What all goes into beer? The sheer numbers are astounding

by David Holub

So head cool-guy at DGO, David Holub, asked me a seemingly small and random question last week: What does the recipe for a pint of beer look like? If we laid it out on a table, prepping to make a single serving of beer, what would we see? In my head, I thought this is a simple question, easy to determine, and then I started doing the math, and then thought, “Wow this is really, really simple and boring even.”

A pint of beer has four ingredients: Water, yeast, malted grains, and hops. For a pint of beer, there would be about .09 ounces of hops (for a moderately-hopped pale ale), 4 ounces of malts, around 22 to 24 ounces of water (I know, I know, we’re well over the 16 ounces in a pint, but that’s how much water you need to make the beer!), and probably around .3 ounces of yeast. It’s all very unimpressive. And if laid out on a table, would be quite boring.

It’s so unimpressive that it’s hard to believe that all those flavors come from such a small supply of ingredients and that so much joy can come from so little. It’s so simple, it’s almost like magic.

The simplicity of beer becomes this amazing beautiful thing, and when you start moving up in scale, it becomes mind-blowing. This isn’t rocket science, but when you do it at massive scales, it becomes so magnificent that it almost doesn’t seem possible.

That .09 ounces of hops becomes thousands of pounds of hops when you’re at production sizes. A brewery that’s making decently-hopped beers can put as much as a pound per barrel in their dry hop alone. So a brewery the size of Ska would need as much as 45,000 lbs. of hops a year, which not cheap. Mandarina Bavaria, the hop used in Modus Mandarina, can go for $10 to $17 a pound, a million dollars in hops alone. This goes for everything: millions of pounds of yeast and grain, and millions of gallons of waters.

And then when you talk about finished beer at scale, it gets even crazier. On a busier day at Ska, they filter something like 240 barrels of beer, or 7,440 gallons (but I heard they just set the single day record with 540 barrels – 16,740 gallons – so way to go, guys!). Their filter runs around 60 barrels per hour. That’s approximately 14,880 pints of beer an hour, 248 pints per minute, and four pints per second. Enough beer in one second to get someone quite buzzed. Ska’s record breaking filter day will pour approximately 133,920 pints of beer.

The amount of beer filtered in one day, 7,440 gallons, is easily more than an average person drinks in their lifetime: 2,216 gallons (if they start drinking at birth). Even the most robust drinker, (Montanans drink around 40 gallons of beer a year) would need 186 years to drink all that beer.

So I easily filtered more beer in a day than I would drink in a few (very lucky) lifetimes.

Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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