Sam Adams

BOSTON--Beer. Just about everyone loves it, and besides soft drinks, water, and milk, it's might just be the most-consumed beverage in the world.

These days, everyone has their favorite microbrew, and there are always going to be the mega-brands that fill up half or more of any store's beer case. But then there's smaller national brands like Samuel Adams. You can find it just about everywhere, and yet it's one of the best-scored labels year after year.

On Wednesday, as part of Road Trip 2010, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the Samuel Adams brewery here and got a close-up look at how the Boston Beer Co. makes its famous brew.

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Malt

Beer starts with barley malt--barley that's gone through a malting process to soften it up, and release enzymes and malty flavors. There are dozens of kinds of malts, and each one corresponds to a different kind of beer.

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Hops

The next major ingredient in beer is hops. For its hops, Samuel Adams sends a team to Germany each year to hand-select what it will use for the next year. Hops to beer is like grapes are to wine, in the sense that there are many varietals, each of which has its own flavor, character, and aroma. For its flagship Boston Lager, Samuel Adams uses the Hallertau Mettelfreuh hop.

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The three main tanks

There are four main vessels used to brew the beer. At first, a mash is made by crushing and grinding the malt, and then adding water to the mash. Then, 20 percent of the mash is put in the mash kettle (right), where it is boiled. The other 80 percent goes in the mash tun, (middle). When the mash in the kettle boils, it is pumped into the mash tun, rapidly raising the temperature there. The goal is to break down the starch in the mash and convert it into sugars. The result is the barley meal.

Then, the mash is moved into the third tank (right), the Lauter tun, where it is strained. The liquid, known as wort--a solution of simple sugars--is then moved back into either the mash kettle or the mash tun, which has been rinsed out, and then it is boiled for 90 minutes. At that point, the hops are added, one pound for every 31-gallon barrel.

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The whirlpool

Next, in order to get rid of the unnecessary parts of the hops, the entire brew is moved into the so-called whirlpool, where it settles. This is essentially the process of decanting the wort. It is now ready for the fermentation process.

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Rinsing out

The Lauter tun is rinsed, and the leftover liquid is vented out onto the floor.

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The cooler

Before the wort can be moved into the fermentation vats, it must be cooled from 190 degrees Fahrenheit to about 50 degrees. This is the cooling machine.

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Fermentation tanks

Once the wort is put in the fermentation tanks, it's time to add yeast, which is what will eat the sugars in the worts, producing carbon dioxide, alcohol, and dozens of flavor compounds.

It has taken eight hours for the wort to make it through the brewing process and now it will be left in these vats to ferment for about a week. Afterward, the wort is moved into a new tank, where it ferments for four more weeks. Toward the end of that process, yeast collected from the bottom of another tank is added, which brings in fresh sugars, to act as something like a clean-up crew. All told, the brew sits in this second tank, where it is chilled, for four weeks. After that, it is ready for filtration and packaging.

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CO2 checker

This is a carbon dioxide checker hanging from a fermentation vat.

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Filtering

This is a carbon filter, which is used to clean the Boston city tap water that Samuel Adams uses in its beer. The idea is to clean the water but leave in some of the minerals, particularly the calcium.

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The Barrel room

While Samuel Adams is best known for its signature Boston Lager, it also makes many other beers. This is the Sam Adams Barrel Room, where some of its latest--and most special--beers are fermented.

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The big barrels

In order to make its three "Barrel Collection" beers, Sam Adams starts with a Belgian red wort and leaves it to ferment for months in these giant barrels, which were originally used by an Italian sherry distillery.

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Barrels

Barrels are piled high in the Sam Adams Barrel Room.

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American Kriek

Samuel Adams employees work on filling bottles of the brewery's specialty beer, American Kriek.

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Barrel Collection

These are the three Barrel Collection beers: New World Tripel, American Kriek, and Stony Brook Red. The bottles are 750 milliliters, the same size as a normal bottle of wine.

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Trial

Later this year, Samuel Adams and the German brewer Weihenstephan, will partner on a joint brew, known as Infinium. The beer will be based on a joint recipe, and will be produced in Germany and in Boston.

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Barrels in the brewing room

A wall of barrels greet anyone who enters the brewing room.

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The banners

Much like the Boston Celtics, which hangs its championship banners from the rafters of the Boston Garden, Samuel Adams hangs banners celebrating its prizes at various beer festivals.

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