Objective: Brew a brown ale with the least amount of effort and equipment
A new homebrewer is often both exhilarated and bewildered about by his or her new hobby. Although a successful first batch is thrilling, a brewer may not understand the point of each step in the procedure. And, if he’d like to change a few things the next time he brews, he may not know what the consequences will be. That’s where Homebrew 101 comes in.
In Homebrew 101, I’ll guide you through brewing a typical first beer recipe (see end of story). I’ll tell you what’s really important when brewing this beer, and what your beer will be like if you alter key steps. I’ll also point out errors beginning brewers often make and how to avoid them.
This course is meant to supplement, not replace your homebrew book. You’ll need your brew-book for detailed instructions for some of the steps listed in the procedure. Although these articles are primarily "how-to" articles, I also try to explain why each step is performed (this is Homebrew U, after all, not Homebrew Tech). Armed with this knowledge, graduates—no matter how they chose to brew—will be well informed about their brewing decisions.
The beer we’ll brew for this course is a brown ale. Brown ales—such as Newcastle and Pete’s Wicked—are dark, malty ales. To brew our brown ale, we’ll use only malt extract and a minimum of equipment beyond what can normally be found in a kitchen. Putting together this beer will only take a few hours; this is much faster than it takes to brew an all-grain beer.
List of Equipment you'll need:
- kettle (a large pot)
- large spoon
- dial thermometer
- plastic bucket fermenter with airlock
- racking cane
- plastic hose
- bottles, caps, capper
Cleaning and sanitizing
There are many kinds of brewers, from extract brewers making their beer in 5-gallon buckets to commercial brewers making their beer in multi-story silo fermenters. The skills these brewers need and the procedures they use vary substantially. However, there are two skills that every brewer needs, no matter what size brewery they brew in: cleaning and sanitizing.
Cleaning and sanitizing your brewing equipment is the first step listed in the procedure on brew day. Your brewing equipment needs to be as clean and as free from biological growth as possible. The only organism you want growing in your fermenter is yeast. Growth of other organisms in wort can spoil the resulting beer. Contaminated beer may turn out sour or develop other off flavors. It can smell like baby diapers. In addition, the beer may gush when opened or your bottles may explode.
To clean your equipment, scrub all the surfaces you can reach with your cleaner. Run your cleaning solution through your racking cane and fermentation lock. After cleaning, rinse the equipment. When you’re done, visually inspect your equipment, especially those surfaces that will contact wort. If you see and dirt or residue, repeat your cleaning procedures. Don’t rely on your sanitizer to take care of any surfaces that are not spotless—it doesn’t work that way. You’ll need your equipment to be as clean as possible for the sanitizer to be effective.
To sanitize, soak any equipment that will touch wort in sanitizing solution. Be sure to run sanitizing solution through your racking cane and fermentation and let it sit there for the same amount of time your bucket is soaking. When you’re done, rinse the equipment.
Choosing the right cleaners and sanitizers
When cleaning your brewing equipment, it’s best to avoid using soap. Soap residue can interfere with head retention in beer. Two popular alternatives to soap are TSP (tri sodium phosphate) and PBW (powdered brewery wash). Both are available at most homebrew stores.
Bleach is a cheap sanitizer. A cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water makes an effective sanitizing solution. Another widely sanitizer is iodophor. Just 1 oz. in 5 gallons of beer makes an effective sanitizing solution.
Prevention: the other side to cleaning and sanitizing
Cleaning and sanitizing your brewing equipment are not the only things you can be doing to prevent contamination. Part of your cleaning and sanitation procedures can be aimed at preventing contamination of your equipment in the first place.
Many homebrewers brew in their kitchen. That’s where your stove is, after all. Unfortunately, your kitchen is also home to many microorganisms that can infect your beer. Although every room in your house contains bacteria and yeast, your kitchen has a higher concentration of "bugs" that can thrive in sugary solutions like wort than your other rooms. If you have the option, moving your home brewery out of your kitchen is a good idea.
Wherever your brewery is set up, you should discourage the growth of microorganisms in your brewing environment attracted to wort (unfermented beer). The probability of brewing an infected batch of beer increases every time you brew if you leave traces of wort behind in your brewing area. This wort—whether it is from an open yeast starter bottle sitting around or a thin film of malt extract on a countertop—will grow wort-loving microorganisms. To prevent this, clean up all your brewing equipment immediately after brewing. Be sure to clean both the inside and outside of your equipment. In addition, clean your brewing area itself when you’re finished brewing.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but you may be the biggest threat to your beer. Every day, you pick up bacteria and yeasts from every surface you touch. You transfer these microorganisms to every surface you touch subsequently. On brew day, you handle malt extract and/or grains. You may also touch brewing equipment that wasn’t completely cleaned after your last brewing session or the handle of your refrigerator. All these things are or may be harboring strains of bacteria or yeasts that can live in your wort.
Don’t become a vector for wort-loving microorganisms. Without your intervention, most contaminants have little chance of moving from where they’ve been living to your beer. First of all, don’t touch any surface that will touch wort (inside of buckets, submerged parts of racking canes, etc.) In addition, wash your hands often while brewing. It’s an especially good idea to wash your hands after handling malt—it’s loaded with microorganisms.
No-boil wort preparation
After cleaning, the next steps in the procedure involve preparing the wort. To make our wort we’ll use malt extract, a condensed form of wort. Malt extract is available in many different forms, including light and dark, hopped and unhopped, liquid and dry. We’ll mix light, hopped malt extract (in liquid form) with dark, unhopped malt extract (in dry form). This mixture will produce the right amount of bitterness and color for our brown ale.
We’ll make our wort by dissolving malt extract in hot water and steeping for 15 minutes. Most brewers boil their wort. But here, with our all-extract beer, there is really no need to. With this type of beer, you may even make better beer by not boiling your wort.
To dissolve the malt extract, heat 2 gallons water to 170° F in a large pot. Turn off the heat and add the malt extract. You can heating the can of extract so it pours more easily by placing it in a sink full of hot tap water. Stir the extract into the water. Your spoon should be clean, but it does not need to be sanitized. Once the extract is dissolved, check the temperature with your thermometer. If it is below 160° F, raise the temperature to this point. If you overshoot your temperature mark, don’t worry. It won’t affect the outcome. Let this mixture sit for 15 minutes at 160° F or higher, then proceed to the next step.
One of the primary reasons for boiling wort is to kill microorganisms. But, raising the temperature of wort to 160° F should kill all the bugs in your wort. And, since the wort used to make malt extract was probably boiled before it was condensed, there is no reason to boil it a second time. There are also a few benefits to not boiling an all-extract wort. For one thing, the wort will darken less if less heat is applied to it. This is important since you are instructed to heat a concentrated wort, then dilute it to working strength in the fermenter. The more concentrated the wort, the more it darkens as heat is applied. In addition, boiling the wort will drive off any hop volatiles present in the malt extract. These compounds, when present, give beer the aroma of hops.
Wort cooling and aeration
Another benefit of no-boil wort preparation is that less wort cooling is needed compared to worts that have been boiled. Wort needs to be cooled before yeast is pitched. If yeast is pitched into hot wort, the heat can kill or stun the yeast. In this procedure, the wort is cooled by adding the hot, concentrated wort to cold water in the fermenter.
The cold water serves another purpose besides cooling. If you shake the water bottles vigorously for several seconds, oxygen will dissolve into the water. Your wort needs oxygen so that the yeast can multiply quickly after they are pitched. Beers made from inadequately aerated wort may suffer from a sluggish fermentation. And, the yeast will give off compounds, called esters, which can make the beer smell like bananas.
So, you should aerate your cold brewing water as much as possible. But what about the hot wort, should that be aerated, too? No! Aerating hot wort can instantly darken the wort. More importantly, beers suffering from hot side aeration may go stale faster. Only aerate cold water or cold wort when brewing. After adding your wort to the cold water in your fermenter, check the temperature with a clean, sanitized thermometer. If the temperature is below 72° F, pitch the yeast.
Next to cleaning and sanitation, the most important step in brewing good beer is conducting a good fermentation. A good fermentation will proceed quickly and yield a beer free from strange flavors and smells. Encouraging yeast growth by running a good fermentation is also another anti-contamination measure. Yeast growth changes wort conditions and protects against growth of many other microorganisms. And, beers made from good fermentations finish at appropriately low final gravities.
A weak fermentation can lead to a beer with an overly high final gravity. I think we need to define gravity, both here and in margin. it’s the first time this very important concept is discussed. Beers like this are often too sweet. Also, unfermented sugars in the beers can support bacterial growth in the finished beer. In order to understand how to run a good fermentation, you need to understand yeast. By choosing brown ale for our first beer, we’ve hedged our bets a bit. Brown ales are supposed to be a bit sweet. So, even if your fermentation doesn’t go exactly as planned, your beer will still be all right.
Yeast are microscopic fungal organisms. In brewing, they consume the components of wort, primarily the sugar maltose, to obtain energy. The energy obtaining process they use is called fermentation. Different types of fermentation are named for their breakdown products, what the cell converts the sugar into. The type of fermentation yeast use gives off carbon dioxide and ethanol as by-products and is called ethanol fermentation. The carbon dioxide and ethanol given off by the yeast during fermentation give beer two of its most desired characteristics: fizz and kick. But, minor fermentation byproducts given off by yeast, such as esters, also play a large role in the taste and aroma of beer.
Pitch enough yeast
In the procedure, you are instructed to pitch 2–4 packets of dried yeast. You need to pitch this much yeast because pitching too few yeast cells means the yeast have to multiply many times before there are enough of them to ferment the wort. Beers made from underpitched worts start slower and finish fermenting at a higher specific gravity. Both of these situations encourage growth of contaminating microorganisms. Beers made from underpitched worts also have more esters than beers from adequately pitched worts.
Pitch healthy yeast
You are also instructed to proof the yeast in the procedure. Proofing yeast is something done by both bakers and brewers who use dried yeast. The dried yeast is placed in warm water before it is used. The warm water quickly rehydrates the yeast cells and brings them back to functionality. Pitching the dried yeast directly into the wort is not as effective at quickly reviving them. Once proofed, the yeast should not sit in water for long. Read the instructions on your yeast packet—different yeast strains have different proofing times . Prolonged storage in water can lead to osmotic shock, a state where the yeast cells are having trouble pumping water out of their cells because it is diffusing into them too quickly.
Try a little patience
Once the wort is in the fermenter and the fermentation lock is on, it’s time to wait. If you aerated the wort sufficiently and pitched enough yeast into the cooled wort, everything should be fine. So, once you’ve put the fermenter in the basement, try a little patience. You should see signs of fermentation within 24 hours, sometimes much sooner. Still, waiting for the fermentation to start can be the most worrisome time for beginning homebrewers. Most beginning homebrewers worry about their fermentations. And, brewers who use buckets cannot visually check on their fermentation as brewers who use carboys can.
A common complaint of beginning homebrewers is that their fermentation never started or was delayed for days. Sometimes, they’re right. If they did not pitch enough yeast or aerate their wort, it may take a few days for fermentation to start. However, the fermentation may have gone fine and they just don’t know it. Its not uncommon for bucket fermenters to seal incompletely. Fermentation can be taking place while little or no activity is seen in the airlock. The best course of action is to assume the fermentation went well and wait until three day before bottling day. Chances are, everything went well. Check your specific gravity each of the next three days. If the gravity is low (below 1.020) and doesn’t change for three days, you’re ready to bottle.
Test the specific gravity, you’ll need a clean, sanitized measuring cup, your hydrometer and a test cylinder. You can buy special cylinders for this, but I just use the plastic tube the hydrometer came in. Open your bucket fermenter and scoop out about 3–4 ounces of wort. Seal the fermenter immediately after this. Pour the wort into the cylinder and read the specific gravity. Discard the sampled wort.
Bottling our brown ale is going to be the most time consuming step. To bottle, you need to clean and sanitize 54 12 oz. bottles. This is the most time consuming step. You also need to clean and sanitize your racking cane. You don’t really need to sanitize your bottle caps, just be sure not to touch the side of them that will be facing the beer. If you choose to sanitize them, you can do so by boiling them in water for 15 minutes. Place a primetab in each bottle. Once all the bottles have been primed, siphon beer from your fermenter into each of them. Crimps caps on all the bottles and you’re done!
Well, that’s Homebrew 101. Hopefully you can now whip up a batch of extract beer with the confidence that you understand some of the most important basic ideas behind the procedures. In Homebrew 201, you’ll learn to spice up your extract beer with added ingredients. This will allow you to brew a wider variety of beers and take more control over the taste, aroma, and appearance of your beer.
- Clean your brewing equipment thoroughly
- Sanitize any surface that will come in contact with wort
- Run a good fermentation by:
- pitching enough yeast
- aerating your wort
- Don’t "overmonitor" your fermentation
- Enjoy your beer
No-Boil Brown Ale Recipe
- 3.3 lb. can of liquid malt extract (light, hopped)
- 2.75 lb. of dried malt extract (dark, unhopped)
- 2-4 packages of dried ale yeast (such as Edme)
OG (Original Gravity) 1.048
FG (Final Gravity) 1.016
1 day before brew day Clean and sanitize six 2L (or four 3L) soda bottles
Fill the soda bottles with water and refrigerate overnight
On brew day
Clean and sanitize equipment
Heat 2 gallons water to 170° F, then shut off heat
Stir in malt extract
Heat mixture to 160° F and hold wort at 160° F or above for 15 minutes
Shake water bottles, then add the cold, aerated water to fermenter
Pour hot wort into cold water in fermenter
Swirl wort to mix evenly or stir with a large, sanitized spoon
Take the temperature of the wort with a sanitized thermometer
Proof and pitch yeast
Seal fermenter, secure the fermentation lock, and ferment for 7 days at 68° F
1 week after brew day
Bottle and let bottles sit at room temperature for 1 week.
2 weeks after brew day
Refrigerate bottles for 1 week
3 weeks after brew day
Beer is ready