Home brewing: how to use the correct enzymes

Despite what one may think, home-brewing beer is not a difficult thing to do, provided, however, that one knows the ingredients and production steps

The most important step in home brewing is mashing. In a nutshell, it consists of mixing ground malt and water in order to break down the proteins and starches that the malting process was unable to transform and thus obtain sugars

This is a fundamental process as it allows some of the fundamental characteristics of beer to be defined, such as body, alcohol content, etc. Among other things, the enzymes are triggered at different temperatures, which is why mashing requires well-defined phases in order to promote their activation

Finally, as far as ingredients are concerned, in order to create a good beer, it is necessary to have malt, water, hops and yeast, to which other ingredients can also be added, such as gum arabic powder or enzyme complexes and so on.

What are enzymes?

Enzymes are protein molecules that speed up chemical reactions. After each reaction, these molecules remain unchanged and are used to catalyse other chemical processes. However, their activity depends on a multitude of factors: the alcohol content of the beer, acidity, temperature and salinity, which differ for each type of enzyme. If the working parameters deviate from the optimal ones, the enzymes’ reaction may be slowed down or even impaired.re

Which enzymes are useful in mashing?

Certain enzymes are used in mashing. The main ones are:

  • Phytase: this is indispensable for acidifying the must. In fact, it enables the breakdown of phytine, an organic phosphate containing magnesium and calcium. In industrial beer production, the enzyme phytase is no longer used, as it lengthens the production process. However, in home production, it is still used as it can improve the extraction stage;
  • Proteases and peptidases: these constitute a group of enzymes responsible for the breakdown of proteins into amino acids. These allow the yeast to feed and therefore contribute to its viability. Proteases and peptidases also allow long protein chains to be broken down, thus reducing the cloudy colour of the beer and improving foam retention;
  • ?-glucanases: unmalted cereals, such as wheat and oats, are used in beer production. Therefore, to degrade the beta-glucans, it is necessary to use ?-glucanases, which attack the walls of the starch-containing plant structures, without compromising the proteins that enable foam retention;
  • Diastases: these are among the most important enzymes for drink production, as they allow saccharification of starch into fermentable sugars.

What are the optimal temperatures?

As already mentioned, the different enzymes are activated at different temperatures. Between 30° and 50°C, the first mashing pause (called acid rest) occurs, allowing phytase to develop. Between 27° and 45°C, on the other hand, the breakdown of the starches present and gummy elements occurs, through the action of beta-glucanases. Proteases and peptidases, on the other hand, work between 40° and 60°C, during what is known as protein rest. 

Subsequently, between 55° and 66°C, the production of maltose begins, thanks to the saccharification process, which ends when the temperature range of 68° to 72°C is reached. The latter two phases allow the action of beta-amylase and alpha-amylase. In contrast, when the temperature exceeds 76°C, the enzymes come to a halt.

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