There are many different ways to brew beer. Below is how I like to brew. Keep it simple and fun.
Most beers are brewed the same way. If you have an O’Shea’s kit or are making up a recipe yourself, you will have your base malt (this is where the majority of the alcohol comes from). Our base malt is 6 lbs of liquid malt extract. To increase the alcohol, add dry malt extract or other additives like Belgian Rock Candy, Rice Syrup Solids, Honey, or Brown sugar. All these items go into the brew pot at the beginning of the boil. If you want more honey flavoring, add the honey at the end of the boil. Specialty grains add body, mouthfeel, color, flavors, and other characteristics such as head retention. These grains are soaked in hot water for 30 minutes. All beers have hops, different types, added at different times during the boil. Not all beers have all additions of the hops listed below. There are 4 types of hop additions:
- Boiling hops: boil for 60 minutes, these hops balance the maltiness of the beer and or add bitterness, they are also called bittering hops.
- Flavor hops: add during the last 30 minutes of the boil, these add hop flavor to the beer and a little bitterness.
- Finishing hops: added during the last minute of the boil, this hop addition gives the beer that nice hop aroma (smell a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale the next time you have one).
- Dry hops: these hops add more hop aroma and are added in the fermenter. It is best to wait for the beer to totally ferment, transfer the beer to another fermenter and add the hops, let them sit in the beer for one more week then bottle.
*A note on using hops, it is not necessary to put hops in hop bags! If you just add hops directly to the boil, they will settle out on the bottom of the kettle once the boil is over and the wort is cooled (do professional brewers use hop bags during the boil? No!) A word about water quantities, whatever type of fermenter you are using, measure and mark the 5 gallon level. Use enough water to cover the grains for steeping, boil as much as you can without having a boilover, add all this to your fermenter then top it off to the 5-gallon mark with pre-boiled water or bottled water, do not use tap water without boiling it. It’s that simple, notice I never mentioned any quantities other than the final quantity of 5 gallons.
When you brew, keep it simple. Listed below are easy steps to brew beer.
If you are using White Labs liquid yeast, pull it out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. If you are using dry ale yeast, proof it by following the instructions on the back of the yeast packet.
I normally fill my sink up with hot water and soak my malt extract in the water, this softens the liquid malt, making it easier to get out of the tub.
Soaking Grains (Steeping)
Next, heat enough water in a small pot to cover your grains. Put your grains in a grain bag. Your goal is to have a strike temperature (initial temperature of water and grains (mash)) of 150-158 degrees. A good way to do this is heat the water up to around 165 degrees, once you put the grains in it, the mash should be around 155 degrees. Shut the burner off, put your grain bag in, ensure the grains are covered with water, put a lid on the pot and set it aside. Forget about it now, don’t worry if the temperature is dropping. Soak grains for 30 minutes or longer.
- Take the largest pot you have, and put some water in it. Allow enough room to put your tea you are making from your grains, the 6 lbs of malt extract and any other additives you will be adding. Your goal is to heat up some water to rinse your grain bag and dissolve your extract, you will be topping the pot up later. When the grains have soaked for 30 minutes, shut the burner off on your boiling kettle, pull your grain bag out and dip it in your brew kettle a few times to rinse the grains, now toss your grain bag in the sink and add your liquid malt extract and dry malt extract. Stir until all the malt is dissolved, keep scraping the bottom of the pot, checking to see that no malt is sitting on the bottom. When all the malt is dissolved, add your tea and any other additives (Rice Syrup Solids, Honey, Brown Sugar), top-up with as much water as your pot will hold, allow enough headspace for the wort to boil. Light the fire and wait for the wort to come to a boil. I like to put a pan thermometer in the kettle, this lets me know when the wort will come to a boil. Wort boils at 210 degrees. When the wort comes to a boil enough water it will want to boil over, when the foam rises to the top of the pot, turn the burner off or remove it from the fire, allow the foam to drop then slowly increase the heat until you have a nice rolling boil.
- Once you have a rolling boil, toss in your boiling hops and set your watch, you have 60 minutes to go.
- When you have 30 minutes to go, toss in your Flavoring hops (if your beer has them).
- With 15 minutes to go, add the Irish Moss (this is a fining agent that grabs a hold of proteins and pulls them to the bottom of the kettle during cooling. Excessive proteins in beer cause “chill haze” which translates to cloudy beer. If you have an immersion wort chiller, this is also the time to put it in the kettle. The purpose of this is the hot wort will sterilize the wort chiller.
- With 1-2 minutes to go, add your Finishing Hops (if your beer has them). I like to add them at the end of the boil when 60 minutes is up, I toss in my Finishing Hops, put the lid on, shut the burner off and let them sit a couple of minutes.
- Now it is time to cool your wort. Your goal is to cool the wort as rapidly as possible. There are many methods. The most common method is setting the kettle in the sink and adding water and ice around it. I like to put my pan thermometer in the kettle at the end of the boil, this sterilizes it and now while it is cooling and I can just look at the thermometer to see how it is cooling. Your goal here is to have the wort in the fermenter between 70-80 degrees. Other ways to cool your wort are Immersion Wort Chillers and Counterflow Wort Chillers, these cool the wort in minutes.
- Once your wort is cooled, put it n your fermenter and top off to the 5-gallon mark with purified water (either pre-boil tap water or add bottled water). It is very important to aerate your wort when putting it in the fermenter. When you pitch your yeast, yeast needs oxygen in order to rebuild its’ cell walls and duplicate. The more oxygen in the wort, the faster the yeast will begin to ferment your wort. The cooler the wort, the more oxygen it can hold. Your goal here is to have fermentation going is the quickest time possible. Your wort is sterile sugar. Bacteria is dying to get a hold of it. Your biggest protection against bacteria is to have a sterile fermenter and for the yeast to start working as soon as possible thereby putting up a protective barrier against the inoculation of bacteria. Without the use of pure oxygen, I recommend pouring your cooled wort slowly into the fermenter from chest high, allowing it to splash into the ferment and aerate. Once you get to the trub in the bottom of the kettle, stop, now top-off with purified water and pitch yeast. Another way to transfer is by siphoning, this is not a good method because it doesn’t aerate the wort and therefore it normally takes 2-3 days to go into fermentation allowing bacteria to attack your wort and ruin your beer. If you want to siphon, a good method is to use the “Wort Wizzard”, this device transfers your wort and aerates it at the same time. The best method is to siphon your wort into the fermenter and add pure oxygen to the wort with the “Oxygenator”. I use the Oxygenator with a yeast starter and I have fermentation within hours of pitching the yeast.
To produce good beer you must control fermentation temperatures. Every yeast strain has a preferred temperature that it likes to work at. A lot of homebrewers don’t brew at certain times of the year because of the outside temperature, i.e. too cold or too hot. Don’t let Mother Nature control your brewing schedule. Most Ale yeasts want to work between 70-80 degrees. If it is too cold or too hot, pick a different yeast that prefers that temperature. For help on picking yeasts, just ask and we will get you the right yeast for your beer. If it is extremely cold in your fermentation area, why not brew a lager? If it is extremely hot, pick a beer and a yeast that does well in hot temperatures. There are also other ways to decrease the temperature of the fermenter during hot weather such as sitting your fermenter in a bucket or pail of water, this decreases the temperature up to 5 degrees, even better, put a cotton t-shirt over your glass carboy allowing the t-shirt to drape into the water, this allows the water to wick up the t-shirt and evaporate causing cooling, want more reduction in cooling, set a fan in front of it and allow air to increase your efficiency. There are many ways to keep your temperature up or down.
Most beers will completely ferment in about 7 days. When the airlock stops bubbling it is normally done. At this point, you can transfer the beer to your bottling bucket or transfer it to a secondary fermenter.
Set your fermenter on the counter where you will transfer your beer.
Boil up a cup of water, mix in your priming sugar and pour into your bottling bucket.
Hook up your transfer hose to your fermenter and lay the other end in the bottom of your fermenter, open the spigot and let it transfer into your bottling bucket. Don’t worry if any trub transfers into your bottling bucket, this trub will settle out and won’t get into your bottles. Once all the beer has transferred, set your bottling bucket on the counter and give it a nice, slow stir to ensure the sugar is thoroughly mixed into the beer. If you are worried about any trub getting into the bucket, just let it sit a while, it will settle to the bottom. Now, fill up your bottles and cap them. Store your bottles at the same temperature as you fermented. This allows them to ferment again in the bottle causing carbonation. Once carbonated, sit back, relax and enjoy! A note on storage of beers: Once they are carbonated it is best to refrigerate them, not many of us have a walk-in refer so, just keep them in the coolest spot in the house. As far as longevity, the stronger the beer is in alcohol and the higher the hop bitterness, the longer the beer will store. There are beers that are good for up to 25 years. How long should you age your beer before drinking? That is up to you, just keep trying them, you will see how they mature as the flavor keeps changing. Beers are just like wine, they get better with time and then the flavor begins to drop off.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
Cleaners don’t sanitize and sanitizers don’t clean! Everything that touches cooled wort and/or beer must be cleaned and sanitized! If you cut corners here you will normally taste it.
What is the process: Rinse, Clean, triple rinse, sanitize, and add your wort or beer. Notice I didn’t say anything about rinsing after you sanitized (unless you are using bleach, more on that later).
Cleaners – The best cleaner on the market is Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW). PBW is a cleaner made for the professional brewing industry. The second best cleaner is Tri Sodium Phosphate (TSP). TSP can be purchased at any hardware store in the paint/wallpaper department. Do not use household cleaners as they leave a residue that is difficult to get off. Only use a soft sponge on your equipment, don’t scratch it as scratches harbor bacteria.
Sanitizers – It is best to use a “no-rinse sanitizer” such as Star San, Iodophor, or any of the other sanitizers that are made for brewing. These sanitizers are no-rinse sanitizers, that means, don’t rinse! You must also use the recommended about, more is not better; it just leaves off flavors in your beer. If you must use bleach, it is 1 ounce per 5 gallons, again, more is not better. Bleach is not a no-rinse sanitizer, it must be triple rinsed with purified water, tap water is not pure as it contains chlorine and bacteria in it. If you rinse with tap water you are increasing your odds of infecting your beer. Chlorine leaves a residue layer that you can normally taste in your finished product, it tastes citrusy. Don’t get this confused with some of the citrusy hop flavors and aromas.
A word on Hydrometer readings – Read the specific gravity scale. Take the specific gravity at the beginning (Starting Gravity or “SG”), before fermentation and at the end (Terminal Gravity or “TG”), before bottling. If you have a reading of 1.050, we just say “50”. Now, let’s calculate our alcohol content. Take SG minus TG and multiply this number by 0.1275. Your outcome is percent alcohol by volume. Example below:
TG: – 12
5.4 % ABV