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How to Brew Beer: 5 Steps for Making Beer at Home – Part 1

written by BRAD SMITH (BeerSmith.Com) on JANUARY 10, 2009

 

Have you ever wanted to make beer at home? Home brewing for the first time? We’ve decided to start the new year with a three part guide that takes you through your first batch of beer including the equipment needed, how to brew the beer and how to ferment, bottle and age it.

 

Brewing is a great hobby. In these difficult economic times, many people are turning to hobbies that can be done inexpensively at home in a reasonable amount of time. Brewing fits this bill, as it does not require a huge investment in capital or time, and is a great hobby to enjoy with friends.

Step 1 – Brewing

Brew day is my favorite part of the process. The smell of sweet wort bubbling away stirs something primeval in the human psyche. Since we are brewing an extract beer, there is not much preparation required.

You need a clean pot large enough to hold 2-3 gallons of water plus the two cans (6 lbs of extract) and boil it (I recommend a 4-5 gallon pot if you can find one). Put 2-3 gallons of water into your pot and begin to heat it over your stove.

Once the water has heated up a bit, open your cans of extract and slowly start mixing them into the warm water. The malt extract will have the consistency of heavy syrup, and you may need some hot water to get it all out of the sides of the can. The combined water and extract mixture is called “wort” (pronounced as ‘wert’ which rhymes with Bert).

As you are adding the malt extract to your wort, you need to continuously mix it. If you do not mix it, the extract syrup will settle at the bottom of your pot where it will heat and caramelize, leaving a hardened caramel mess at the bottom of your pot. This carmelization can also alter the color and flavor of your beer, so it is important to mix well while heating.

Once you have all of your extract mixed in, the next step is to bring your wort to a boil. This is best done slowly, as your wort will tend to bubble up a lot when it first starts to boil. The water you used for your brew has a lot of air in it, and these small air bubbles will be released as it comes to a boil creating foaming and a high potential for a boil-over. One method to reduce foaming is to use a spray bottle filled with clean water to spray down the foam.

The best way to avoid a boil-over it to turn the heat down a bit as the wort just begins to boil, and then very carefully manage the heat during the first 15 minutes of the boil until you have a steady boil with minimal foaming. Also, do NOT use a cover on your pot! While a covered pot will come to a boil quicker, the first time you open the pot it will boil over immediately – making a huge mess on your stove.

Once you achieve a steady boil it is time to add the hops. Weigh the proper amount and drop it in the hot wort. Some brewers use a mesh hops bag to reduce the mess later, but if you can cool your beer quickly most of the hops will drop out after the boil.

Stir occasionally during the boil to reduce the chance of extract settling to the bottom and carmelizing. I recommend you boil for 30-60 minutes. Boil time and size will affect your hop utilization and beer bitterness, so it is a good idea to use a tool like BeerSmith to balance your hops and boil time before you brew.

Step 2 – Cool and Ferment

When the boil has finished, you need to cool the hot wort to room temperature as quickly as possible to reduce the chance of infection. Many beginning brewers immerse their pot in a cold ice bath. Adding very cold water to the wort to bring it up to your target batch size (usually 5 gallons) will also help. More advanced brewers will use a chiller such as an immersion coil that runs cold water through a coil of copper tubing to quickly cool the beer. If needed, add sterile water to the wort when you transfer it to your fermenter to achieve the target volume of 5 gallons.

The wort at this stage is very vulnerable to infection so you need to make sure that your fermenter, airlock, siphon tubes and anything else that touches the wort or yeast are thoroughly sanitized. I use a solution of 5 gallons of water and small amount of household bleach to sanitize my equipment. However if you use bleach you must carefully rinse everything with hot water or you risk leaving your beer with a chlorine taste.

Your wort must be fully cooled to room temperature (72 F or less) and siphoned or dumped into your fermenter before you add (pitch) your yeast. Don’t worry about all of the junk (hops and proteins – called the “trub” in brewers lingo) in the wort – most of it will fall to the bottom during fermentation.

Pitching yeast in hot wort will kill it, so wait until your wort has fully cooled before adding yeast. I highly recommend the use of liquid yeast as it is superior in quality to dry yeast.

Liquid yeast comes in either a plastic tube or smack pack. The plastic tube type can be added directly to the wort. The foil smack-packs require you to pop an internal pouch containing the yeast several hours before pitching it to allow the yeast to grow in a self contained starter.

Follow the instructions on your yeast pack to prepare it and then carefully add it to your fermenter. Once the yeast has been added and mixed in, close the top, fit your airlock (which needs a little water in it) and set your beer in a dark cool place where the temperature is steady.

Your airlock should begin bubbling within 12-36 hours, and continue fermenting for about a week. If you see no bubbles from the airlock, check the fit on your plastic pail and airlock. Often plastic fermenters have a poor seal on the lid that leaks.

The bubbles in the airlock are CO2 produced by the fermentation, and will slowly tail off as fermentation nears completion. Assuming you have a good seal, the bubbles should slow to one every minute or two before you consider bottling. As a minimum I would ferment for a 1-1/2 to two weeks before bottling.

At this point you’ve brewed your first beer, and the yeast will ferment your wort for the next week or two before you will need to concern yourself about bottling the beer.

Step 3 – Priming and Bottling

The final step before bottling your beer is called priming. Priming consists of mixing sugar in with the beer to carbonate the finished beer. The priming sugar will ferment and carbonate your beer.

Before you can prime and bottle, you again need to sterilize everything the beer will touch. Though your beer has fermented out, it still can be ruined by bacteria or by adding too much oxygen to it (i.e. don’t splash it around). Most brewers use a large plastic bucket or carboy to make it easy to mix the priming sugar in evenly. Sterilize the bucket thoroughly, and also sterilize your siphoning equipment, tools and of course your bottles.

Make sure your bottles are clean and free of debris before sterilizing – use a bottle brush to remove any deposits. Some people sterilize bottles by soaking them in a weak bleach solution and then rinsing well. I’ve also had some success with washing my bottles in the dishwasher, but you need to run it several times with no soap and hot water to avoid leaving a soap residue that will ruin the head retention on your beer.

Siphon the finished beer into your priming bucket, trying very hard not to splash it around or mix any air in with it. Add 2/3 cup of priming sugar (I recommend corn sugar) to your beer and very gently mix it in. Next siphon the beer into your bottles using your bottle filler. Be sure to leave at least an inch or more of empty space at the top of your bottle to aid in fermentation. Put the caps on each bottle as you go and use your bottle capper to secure them.

Step 4 – Aging

The most difficult part is waiting for your beer to come of age. While beers are drinkable after a few weeks, the average homebrew reaches peak flavor anywhere from 8 weeks to 15 weeks after brewing. Most homebrewers can’t wait this long. During the aging process your beer will carbonate and excess yeast, tannins and proteins that create off flavors will fall out of your beer and settle to the bottom of the bottle. This will substantially improve your beer. I personally recommend waiting about 3-4 weeks after bottling before sampling your first brew.

Store your bottles in a cool, dark place. Unless you are brewing a lager under temperature controlled conditions, do not store your beer in the refrigerator for the first two weeks after bottling. Give it two weeks to fully carbonate at room temperature. After the first two weeks, refrigerating the beer will help it improve more quickly because the tannins, yeast and protein will sediment faster at cold temperature.

Step 5 – Drinking

The blessed day has finally arrived to sample your creation. During the aging process excess yeast, tannins and proteins will leave sediment at bottom of your bottle. Get a clean glass, open your brew, and gently poor most of your beer into the glass leaving only the sediment and a small amount of beer in your bottle. Don’t worry if you take a little sediment into the glass – it won’t hurt you. Smell the fresh beer, admire the frothy head, and then sip (don’t guzzle) your first homebrew.

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