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Anyone who’s toured a brewery has a general sense of how beer is made. But there’s much more to the life of a beer than just mash mixers and fermentation tanks. 3 Stars Brewing co-founder Dave Coleman shares how his team takes a beer from an idea to a finished, ready-to-drink product in just a few months time.

Brainstorming

At 3 Stars, the beginnings of a new beer often stem from—surprise—drinking beer. At the basic level, the brewers are inspired by anything from changing seasons to a new ingredient. Dissonance, a rye Berliner, was born from a craving for a sour and tart beer that also had a light and crisp body.

Developing a recipe

The beer idea must then be developed into a recipe. 3 Stars first decides on the desired alcohol level, flavor, body, and overall character of the beer. From there, they work backwards to develop the blend of hops, yeast, malt, water, and other ingredients that will achieve that goal.

Pilot brewing

After the recipe is set, 3 Stars brews its beer on a 62-gallon small-batch system. This allows for testing and tasting multiple iterations of recipes before choosing a favorite version. Developing the flagship Pandemic Porter, which was done on a homebrewing pilot system and was one of the earliest 3 Stars beers, took about 65 batches over two years.

Naming the beer

Naming a beer is one of the most critical—and difficult—parts of the process. There’s rarely an official system, but there are a few rules of thumb: It should be a unique name that’s not already in use and it should reflect the character and flavor of the beer. Coleman notes that the brewery’s team of strong personalities and diverse backgrounds can make settling on a name akin to “agreeing on music at a party.”

Branding the beer

If cans or bottles are involved, it can take up to six months to develop and approve new manufacturing designs and templates. For these reasons, producing draft beer is simpler and doesn’t involve as much legwork.

Submit labels and recipes for approval

All beers packaged for retail sale must have their labels approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The TTB looks out for labels that are inaccurate or offensive. Beers including nonstandard ingredients such as fruit, herbs, honey, or spices must also be approved by the TTB.

Begin commercial brewing

Once a recipe is good to go, 3 Stars will begin brewing the beer on its commercial system, which is much larger than the pilot system. An average beer takes anywhere between two to four weeks to brew and ferment before it’s ready to drink. Aged beers can spend six months to a year in barrels.

Packaging and distribution

It usually only takes a few days for beer to be packaged and shipped to local stores and bars. The more local the brewery, the quicker the process and the fresher the beer.

Drink and enjoy

The recommended shelf life of bottled and canned beer is typically between 90 and 120 days. Some styles like porters or wheat beers may be OK for as long as six months. As a rule of thumb, hoppier beers will spoil more quickly. Savvy consumers looking for the freshest product should check the bottling or canning date on beer packaging.

Recycling grain

Many breweries have programs in place to recycle the spent grain left behind after the brewing process. 3 Stars provides grain donations, which can be used in baked goods, to local farms and charities.

Illustrations by Lauren Heneghan

Click here for more from our 2015 Beer Issue.