Layman's Beer Making: Boiling to Fermentation

I thought I might just put up a little post (with pictures!) today on how I make my beer.  So far I have only done extract+malt brewing, the all malt takes more equipment, and in my opinion, the end product doesn't justify the added cost and complexity.  Some people are way more into it, though, so keep your mind open. 

There are probably other better how-to's out there, but perhaps mine will be useful in some small way.

The first thing to do (after gathering your ingredients and equipment, of course) is start your pot boiling.  There is a trade off here, as you can get the best saturation of sugar in your water if you boiled the full 5-gallon batch, but it takes forever and you'd need a huge pot.  I have a 5-gallon pot here, with 3 gallons of water in it.  Three gallons seems to be a widely recommended compromise that works well for me.

Put your previously ground up crystal malt in a bag like this one, or you can tie it up in a bundle of cheesecloth.  Once your water boils, take it off the heat and add the grain bag to the water.  Let it steep like a tea bag for however long your recipe calls for. 

The grain bag and water after steeping for half an hour.  Remove the bag and let it drain.  Don't squeeze it too much, as you'll extract more tannins (make it more bitter) and little bits of grain. Set the bag aside, you can dispose the grain later.  I give it to the chickens, they really like it.

Add the malt extract.  My local homebrew shop sells it fresh out of a big nitrogen-pressurized drum.  Usually, it is hard to get it all out, I dip some of the hot liquid into the cup and let it heat up the extract. It usually takes several tries to get as much as I like out.  And this time I had three containers of extract, so that took even longer.  But I digress.  Your pot should still be off the heat at this time, by the way.  Stir the concoction until all of the sugars dissolve otherwise you will scorch the bottom when you turn the heat back on.  Speaking of which, turn the heat back on and bring it back up to a boil.

When the liquid comes back to a boil, add the first hops.  Here, the hops are in pellet form, but you can get them in all sorts of other types, too.  You will probably have some sort of hop schedule, with different amounts and  types to be added at certain times.

Usually when I add the first hops, I get a big billowing boil with lots of foam.  KEEP STIRRING!  This is the point that you are most likely to have a boil-over, and that is just a big mess.  Boil it however long your recipe call for, adding the hops at the required times and stirring periodically to keep it from scorching.

When you are done with the boil, take the pot off the heat and immediately put it into some ice water, or use a wort chiller if you have one.  This is called the "cold break," the rapid cooling causes protein chains to form and precipitate out.  Makes a clearer beer, etc.  At this point, you want to start being careful to keep random junk from falling in and contaminating it. 

You will have to add some more water to bring it up to the full 5 gallons--I like to buy some distilled water from the store and put it in the freezer until it is just starting to crystallize, at which point I pour it into the cleaned/sanitized bucket and add the still hot wort. Then stir it vigorously for a while--you are aerating the wort so the yeast has some oxygen to get going.  Some people are really hardcore and buy a tank of pure oxygen and a bubble stone (like the kind you may have seen in an aquarium).  In my opinion, that is crazy.  I mean, the vikings made beer with magic wooden spoons passed down from generation to generation.  See? No tanks of pure oxygen  required.  By the way, I don't know what happened with this picture.  It looked fine in the upload menu...

Between the added cold water and the ice bath, you want your wort to be around 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (ale yeast, at least.  I have no experience with lager yeast) when you pitch the yeast.  I use a liquid yeast, because that's what my homebrew store has.  Shake it up, open it, and dump it in.    I suppose I should mention here that for storage, keep the yeast in the fridge, but when you are going to use it it needs to sit out for a while and warm up.  You want it to also be roughly the temperature of the wort when you pitch it, to keep from shocking and killing the yeast.

Now seal up the bucket and put the airlock in.  You can also see the liquid crystal thermometer that is on my bucket, which is helpful when you are worrying about the temperatures.  Then, put your bucket in a dark place that has a constant temperature at what your yeast likes, and forget about it for a couple few weeks.  I have heard of people going anywhere from one week to a couple months in the primary fermenter. I have personally gone as long as five weeks, but I usually go about three weeks and then bottle it--if you desire to go the extra mile, you could instead siphon it into a secondary fermenter, which results in a clearer beer (or so they say). I am lazy, and have never noticed any problems from skipping that step.

This batch is now bubbling happily along, and I have high hopes for it.  If it turns out any good, I may post the recipe.  If it stinks, then I for sure won't be boasting about it on a public forum like this blog...

Anyway, like I said, beer making is so easy vikings could do it with "magic" spoons and the souls of their ancestors, so it's pretty hard to screw up.  I hope this was helpful, and I hope if you make something good you let me know the recipe!


Nancy R. said...

Very helpful. It's something I've thought about trying, but I didn't really want to go to the effort of doing any research. Do you have a ball-park figure as to how much the equipment costs?

mupedalpusher said...

Hubby's is 50th next month and since I already gave him his big gift (iphone) for Valentines day, I was considering getting him started at beer making. Is this a good starter kit:

bluesun said...

Nancy, we bought the fancier kit from our local homebrew store--I think it was around $150. It came with the SS pot, two food-grade buckets (one with a spigot on the bottom, makes for easier bottling), a 6.5 gallon glass carboy, a siphon, a standing bottler, and various and assorted bits and pieces. We also bought some bottles to start off with, but you can reuse pop-top glass beer bottles from beer you get at the store.

I think for the actual ingredients, a batch can run anywhere from $20-$60, depending on if you are using grains that you already had on hand, and how elaborate your recipe is. But remember you are getting roughly 5 gallons of beer!

If you don't have a local homebrew shop (though they are actually surprisingly common), I would recommend or midwest brewing supplies. They both have kits of different sizes.

mupedalpusher, that kit looks about like mine, but with the smaller bottler and no stainless steel pot. If you already have a large pot, like a ceramic-coated canner (make sure there are no chips in the ceramic, else the hops will dissolve the metal below it), you should be fine with that kit. Looking at the two websites I mentioned above, I can see kits ranging from ~$60 up to ~$450! So hopefully there is something in there for everyone's budget.

Also, I would recommend using a kit for your first batch, which should walk you through step by step with it's own specific instructions. Once you get a couple batches under your belt I think very highly of the book "Radical Brewing" (I rated it 43256/10 in last year's "Books of 2010"!).

Yikes, that was a lot of writing! Hope it helps!