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The Basic Steps to Homebrewing PDF Print E-mail
Learn - Homebrewing Basics
Written by Mark Emiley   
Tuesday, 14 April 2009 12:14

  The Basic Steps to Homebrewing

Produced by Mark Emiley on behalf of the Washington Homebrewers Association

Homebrewing is easy, safe, legal, and fun.  With just a little time spread out over a few weeks, you'll have some great tasting fresh homemade beer in your house.  All it takes is a range, some basic equipment, some fresh ingredients, and little patience.  This document will give you an overview of what to expect in your brewing but to get all of the details go get a book from your local homebrew store.

1_-_equipment.jpgTo start off, you'll need to go to your homebrewing store and pick up a kit.  There are a wide range of kits that you can get, but at a minimum, you'll need a fermentation vessel (a simple plastic bucket with a spigot can suffice as it can double as a bottling bucket), a bottling bucket, a rubber stopper, an airlock, a bottling wand or tube, some bottle caps, some sacks, a racking cane, some hose, some cleaners and a capper.  If possible, it is great to pick up a second fermenter (a glass carboy is nice), a hydrometer, a thermometer, some nylon sacks, a bottle or carboy brush, a bottle washer, and a funnel.  Hopefully, you already have a good sized pot, a good spoon, and a measuring cup.  You'll also want to save some non-twist off bottles or you can buy some.  Your cleansers and sanitizers are very important as they will help prevent contaminations and infections in your beers.  Always be clean in your brewing processes!

2_-_ingredients.jpgWhile you are at your homebrew store you'll need to pick up some ingredients for your first batch.  Your major ingredients will be malt extract which will provide your fermentables and main body, specialty grains which will add character and color to your beer, hops which will add bitterness and flavors, and yeast which will take care of fermenting your beer and add some delicate fermentation profile notes.  The specifics of the ingredients will depend on your style of beer. There are a few other ingredients like Irish moss which can help your beers as well depending on the style.

3_-_steeping.jpgOnce you are ready to get started brewing you will kick off the process by steeping your specialty grains in some hot water (around 155F).  This will extract the sugars and colors from the malts and add a lot of character to your beer.  You simply put the specialty malts which were crushed at your homebrew store into a sack and let them soak in a gallon or so of hot water for a half an hour or so.  It is like making beer tea.

4_-_sparging.jpgOnce your grains are done steeping, you can maximize your extraction from the grains by rinsing them with a half gallon or so of hot water (around 170F).  This brings out some more of the flavors and color and makes sure you get your money's worth out of the grains.

5_-_extract.jpgNext you'll start working your wort (that's what it's called at this point) up to a boil.  When you get close, take the pot off of the heat and start adding your malt extract.  It helps to preheat your container in hot water to liquefy the syrup.  Slowly stir in the extract.  At this point you only need to put about half of the extract in.  You'll put the rest in later.  Once you've gotten it all mixed in, you can put the pot back on the heat and start working to a boil.

6_-_boiling.jpgAs you get close to a boil, start watching your kettle.  It is easy to have a messy boil-over.  Be ready to turn down your heat and reach a nice steady rolling boil.  Once you have a good boil going, go ahead and add your 60 minute bittering hops and start a timer.  These hops will add most of your bitterness in your brew.  You'll be boiling your wort for about an hour and may be adding hops at a few different points throughout your boil, depending on your recipe. 

7_-_adding_hops.jpgAs you move in towards the end of your boil, you might need to add in some more hops which will add flavor and aroma.  These hops don't add a lot of bitterness but will lend some great floral notes that really define the style of beer that you are brewing.  Keep an eye on your timer and keep watching out for boil-overs.  If you are adding hops, we recommend that you use some hop sacks (like muslin bags) which will hold your hops together and allow for easy removal.

8_-_adding_irish_moss.jpgTowards the end of the boil, you may want to add some Irish moss to help with protein coagulation and wort clarification.  Once your boil is almost done, you can remove your hop sacks with some tongs and put a lid on your pot.  It is time to start chilling your wort.

9_-_chilling.jpgChilling your beer is important because it helps get the temperature of your wort down to a level where you can put yeast in it without killing them.  The easiest way to chill your brew is to put your covered pot into a sink filled with cold water (ice water if possible).  With a little gentle swirling of your pot, you can cool your wort faster.  Faster chilling helps prevent problems with contaminations and helps settle out proteins so that your beer will be nice and clear. 

10_-_yeast.jpgAt this point, if you are using dry yeast, you may want to start preparing the yeast.  You can follow the instructions on the packet but it mainly involves boiling some water, then cooling it to around 100F before adding in your yeast.  This helps the yeast get ready for the fermentation ahead.

11_-_mixing.jpgOnce your wort has chilled down a bit (the pot will be warm to the touch on your wrist), you can mix it in with some clean cool water in your sanitized fermenter.  You will be aiming to fill your bucket or fermenter to around 5 gallons.  If you need to add some more clean (perferably filtered) water to reach that level, do it now.

12_-_specific_gravity.jpgOnce you've gotten your wort mixed, if you decided to purchase a hydrometer, you can measure the sugars in your wort which will help you know later about how much alcohol you will have in your beer by reading the specific gravity (might be something like 1.056+/- depending on your beer style).  Once your fermentation is complete, you can read the "final gravity" and subtract it from your "original gravity."  Simply multiply this by 131 and you will know your alcohol by volume.

13_-_fermenter.jpgOnce you've taken your measurement you can add in your yeast.  You've officially made beer now!  Put your lid and stopper on your fermentation bucket or a stopper on your carboy and give it all a good shake up for a few minutes to mix everything up and aerate the wort (this is the last time you want oxygen in your beer).  Now get your stopper and airlock on there and let the yeast do its work.  In a day or so your airlock should start bubbling which means that the yeast is fermenting away.  If you have a carboy you can watch the action (it is hypnotic). 

14_-_racking.jpgIf you bought a second fermentation vessel (either another bucket or a carboy), you can siphon, or "rack" your beer in for a clearing phase once your initial fermentation has subsided.  Basically once your airlock has slowed down and maybe bubbles once every 6-10 seconds, you can siphon into your secondary fermenter, leaving behind yeast and "trub."  Siphoning can be a little tricky and you don't want to start as siphon with your "dirty" mouth.  There are a few tools out there to help but by learning how to prime your racking cane and hose with water, it isn't too difficult.  Take some time to practice beforehand to avoid frustrations.

15_-_cleaning_bottles.jpgAfter another week or so, most of the yeast should have settled out and your beer should be getting nice and clear.  It's time to start thinking about bottling.  If you are recycling bottles, you'll need to soak them in some cleaners to break up the gunk in them and remove the labels.  Once they've been cleaned (or if you bought new bottles), you need to soak them in some sanitizer to kill any remaining microbes that might cause off-flavors in your beer.

16_-_bottling_preps.jpgNow that your bottles are all clean, you can start preparing to bottle.  If you haven't done so yet, take your final specific gravity reading to determine your alcohol content.  It should be about 75% of what your original gravity was (depending on the style of beer).  Start boiling about a pint of clean water and mix in roughly ¾ cups of dextrose, or priming sugar.  This will serve to carbonate your beer.  Boil that for about 5 minutes.  Once you are ready, you can start racking your beer into your sanitized bottling bucket.  Once you get the siphon started, gently pour in your priming sugar mix.  The racking process will mix it in with the rest of your beer.  While it is siphoning, you can get another pint or so of water boiling, this time putting your bottle caps in to sterilize.  When you are done siphoning, pick up your bucket, put it on a counter and attach your bottling wand/tube. 

17_-_bottling.jpgNow it is time to bottle.  Raise one of your cleaned bottles so that your bottling wand goes down to the bottom.  Next just open up the valve on your bucket and start filling (if you have a spring loaded bottling wand, you need to push it down to the bottom of the bottle).  Fill each bottle up all the way to the top (when you pull out the wand the level will drop).  You want there to be about an inch of headspace so if you need a little more just fill it up.  Once you have it filled, put it off to the side and place a sterilized cap on top of it.  Pick up the next bottle and go to work.  Once you've gotten them all finished, simply go back and start capping them.

18_-_drinking.jpgNow comes the hard part.  You have to wait 2-3 weeks for the remaining yeast in the bottle to process the priming sugar and carbonate the beer.  Tuck the beer away in a place that keeps at around 60-70F to let it carbonate.  After a few weeks, you can crack open a bottle and gently pour it into a glass (you can leave the last couple of yeasty ounces in the bottle and swig it afterwards).  Congratulations, you've brewed your first batch of homebrew!

This is just an introduction to brewing.  You can watch a free video series taking you through the whole process at videos.  We strongly recommend that you buy a book like "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" or "How to Brew" which will give you the real background information you need to have a successful first brew.  Once you've brewed your first batch, come on back to the WAHA website to find clubs and more stores, learn about homebrew events going on in Washington, and get involved in Washington's homebrewing culture.  Cheers!

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2009 03:43
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