Home Brewing Crash Course
Welcome to our Home Brewing Crash Course. Follow these easy to understand instructions and you'll be brewing great tasting beer in no time. If you ever need more help, call or email us any time!
1: The Importance of Sanitation
One of the most important advantages we have over our ancient beer brewing relatives is our ability to sterilize equipment effectively. The air and water is full of microorganisms which love the nutritious sugars in beer as much as we do. Using a combination of heat and food grade chemicals however, we can eliminate these bugs to insure that our beer results from healthy yeast based fermentation only.
- Food grade sanitizing chemical (like Star-San, Iodophor, or C-Brite)
- Plastic Fermenting Bucket or Tub
- Bottle brush (great for cleaning recycled bottles too!)
- Clean water
- Bottle Tree Drainer
- Blast bottle washer (a faster option than the bottle brush)
Home brew sanitizers work on contact. Each has a different requirement for dilution and contact time and will specify whether it can be air dried or if the solution must be rinsed off your product. We prefer to use no-rinse sanitizers like Star-San as rinsing can reintroduce bacteria if you do not have a perfectly clean water source. Star-San has a long shelf life and can be added to a spray bottle for extra efficiency while sanitizing. Simply submerge your equipment or spray it down thoroughly with a diluted mixture and allow to air dry. It's simple but hugely important for making great beer!
2: The Boil
The boil is one of the most exciting parts of making beer. During this step, you'll smell the fresh hops and the rich aroma of malt filling the air. Second only to bottling, it's one of the most labor intensive steps as well. You'll instantly feel like a brew-master, orchestrating the creation of the perfect beer. But what's really involved in the boil? Let's find out.
- 3+ gallon stock pot
- Long handled spoon
- Electric or Gas stove
- 20 Qt Brew Pot
- Stainless Steel Spoon
- Grain & Hop bags
Beer is a mixture of 4 simple ingredients: water, malt, hops, and yeast. For each of these basic ingredients, one can find a multitude of variations which allow for hundreds of thousands of different recipes to be created. Yet in the end, they all can be considered a type of beer. During the boil, the water, malt and hops are combined to form what brewers refer to as "wort." Pronounced "wert," wort is simply a fancy word for unfermented beer. It is the sweet liquid that contains all the sugars that will fuel the yeast on in the process. However, there is another hidden advantage to boiling the wort: sanitation.
As mentioned earlier, foreign bacteria and wild yeast are the enemy when creating most styles of beer. The great upside to boiling is that any contaminants found in the malt, water, or hops are killed during the boiling process. It is this advantage that allowed ancient brewers to successfully create a sanitary beverage from unsanitary water sources. There are other reasons we must boil the ingredients, however, besides sanitation.
The primary reason, besides sanitation, to boil the wort is hop extraction. There are chemicals in hops known as alpha acids which contribute greatly to the bitterness and flavor of the beer. Bitterness is essential to counterbalance the sweetness of the unfermentable sugars which will and add rich flavors to the final beer. Essentially, the more malt you add to your beer, the more hops you will need to counteract the sweetness.
During the boil, the alpha acids are extracted from the hops plant material and undergo a series of important structural changes known as isomerization. Don't worry; you don't need a chemistry degree to make sure this happens. Simply boiling the hops for the correct amount of time will make sure everything happens like it is supposed to.
So how do you make wort? In any of our beginner's ingredient kits, you will find all the ingredients you need to make high quality wort. Starting with boiling water, the malt extract (either dry, liquid or a mixture of both) is added to the brew pot. Once the sugars are completely mixed and the liquid is returned to a boil, the hops are added and the mixture is boiled for the designated amount of time. Some kits require longer boils than others, but these details will all be specified in the instructions. It's really that simple. It takes dedication, however, to make sure the boil is steady and not overflowing. This is where the labor comes in. Time must be taken to watch the boil constantly to ensure that while boiling steadily, the wort is not overflowing out of the pot. The wort must also be stirred occasionally to promote an even boil and good hop extraction.
Fermentation is perhaps the most influential step in the creation of beer. Despite how well you perform every other part of the process, in the end, it will come down to the life-cycle of a living organism to finish your beer. That living organism is of course the yeast. As a brewer, it's your task to give the yeast the best possible environment so they help you to the maximum of their ability. Let's discover how to create that environment.
- Fermentation Vessel & Lid
- Siphon Equipment
- Glass Carboy (allows for longer fermentation times without risk of oxidation)
- Wort Chiller (helps to cool the wort faster than using an ice bath)
The first step of fermentation is to reduce the heat of the wort to a temperature at which the yeast can thrive. Typically, for ale yeast, this is between 68F and 72F. That's a big drop from the boiling temperatures achieved in the previous step, and to prevent infection it needs to happen pretty quickly. Professional brewers use complex and expensive equipment and cooling devices to hit their target temperatures as quickly as possible. As a beginning brewer though, you can reach your target temperature by placing the entire brew pot in a bath of ice water. Most sinks can hold a large brew kettle easily, with space for ice around the sides. This helps tremendously in preventing contamination and reduces the time between boiling and fermentation by a great deal. There are also alternatives such as the wort chiller which isn't quite as expensive as a professional chiller. This device circulates cool water through a copper pipe which is submerged in the wort. This allows for the wort to exchange heat with the water, without risk of contamination.
Once the wort is cooled, it must be transferred to the fermentation vessel and diluted to the batch size. Typical batch sizes are 5 gallons. A siphon is a helpful tool as it allows for oxygen to be reintroduced to the wort by splashing the mixture as it enters the fermentation vessel. Since the yeast will need oxygen during the first part of their life cycle, enriching the wort with oxygen is a very important step to making sure the beer is completely fermented before moving on to the next step.
With the fermentation vessel filled and the wort oxygenated, it's time to add the yeast to the mix. Our beginner kits include dry yeast packets. This style of yeast is typically much more forgiving than their liquid counterparts, though they need to be rehydrated before use. Simply submerge in sterile drinking water 10-15 minutes before you wish to pitch the yeast to the wort ("Pitching yeast" is a fancy way of expressing the action of adding the yeast to the wort). After adding the yeast, the airlock is filled and installed into the lid and the fermenter is stowed away. After 12-24 hours you will see a huge amount of activity in the airlock as the yeast begins digesting the sugars and producing CO2 (and alcohol!). Truly the only thing you must do as a brewer is maintain a healthy, stable temperature for the yeast to thrive and not disturb the natural process. It can be a test of your patience but be assured; patience here will net you the most gains. Depending on the beer you're brewing, this step may require as little as a week to complete or many many months! The really "big" beers (more malt) tend to take longer to complete but can also reward the brewer with amazing flavors that can't be found in any other beverage.
4: Bottle it Up!
The final step to making a quality beer is bottling. Many beginning brewers start to cut corners at this stage due to impatience, but stay the course. It can be a very labor intensive process but extra care here ensures your beer crosses the finish line with a bang. Here's how it works.
- 48, 12 oz Amber Bottles (for a 5 gallon batch)
- 5 oz priming sugar (for a 5 gallon batch)
- Crown caps
- Bottle Capper
- Bottling Bucket
- Bottle filler
- Flexible siphon tubing
If you've been paying attention so far, you may be wondering how the beer you're making will be carbonated. The secret is in this last step. Although the yeast may appear to be done fermenting your beer, they're still present though they've run out of sugar to eat. In this last step, a small addition of sugar gives the yeast the fuel they need to produce CO2 which carbonates the beer.
In summary, the fermented beer is transferred to the bottling bucket and mixed with the priming sugar. This is followed directly with a transfer to the sanitized bottles which are immediately capped. By providing extra fuel for the yeast, yet confining the CO2 byproduct to the bottle, the beer becomes saturated with CO2 gas. This action produces a carbonated beer ready to serve. The process isn't immediate however, requiring about 2 weeks to complete once capped.
So there you have it. From start to finish, there's not a step too difficult for any novice. Even if you reach a point where there seems like multiple options or even a step that's too difficult to grasp, we're always here to help.