Wonder no more!
Wort (pronounced "wert") is basically unfermented beer. The brewing process goes something like this:
- Mix cracked grain & hot water together and steep to release sugars.
- Remove the liquid from the grain and put into a boiling pot. (Or, if you use a brewing bag, remove the bag from your boiling kettle, leaving just the liquid in the pot.) This is your wort! This is also the starting point for extract brewers.
- Boil the wort to remove unwanted stuff (like sulfur, which can lead to excessive DMS) & add hops.
- Chill the wort & transfer to your fermenter
- Pitch the yeast into the wort.
- Ferment at the desired temp & duration, then transfer the beer into a keg or add a little corn sugar (to kickstart fermentation & create CO2) then transfer into bottles.
Chilling the wort can be done in a variety of ways. Some people put their brew kettle in an ice bath, which does the job pretty well. This works really well for extract recipes, where you might be boiling a smaller amount of concentrated wort and diluting it when you transfer it to the fermenter. It doesn't work so well, however, for larger volumes of wort, say, 5+ gallons.
Enter the wort chiller. That's the coiled copper thing you see there in the photo - hook it up to a couple of garden hoses (one for input, one for output) & stick that baby into the boiling wort to sanitize it. When the boil's done, turn on the faucet. The cold water running through the copper chills the wort. The crud you see there on the bottom of the boiling pot is coagulated protein, hop pellet goo, and other various particulates from the wort. Cold break is good - it helps clarify the beer - and will happen with rapid chilling.
Yeast is added to the wort and fermentation begins.
So there you go... welcome to the wonderful world of wort!