This is by no means the expert’s guide to brewing. I’m an amateur myself! I only started brewing a few years ago. I first learned about brewing from the Mr.Beer starter kit. I can’t give this system a better recommendation than to say, “this is where you should start”. The system, which is simple, is criticized by many amateur brewers because it is simple. Don’t let other home brewers or the clerks at your local beer supply store talk down to you because you have a Mr. Beer kit. Mr. Beer is a great system. It works and it’s the best way to learn about the brewing process. If you want to make your first batch of beer, don’t follow my process. Start with Mr. Beer. As you learn more, you can start replacing Mr.Beer equipment with more advanced equipment and brewing steps. Don’t do it all at once. I also learned from youtube, blogs, trying it out and making mistakes.
This is a great hobby! There are thousands of ways to make beer! This is only one of them. This is how I’ve done it and I’ve made some pretty damn good beers. If you have suggestions for me to improve, I would love to hear them. If I’m doing something I shouldn’t be, I would love to hear that, too!
You should steal my process. It works. I don’t care if this is copied, published, whatever. Because I didn’t invent this. It’s been around for thousands of years. This is just how I’ve done it in my kitchen and basement. I encourage you to try it out. Have fun and enjoy your delicious brew.
Ultimately, I follow this process:
- Yeast preparation (3 to 96 hours before brew day)
- Mash, recirculate and sparge (about 3 hrs)
- Brew (60-90 minutes)
- Ferment (14-21 days. Sometimes more with heavier beers.)
- Bottle (about 2 hours)
- Carbonate (about 14 days)
- Condition (depends on the type of beer. It’s usually ready by now, but conditioning at a cold temperature clears it up some.)
- Chill (minimum of 2 days)
The best advice I can give you starting out is to sign up for BrewToad. This online service allows you to make your own recipes by adding, removing and adjusting ingredients to get the flavor you want. There are built-in calculators to help you make sure you throw in the right amount of hops at the right time, the right amount of yeast (very important) the right amount and type of sugar for carbonating and the right mix of malts to get the alcohol level you want. I wish I had done this when I first started. But anyways, here’s a link to my BrewToad profile with all of my recipes.
The second best advice I got was from the President of the Iowa Brewer’s Union. He said my priorities were out of order. when you first start brewing, put all of your efforts into these things in this order…
- yeast. Most important by far. Learn how to use a pitch rate calculator to ensure you’re pitching enough yeast. Biggest newbie mistake is using that tiny packet of cruddy yeast from a kit.
- cleanliness. Nothing will ruin beer faster than contamination. clean your brewing area. Meticulously clean your tools. Boil and sterilize things that will come into contact with yeast. Keep a lid on things and use foil to cover up your vessels when the lid is off.
- temperature & time. From the temperature of your wort when you pitch to the steady temperature of where you ferment to the temperatures you use for mashing. This makes a big difference. Since you can’t control everything, take good notes so you know what you did. constantly check temperature and write everything down. Be patient. Give your beer longer than you think it needs.
- water. The water you use has a big influence on taste. I am still learning more and more about this. But the thing that has worked really well for me is to cut my brewing water 50/50 distilled/tap water. Yeast and grain likes nitrates from tap water, but not too much.
- recipe. You can make great beer without a great recipe as long as you follow the first rules. But, use BrewToad to make sure you’re not adding too much or too little hops at the right time and that your recipe is consistent with the style you’re going for. It’s super easy.
- ingredients. You can use shit ingredients and still make great beer. Just don’t skimp on yeast.
Materials & Equipment
I make 5-gallon batches of beer. This is the most common batch size for home brewers. Most beer suppliers make equipment and ingredients for 5-gallon batches.
There are only 4 ingredients in beer.
You can use any dirty water to make beer, including tap water or swamp water. You’re going to boil it during brewing which kills off contaminants. How do you think humans survived through all these years? They drank clean water… beer. Some folks say they taste a difference between beer made with bottled water and beer made with tap water. I can’t taste the difference so I use tap water. I’ve heard you should NOT use distilled water because the minerals in bottled water and tap water are healthy for yeast. I have tried cutting my brewing water with half distilled, half tap water. Since then, my beers have been pretty darn good. The really serious brewers test the water they use for certain particles and can treat their water to attain specific levels they desire. Yeah… I’m not there yet.
Malt is actually just barley, a grass plant similar to wheat. Malt is barley that’s been partially germinated, dried, baked and cracked. You soak the seeds in water for a day or two and the seed opens and the little plant comes out. Excuse my lack of correct terminology, I’m not a botanist or chemist. I’m just some dude who makes beer in his basement. You’ll learn there are a LOT of PhD’s out there that brew and understand this stuff on a whole higher level. Anyway; the little plant comes out of the seed and grows around half the length the the seed. That’s when you remove it from water, dry it and slowly bake it. Once you’ve baked at low temperature for some time, it’s crispy. Dark beers use malt that has been cooked longer and has turned darker. Once the malt is cooked, you grind it not into a powder, but just enough to crack it up into little pieces. That’s malt. I’ve never made malt, but someday I will. Malt provides the sugars you will need to feed yeast. When yeast consumes maltose and other sugars, the bi-product is carbon dioxide (carbonation) and ethyl alcohol.
Mr. Beer and other starting brewers get malt from a can of gooey extract (Liquid Malt Extract – LME) or a dried powdery extract (Dried Malt Extract – DME). After you’ve mastered brewing with extracts, you can try a full-grain beer by using malt. In some recipes for beer, several types of malt are used of varying breed and color. It can get complicated if you are adding different types of malts at different temperatures and times, but I’ve only done it as a mixture different malts all at the same time.
You can make excellent beer with extract as long as you follow the priorities I explained above. People only go the extra mile to make all-grain beer because you have more options for customization.
Hops are a green, leafy plant that grows on a vine in temperate regions like Germany, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest. You can grow it in Iowa too, with some extra TLC. Hops gives beer aroma and bitterness. It’s not required to use hops as hops wasn’t introduced to beer until the Germans started it a few hundred years ago. They did it for the aroma and because hops is a natural preservative. You can buy hops as a whole bud (wet hops) or in dried pellets. You can freeze it or refrigerate it and it lasts a long time. Adding different types of hops at different intervals of the brewing process can manipulate the flavor. Hops’ bitterness is measured in AAU’s. For some really bitter beers, like IPA’s, I’ve used up to 16 ounces of hops for a 5-gallon batch. Some beers only require 1 or 2. Hops added at the beginning of a 60-minute boil are called “bittering” hops. The longer hops boil, the more bitter oils are released. The less time in the boil, the less bitter and more hoppy aroma and taste. You should have a combination of bitter and aroma hops in your beer. The BrewToad recipe maker can help you adjust the amount of hops you use (and the amount of time in the boil) to get the level of bitterness you want associated with the style. Here’s another calculator you can use:
Yeast is a living organism. It’s actually a fungus. Yeast are one of the few organisms that can live in an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment. They can breath by consuming sugars from malt. This form of respiration is called fermentation. Essentially, when you drink alcohol, you’re drinking yeast pee. Yeast eats maltose, glucose, sucrose and fructose sugars and some other stuff too. But, since it’s a living organism, it loves oxygen, water and ideal conditions like temperature. Actually, yeast doesn’t need oxygen, which makes it unique in the world of living organisms. But, when it has oxygen, it thrives. To get the yeast to eat your malt sugars, you need to keep your vessels sanitary and you need to watch temperature and avoid sunlight. When you break these rules, yeast does weird stuff and produces off-flavors. You also might kill it. Just remember to follow the directions of your recipe and follows the rules for safe handling of yeast. By the way, more yeast does not equal more alcohol. It just equals more yeast. More on that later.
Extra Sugar: (Optional) Beer these days is carbonated. Back in the old times, it was not. If you add regular old sugar to a brew and then contain it in an airtight vessel, you’ll get carbonation. When yeast eats sugars during fermentation, the waste product is carbon-dioxide. When you’re done fermenting the malt sugars, you can add any other type of sugar, even honey or regular table sugar to get your fizz. I’ve found it’s best to dilute sugar into about 2 cups of water, boil it (for sanitation), cool it, then add it to the bottom of a bucket. Then… use a siphon to get the fermented beer from the fermentation vessel to the bucket. After fermentation, you want to avoid exposing your beer to any air. That’s why you use the siphon (racking cane) and let gravity mix the sugar water with your beer before bottling. (Don’t stir! After fermentation, oxygen in your beer is bad!) More about that later. I haven’t found much difference in sugar types. For instance, one time I was ready to bottle and realized I had run out of corn sugar so I used powdered sugar. The only difference was that the foam on the beer with the powdered sugar had bigger bubbles. It still tasted good, but it wasn’t quite as crisp. Some beers use their own maltose sugar for carbonation. At any rate, the carbonation is the result of yeast producing carbon dioxide in an enclosed environment. Since CO2 is water-soluble, it gets fizzy. Nitrogen is also water-soluble and can be forced into bottles of beer to make a really smooth head. One method I DO NOT use is carbonation tablets. I tried it once and it did not work, so I haven’t touched them since. If you decide to keg your beer, you don’t add sugar. Pumping CO2 into the keg carbonates the beer. I personally like bottles better and don’t mind the extra time. To make sure you have the right amount of carbonation, you need to add the right amount of sugar when you bottle. Here’s a handy-calculator I wish I knew about years ago.
|Kettle: I use a 6-gallon aluminum kettle. 6 gallons because most 5-gallon batches burn off a gallon of wort during the hour-long brewing process. Aluminum works well on a flat-top electric stove. Use steel if you have gas. Aluminum conducts heat quickly, but you need to use potholders to handle it because of that. You need to boil 6.6 gallons of water in it for about 90 minutes before you use it. This will create a blackish film over the inside which is oxidized aluminum. This is good, do not scrub it off! That black film will protect your wort from tasting metallic. Also get a big stirring spoon, preferably metal or plastic. Use a sharpie marker to mark the depth in gallons in the spoon so that you can see how much liquid you have in your kettle if your kettle doesn’t have graduated markers on the inside.|
|Disinfectant/sanitizing agents: I use 2 different types. The PDW is used to clean your vessels without scrubbing. (scrubbing plastic or metal is bad. It leaves microscopic grooves that can hide bacteria. Bacteria is bad for beer) You have to rinse it out really well and make sure not to get much contact with your skin. It also smells kind of funny. The second is a no-rinse sanitizer called “one-step”. Add a gallon of hot water to a TBSP of this stuff and soak all your instruments and vessels in it for at least 15 minutes. Do not rinse! Just let it air dry. Your vessels and instruments can be wet when you use them. Don’t try to dry them or rinse them off. This sanitizes your stuff and is probably the most important element of brewing.|
|Fermentation Vessel: This is basically a 7-gallon bucket with an airtight lid. The lid has a small hole in the top where you stick a little s-trap that keeps air from coming in, but lets out CO2 when the fermentation process has started. (So the bucket doesn’t blow up.) Some folks have a big glass fermenter called a carboy. It is cool to be able to see what’s going on in there, but you need to ferment somewhere where no sunlight can get in and kill your yeast.
A plastic bucket can easily get microscopic grooves from wear and tear or cleaning. Bacteria can hide in those grooves and ruin beer. A glass carboy is a good investment. Or, you can replace your bucket every year or so.
|Thermometer: It’s a good idea to have a floating thermometer. So you can keep it in your water or wort to check temperature constantly. One disadvantage is that it’s a little slow. Meat thermometers and digital thermometers tend to give a more “instant reading”, but many times they are set up to read barbecue temperatures up to 700 degrees. You need one that can give you an accurate reading to the degree between 50 and 220 degrees. They make thermometers specifically for brewing.
You should also have some outdoor thermometers around so you can check the room temperature where you will be storing your beer.
|Flexible Hose: You need a hose to move wort from your fermenter to your bottling bucket without exposing the liquid to air. You’ll also need hose to move water from your hot water vessel to your lauter tun during sparging. It’s good to have plenty of this stuff around. Get some flow clamp in-line valves to control the rate of flow because your spigots suck at doing this. If you use clamps, you don’t have to remember where exactly to place the spigot valve.|
|Racking Cane: This is a device that allows you to siphon liquid through a hose without touching it. It’s like a trombone. You use this most when moving wort from your fermenter to your bottling bucket without exposing it to oxygen.|
|Bottling Bucket: Again, this is basically a 7-gallon bucket, but with a spigot at the bottom. This, along with a racking cane should be one of the first items you get when using Mr. Beer. With a Mr. Beer kit, you use a spigot that comes right off the fermenter and goes directly into your bottles. With this method, you get some trub (yeast residue stuck to the sides of the fermenter) in your beer. With a bottling bucket, basically, you use the racking cane and hose to move beer slowly to the bucket without exposing it to too much air. You add sugar water to the bottom of the bottling bucket, which mixes with the wort slowly as the bottling bucket fills up. NEVER STIR! Too much air or oxidation in fermented wort will make it taste like cardboard. Once the wort is all in the bottling bucket, you use the spigot, hose and bottling want to get beer into the bottles.|
|Bottling Wand: This is a cool little device that you attach to the bottling bucket spigot via a hose. You stick the wand down in to the bottom of a bottle, which then fills up the bottle from the bottom. Filling up a bottle from the bottom reduces the amount of air that the beer is exposed to.|
|Gravity Meter: (Hydrometer) With this device you can calculate the amount of alcohol in your beer. Basically, it floats and has graduated printed measurements on the side that show how far it has sunk into the beer. The thicker or more dense the liquid, the less it will sink down. When alcohol is added to liquid, it loses density (alcohol is lighter than water), so the little device sinks further. Taking a “gravity” reading before and after fermentation, applying some algebra, you can calculate Alcohol By Volume or ABV. It’s not that hard. Or use this.
Later: You can buy a refractometer that uses light to measure pre-fermented gravity. This is really cool and easy to use, but it only measures accurately before fermentation. It’s good to have when you need to take a lot of gravity reading when mashing for full-grain recipes.
|Mash (Lauter) Tun w/ Sparge Arm: Mashing is the process of soaking malt in hot water to release the sugars that eventually feed yeast to produce alcohol. You need to soak malt in a vessel which can maintain heat. I use a rectangular and a circular cooler. Your target temperature is to hold 145-158degrees F for about 60 minutes. A cooler can do this with the lid on. Sparging is the process of rinsing the fermentable sugar off the malt after mashing. You need to slowly drip hot water into the mash, allowing gravity to bring the sugar-filled water downwards into another vessel. This slow act of rinsing needs to be done with hot water at about 170 degrees. A sparge arm is an apparatus that allows you to slowly and evenly drip hot water over your bed of mashed malt. My sparge arm is a series of connected PVC fittings with tiny holes drilled in them. I use a bucket of hot water with a spigot and hose connected to my sparge arm, which fits over my cooler. You need to create a setup that will allow you to drip less than 1 quart per minute. This is called “continuous sparging” or fly sparging. Some other brewers use different rinse methods, but I’ve had good luck fly sparging.|
|Wort Cooling Coil: (Immersion Chiller) You don’t technically need this either. This is a thing you use to rapidly cool wort after it’s been boiled. It’s a coil of copper tube that you run cold water through. After you boil hops, you need to get it down to below 70 degrees so you can put yeast in it. Yeast will die or be injured if you put them into hot wort. During cooling, your wort is susceptible to infection from bacteria in the air. So you want to cool it as fast as you can and get that yeast in there and seal it up quickly. A cooling coil helps. I’ve also placed my fermentation vessel in snow. That works slowly, over about 90 minutes, but it doesn’t work too well between March and November in Iowa. (No snow, fools.)|
||Bottles & Caps: The easiest bottles for home brewers are flip-tops. You don’t need any extra equipment, they work great, and they’re kind of classy. If you’re using Mr. Beer, the plastic bottles are just fine. The most important thing about bottles is that they are cleaned and sanitized. I like Sam Adams and New Belgium bottles. The labels come off easy , they’re dark and well shaped. Dark bottles are best as they let only a little bit of light in. Light is bad for beer. No matter what bottles you use, you’ll rarely if ever drink right from the bottle. Drinking beer from a glass is better, anyway. Home brews tend to have a little residue at the bottom of the bottle. Don’t worry about that. It won’t hurt you. But every time you tip a bottle to drink from it, you mix that stuff in.|
|Capping Device: If you don’t have flip-tops, the best (and most economical) way to bottle is to clean and sanitize regular beer bottles. Make sure you use only crown-tops, never twist tops. A capping device lets you place a new, air-tight cap on your bottle. Altogether, it’s cheaper to bottle with used beer bottles and new caps with a capping device. Buying empty bottles for home brews is almost as much as buying beer. So why not get some beer out of it and stock up on your favorite bottles? You’ll enjoy emptying them, anyway.|
|Testing Cylinder: You don’t really need this unless you’ll be testing gravity. (See Gravity Meter) This is just a cylinder that you use your racking cane to fill, and then test gravity without having to leave your expensive gravity meter in your vessel. It’s easier to measure gravity if you have this thin little vessel. You’ll also reduce the chances of contaminating stuff if you suck some wort into this thing instead of measuring from the main vessel.|
|Notebook and Log: I can’t stress enough how important it is to write down everything you do when brewing. Times, temperatures, process, the ingredients… everything. Get a log notebook and you can take my beer log from here. It’s so much easier to figure out what you did wrong or to recreate a recipe you liked if you log everything. If your three-ring binder has pockets in the front, save the labels from any hops, yeast, or other ingredients just to be sure.
I highly recommend using the online logs included in your free BrewToad membership.
|Good drinking glass: Remember what I wrote earlier in the section about bottles? You gotta drink home brews from a glass. And a good, clean, well-shaped glass is what you need. I always drink from a Sam Adams Lager glass. Some people, like my good friend, Michael Kraemer, use a brandy snifter. For the most part, you want a glass with rounded internal edges, so that you don’t mix it up too much when poring. I’ll throw in some advice on pouring beer in the next section. Here’s a handy guide of correct glassware for beers.
When a waiter hands you a chilled mug, punch him in the face. Chilled glasses and mugs chill beer too much and give it a flat, cardboard taste. You should only chill beer once.
Odds and Ends
- Sanitizing Bucket (To place your sanitizing solution and odds and ends.)
- Flower watering can. (Use this to re-circulate the mash without disturbing the mash bed)
- Stirring spoon (You need a long, metal or plastic one because beer kettles are deep and wood retains too much bacteria. Also, test and mark on your spoon the depth in gallons for your kettle.)
- Small pan (To boil sugar)
- Rubber Spatula (To scrape the insides of your kettle and yeast jar)
- Measuring Cups (Of course)
- Scale (You’ll need to measure your sugar by weight. Get one that zeroes out.)
When you’re at your local beer store, it’s best you know this stuff so you don’t find yourself wondering what the hell they are talking about. I’ve linked to Brewiki, which is a good, no-nonsense resource for brewers.
- Attenuation: This is when the yeast starts to ferment the wort. It can be indicated by a release of carbon dioxide. However, the airlock bubbling is not always a good indicator of attenuation.
- Carboy: Also called a “demijohn”. A glass fermentation vessel that looks like a water bottle.
- Flocculation The behavior of suspended particles in wort or beer that tend to clump together in large masses and settle out. During brewing, protein and tannin particles will flocculate out of the kettle, coolship or fermenter during hot or cold break. During and at the end of fermentation, yeast cells will flocculate to varying degrees depending on the yeast strain, thereby affecting fermentation as well as filtration of the resulting beer.
- Sparging: The act of rinsing fermentable sugars off the malt into the wort. ususally done with a slow drip. Also called “lautering”.
- Wort: (pronounced as ‘wirt’ – rhymes with dirt) refers to the unfermented liquid extracted in the mashing of malted barley. The mashing process can also be called the worting process. After mashing, wort is referred to as sweet wort. You can also create sweet wort by combining liquid or dry extracts with water as one would in extract brewing. Once the hops have been added in the boiling stage, it is called hopped wort. Finally after the wort has been fermented it is called beer.
- Racking: This is moving beer from one vessel to another via suction and a tube. This is better than pouring because it limits the liquid’s exposure to air.
- Charging: this is when you add a sugar to wort to produce carbonation.
- Trub: (TROOB) Crud. This is leftover crud. This is a kraut word for residue left on the inside of a fermentation vessel during fermentation. You don’t want this mixed in with your beer.
- Adjunct: This is when you add non-barley grains or flavors to your barley malt mix. Some adjuncts include oats, wheats, or rice.
- Extract: This is a canned malted barley. Some extracts also include hops. This makes it possible to brew beer quickly by adding water and skipping the mash and sparging.
- Specific Gravity: A measure of a liquid’s density. This is measured by floating a weighted glass tub in the liquid and measuring how far in sinks.
- OG: Original Gravity: The measurement made before fermentation.
- FG: Final Gravity: The measurement made after fermentation. The OF and FG are compared to determine how much alcohol was produced given the rule that alcohol is less dense than water and that the gravity meter will sink further after fermentation. You can apply a simply formula given these two measurements to find “Alcohol by volume” or ABV.
- Infusion: is the process of achieving your mash temperatures by adding measured amounts of water and different types of malt at carefully calculated temperatures to the mash.
- Krausen (High) This is the point in fermentation when the yeast have completed it’s peak activity and a layer of trub is produced on your fermentation vessel.
- Lauter: Another kraut word that describes the entire process of mashing, re-circulation and sparging.
I. Yeast Preparation
In progress. More on this soon.
I. Mash and Sparge (Lautering)
You need to add hot water to your grain for about 60 minutes to extract the sugars you need. Use a mash calculator to see how much water and at what temperature you’ll need it to be to hit your target temperature between 145-155F. This water is called “Strike water”. Adding heated water to your tun will make it lose temperature. If will also lose temperature when you pour in the room-temperature malt.
Make sure to stir it a bit so that you get a good temperature reading. I then use a large glass measuring cup to add the hot water to my lauter tun (the rectangular cooler). I add 1.25-2 quarts of water for each pound of mash I’m using. I usually use between 10 and 14 pounds of malt for a 5-gallon batch. The temperature usually drops about 10 degrees during this. So now it’s down to 165 degrees. I add the malt and stir it in and it usually loses another 10 degrees, so now its at 155 degrees. The sweet spot is 150-155 degrees. If it’s too hot, I leave the cooler lip open until the water gets to 165. I know as soon as I put the malt in, it will drop another 10 degrees. The target is 150-155. If it’s over 155 when I put the malt in, I stir until it gets to 155. Sometimes, I do a “rest”, which is where I take the mash to 122 degrees for about 20-30 minutes, then add more water to get to 150 for a few minutes, then more water to get to 155. Doing these rests helps build body and head retention. To start, just target staying at 152 for an hour. Depending on your equipment, you’ll be too hot or too cold when you first “strike” your mash water. Here is a cool calculator I use to help me determine how much to heat my water to before I add it to the tun and add malt. (Strike water calculator)
I mash for an hour, watching temperature constantly. Each time you open the lid or stir, you lose a few degrees. So, if you start to get below 152, you need to stop opening the lid. If you open the lid every 15 minutes or so, you’ll be okay. Ultimately, you want to run the range of temperature from 155 to 145 during that 60 minutes. While I’m waiting for the mash to finish, I heat another 6 gallons of water. This will be the sparge water.
Once the hour is up, I take that 6 gallons of water at 180 degrees and place it in my bottling bucket on the counter. It usually loses 10 degrees, so now it’s 170. First thing, I empty a few quarts of the mash at a time (using the spigot on the cooler) and gently pour it over the mash. This is called “re-circulation” or “Vorlauf”. I do this a few times until the mash water starts coming out of the tun less cloudy. The first few quarts will be cloudy. I sometimes end up doing this 3-4 times a quart at a time. Make sure not to disrupt the mash bed when re-circulating. (Use that flower watering can or use a hose and gently pour the wort back over the bed.) Also make sure that you only drain 1qt/minute or less when re-circulating. (Same rate as sparging).
Now I hook up my bottling bucket to my sparge arm and place it over the tun. I open the spigot on the bottling bucket so that the water drips slowly over the mash. I fill it up so there is about an inch or two of water over the mash. Next, I slowly open the drain spigot on the cooler and slowly let wort drain into that glass quart measuring bowl. I make sure that I’m not pouring more than a quart a minute and that my sparge arm is keeping an inch of water over my mash. I end up constantly adjusting the flow rate of both the bottling bucket and the tun so I end up getting less than a quart a minute. Slower is better. The more patience you have here, the better. I might end up doing this continuous sparge for 2 hours.
As I empty each quart of wort into my brew kettle, I make sure that the brew kettle is NOT on the burner. You need to brew all at once.
Once I’ve gotten all the wort out, (I target 7 gallons), I clean out the tun and set it outside to cool. Once it’s cool, I spread the used malt over the lawn. (Don’t do this when the mash is still hot. You’ll kill the grass.)
Sometimes I use two kettles because 7 gallons won’t fit into my brew kettle. This is okay, but I figure I’ll lose a gallon out of each during a 60-minute boil.
Heat up the wort until it gets to boiling. Watch it close and level off the temperature as soon as it’s boiling. It may bubble over in the beginning of the boil which is called “Hot Break”. Just continue to stir and remove from heat if you need to. Keep a steady boil for 60 minutes. To avoid the hot break, you can add two pennies to the kettle. There is some chemical reaction that copper does, but I can’t explain it. Remember, I’m just some dude who brews in his kitchen, not a PhD.
I add hops throughout the boil, a little at a time. The hops you need to use in the beginning of the boil are called “bitter” hops. Sometimes I add hops in 15-minute increments. For a 5-Gallon batch, I usually use around 1-2 ounces of hops for an evenly-hopped beer. Very hoppy beers like my IPA, may use 3-5 ounces.
(Here’s a good explanation of hop additions from Midwest Beer Supply)
Stage 1: Bittering
Bittering hops are added once the wort has been collected in the kettle (or after you’ve added the malt extract) and a rolling boil has been achieved. They are usually boiled for 60 minutes, although some recipes call for as little as 30 minutes. All beers have some bittering hops. The main reason for this is that without the bitterness from the hops, your beer would taste syrupy-sweet. Another benefit is that hops are a natural preservative and will help your beer to keep for a longer time or for extended aging periods.
Stage 2: Flavoring
Flavoring hops are generally added with between 15 and 30 minutes remaining in the boil. In this time frame, very little of the bitterness will be extracted from the hops, but that crisp hoppy flavor will be imparted. Again, these may be the same as your bittering or aroma hops, it is the time that they are boiled that makes the difference.
Stage 3: Aroma
Hop oils that are responsible for aroma are extremely volatile and will be driven off in the steam of your boil almost immediately. Therefore, aroma hops must not be boiled for long. They are typically added during the last 5 minutes of the boil, or at flame out (when the kettle is removed from the heat). Adding hops at flame out will produce the maximum amount of aroma. Click here for information on dry hopping. (Midwest Beer Supply, 2017)
Once an hour has passed, I use the wort chiller to get the wort down to 78 degrees. I’m very careful not to contaminate the wort during this phase. Also, you shouldn’t stir the hot wort too vigorously. You can oxidize the wort then, which is bad. When wort is hot, and you attempt to aerate, you are inadvertently bonding oxygen with particles in the wort. That’s bad. The yeast won’t be able to use that oxygen and it will make your beer taste like cardboard.
At this time, I use my racking cane and cylinder to check the gavity of the wort. This is called the “original gravity” or OG. Write this in your log along with the temperature as gravity readings need to be adjusted for temperature.
About halfway through the boil, I boil a cup of water and then cool it in my freezer. I will pitch the yeast into this cup of clean water as soon as cup of water gets to 104 degrees. Then I move that 1 cup of water to a sterile jar and cover it with plastic wrap and a rubber band. I pitch the yeast and swirl it around a little (don’t stir). This is re-hydrating the yeast. This is better than sprinkling your yeast right into the wort as all the sugars in your wort will prevent the yeast’s cell membranes from re-hydrating and obtaining oxygen. I let that 1 cup of yeast-water sit for at least 15 minutes. By the time my wort has cooled, the yeast is active and I see some bubbles in it. You may need to create a “starter yeast” a couple days before brewing. This cuts down on fermentation time and ensures you have really healthy yeast ready to ferment your wort. Always make sure you’re adding enough yeast. For heavy beers or high-alcohol beers, a single smack pack, liquid yeast vial or dry yeast packet will not cut it. You’ll either have to double up, or use a starter several days before brewing to increase your cell count. Here’s a handy pitch-rate calculator. Don’t make the mistake of adding too little yeast.
As soon as the wort gets down to 68 degrees, I pour it into the fermentation vessel. I make sure to splash it a bit and might even move it back and forth twice. Aeration is good for yeast. Sometimes I even use a sterilized wisk to aerate. Some really serious brewers have magnetized or vibrating stirring devices that make sure the wort is continually aerated during the first few days of fermentation. That’s not really needed, though.
I plug my air-lock into the fermentation vessel’s lid and add some gin into it. This is better than water as water can become contaminated. I just be careful not to let any gin go into the fermenter. Do this before putting the lid on the fermenter. One time, I pushed that airlock down into the lid when the lid was on the fermenter and accidentally shoved that little rubber gasket down into the wort. I had to fish it out with my bare arm, risking contamination.
If you are making a wheat beer, instead of an airlock, make a blowoff tube. This is a tube plugged in to the top of the fermenter that goes down into a bowl of santizing fluid. Wheat beers tend to bubble a lot. They can force foam and hop bits into your airlock, clogging the airlock and causing your lid to blow off from all the excess C02.
I cool the yeast solution down to 68F. I pour the yeast-water into the fermenter (on top of the wort) and then seal up the fermenter.
I keep my fermenter in my top floor, where it’s a little warmer (around 68 degrees). For ales, this is good. For lagers, I put my fermenter in the garage where it’s about 48 degrees. Of course, I can only make lagers in the winter time. Don’t go higher than 68 degrees, especially for wheat beers. You will get too active of a krausen and risk a blowoff.
I let the fermenter sit for 2-3 weeks, away from sunlight. I never open the lid. Recently, I’ve started using my racking cane to move the wort to another fermenter after 7 days. This is called secondary fermentation. This helps clear up the beer because you leave all the crud (this is actually called “Trub” at the bottom of the first fermenter. For beers that need to be clear, this is good. For beers with low flocculation (That’s when the yeast stays suspended in the wort instead of falling to the bottom of the vessel) I don’t use a secondary. Hefeweizen is intentionally cloudy, so I don’t use a secondary then.
Either way, I’ve always fermented for 14 days. It’s never turned out poorly.
After that 14 days, I bottle the beer. Before you bottle, you need to do a few things.
- sterilize all your bottles.
- Boil a cup of water with your carbonating sugar. (I mostly use corn sugar, but have used 6.5 oz of honey as well). Cool the solution. You should check the amount of carbonation needed for your specific style using a carbonation calculator.
- Sterilize a bottling bucket, bottling wand and your hose.
- Take a final gravity reading. This is when I calculate the ABV of the beer.
I add the cooler water-sugar solution to the bottom of my bottling bucket, being careful not to mix it up too much to avoid aeration. Then, I wrap my tube along the bottom of the bottling bucket. I use the racking cane to move the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. This makes the swirling motion of the beer mix the sugar-water. It also fills the bottling bucket up from the bottom, so there is less chance or aeration.
I start staging bottles and sterilize my bottle caps. Once they’re sterile, I start to bottle using the wand. Fill the bottles to the very top, almost spilling some. When you remove the bottling wand, the level of beer in the bottle should be about half way up the neck of the bottle. This is perfect. If you have too much space between the beer level and the cap, your beer will be flat. Too little space, and you’ll over-carbonate.
As soon as a bottle is filled, I place a cap on, but do not tighten it. I keep the bottles like this for 15 minutes. What is happening is the sugar water is already being eaten by the yeast and is producing CO2. That CO2 is heavier than air, so it sits on top of the beer at the top of the bottle and pushes out oxygen. THEN, I cap after about 15 minutes.
I store my bottles after they’ve been capped in my upstairs again where it’s about 68 degrees. I’ve never had a problem with carbonation. Using this method, I’ve always had perfect carbonation. Keep the bottles out of sunlight and don’t touch them for 14 days.
The only problem I have ever had when I tried carbonation tablets instead of sugar-water. I’ve actually had better luck with putting table sugar straight into the bottles than with carbonation tablets.
As soon as 14 days has passed, I move the bottles to the basement where it is about 64 degrees. They sit there for 1-3 weeks.
If I had the means, I would place the bottles in colder temperatures gradually each week. This is called “lagering”. It works for ales too. But for now, I just keep them there for 3 weeks. Less time for lighter beers, beers with wheat or beers with high hops amounts. Three weeks seems to be the sweet spot for ambers, browns and lagers. I would do more for beers with higher OG or “thicker” beers.
ALWAYS chill beer for 2 days before drinking it. One time, I tried to put a few beers in the freezer for a few minutes. Bad idea. I had the worst heartburn you can imagine. Just let them suckers chill for 48 hours. They will be great!
If you’re not going to drink them for a while, keep them conditioning. The more conditioning time, the better, unless you’re making a cloudier beer like hefeweizen or a lighter wheat beer or IPA. Then, 7 weeks may be too much. You don’t need to condition wheat beers or hoppy, light beers for long. The longer you condition, the more hoppiness you lose. As soon as you put beer in the fridge, you have to leave it there. Don’t store it in warmer conditions after that. That’s what happens to commercial beer and you can tell!
Home brews can be stored in the fridge for up to six months and still be great!