Okay, so I know it has been FOREVER since I updated my “How to become a homebrewer” series. I apologize.
But, I decided it is well and truly time for me to finish the most grueling post of this series ((Particularly as my friend Julie’s husband is now interested in brewing, just because he tasted our amazingly awesome homebrew.)) and to write the “Brewing your first beer” post. So here goes ((Again, these recommendations and steps are based on the way that we brew. Other sources may recommend different steps or ways.))… You have been warned – this is a massively long post, with pictures. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
There are a lot of steps to this post. To make it easier (without resorting to numbering), I’m going to bold each new step. So pay attention and look for the fat black letters.
Once you’ve decided on what beer you want to brew and made your yeast starters the night before, you’re ready to go!
First thing you need to do is assemble and sanitize the necessary equipment.
Grab: the kettle, the burner, the propane tank, the spoon, the Beer Thief, the hygrometer, the funnel, and the wort chiller. Go ahead and mix up a big batch of Star-San and sanitize everything but the kettle, burner, propane tank, and spoon. Lay them out on a clean towel once you’ve appropriately doused them in Star-San. I DO usually wait to sanitize the wort chiller until right before we’re going to use it, but that’s just me.
I’m sure there are people who say that this isn’t sanitary, but I want to ask them what sort of ferocious bacteria they have floating around in their kitchens?
Set up the kettle, burner, propane, and spoon outside and away from covered areas. Don’t be an idiot and try to brew a beer on a propane burner inside the garage. You will die and your beer will suck. ((I can only say this because DB convinced me that we could brew in the garage because everyone else did. We did not die, but it was a huge pain in the butt clearing out all of the propane fumes once we realized we were gassing ourselves. Don’t do it.))
Once everything is sanitary and ready to go, start steeping your grains. Most likely, you ordered a kit for your first beer (totally awesome way to go, by the way!) and your grains came cracked and ready for steeping. Here is the first instance where our directions are different from their directions.
They say: Put the grains in 2 gallons in the brew kettle and heat until 170 degrees.
We say: That sucks. Don’t do that.
Heat 1 gallon per pound of grain in a pot to 150°. Put your grain in a grain bag (usually included in your kit) and dunk it in. Bob it around and let it sit for 30 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the temperature with your handy thermometer (you are using that, aren’t you?) to keep the water from over-heating and over-extracting bitter tannins from your grains.
Bob the grains up and down every few minutes or so. (This is when it is a good idea to have two people for brew day, so one person can do inside stuff while the other one does the stuff in the yard. I’m just sayin’… Find a beer buddy. Spouses are perfect!)
While your grains are steeping, set up and fill the brew kettle. We have found that the perfect pre-boil volume is 7 gallons. (You did buy a 10-gallon kettle like I told you, didn’t you?) Usually, we steep in 1 gallon, rinse in 1 gallon (step to come), and thus add 5 gallons to the kettle to start. So, take the amount you’re steeping in (usually 1 to 2 gallons) + the amount you’re rinsing in (always a gallon for us) and subtract it from 7 gallons to get the amount of water to add to the kettle. Add said amount to the kettle.
Once 30 minutes has passed, pour the “grain tea” into the kettle. Again, this is where it is very handy to have another person. Take a gallon of the hottest water your tap puts out and slowly pour it over the grain bag(s) to rinse any residual proteins off the grains.
We used to twist the grain bag vigorously to-and-fro while rinsing, but we’ve decided that this isn’t a good thing and now pour more sedately.
Okay, so now you’ve added your grain tea to your water and rinsed your grains. You’re ready to brew. Crank that puppy up to high. It will take a few minutes to get your water (now actually called “wort” that you’ve added the grain tea) to boiling. This is a very good time to make sure that you have everything you will need for the rest of the brew at hand. You can save the steeped grains (now called “spent grains”) for cooking if you want; there are some pretty good looking recipes for spent grain cookies and pizza dough and other foods out there.
All right, once the wort returns to a boil, you’re going to add the malt extract. This can either be liquid or dried malt extract and, let me tell you, it will make your boil go crazy.
As your beer is going to boil over (a sticky, nasty mess that you want to avoid), take a few deep breaths and blow on the foam. It’s the same principal as with spaghetti and it works. So does a few well-timed ice cubes, but we like huffing and puffing better. Alternatively, just turn down the flame on the brew kettle and control the boil.
Once the boil is under control, add your first hops and start the timer. There is almost always a 60 minute hop addition on the boil. So once the boil’s controlled, add the hops and start the countdown. Warning: Hops add more nucleation sites. which means a more vigorous boil, which means that each hop addition equals a potential boil over. Be aware. Also, if there are more than 3 ounces of hop additions in your beer, use a hop bag. (If you use a hop bag, rig something up as shown below to keep the hops in the beer while keeping the bag out of it.)
Add the hops, yeast nutrient, and any other ingredients according to the recipe. Among other things, we always make sure to add 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient with 10 minutes left. Other additions could include Irish moss for clarity (something we’ve never used), pure cane sugar to raise your original gravity, or flavorings like vanilla beans (which we use for Tarbaby’s Vanilla Coffee Stout). Just follow the directions in your recipe and add the hops, etc. at the appropriate time.
Once the time is up, bring your beer in and start chilling it. At this point, the most important thing is getting it to pitching temperature (i.e. 70°) as quickly as possible. This is a beer’s most vulnerable time as regards wild yeast. Because wild yeast can’t live in a beer that’s at 200°, but they can take root in beer at 80°. So be quick and sanitize! Also, this is another instance where the directions from the kit may differ from ours.
They say: Put the wort chiller in the brew kettle with 20 minutes left in the boil.
We say: Sanitize and clean your wort chiller appropriately and you won’t need to take this potentially dangerous step. (I mean, who wants to melt off their wort chiller hoses?)
So bring your beer in, put in your clean and sanitized wort chiller, hook it up, and start chilling! The beer will chill to pitching temperature much more quickly if you swirl the wort chiller about rather than letting it just sit there.
I will tell you right now – Do NOT grab the wort chiller right after you start chilling. The copper quickly heats up to 200° and it will burn the skin right off your hand. This picture was taken after the temp has dropped to at least 100° and DB can handle the tubes with impunity.
Once your beer has chilled to 76° or lower (But please don’t go lower than 68° because that’s completely unnecessary and a waste of water), you’re ready to rack the beer to the primary.
We always rack through a cleaned and sanitized funnel with colander insert (The BeerCat is optional), to make sure that any hop detritus that may have made it through the hop bag doesn’t make it into our beer. This step may be why we’ve never found it necessary to use Irish Moss as a clearing agent. ALSO, this step only works if you’ve used a hop bag. If you haven’t, you may need to use a sanitized spoon to scrape the hop schleck off the filter in your strainer to let the beer through and into the primary carboy. Make sure to stop in time and leave enough space to accommodate the liquid in your yeast starter or your yeast packs.
Now it’s time to take an original gravity. This lets you know what the potential ABV is for your brew. Use the sanitzed Beer Thief to get a sample of the beer and drop the hygrometer in. Spin it as you drop it, so that it rotates in the beer. The reading is the point where it comes to rest in the beer (It sounds confusing written out, but I promise it’s really self-explanatory once you do it on your own).
Once your chilled beer is racked to the primary (aka the carboy or fermentation bucket), it’s time to pitch the yeast. Shake up your packs of yeast or swirl your yeast starter, and pour those hungry active yeast into your beer.
Once you’ve added the yeast to the primary, swirl or slosh it about a bit. You actually want to oxygenate your beer at this point, something you will want to avoid at all costs later in the beer-making process. Then pop in an air-lock or a blow-off hose and put the primary in a nice quiet, dark place to ferment. We have found that the spare bathroom is the best place to ferment our beers – we stick the carboy in the tub and voila! Excessive fermentation and yeast blow-off is contained and easily cleaned. Pick a place that has a temperature consistently around 68° to 70°, which will keep most yeast happy and fermenting. Too hot and your beer gets off flavors; too cold and your yeast stop fermenting.
And that’s it – you made it through your first brew day! Now all that’s left to do is clean up the mess in your kitchen and wait for fermentation to begin! Fermentation will usually begin within a few hours and last a few days. As proud as you are, try not to disturb your beer with constant checking; the yeast would really prefer to work undisturbed.
Next up in the series: racking and dry hopping! Not all beers require dry hopping, but we’re going to cover it anyway.
And, if you ever have any questions about brewing, feel free to leave it in a comment and I (or the DreadBrewer) will answer it to the best of our ability.