Article

Brewing a No-Boil Malt Extract Beer

Some homebrewers may want to brew an easy-to-make beer during their first brewing session to build their confidence before trying more complicated brewing methods later. Others may want to take the simple approach and brew all their beers as quickly and easily as possible. In this chapter, we present the procedure and two recipes for no-boil beers. With a minimal amount of time and equipment, you can brew consistently good beer using the no-boil technique.

The Beers

Brown ales, such as Newcastle or Sammuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale, originated in Britain and are dark, malty beers. There are also US brown ales, such as Sierra Nevada’s Tumbler brown ale. Canadian ales are often lightly colored and lightly flavored beers, such as Labatt Canadian Ale, and similar to the blonde ales or golden ales many brewpubs serve.

Equipment

To brew these beers, we’ll use only malt extract and a minimum of equipment beyond what can normally be found in your kitchen. You may have to buy a large pot; if you don’t already have one that can hold at least three gallons (11 L) of water. Any homebrew supply shop will carry plastic fermenters — buckets or carboys, usually between five gallons (19 L) and 6.5 gallons (25 L). You will also need an airlock, a racking cane, a hydrometer and bottling supplies. (For a complete equipment list, see box at left.) Most homebrew shops sell beginners kits with all the needed equipment. They start at around $60 (US) and go upward in price for more deluxe collections of equipment. Putting together this beer will only take a couple hours one day and then a couple hours another day when you bottle it. The bottling day will be 1–2 weeks from the initial brewing day. After bottling, your beer will need to sit another week or so to carbonate; then you’ll be ready to taste the fruits of your labor. From brewday to your first sip can be as short as three weeks. So let’s hurry up and get started brewing!

Cleaning and Sanitizing

There are many kinds of brewers, from extract brewers making their beer in five-gallon (19 L) buckets to commercial brewers making their beer in multi-story 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 unfermented beer (called wort) can spoil the resulting beer. Contaminated beer may turn out sour or develop other off flavors and aromas. In addition, the beer may overcarbonate and gush when opened. In extreme cases, your bottles may explode.

To clean your equipment, it’s best to use a cleaning solution that’s made for brewing equipment. (See the box on page 10 for a list of several cleaners and sanitizers.) You can use ordinary dishwashing detergent, but you will need to rinse thoroughly.

To clean your equipment, make up a cleaning solution, grab a clean sponge or scrub brush and scrub all the equipment thoroughly. Run the cleaning solution through your racking cane and fermentation lock. After cleaning, rinse the equipment with clean water. When you’re done, visually inspect your equipment — especially those surfaces that will contact the wort. If you see any dirt or residue, no matter how small, repeat your cleaning procedures. Don’t rely on your sanitizer to take care of any surfaces that are not completely clean. It doesn’t work that way. You’ll need your equipment to be spotless for the sanitizer to be effective.

To sanitize, soak any of your brewing equipment that will touch wort in your sanitizing solution. An easy way to do this is fill a bucket fermenter with sanitizing solution and soak all your cleaned equipment in it. Let the sanitizing solution work for the amount of time proscribed on the label. When you’re done, rinse the equipment. (See the sidebar on page 10 for more information.) You can save some sanitizing solution in a small bucket or large measuring cup for sanitizing things — such as thermometers and spoons — during your brewing session.

The final step in keeping your beer free of contamination is prevention. 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 and transfer these microorganisms to every surface you touch subsequently. On brew day, you will likely touch surfaces that harbor microbial growth and this growth could be transferred to your wort.

So, while handling your brewing equipment, try not to touch any surface that will touch wort, especially the inside of buckets and submerged parts of racking canes. In addition, wash your hands often while brewing. When you’re done, clean your brewing equipment thoroughly and wipe down all surfaces that may have gotten spattered, like your kitchen counters, floor and stovetop.

(Sanitation Sidebar)

It takes two steps to get your brewing equipment ready: cleaning and sanitizing. For these steps, you can use household products — dish soap for cleaning and bleach for sanitizing — or you can use cleaners and sanitizers designed for brewers. You can buy these at any homebrew shop.

Cleaning

When cleaning your brewing equipment, you can use dish soap and water, but this has drawbacks. Unless rinsed very thoroughly, soap residue can interfere with head retention in beer. Two popular cleaning products for homebrewers that work better for cleaning homebrew equipment are TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) and PBW (Powder Brewery Wash). Use 2 tsp. of TSP per gallon (~2 g/L) of warm water. Use 1–2 oz. (28-56 g) of PBW per gallon of hot water. Both TSP and PBW can be used safely on stainless steel.

Sanitizing

Bleach is a cheap and effective sanitizer. 21⁄2 tablespoons of bleach in 5 gallons (19 L) of water makes a working solution that sanitizes with a 30-minute contact time. However, bleach can corrode stainless steel and can be absorbed by plastic, leading to off-flavors. If you use bleach on glass or plastic fermenters, as many homebrewers do, empty any plastic containers immediately after the sanitizing period is over and rinse thoroughly.

Two brewery sanitizers are iodophor and Star San. Just 1 ounce (30 mL) of iodophor in 5 gallons (19 L) of water makes an effective sanitizing solution. Likewise, 1 oz. (30 mL) of Star San in 5 gallons (19 L) of water works well as a sanitizing solution. When used in these low concentrations, neither of these sanitizers needs to be rinsed from your equipment.

No-Boil Wort Preparation

After cleaning, the next steps in the procedure involve preparing the wort — your unfermented beer. 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 dried. We’ll use hopped, liquid malt extracts for our no-boil brewing. As with any food product, using the freshest ingredients possible is important for success in homebrewing.

We’ll make our wort by dissolving the malt extract in hot water and allowing it to sit for 15 minutes. To dissolve the malt extract, heat 2 gallons (7.6 L) water to 180 °F (82 °C) in a large pot. Turn off the heat and add the malt extract and yeast nutrient. A (clean) spatula will help you scrape the thick extract from its container. Stir the extract into the water with a large spoon. Your spoon should be clean, but it does not need to be sanitized. Once the extract is dissolved, which may take a couple minutes, check the temperature with your (sanitized) dial thermometer. If it is below 160 °F (71 °C), raise the temperature to this point. If you overshoot your temperature mark, don’t worry, it won’t affect the outcome. Let the dissolved malt extract sit for 15 minutes at 160 °F (71 °C) or higher, then proceed to the next step.

Holding the temperature of your wort at 160 °F (71 °C) for 15 minutes should kill all the unwanted microorganisms in your wort. In later chapters in this guide, you will be instructed to boil your wort. However, since the wort used to make hopped liquid malt extract was boiled before it was condensed, and it already contains the bitterness from hops, 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. In addition, boiling the wort will drive off any volatile compounds from the hops in the extract. These compounds 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. Your wort needs to be cooled before the yeast is added (or pitched, in the brewer’s lingo). If your yeast is pitched into hot wort, the heat can kill or stun the yeast. Different yeast strains prefer different temperatures, but for this beer, the wort needs to cool to at least 72 °F (22 °C). The best way to do this is by cooling the wort a bit while it’s still in your pot (or brew kettle), then finishing the job by adding cold water to the wort in your fermenter.

To begin cooling, put the lid on your brewpot and set it in a sink full of cold water. After a couple minutes, let the (now warm) water out of the sink and refill the sink with cold water. Continue doing this until the outside of the pot is no longer warm to the touch. (In later chapters of this issue, we’ll introduce you to a piece of equipment called a wort chiller, which greatly speeds the cooling of wort. If you have one, use it here instead of cooling the wort in your sink.)

When done cooling, pour or siphon your wort into a sanitized fermenter. When moving the wort, let it splash as much as possible at this stage. Once the wort is transferred, add cold tap water to your fermenter until it is full to the 5-gallon (19-L) mark. (If your tap water is very cold, you may want to check the temperature of the wort when you reach the 4-gallon (15-L) mark and adjust the temperature of your tap water so the final wort temperature is 68–72 °F (20–22 °C). Stir the wort with a sanitized spoon to completely mix the wort and the water. Make sure your thermometer is sanitized before measuring the temperature of the wort. As when adding the wort to the fermenter, pour the water such that it splashes as much as possible (without allowing foam to spill over the side of the fermenter).

Your wort needs oxygen so that the yeast can multiply quickly after they are pitched. This is why you splashed the wort and water when adding it to the fermenter. Splashing encourages oxygen from the air to dissolve into your wort. Another easy way of aerating is to sanitize two fermenting buckets and pour the wort (after the water has been added) between the buckets a few times.

You can also take a sanitized whisk and whip the surface of the wort for 3–4 minutes. (In later chapters, we’ll show you better ways to do this, but these ways also require some extra equipment. For now, this will work adequately.)

Fermentation

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 odd flavors and smells. Encouraging yeast growth by running a good fermentation is also an anti-contamination measure. Yeast growth changes wort conditions and protects against growth of many other microorganisms. In addition, beers made from good fermentations finish at an appropriate level of dryness, not sticky sweet as poorly fermented beers can be. Not only does a too-sweet beer not taste like a proper beer, but unfermented sugars in a too-sweet beer can also support bacterial growth.

In order to run a good fermentation, you need to understand a few things about yeast. Yeast are microscopic fungal organisms. In brewing, they consume the sugars in your wort to obtain the energy to live and multiply. As a byproduct of fermentation, they give off ethanol (the kind of alcohol in alcoholic beverages) and carbon dioxide (the gas that makes beers fizzy). Minor fermentation byproducts given off by yeast also play a large role in the taste and aroma of beer.

Pitch Enough Yeast

In the procedure, you are instructed to pitch 2 to 4 packets of dried yeast. You need to pitch this much yeast because pitching too few yeast cells means the yeast would have to multiply many times before there were enough of them to ferment the wort. Beers made from underpitched worts start slower and finish fermenting at a higher specific gravity (i.e. with too many sugars remaining unfermented, and hence with a too-sweet beer). Beers made from underpitched worts also have more esters than beers from adequately pitched worts. So, always pitch plenty of yeast whenever you ferment your beer.

Pitch Healthy Yeast

You should also proof the yeast before pitching it. 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.

Read the instructions on your yeast packet — different yeast strains have different proofing times so giving generic instructions may be misleading. Pay close attention to both the times and temperatures — yeast are living organisms and must be healthy and unstressed in order to ferment your beer properly. Be kind to your yeast and they will reward you with good beer. Once proofed, the yeast should not sit in water for long. Pour them into your cool wort and stir the wort briefly with a sanitized spoon.

Try a Little Patience

Once the wort is in the fermenter and the (proofed) yeast has been added, seal your fermenter and affix the airlock that has been filled up halfway with water. Now, it’s time to wait. If you aerated the wort sufficiently and pitched enough yeast, everything should be fine. You should see signs of fermentation within 24 hours, sometimes much sooner. Keep your fermenter in a place where the wort temperature will remain between 68–72 °F (20–22 °C) and leave it undisturbed.

A common complaint of beginning homebrewers is that their fermentation never started or was delayed. 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. It’s not uncommon for bucket fermenters to seal incompletely. Fermentation can be taking place while little or no activity is seen in the airlock. So try a little patience. The best course of action is to assume the fermentation went well and wait 4–5 days before checking your specific gravity.

To test the specific gravity, you’ll need a measuring cup (clean and sanitized inside and out), your hydrometer and a test cylinder. Open your fermenter and scoop out about 3 to 4 ounces of wort. Seal the fermenter immediately. Pour the wort into the cylinder and read the specific gravity. To do this, float the hydrometer in the test jar. Hold the test jar at eye level and read the scale at the level of the liquid. Discard the sample. If the sample is below a specific gravity of 1.020 and doesn’t change for three days, you’re ready to bottle. If your beer is still cloudy, let it sit for a few more days before bottling.

Bottling Your Batch

To bottle your beer, you need to clean and sanitize 54 twelve-ounce (355 mL) bottles. You also need to clean and sanitize your plastic hose and racking cane. This is a rigid plastic tube that bends at the top. You use it to siphon or “rack” beer from one container (your fermenter) to another (your bottles).

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, boil them for 15 minutes.

The next step is priming your beer. This means adding a small amount of fermentable sugar, usually corn sugar, to the batch. This “wakes up” the yeast and starts a renewed fermentation in the bottle, and the resulting carbon dioxide carbonates your beer.

The simplest way to prime beer is to use carbonation drops, which are premeasured corn-sugar tablets. You can buy these at many homebrew shops. Drop 2 to 5 of these tablets in each bottle, depending on the level of carbonation you want (3 yields an amount of carbonation that is fine for most beers). Once all the bottles have been primed, rack the beer into each bottle. Try to leave behind as much of the sediment at the bottom of the bucket as possible.

To start a siphon, fill the racking cane with water, making sure there are no air bubbles. Hold the two ends at same level so water does not run out. Quickly put the stiff arm of the racking cane in the beer and the hose in a large glass or little bucket. The glass or bucket should be below the level of the bottom of the fermenter. Gravity will get the beer flowing, so get ready to fill your bottles! Use a hose clamp to pinch the hose to stop the flow of beer, thenplace the outflow end at the bottom of a bottle. Let the beer fill to the very top, then remove the hose. This will leave about an inch of headspace in the neck of each bottle. Fill all the bottles as quickly as is feasible and with a minimum of splashing. Place a bottle cap on top of each bottle as you fill it. Then, when all the bottles have been filled, use your bottle capper to crimp down the caps and you’re done!

Conditioning

Your beer will need to sit and condition for at least about a week at room temperature before it is ready. (Some beers require longer conditioning times, so be sure to read your recipe thoroughly.) During that time, yeast will “eat” the priming sugar and give off carbon dioxide, carbonating your beer.

After that week, take one bottle and let it sit in your refrigerator overnight. Open the beer the next day and see if it’s carbonated. If so, you can refrigerate the rest of the batch. Often, your beer will get clearer the longer it stays cold. If you can wait, give it at least three days in the fridge before you start drinking it.