I brewed my first 5 gallon batch of beer January 2011. Since then I have brewed at least two batches a year. I am no expert on the subject, but never the less I felt the need to write about it. What follows is my step-by-step process along with some tips and resources.
3: The Boil
4: The Primary
5: Coming soon…
The very basics of brewing are: yeast eats sugar and poops alcohol. A yeast starter is not necessary for lower alcohol beers, but I believe it still makes a better beer. To reach a higher ABV a large amount of yeast is needed, so a yeast starter is the way to go.
I used a 10 to 1 ratio; 200 grams for 2000mL. First I bring about a gallon of water to a boil. Next, I mix in 200 grams of dry malt extract (DME) using a whisk. DME will clump up without the whisking. The liquid is called wort (wert) once the DME has been added. Continue the boil for about an hour. Keep an eye on the wert as it might foam.
Once the boil is complete cool the wert. You can fill the sink with ice and water then place the pot in it or just let it stand. Rapid cooling is best; if you let it cool slowly make sure to keep it covered to prevent contamination. Check your yeast for proper pitching temperatures (pitching is when the yeast is added to the wert).
Pour the yeast into a flask then pitch the yeast. I used a stir plate to keep the yeast in suspension and to oxygenate the liquid. If you do not have a stir plate just give the flask a gentle shake every now and then. Have towels ready because shaking the flask can create foam. Let the yeast starter work for 24 hours.
Steeping is to soak something in a liquid, like tea leafs in water. For a brewer steeping means soaking grains (and adjuncts) in hot water. Steeping is not necessary, although it helps a lot for customizing a beers flavor profile especial when extract brewing.
First I crush the grains to expose the sugars and to help extract the flavor. You can buy grains already crushed if you do not have a mill. I buy mine whole because they have a longer shelf life that way. When steeping target 160 degrees (150-170); anything over 170 will release tannin. Tannin can make your beer bitter or astringent. Steep for around thirty minutes.
Here are the grains and adjuncts I steeped in the video:
Flaked Rye (8 oz.)
Flaked Wheat (8 oz.)
Crystal Malt 77L (8 oz.)
Roasted Barley (2 oz.)
Cherrywood Smoked Malt (2 oz.)
Chocolate Malt (2 oz.)
Compost your grains or save them for cooking. Spent grains can be used for dog treats, cookies, bread, and more. Click here it see how to make barley flour.
The kettle boil is an important step in the brewing process. Boiling the wort helps destroy proteins and sanitize the liquid. Proteins can affect head retention among other things. The main effort of the boil is isomerization of the alpha acids in the hops. The alpha acids are the component of hops that add bitterness. Hops added later in the boil offer less bitterness and more flavor.
After I am done steeping I bring the wort back to a boil and begin adding the rest of the ingredients. Start with at least a half gallon more liquid than you need because liquid is lost through evaporation. For example I use a three gallon method, so I start with 3 and half gallons. At set times during the boil I add specific ingredients. In the video I only use one hop addition and it is for bittering only. If I was making a pale ale or an IPA I would of added flavoring hops at 30 minutes and aroma hops at 15ish minutes. I always stir the wort when adding an ingredient to prevent anything, especially the liquid extract, from sticking to the bottom of the kettle.
Here are the ingredients used in the video:
1 oz. East Kent Goldings hops
6 lbs. Munich liquid malt extract
1 lbs. 45 Belgian sugar
1 lbs. Honey
After it is time to cool the wort and transfer it to the primary fermentor. This is a dangerous stage in the brewing process because the beer is highly susceptible to contamination. There are a number of methods that can be used. The way I do it has worked for me so far, still I wouldn’t I mind having more equipment to make things go smoother. A dedicated brew space would be nice too.
In this video I choose to set the kettle in the snow to cool the wort. Normally I use an immersion chiller. I didn’t want to walk the hot liquid through the house and down to the basement to use my chiller set up. Cooling the wort outside increases the risk of contamination and it is a slower process. Rapidly cooling the wort helps eliminate off flavors and knocks out proteins and solids. After my wort has cooled I pour it through a strainer to filter out the solids.
After straining the work I pour the liquid from bucket to bucket to aerate it. Aerating the liquid introduces oxygen which is needed for the yeast to grow. The method I use is not ideal. Injecting oxygen with an aquarium pump would be much better because it exposes the liquid to less contamination. I also add water at this stage to get the volume up to 5 gallons. The water I added in the video is spring water. It was sitting our side so it was cold helping the wort cool down even more.
Once I have the wort in the primary I pitch the yeast. Pay special attention to the pitching temperature on the yeast packaging. Typically it is around 60 degrees for ale yeast. Next, I seal the lid on with an airlock. The airlock lets gas out but not in. While the beer is fermenting check to make sure the airlock has a liquid level in it. The liquid can evaporate out. Make sure that everything is sanitized.
Before I pitched the yeast I pulled a sample to measure the original gravity with a hydrometer. Later I will use this number to estimate the ABV% of the homebrew. There are devices available to get a more accurate measurement such as a refractometer. The beer in the video measured 1.08 on the hydrometer.