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By Joe Scivicque

If you can follow a simple recipe and bring water to a boil, then you can brew your own beer. And, there are lots of great reasons to brew your own:

  • Your beer will taste as good and maybe even better than some of those micro-brews you buy at your local convenience store.
  • Your friends will be amazed at your ability to brew such good beer. Of course the draw back to this benefit is they will want to drink more of your beer.
  • You can save money over the cost of those store bought micro-brews.
  • And best of all, it's just fun.

So, how do I get started? The best advice for the beginner is to pick up a good book on home brewing and at least read the beginning chapters. I would suggest either The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, or Homebrewing Guide by Dave Miller. The book by Papazian has more detailed instruction for beginners and lots of home brewers refer to it as the bible of home brewing. The book by Miller, in my opinion, has less information on recipes for beginners and proceeds more quickly into brewing theory and advanced brewing, but is a great technical guide.

So, what is this going to cost me? To get started, the cost of a book and a brewing kit with one batch of ingredients will typically cost about $100 ( http://www.homebrewhq.com/cgi-bin/web_store/web_store.cgi). That $100 investment will provide you with the equipment you need to brew 5 gallon batches of beer. The equipment list for your first batch should include at a minimum:

    • A 5 gallon fermentation vessel. Typical devices are a 5-gallon glass carboy (the kind used on water coolers) or a plastic food grade bucket with lid.
    • A carboy cap or cork to fit the carboy or if you use a food grade bucket a cork to fit into a hole drilled in the lid.
    • Airlock
    • Siphon hose
    • Racking cane (candy cane shaped rigid tubing with plastic cap on end of long end)
    • Bottle filler (straight rigid tubing with a spring loaded valve on one end)
    • Funnel
    • Carboy brush
    • Priming bucket (6 gallon food grade bucket)
    • 50 Bottle caps
    • 50 Beer bottles (12 oz. Longneck or larger. The bottles should be pop top not screw top. You will not get a good seal with screw top and your beer will be flat.)
    • Ingredients (a prepackaged beer kit for the first time brew plus maybe 2 - 3 lbs. additional malt extract)
    • Corn sugar for priming

Five gallons of beer is equivalent to a little more than 2 cases of 12 ounce bottles. The ingredients for each subsequent batch of beer will cost about $20 on average. Of course the cost will vary with the style of beer and the ingredients used. If you consider that one case of micro-brew will typically cost $24 or more, you should save enough money by not buying store bought micro-brews to pay off your initial $100 investment by the time you have brewed your fifth batch of beer. Sounds better all the time.

So, let's see what brewing is about. The basic ingredients in beer are malt extract (typically from malted barley), hops, water and yeast. There are numerous other things you can put in your beer to produce various flavor profiles and characteristics, but we will keep this simple. Pick one of the books mentioned above to learn more. The malt you will use as a beginner will either be a malt extract in syrup or dry powder form. The syrup is generally less expensive to use. Malt extract is essentially a blend of complex sugars that the yeast will feed on. The waste product of yeast is alcohol which is why these little critters are so important. Hops are used as a preservative and to add the nice crisp bitterness found in some beers. To learn more about hops, see the article by Jim Layton (http://www.homebrewhq.com/brewing_beer/hop_info.html).

To brew, you will go through a process of boiling the malt extract and hops in water. Then you will cool the wort (the term used for the malt extract, water and hops mixture) and adding yeast to the cooled mixture.

So, what do I do for my first brew? The first step is to visit your local brew shop to pick up your brewing kit. The shop owner will typically allow you to choose one of a variety of pre-packaged beer kits with the purchase of your starter brewing kit. Speak to the shop owner about the kit and your expectations for flavor and alcohol content. He may recommend adding additional malt extract or hops to your batch.

So you made it home with your new toys. And you have either read the book that came with your kit or you just want to jump straight into brewing. What now?

Step 1: Get organized. Consider all the steps in your process for a few minutes and plan out your brew. The process will take several hours and the more organized you are the better utilized your time will be.

Step 2: Sanitize your equipment. This is a very important step and the author of any beginning book will express this strongly. Bacteria are a serious enemy of a good beer and contamination of your beer will provide you with some very unpalatable concoctions. A simple sanitizing solution consists of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach per gallon of water. A fifteen minute soak of your carboy, racking hoses, corks, air locks and funnel is sufficient. Be sure to rinse everything thoroughly. Minute amounts of chlorine in your finished beer can also create some very strange flavors. Detergents can also effect head retention, so if you like that bead of foam on your glass, rinse your equipment well.

While we are discussing chlorine, if you are using municipal water, you should use a carbon filter or boil your brewing water for about 15 minutes the day before you brew to get rid of the chlorine.

Step 3: Start your boil. Get out a large boiling pot and add at least 1 ½ gallons of water to it. The closer to boiling the full 5 gallon batch of beer the better. One reason for boiling is to sanitize your wort and the more of your water that you boil, the less chance of bacterial infection. If you are adding additional hops, the boil will also be used to extract the oils from the hops.

There is some trade off to larger boils. Larger boils take longer to get started. Large boils also take longer to cool and you will not want to add your yeast to your wort until it is below 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Open your beer kit or can of extract and add it to your water. Take a small amount of boiling water and rinse the can so you get all the syrup out.

Stir the wort and add heat. Stir periodically until the solution comes to a boil. This will help keep the wort from scorching.

Boil for fifteen minutes.

Step 4: Cool your wort. You should never poor hot wort directly into an empty glass carboy. The things will shatter. The more wort you boiled, the more important this step is. You can accomplish the cooling process by placing your boiling pot in a sink or bathtub full of ice. You will want to keep the pot covered during this process to help prevent contamination, but be sure your pot lid is sanitized. As the temperature of the wort drops it becomes more vulnerable to bacteria. The faster you can cool the wort the better.

If you boiled less than five gallons, you can put the difference in cool water directly into the carboy. Then you can add relatively hot wort to the cool water in the carboy. This will save you time off the cooling process. The cool water in the carboy will help cool the hot or warm wort.

While your wort is cooling, go to step 5.

Step 5: Prepare your yeast. If you have decided to use a pack of dry yeast, then at least 15 minutes before you are ready to add your yeast to the carboy, the yeast should be rehydrated. If you are carefully following sanitation, you should boil about 1 ½ cups of water for 5 - 10 minutes. Let the water cool to the desired temperature of 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Then add the yeast. The yeast should be allowed to stand in the water for 15 to 30 minutes before adding to the wort in the carboy. So, don't put the yeast in the carboy just yet.

If you are using liquid yeast such as White Labs, you do not need to do this step. Follow the instruction on the vial.

Step 6: Add your wort to the carboy and aerate. Poor the wort into the carboy. You will notice that the wort has particulate floating in it. The amount of particulate will vary with your ingredients such as additional hops that you added. Ideally, you want to prevent as much of this from entering your carboy as possible. Don't worry it too much though. There are many conflicting opinions on how detrimental this stuff, called trub (pronounced troob), is to the final taste of the beer. I have no real strong opinion on this and simply try to minimize the transfer as little trub as possible to the fermentation vessel.

There are a several methods to minimize the amount of trub entering your carboy. One method is to place a hop bag (a small mesh nylon bag used for placing hops in for boiling) in the mouth of the funnel as a filter. If you have used extra hops in the boil, you can place the hop bag (with the hop still in it) out of your wort and put it in the funnel for a filter. Then poor your wort over the hops and into the carboy.

The method I use is to rack or siphon the wort out of the boiling pot into the carboy. I use my racking cane and hose for siphoning. The racking cane his a rigid plastic tube with a curved end. There is a plastic cap on one end. The cap is about ¼ inch tall. The cap is designed to allow fluid to flow over its top and into the cane. So you lose about ¼ inch of wort, but this is generally where all the trub is anyway. You will lose a little of the wort regardless of the method you use.

As you are adding the wort to the carboy or after you have transferred all the wort to the carboy, aerate the wort. You can do this by rocking the carboy back and forth gently so that the wort splashes up the sides of the carboy. Yeast need oxygen in their early stages and aeration helps ensure a healthy start for your friends.

If you want to track your alcohol content, this is the point that you take a sample of the wort. Fill your site glass about ¾ full. Drop your hydrometer in the glass and take a reading.

Step 7: Pitch the yeast and put on the airlock. Make sure your wort has cooled to 78 degrees Fahrenheit or lower before adding or pitching your yeast. High pitching temperatures get the yeast to work faster, but the yeast will produce strange flavors if the temperature is excessively high. They will also die if they are extremely hot.

After you have aerated your wort for 5 or 10 minutes, pour the yeast into the carboy. Place the cork or carboy cap on the mouth of the carboy. Put the airlock in the hole in the cork or cap. Half fill the airlock with water or vodka. I recommend vodka in the airlock because bacteria are not likely to bother with it and it adds a layer of protection.

Step 8: Ferment for 10 days to 2 weeks. Put the fermenter in a cool dark spot. The temperature of fermentation is ideally between 60 and 70 degrees for most ales and between 45 and 55 degrees for most lagers. Try not to aerate the wort after the yeast has been added. Aeration, once fermentation begins, can cause cardboard like stale flavors. Light is another enemy of beer. Ultraviolet rays can cause skunky aromas in beer. So either keep the carboy in a closet or cover it with a dark towel.

In 24 to 48 hours, a krausen will form. This is a head of foam on top of the fermenting wort.

The most accurate method of determining if fermentation is complete is by taking a sample of the beer and checking it with a hydrometer. If the beer remains at the same specific gravity for a couple of days, it has most likely finished fermenting. There is a possibility that something went wrong and your yeast stopped working too soon, but this is unlikely if you follow the steps here or in your home brew book.

Another method of determining when fermentation is complete is to watch the rate at which the airlock bubbles. When fermentation is complete, the airlock will typically bubble once or twice a minute. However, keep in mind that depending on conditions, this method does not always provide definitive results.

Don't let your beer sit much longer than 2 weeks. After the yeast sediment on the bottom and all the sugars have been consumed, the risk of autolysis is present. Autolysis is a stage where yeast feed on each other. Autolysis produces some nasty, rubbery flavored, by products.

Step 9: Time to bottle. First, sanitize all the equipment that will come in contact with the beer. I sanitize my bottles by putting them in the dishwasher, with nothing else, and running the hot rinse and heat dry cycles. Before doing this, I inspect each bottle to make sure there are no foreign particles in them. If something is in them, I just brush them with a wet bottlebrush and rinse them out.

Sanitize your bottle caps to. I do this by bringing a small amount of water to a boil. Then throw the caps in the water and turn off the heat. Be careful about boiling caps. The liners may leak if damaged, and you'll have flat beer.

Boil ¾ cup of corn sugar in 1 pint of water for 5 - 10 minutes. This is your 'priming solution'. Poor the priming solution in the bottom of a sanitized 6 gallon food grade bucket.

Place your carboy on a counter top and your priming bucket on the floor below. Attach your siphon tubing to the short end of the racking cane. Make sure you have enough tubing to reach from the racking cane once it's in the carboy to the bottom of the priming bucket.

Then rack your beer from the carboy into the bucket. Don't start your siphon by sucking on the end of the tubing. If you have a carboy cap, put the racking cane through the large hole in the center. Remember to put the cane cap on it before you put the cane in the carboy. The cane cap prevents you from sucking mass quantities of yeast and leftover trub into the priming bucket. Place the carboy cap onto the carboy and push the racking cane all the way down into the bottom of the carboy. Blow gently on the small tube protruding from the carboy cap. This will start the siphon.

If you don't have a carboy cap, fill the tubing full of water. You can do this by trickling water from the faucet into the tubing. Place your thumb over the end of the tubing and then place the racking cane into the carboy. Then place the end of the tubing into the bottom of the bucket.

Be careful not to splash the beer. You want to avoid aeration in this step. While racking, remember to fill your sight glass so you can check your final gravity. Set the filled sight glass aside.

When you have finished racking the beer into the priming bucket, take the racking cane and tubing out of the carboy and place it in the bottling bucket. If you have a spigot on your bottling bucket you can skip this step and attach your tubing to the spigot. You may want to stir the primed beer to make sure that the priming sugar is well distributed. However, if you put the priming solution in before you racked the beer, it should be well mixed.

Put the bottle filler on the end of the tubing. The bottle filler is a straight rigid plastic tube with a small spring-loaded plug on the end of it. When you press the bottling cane down into the bottom of a bottle, the plug is pushed up and the beer will flow. When you lift the cane, the spring will force the plug to close off the flow. If you have a bucket with a spigot on it, you can now open the spigot and you are ready to bottle. If you are using the racking cane method, you will need to fill the tubing with water in order to get a siphon going.

Line your bottles up on the floor and place your pot with the bottle caps in it next to the bottles. Place the bottle filler in a bottle and press down. The bottle will begin to fill. Let the bottle fill all the way to rim. Then remove the filler. When you remove the filler there will be the appropriate amount of space at the top of the bottle. Place a sanitized bottle cap on top of the bottle. Fill the next bottle. Continue this until all your bottles are filled.

Then begin crimping your caps starting with the bottle filled first. During the bottle fill process, some CO2 will escape from the beer. You may here the bottle caps dancing a little and sometimes one will pop off. This is a good step because the CO2 will force any oxygen out of the head space before crimping the caps.

Caution: Do not cap under filled bottles. On a standard long neck, the beer level should be at least half way up the neck. Under filled bottles have a danger of exploding because of the pressure build up on CO2.

Wipe each bottle clean after capping. You will have some spillage during bottling.

Put your bottles in a dark location.

Step 10: Wait as patiently as you can. This is the tough part. You should let your beer bottle condition for at least 2 weeks and preferably 4 weeks. The yeast will most likely ferment the priming sugar within the first 3 days. However, it can take several weeks for the CO2 to dissolve into the beer. Don't panic if your beer is still a little flat after 4 weeks. I have had some beers, stouts in particular, that have taken two months to carbonate fully.

Step 11: Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. When you pour your bottle conditioned beer, poor slowly. There will be yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottles. You want to be careful to minimize its disturbance. Don't worry if you do disturb it, it will just make your beer cloudy. Watch the bottle as you pour and if you are careful, when you have poured all but an ounce or two, you will see the sediment begin to move toward the neck. Continue to pour until the yeast begins to reach the rim. Stop pouring before the yeast begins to exit the bottle. Now enjoy that wonderful beer that you brewed.

Be careful though. You may like it so much, you will want to brew another batch.

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