a half hours
5. Heat Exchanger
You want conservation? Here it is. Hot water from the kettle goes through one pipe, cold water from a tank flows through another. The hot water goes into a tank, while the wort is no longer at a temperature high enough to massacre the next, still-living ingredient: yeast.
Time: one hour
Here’s where the eew turns into mmm. The yeast is waiting at the bottom of this thirty-barrel tank. OMB pumps in the wort and mixes it with the yeast. Often, another batch of wort is pumped in afterward. The yeast starts eating the oxygen out of the wort. This makes the yeast happy. Its cells multiply. Once the tank is sealed, brewers control the amount of carbon dioxide the yeast gives off by regulating the pressure. (If you’re really interested in how this happens, read up on Henry’s Law.) After a week, the yeast has carbonated the beer and turned most of the sugar into alcohol.
Time: five to seven days
7. Lager Tank
The last tank turned the wort into beer. This turns the beer into good beer. The temperature in this sixty-barrel tank is near freezing, which makes the yeast much less hungry. It continues to eat sugar, but it also cleans up the beer by taking out some of the brewing byproducts and reabsorbing them. The process takes a lot of time, and it leaves the beer with a crisper, cleaner, fresher taste.
Time: three to five weeks
You’ve seen the ads for cold-filtered beer? Guess what: most every filtered beer is cold filtered. This process takes the remaining yeast out of the beer (where it can be reused in other batches). Workers pump the beer into an empty tank, where it’ll then be hand pumped into kegs. It’s now up to you to drink it. OMB puts no preservatives into its beer, so once it’s finished, you’ve got about a month to drink it. Don’t delay now. You’re on deadline.
Time: one day