As requested, here’s a post outlining the basic steps in brewing an extract/grain beer. You have three choices when making beer. A kit that uses just extract, a mixture of malt extract and freshly ground grains, or all-grain which obviously is done entirely with grains and no extracts. Feel free to start with a kit if you’re really nervous, but in my opinion the difference in difficulty between a kit and extract/malt recipes doesn’t make up for the usually crappy flavours you get with most kits. The extract and yeast in the kits can be older, and really yeast should be kept in the fridge. If you *are* going to use a kit then buy a package of yeast separately so that it is fresher. It’s only about $1.50 – $2. The “instructions” below are for the malt extract/grain recipes. I’ve only brewed about 6 batches of beer so far so I am NOT a great resource. I can tell you what I’ve learned however, which is sometimes a useful way to learn (from my mistakes that is!)
One thing I learned the hard way is that you need a clean kitchen before starting – you’re going to need counter space and an empty sink at the very least. Also, sanitation is key, so having clean (but not sanitised) counters can really help. So, clean the kitchen and make sure your brewing stock pot is clean, and that you have all your equipment clean and ingredients ready.
Equipment and Ingredients
You don’t need a ton of equipment to get started brewing, but I do recommend the following as absolute necessities:
- Notebook and pen
- 10-12L stainless steel stock pot (minimum size and no aluminium)
- long handled stainless steel spoon
- strainer/colander (to strain out grains)
- spatula (to get malt extract out of bucket)
- hop bags – ok this one isn’t mandatory but it sure is nice
- measuring cup (1 cup, liquid)
- measuring spoon (1 tsp)
- sanitising solution (we use starsan)
- baster (turkey baster)
- 8L container (for sanitising, so plastic is fine)
- immersion or mixing blender
- 5 gallon (23L) lidded foodsafe tub (Primary Fermenter)
Ingredients (dependent on recipe)
- pale, amber or dark malt extract (6.5-8lbs usually)
- grains (barley, wheat or a combo usually – with names like crystal, patent, black, carapils etc.)
- bittering hops (goldings, cascade, willamette, centennial or more or a combo)
- finishing hops (same as above, either the same or different variety than the bittering)
- yeast (ale, lager etc)
- irish moss (to clarify)
- yeast energiser (if you want)
- distilled or filtered water, at minimum de-chlorinated (by leaving out overnight)
“Mash” the Grain (steeping)
To get started put about 6L of cold water (this can come from the tap if you live somewhere like Vancouver) in your pot, put the grains in it and start heating it up. The lid can be on. You are NOT trying to boil the grains. That will ruin the taste of you beer, at the very least. You’re getting it up to right before boiling, and the name for this process is either steeping or mashing the grains. You’re extracting the flavour and sugars in the grains in this process. While you’re waiting for it to heat up fill your sink with hot tap water and put your tub of malt in it. This will warm the malt enough to make it easy to pour it into the mash. Also, put on a kettle of water to almost boil. Write down the date, name of the recipe, the ingredients and the starting time – in your new, handy-dandy beer notebook.
When the wort is almost boiling you’re going to sparge the grains. This isn’t fancy. The hardest part of this is deciding what pots you are using for what. Your options are to do your mash in a smaller 4L pot and then sparge it into your brew pot, and transfer the liquidover. Or, you could try to find a strainer that’s stainless steel and fits far enough down inside your brewpot to be able to just pull the strainer up and sparge it there – leaving the liquid in the brew pot. Finally you *could* use a hop bag to hold the grains and just remove it. I’ve been finding that the hop bag absorbs too much water though, and you want to be able to make as much in the pot as possible for the best flavour. At this point I’m going back to the second method. Sparging is just pouring the hot (not boiling) water from the kettle (or boiled on the stove in a different pot) through the grains to get as much grainy goodness out of them you can. So, go ahead and sparge the grains now. Note the time.
Liquid with the grains out
This will cool down the brew, so get it back up to near boiling as you go get the lid off of your malt extract. Also, note that brewer’s grains (i.e. the spent grains) are great feed so you can give them wet or dried to your goats, chickens, pigs or more.
Add the Malt Extract
I love malt. This is the same malt you may have got for a treat when you were a kid (ah, the seventies!). You can also put it in malt breads and ginger cakes. My mother recommends an amber malt for eating and baking, and it’s WAY cheaper from a homebrew shop than your grocery store.
Anyway, back to the beer. You’re going to add the malt now. This is a crucial part. If you don’t stir this well as you add it, and don’t take the pot off the heat you are going to burn the malt and ruin your beer. That said (and I’m stealing this phrase from the Joy of Homebrewing and more), Relax! Drink a homebrew. So, you’ve had a big sip of beer (the next one is going to be yours!) and turned off the heat under the pot. Get that long handled spoon ready and pour in the malt. STIR. Keep stirring. Keep stirring until the malt is entirely dissolved and then stir one more time. Now you can turn the heat on and start getting the temp up to a rolling boil. Keep stirring at first, but then you can relax.
Bring to the boil & add bittering hops
This part is only really crucial for a couple of reasons. One – you need to know when your boil starts so you know that you boil the wort (you can call it that now that it has malt in it) for at least an hour. Two – watch that boil get started so it doesn’t boil over. This happens to everyone at least once, and it’s STICKY. Watch the wort come to the boil, make sure it’s at a constant rolling boil that won’t get bigger, take note of the time and throw in a hopbag full of your bittering hops. Note the time that the boil starts.
Hops in the bag
Hop bag in the boiling wort – you can’t see the roll here, but I go for a somewhat vigourous but not over-the-top roll
While it’s boiling make your sanitising solution (according to manufacturer’s instructions). Use it to sanitise the primary fermenter, tongs, yeast package, scissors, baster, airlock, blender beaters or attachment and the thermometer. I usually mover this all to a 8L container once I need to get the primary ready. Don’t forget to sanitise the lid of the fermenter too!
Sanitising the equipment, in the fermenter. Notice that the lid can go sideways, and that you only need about 4L of solution to sanitise everything. You’ll swish it around on the lid and inside of the container.
I also take this time to note when I’m going to need to do the next phases:
20 minutes prior to end of hour (or 40 minutes from beginning of boil) put the irish moss in warm water
*in 1/2 cup of warm water add 1tsp of irish moss
Soaking the Irish moss
10 minutes prior add the irish moss (or 50 minutes from beginning of boil)
*add the moss and water mixture to the wort as it boils. note the time.
The hop bag and irish moss are added – I added mine at 10 minutes, because I’m probably going to dry-hop in the secondary as well. I’ll cover this in the next brewing post.
10-2 minutes prior add the finishing hops
*deciding when to add the finishing hops is a matter of taste. If you add it at 10 minutes before the end of the boil you’re going to get more of a hoppy taste, and if you do it 2 minutes before you’re going to get more of a hoppy aroma. It’s a sliding scale between the two, but you need to boil those hops for a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 10.
When you’ve only got 5 minutes of you boil left fill your sink with the coldest tap water you can get. Don’t overfill it, you’re going to displace the water with your brewpot. I fill mine about 1/3 full.
Sink Bath to Cool
After a minimum of an hour, and it can be longer, just adjust when you add your finishing hops, turn off the heat. Transfer the entire brewpot into the sink. It’s better to keep the cold water running with the sink draining a bit to keep the bath cold (the pot will warm it up). To do this I open the strainer a bit, put a tea towel over it and the pot on that. Then I put the tap on just enough to keep it at the same level. This takes two people to maneuver, at least in my experience. Depending on how much wort you have made (I recommend FILLING that brewpot!) this will take shorter or longer. Somewhere between 15-30 minutes is average. This is where sanitisation comes into play. Once the wort is no longer boiling you are at risk of contamination. If you don’t sanitise everything that touches the wort from this point on you will probably introduce alien and unwanted wild yeast. This won’t kill you, it won’t even make you sick, but your beer may suck. Most off tastes in homebrew are because of contamination. Put a kettle on to boil right about now.
Cooling in the sink bath
Pour into the Primary
We’re aiming to get the wort down to 60 degrees F, and after the sink bath we’re going to add enough cold water to get the wort up to maximum 23L. That cold water is going to cool it down, and my “guestimate” (based on how much wort you have made) is that you should take it out of the sink bath when it’s about 100 degrees. Watch your sanitisation when handling the lid of the brew pot – especially if you’re like me and put ice cubes on the lid to help the cooling process. Pour the beer into the fermenter (make sure the condensation on the sides of the brewpot don’t get into and contaminate the primary), then pour the cold water in after it. Pour enough in to get the fermenter about 2/3 full and then check the temperature. If you’re below 60 degrees you’re going to need to add boiling water from the kettle, if it’s above keep adding the cold. There is a fill line in fermenters that you are aiming for (like a ridge). Add enough water to get it to that line but not go below 60 degrees or above 70. I’ve had my best luck at 60 degrees personally. Note the time and final temperature.
Yeast, Yeast Energizer and Aeration
I don’t usually follow the directions on the yeast. If it’s a package of dry yeast I just cut the package and toss the yeast in (sanitise the package and scissors first!). If it’s a smack pack (around $5-6) you should have smacked it before you even started steeping the grains – even before that. Maybe 3-5 hours before you’re going to pitch it (putting the yeast in is called pitching it). I have used smack packs before, and I usually smacked them right before cleaning the kitchen. I haven’t yet tried making a yeast starter or reusing yeast from a previous brew, but I’m going to do that next time and will report back.
The yeast energiser is simple. You can follow those directions. Ours is 2.5 teaspoons, and chuck it in with the yeast.
Once you’ve thrown them in take the sanitised blender and mix in the yeast and energiser and aerate – all at the same time. To aerate most efficiently you want the blender attachment half out of the beer (you can call it that now the yeast is in), half in. This introduces the most oxygen to the beer. THIS IS THE ONLY TIME YOU WANT TO ADD OXYGEN. It feeds the yeast, which you need to do to help *your* yeast get started. You don’t want to expose the beer to oxygen after this point though, because every time you do you risk introducing and feeding wild yeast. Once you’ve aerated for 1-2 minutes that’s enough.
Aerating the beer
Test the Original Gravity
Using the sanitised baster remove some beer and put it in the vial with the hydrometer. This small amount of beer doesn’t have to stay sanitised as you’re not putting it back in the fermenter. Once you have enough to properly float the hydrometer put the lid on the fermenter. Now back to the hydrometer. Blow as much as the foam off the top of the beer that you can. Then spin the hydrometer and wait for it to settle. It won’t give a good reading if it’s touching any of the sides of the vial. Take the reading at the bottom of the meniscus, it should be something approximately or between1.050 or 1.060 (depending on the recipe). If it’s 1.5 or 1.6 you’re reading the balling guage rather than specific gravity. The OG (or original gravity) will help you determine the final alcohol volume (if you care about that kind of thing). Write this down too.
Using the hydrometer to measure the OG – this is before blowing off the foam.
You should already have the lid on but if you don’t put it on. Add the airlock – don’t push it through! Make sure you sanitised it first. Put the “lid” on it (a round cap that goes on the centre part) and add water or vodka to the fill line. There’s another lid that you can put on over the whole thing to keep the water or vodka from evaporating. If you can’t put the fermenter somewhere dark wrap it in a dark towel. Also, keep the fermenter where the temperature is going to remain constant with the temperature of the wort when you pitched the yeast. A difference of 1-2 degrees won’t ruin the beer, but swings of 10 degrees between day and night will make for off flavours. Now taste the beer from the hydrometer reading, and note its flavours. How hoppy is it? Does it taste burned? Tasting your wort and beer at all stages will help you figure out what’s going wrong if you do end up with an odd beer.
If it’s going to be in the light, or the temperature fluctuates a *bit* more than you like, wrap your beer in a towel
When the yeast multiplies it creates CO2 which is what makes the airlock bubble. You’ll probably start seeing this after 24 hours, and it may last for 3-4 days. You need to make sure there’s always water in the airlock, but other than that this is a time of rest for the homebrewer.
After around 5 days you can consider racking the beer to the secondary fermenter. I’ll go over *how* you do that in the next post. I usually wait 7 days. This time I might do 5 days because it will be the weekend. I’m going to brew another batch of beer at the same time and re-use the yeast from last night’s batch. I sure hope it works!
The airlock in action – well not really. It’s only just started bubbling today, about 18 hours after pitching.
So that’s it for the brewing. It seems like a lot at first, and for the first 4 batches I kept having to refer to the Joy of Brewing and its companion. Now I just look over my notes from the last batch, and I’m sure pretty soon I’ll have it all memorised. Just keep trying, even though your first beers might not be very good. It took 2 awful beers and 1 OK beer before we made a pretty darn good nut brown ale, and then an awesome ESB (although I think the malt burned a little in that one).
In another post I’ll go over some of the reasons your beer might taste weird. I have some experience in that area HAHA!
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