A Guide to Brewing Your First Beers

23 Oct

This set of instructions will give you a good overview of your first brewing experience and can be your guide for many beers to come.  You will want to read and understand this guide and the document on sanitation before you get started.  Future brews will require some adjustments to this guide, but for basic ale made from barley malt, this will do the trick.  Be sure to secure the starting equipment described in my article named as such, and then pick a beer from one of my starter recipes, such as the Arkham Pale Ale,the Orcish Smoked Porter, or the Elven Blonde.   It also doesn’t hurt to find a friend to help you.

We will be preforming what is called a partial mash.  That is, part of our beer will be created from malted grain, the other half from malt extract.  This is a good medium ground between having some control and the complication of an all-grain process.  Someday, we’ll go all-grain, but that requires some more equipment.  In the meantime, this will make some great beer and allow us to have some fun with the equipment we have.

Your local brewing store will help you gather all of the necessary ingredients.  You will need to have the grains crushed.  Don’t forget to pick up a grain bag and make sure you are stocked with sanitizer.  You will need about 6 gallons of clean water as free from contaminates as possible and a couple of bags of ice.  I buy filtered water from a local water station in 5 gallon jugs.  This way I know that most of the minerals in the water are those I had put in it myself.  Many will boil local water and let it cool overnight.  This will allow any chlorine that is in the water to gas off, keeping it from influencing the flavor of the beer.

Lay out all of your equipment.  Make sure everything is clean and ready for use.   If the yeast you are going to be using is refrigerated, bring it out to let it start warming up to room temperature.  If it is one of those slap-pack pouches, break the inner pouch to release the nutrients and allow it to sit.

Start heating 3 quarts of water to about 168 degrees F.   If you’re recipe calls for brewing salts, you may add them now.  As it is heating, fill a grain bag with the crushed grains (also called the malt).  Place it inside the 2-gallon drink cooler and open a beer from the last batch to enjoy while you wait.  Once the water has reached the desired temperature, dump it inside the drink cooler with the malt.  Stir to be sure the grains are thoroughly soaked.  The room temperature grains and the hot water together should equalize to about 155 degrees.  Do your best to reach that temperature, adding more hot or cold water ass necessary.  You have now started what is called your mash.  Put the lid on the cooler and let it rest for about 30 minutes.  This is the optimal temperature for the enzymes in the mash to convert the malt to usable sugars and also capture some of the flavor that will make your beer delicious and unique from the others.

While you wait, start heating another gallon of water to between 170 and 180 degrees.  You will want to do this in your secondary kettle.  When your mash is done, remove the grain bag and place it inside of a strainer over your primary boiling kettle.  Use the fresh hot water to dump slowly over the grain bag to get what more you can out of it.  Measure the water in the cooler that was left over from the mash and add it to your main boiling pot, then top of so you have a total volume of 2 gallons of water. This will mean adding at least a quart of water, probably two.

Now you have a sugary solution we will refer to as wort.  We will call it wort until we add the yeast.  Turn the heat on and bring it to a boil.  When you approach the boiling point, remove it from the heat.  Slowly stir in the malt extract and add the bittering hops.  Then bring it back to a boil.  Watch it closely for a while and don’t let it boil over.  Hot sugar water all over your kitchen (or your body) is not very pleasant.  Once you reach the boiling point, set the timer for 55 minutes.  Lower the heat to keep it at a nice and even, but slow boil.  Grab another beer.

During this hour the oils from the bittering hops will slowly make themselves a part of your wort and you will be preparing a sanitizing solution for the next step.  Mix five or six gallons of sanitizing solution up in your fermentation bucket.  Be sure to consult the directions on your sanitizer and the section on sanitation.  Make sure that your bucket is thoroughly sanitized.  Turn the lid upside down and fill it with some sanitizing solution as well.  Let it soak.  You will also want to soak your fermentation lock and a measuring cup.  You will also want to dump a bag of ice into your kitchen sink for the next step.

Soon your timer will go off.  It is now time to add the final ingredients.  This will be the aroma hops and the Irish moss.  It doesn’t take long for the heat to drive away the sweet hop aroma.  This is why we are adding this bit right before the end of the boil – to preserve some of that wonderful odor.  The Irish moss is clarifying agent to help, well, clarify your beer.  Let this boil only for five minutes, then move it to the sink to cool.

Once you have removed the wort from the heat, it is imperative that anything from this point on that comes into contact with your wort is thoroughly sanitized first.  One of the primary keys to a good beer is sanitation and cleanliness.  Try not to hover over the kettle with wet hands to avoid dripping into the wort.  I wash my stirring spoon to remove the sugary residue and sanitize it before I use it again.  Once you have your boiling pot on ice, you can cool it faster by keeping the wort moving with your spoon.

Empty your fermentation bucket by transferring the sanitizing solution into another container.   Once the wort reaches room temperature, dump it into the fermentation bucket and top it off until you reach a total of 5 gallons.  Use that sanitized measuring cup to grab a sample to take a specific gravity reading and write it down.  Be sure to adjust for temperature by using the chart that came with your hydrometer.   For example, 70 degree wort will require you to add .001 to your measurement.  Hydrometers are calibrated to be accurate in fluids at 60 degrees.  This specific gravity reading will give you an idea of how much sugar is in the wort; thus how much alcohol content potential you have.  We’ll finish that calculation later.  Right now you want to take your sanitized spoon and give the wort a good stir for a few minutes.  We want to oxygenate the wort as much as we can.  The yeast will use that oxygen in the early stages to multiply to a healthy population before fermentation begins.

Be sure your wort is room temperature.  Your yeast should be room temperature by now, too.  Dump the contents of the yeast container into your wort.  We call this “pitching” the yeast.  Place the lid securely over the bucket.  Assemble and fill your fermentation lock with sanitized water to the fill line (or vodka if you want to feel cool like I do).  Finally, seal it all up by inserting the fermentation lock into the hole on the lid of your fermentation bucket.  Place the bucket in a cool place and let it sit for 10 to 14 days.  Grab yourself another beer and start cleaning up.

Time passes.  Use this time to review these instructions again and start dreaming about your next beer, but be sure also to stop by your favorite brewing store and pick up 4 ounces of corn sugar and some bottling caps.  It won’t be long until it’s time to bottle your beer.

When that day arrives, a couple of buckets up with sanitizing solution and use that to soak a couple of cases of clean, empty beer bottles.  Use some of this time to enjoy a beer, but be sure also to fill your bottling bucket up with a sanitizing solution.  Make sure this bucket is as free from contaminants as it can be.  Toss in the bottle filler, a couple of lengths of surgical tubing (one about 2 inches long, the other about 3 or 4 feet long), the racking tube, and a measuring cup.

When you are content that you’re bottling bucket is thoroughly sanitized, start draining it into another container by using the spigot.   Also fill a small container to start soaking your bottle caps in.  Heat a cup of water up in the microwave to a boil.  Mix the corn sugar with it.  Let it sit for a minute or so until it turns clear.  Close the spigot on the bottom of your bucket and dump the hot sugar water into it.  Right now your beer while delicious is flat.  This is just enough sugar to reactivate the yeast and add the proper amount of carbonation to your beverage.  Now let’s add the beer.

We’ll need to move the beer from the fermentation bucket to the bottling bucket; a process called racking.  Gravity will do most of the work for us, but we’ll have to start and monitor it.  Remember not to allow anything to come into contact with the beer that hasn’t been thoroughly sanitized and never directly touch the fluid with your skin.  Place your fermentation bucket on a surface above your bottling bucket.  Remove the lid and insert the racking cane into the beer.  Attach one end of the tubing to the cane and let the other end rest inside the bucket.  The lower it rests the better.  Avoid splashing to minimize the amount of oxygen that will make its way into your beer.  It is best that when the beer starts to syphon, that it enters the bucket from below the fluid line.  Hold the cane so that it doesn’t rest in all the trub at the bottom of the fermentation bucket.  Give it one good pump to start the flow and let the circular motion of the beer spilling into the bottling bucket be just enough to mix with it with the sugar.  Hand it over to your brewing partner while you go get another beer.  I guess it is probably a good idea to grab one for your brewing buddy too.  You want to keep the help happy.

While you are doing this, you will also want to grab a sample of the beer as it comes out of the tube and before it mixes with your sugar water.  Use the sanitized measuring cup.  Carefully lift the hose and grab about a cup.  Place the hose back into the beer and let it run until you get as much beer out as you can before it starts to get cloudy.  You’ll lose a little, but not enough to worry about.

Now that we have a sample of beer, let’s take another specific gravity reading, again adjusting for current temperature.  You will notice that every time you take a specific gravity reading, the hydrometer also has a reading for potential alcohol by volume.  Subtract your second reading from the first, and note your total alcoholic content.  For example, if your first reading is 1.054, it has potential alcohol content by volume of 7.4%.  If your second reading is 1.012, then 1.7% will represent the sugars that were not fermented, thus resulting in a difference of 5.7%.  You won’t be drinking too many of those back to back.

Now let’s attach the bottle filler.  Use a piece of tubing, about two inches in length to attach the bottle filler to the spigot at the base of the bucket.  Open the spigot.  It is now loaded and ready to start filling bottles.  Force the trigger onto the bottom of the inside of a bottle to allow the beer to fill it from the bottom up. Fill it to the very rim.  When you remove the bottle filler, the displacement will leave just the right amount of head room.  Then repeat.  Use your bottle capper to carefully cap the bottles and label.  I buy colored dots from the office supply store to put on the caps.  Take your final notes and store the freshly bottled beer in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks.

Now that your beer has had a chance to carbonate and age a couple of weeks, it is ready to be chilled to drinking temperature and enjoyed while you work on your next batch of beer.  It’s a never ending cycle, but one you will enjoy.  I hope you find this guide helpful.  More information and countless ways you can improve on your brewing process can be found in a wide selection of books that are available at your local brewing store, book store, or online.

1 Comment

Posted by on October 23, 2012 in How-To Brew


One response to “A Guide to Brewing Your First Beers

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