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
- 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
- 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 (
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
- 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.
- 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)
- 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
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
While your wort is cooling, go to step
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.