Category Archives: How-To Brew

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Your Second Mead

Your second mead is same as the first, except I am going to expand your shopping list a little bit and give you a few more options that we didn’t cover the first time around. There are a lot of things going on. If you haven’t yet started down the mead-making road, you should read that article first. If you have a handle on it, we can tackle a little bit more.

Shopping List

  • Hydrometer – This is a device that will help you measure the specific gravity of your must, thus allowing us to get an idea of how much sugar we are working with and ultimately, how much alcohol you have produced. Get this from your homebrew store.
  • Graduated Cylinder – Buy this from your homebrew store at the same time you get your hydrometer. It will hold the fluid you will be testing it with.
  • Yeast – Any yeast will do, but this time around, take a look at some of the dry yeasts as options. Champagne yeast will give you a dry, high alcohol content. Medium white wine yeasts will fall somewhere between the Champagne yeast and the sweet mead yeast we used on the first batch.
  • Bottles – Grab a case of those self-sealing bottles and replacement rubber stoppers from the homebrew store.
  • Bottling Bucket – This is a bucket with a hole at the bottom and a spigot.
  • Bottling Valve – Buy this from your homebrew store. Cut a couple of inches from your racking tube to attach this to the spigot of your bottling bucket. When you insert this valve into your bottle and it reaches the bottom, it will trigger and allow the mead to flow smoothly in to fill the bottle.

The instructions will be the same as the first mead except for a few additional steps.

  1. Take copious notes. Write everything down. Don’t just record the ingredients. Record temperatures, measurements, and your thoughts as you tasted the samples. The more you write down, the more you will be able to learn from your mistakes and reproduce your successes.
  2. Instead of bringing your mead to a full boil, you may want to hold it at 165 degrees F for about five minutes and cool it back down from there.   Our purpose is to pasteurize the must to keep contaminants at bay.  We do not have to bring it to a full boil to do this.  In fact, not bringing it to a full boil will better preserve some of the volatile aromatics of the honey.
  3. If you have chosen to use a dry yeast, you will want to hydrate it. Add the dry yeast to half a cup of water and allow it to sit for a half an hour before adding it to your must. Again, make sure everything is sanitized and clean. You can also add a small amount of sugar (1 teaspoon) to ‘proof’ your yeast. If the yeast is alive and well, the yeast will foam. If it does nothing, it is dead and will not work for you as you had hoped. Go buy another yeast packet.
  4. Once you have cooled your must the first time, insert a sanitized measuring cup into your must to grab about a half a cup to fill up the graduated cylinder. Use the hydrometer to get a reading. It will probably look something like 1.100. This is called your Starting Gravity (SG). Write it down. It will also have a corresponding potential alcohol reading. For a specific gravity of 1.1, this will be about 13.4%. Be sure also to check the temperature and adjust accordingly. Your hydrometer is adjusted for 60 degrees, so if you are taking a reading at 70 degrees, you will need to add something like .001.
  5. After your first fermentation of a few weeks and the bubbling activity has reached a still point, you will rack your must. As you do this, capture another sample to take another reading. Depending on the yeast you use, it could range anywhere from 0.980 to 1.200. This is called your Finishing Gravity (FG). For medium wine yeast, expect it to be something like 1.012. Write that down, as well as the corresponding alcohol by volume (ABV). Let’s say it is 1.4%. By subtracting this from your first reading, you will get your final ABV. In this example it would be 12%. Whew. That is some potent stuff. Drink responsibly.
  6. In your first mead, I glossed over racking and bottling but there is something here you need to also be aware of. Once there is alcohol, oxygen will no longer be your friend. The alcohol will oxidize and taste very bad. To minimize the risk of this, we avoid as much splashing as we can. This is why we use the racking tube and the bottling bucket instead of the funnel for these stages of the process.

Hopefully this gives you a more rounded understanding of mead making. From here, you are likely to want to experiment with different varietal honeys, different strains of yeast, and a variety of herbs, species, and fruits. There is much to explore and many years of fun ahead of you. Enjoy the journey. I hope to taste your wares one day.

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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in How-To Brew


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Your First Mead

A gallon of wineMaking mead is fun, rewarding, and down-right delicious. The Mesopotamians loved it, the Vikings loved it, and we love it today. It isn’t that difficult, either. I made these instructions below as simple as I can for you to make your very first mead, but you will also need to review the basics of sanitation before you begin. After making your first mead, you can explore options to improve the process. Have fun and let me know how it turns out!

Shopping List

  • 2 one-gallon glass jugs – Buy a couple of gallons of real apple cider and get a free jug to ferment your beverage in. If you need something to do with the apple juice, try making a cyser.
  • 1 bung & fermentation lock – If you can, take that jug into the brewing store and ask them to help you put a stopper in it. Tell them you are going to make some mead and you need that stopper and a fermentation lock.
  • 3 lbs. honey – Buy this from your local brewing store or a bee keeper. Buy in bulk. You do not want to pay the full retail prices that you would have to pay in a grocery store. You also want to be wary of cheap honey at your bulk grocery warehouses. Get the best ingredients you can. If you are going to spend the time, make it the best it can be. You may also have to purchase a bucket to put it in that you can use again for your next trip to the store.
  • 3 quarts of water – I like to buy filtered water. You may get by with using tap water, but filtered water is not that expensive and will help ensure quality.
  • 1 Funnel – This can easily be found at the brewing store or anywhere you can get basic cooking utensils.
  • Two-gallon pot – You may already have this.
  • Yeast Nutrient – You can pick this up from your brewing supply shop. For this recipe, you will need only 1 teaspoon.
  • Acid Blend – Pick this up at the brewing store. You will want to add 1 teaspoon to this recipe.
  • Sanitizer – There are a variety of sanitizers you can get from your homebrewing store.
  • Thermometer – You will also find this at the homebrewing store.
  • Sweet Mead Yeast – Ask for it at the local brewing store. There are a variety of other liquid wine yeasts you could use. Any one of them would probably make good mead. If you are insistent upon using a dry yeast, then read ahead to making your second mead.
  • Small Racking Tube and hose – This will be used to siphon mead from one container to another – a process we call racking. Be sure to tell the person at the homebrew store that you will be making only one gallon at a time and that you only need a small one of these.

Now that you have all of your equipment and ingredients laid out before you, turn on the burner, warm your water and dissolve the honey into it. Stir it in with the yeast nutrient and the acid blend and bring it to a boil. The mixture you are creating now is called must. It is just what we call wine before it becomes wine. The next step will be to cool it down to room temperature.

Fill your sink with ice water and set the pot you have been using into it. This will cool the must rapidly. The sooner we reach our desired temperature and add the yeast, the better. It is important, however, that we do not add the yeast until it is at least below 80 degrees F. Anything higher will start to kill the yeast, and that won’t do us any good. It is also important to note that anything that touches the yeast must first be sanitized. Be careful with wet hands not to drip into your pot and also keep everything away that could contaminate your otherwise perfect concoction.

Once your must has come down to at least 80 degrees F, transfer it to your sanitized glass jug. Plug it as best you can and shake it well. For this part of the process, you want oxygen in the must. It will allow those little yeasties to reproduce and create a happy healthy colony in your mead to be. Add your yeast. Fill your fermentation sanitized lock with sanitation fluid or vodka and set it in a cool dark place.

After about 24 hours, you should see the bubbles come up frequently as the yeast releases carbon dioxide. This is just a part of the process of creating alcohol. Let it sit until the bubbling stops. This may take a couple of months, so be patient. Once it reaches a stand-still, sanitize the second glass jug and the racking tube, and move the mead from one vessel to the other. There will be some sediment on the bottom of the first jug. This is the spent yeast. Do your best to leave it in the first vessel and discard it. Let the mead sit in that second vessel until you just can’t stand it anymore. It will be at its best after it has aged for 1-2 years, but I will applaud you if you can wait that long. Then, bottle or share with your friends.

I hope that gives you a good overview and enough to get started. Dive right in or skip to your second mead for a few more tips and tricks to further your journey. Also, check out this simple cyser recipe for something to do with that apple juice. You will also find great reading in Brewing Mead: Wassail! that will give you many more options to explore.

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Posted by on November 13, 2013 in How-To Brew


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Fig and Blackberry Cordial

Fig and Blackberry Cordial

I thought for a moment that I would step outside of the beer brewing and mead making to do something different.  I was inspired by two things.  First, I wanted something that would be relevant to the arts within the Society for Creative Anachronism; a medieval re-creationist group I play with.  Second, this fig and blackberry tart that a wonderful pastry chef friend of mine packaged with a great catering package at one of our recent video shoots.

The flavors danced so well together that I just went on a fig kick.  I put figs in everything for weeks, finally soaking some in brandy.

Making cordials is pretty simple.  I let the liquor soak up the flavoring agents for 2-3 weeks, then strain and add a mixture of simple syrup to taste and let it sit for a few months to let heat of the alcohol settle and blend.

1.75 L Brandy VS
3 pints blackberries
17 oz. dried figs
1 cup simple syrup

The results were amazing.  It takes everything in me to save the bottles I need for competition.  I just might have to do this one again.  I got some great feedback from the recent competition.  It was a lot more fig than blackberry.  I didn’t mind this so much, but if I am to call it a fig and blackberry cordial, I should have removed some figs for more blackberries.


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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in How-To Brew, Recipes


Brewing Beer – Q&A

Is it legal?
In civilized states, yes.  There are still a few corners of the US where their politicians are as educated as rabbits running down street.  There are limits as to how much you can make, and in some places, you may need a permit.  Distilling is illegal, but if you’re just making beer, wine, or mead, you have nothing to worry about.  Distilling is for liquor.  For more detailed legal information, check out this reference from the Homebrewers Association.

Can I sell my beer?
I don’t know anywhere in the states where you can sell your beer without special permits.  If you could, you would see dozens of vendors at the local farmer’s market giving it a try.  You can usually give it away to legal recipients.  Homemade beer and wine make great gifts and can make you the life of the party.  A personality also helps.

How much does it cost to brew beer?
Investing up to $300 for your first batch of beer is not unheard of.  You can probably do it for under $200 if you already have a stocked kitchen.   From there, you are likely to invest anywhere from $40 to $60 for a 5 gallon batch of beer.  You could also set aside a few bucks more a month depending on your budget, to grow your hobby to the limits of your spouse’s tolerance.

How much beer will a 5 gallon batch make?
Ideally, you will yield up to 11 bottles per gallon of beer.  I find that by the time I take a couple of samples for testing and filter out some sediment, I’ll fall short of that, but have at least that many bottles to fill.  Hopefully you’ll come up with just a little over 2 cases.

How long does it take to brew a batch of beer?
Your first few beers will be brewed and bottled within a couple of weeks and require at least a couple more weeks in the bottle.  Several beers are called at their best one month after they are bottled.  So it doesn’t take long.  Other beers will take months.  Wines and meads will take months to years.

How much time does it take to brew a batch of beer?
Your first few beers will probably take 4-5 hours to make and clean up after yourself.  As you get into making more complicated beers or graduate into all-grain brewing, it will generally be an all-day affair.  Then you do virtually nothing but wait.  Bottling will take you 2-3 hours.  Drinking time varies from person to person.

Should I start by brewing beer or making mead?
That is complicated.  Beer is less expensive to make and you can start consuming within the month.  That means you can get virtually immediate feedback and learn quicker.  Mead is actually a wine, but made with honey.  It is the easiest to make but doesn’t reach its peak for several months; some would say a couple of years.   They payoff is worth it though.  You will want to ferment and store in glass for the mead.  While both have endless experiments available to them, I think the opportunity to geek out on beer is a little more endless.  That might be the circles I run in, though.

What kind of beer should I start with?
Start with Ale.  Lagers require a colder environment that you probably don’t have yet.  Any brewing store will sell kits.  Choosing one of those would be easy or take one of my recipes into the store and have them help you collect the ingredients.  If I had to pick one for you to try, it would be an all barley beer; probably American pale ale, porter, or a stout.  My start-up instructions will be for all barley beers.  Pick something you would like to drink.

What is the difference between a lager and an ale?
Lager simply means aged, but the yeast used in making a lager is also a little different.  There are many strains of yeast, but beer making yeasts generally fall in two categories.  Ale yeasts are sometimes called top-fermenting yeasts because of the way they float when they are active.  They typically do their work at or right below room temperature.  Lager yeasts, or bottom fermenting yeasts, prefer a little cooler climate when doing their business.  Each strain of yeast imparts a little different flavor on the resulting product.

Where do I buy beer making stuff?
Brewing and wine making stores can be found in most every major city in the US.  There are also resources online.  One source will get you about everything you need, unless you want to buy filtered water.  In that case, you will also need to find a filtered water station.

Do I really risk explosions in my house if I make beer?
You don’t have to worry about fiery explosions of death and destruction, but there is a chance that you might take a misstep that results in over-pressurized bottles.  That can mean beer all over the room.  Sometimes my fermenters will overflow, too.  For this reason, I keep my fermentation vessels in a spare tub, and freshly bottled beer in a place that can be mopped up, just in case I have an issue.  This way I can clean it up before my girlfriend ever notices there was a problem.

Do I want to ferment in glass or plastic?
It depends on a couple of things.  If you are only going to ferment for a couple of weeks, plastic will work fine.  It has a tendency to let oxygen in, and you don’t want that, but for a short fermentation cycle, you are probably fine.  Storage and aging should always be in glass.  Another consideration is that plastic will easily scratch.  These scratches make nice little nesting grounds for bacteria and are hard to clean.  That little scratch can mean bad beer.  When using plastic, just be careful.  It’s cheaper, but you’ll eventually start using glass.

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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in How-To Brew


A High Level Introduction to the Brewing Process

As I polished off my Guide for Brewing Your First Beers, it quickly occurred to me that while it was a good guide for brewing, it was a bit wordy to be an introduction to the curious observer.  So I set out to provide an overview for the curious folk not quite ready to brew their own.

The making of any alcoholic beverage is the same.  Fermentation is the process where yeast consumes sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.  It is the specifics that make the beverage what it is.  Mead is honey fermented with a strain of yeast that is commonly used to make wine or Champaign.  Beer is made by letting ale or lager yeast digest the sugars in grain and adding hops.  Most beers are at 80 – 100% barley.  Many recipes also use wheat, but oats and rye are also sometimes added in small quantities.  The yeast, along with the balance between the malty sweet grains and the bittering hops, give the brewer the specific style of beer they are shooting for.

The process actually starts with the maltster.  They add a little of moisture to the grain and allow it to germinate for just a few days.  This releases enzymes that are required to convert the starchy grain into sugar.  The germination is halted by drying it out and adding heat.  That process and the amount of heat will vary to produce different kinds of malt that will also affect the flavor of the final beer.

The grain is now ready for the brewer.  It is ground and soaked in water at controlled warm temperatures.  This is what brewers call the mash.  These temperatures are chosen to make an ideal environment for those enzymes to get to work and convert those starches into sugars the yeast will like, and sugars that will leave some residual sweetness in the beer that we will like.  After a long soak, that water is drained.  The grains are discarded and we will call the resulting sugary mixture wort.

Side Note: If we were to concentrate this wort or dry it out, we would have malt extract.  Malt extract is sometimes used to short-cut the brewing process.  Just add water, and you again have wort.

Now we boil the wort and add our hops.  There are two basic hop additions that are made to our beer.  The first is called the bittering hops.  We’ll boil the hell out of these hops to extract the bittering agents.  With this boil, we’ll also loose flavor and aromas, so near the end of the boil we’ll add some aroma hops.  These will have the opposite effect where they won’t contribute much to the bitterness of the beer, but they will add flavor.

A variety of other things may be added ranging from fruits and vegetables to spices, flavor extracts, and just about anything you can think of.  We sometimes include something to help clarify the beer or adjust the water chemistry as well.

The wort is cooled to a temperature favorable to fermentation and the yeast is added, or “pitched” as we often like to say.  Once the yeast is mixed in with the wort, it is legally beer.  It doesn’t have any alcohol in it yet, but it soon will.  The yeast will first multiply to produce billions of yeast cells and eventually get to work.  We’ll watch the mixture bubble away as carbon dioxide is released and the alcohol content begins to rise.  Finally it will all settle down and we will have delicious but flat beer.

Before putting the beer into bottles or kegs, we will add a small bit of carefully measured sugar water.  This will be just enough to reactivate the yeast in the bottle again and produce the carbon dioxide that will carbonate our beer.  We’ll let it sit for a while longer and eventually refrigerate for consumption.  Because we carbonated the beer naturally, some yeast will settle in the bottom of the bottle.  Pour carefully into a glass and discard the bitter sediment.

Now rinse that bottle thoroughly.  Someone is going to want to fill it with beer again and it will be much harder to do if there is a moldy crust dried inside of it.  The brewer will appreciate it.

There you have it.  Its hours of geeky fun for everyone.  While I also enjoy making and drinking mead, I find there is more depth and challenge to beer.  Beer is also less expensive and has a quicker turn-around time that mead or wine.  Whatever you decide to start with, I think you will find it a rewarding hobby.   There are plenty of books on the subject to help you get started.

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in About Beer, How-To Brew


A Guide to Brewing Your First Beers

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.

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


Sanitize. Sanitize. Sanitize.

Wild yeast and stray bacteria will love your little party as much as the yeast that have been invited to it.  These unwelcome guests will create flavors that will make your beer less than the best it can be and sometimes downright raunchy.  The secret to keeping these contaminants from your beer is to reduce their means of getting there as next to zero as you can.  You do this by cleaning and sanitizing everything that will come in contact with your soon-to-be beer.

The first step in sanitation is cleanliness.  You can’t sanitize anything that has goop on it.  Everything must be cleaned with soap and water first, and then sanitized.  Make sure the tools you use are metal, glass, or otherwise non-porous.  Wooden utensils have countless pores that can harbor bacterial, as do scratches in your tools and containers.  If they’re scratched, replace them.  Those scratches are hard to clean and can keep bacteria safe from your bacterial warfare arsenal.

There are many means of sanitation.  Boiling for 15 minutes is one of them.  This is why we are a little less worried about what touches the brew before you boil.  After you turn off the heat, everything that comes into contact with your brew must be cleaned and sanitized.

Over the course of your brewing career, you will probably come in contact with several sanitizers.  Each has their strengths.  Bleach for example is cheap, but it must be rinsed completely.  Mix 1 tablespoon/gallon of water and let your equipment soak for 20 minutes.  Then rinse.  Long exposure to bleach may corrode metals.  I only use bleach to clean used bottles before storage.  I used to use a cupful or two of bleach in the dishwasher to sanitize bottles before bottling, but I had too many problems.  I now soak them in a sanitizing solution.

Another sanitizer I frequently use is Iodophor.  It is an iodine solution that comes in different strengths, so just follow the directions on the bottle.  Your goal is 12.5 ppm, but the bottle instructions will tell you how to get there.  Before I start a batch of beer, I’ll fill up a bucket with this solution to sanitize the bucket and everything I put it in.  It will need to soak for 10 minutes.  It will need to be drained, but will not necessarily need to be rinsed.  The amount of iodine left over will not impact the flavor, though I do know a lot of people that are uncomfortable with that explanation and still feel the need to rinse.  It will stain the bucket, but this is only cosmetic.

Star San is very popular.   Sanitizing equipment takes only a 1-2 minute soak, and the residue left behind is nutrient for yeast, so no rinsing is required.   Just mix one once with 5 gallons of water and you have your solution.  I also fill a spray bottle up with the stuff and use that to dowse utensils with.  It is the acid that does the trick but it will break down after a couple of weeks, so refresh your spray bottle with your new stuff.

Remember, anything that comes into contact with your masterpiece after the boil must be cleaned and sanitized first until it is safely in the bottle.  Do not put your hands in it.  Do let wet hands drip into it.  Try to keep your hair from falling into it.  Don’t let your kids throw toys into it.  You get the idea.

While it is impossible to create a completely sterile environment, stay vigilant and you will scream success.  Keep clean and sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.


Posted by on October 18, 2012 in How-To Brew


Brewing Beer – Starting Equipment and Expenses

You can spend as much or as little as you want in your start-up collection for your own private little brewery.  That answer probably isn’t much help to you, though.  The shortest and perhaps the best answer is $200 – $300, and it is likely to include your first batch of beer.  From there on out, each beer will probably cost you between $40 and $50/batch.  After that, I don’t mind saying you can spend as much as you want because you really can, and by then you’ll know enough about what you’re doing to make those choices for yourself.  In the meantime, I’ll tell you exactly what you need to start with.

You can get all of the needed supplies individually, but it will get you off to a good start if you buy a beer kit.  A good beer kit will have supplies in it that you will use for a long time to come.  Avoid the beer kits you’ll find in department and drug stores.  They are targeted toward gift-givers that really don’t know anything about beer and are good for little more than economic stimulation.  Find a brewing or wine-making store; local or otherwise.  They will not only have what you need, but also the expertise to give you some guidance along the way.

Here is what you will need:

Fermentation Vessel.  Your beer kit will come with a food grade plastic bucket with a lid.  For now, your first beers will only be fermenting for a little over a week, so this will work just fine.  For longer brewing beers, meads, and wines, you’ll eventually want to use a glass carboy (giant jug).  When you make this upgrade, this bucket will continue to be very handy for other jobs, such as cleaning and sanitizing.  One day you will find that you cannot have too many carboys.

Fermentation lock.  The fermentation lock, or water lock, holds a small bit of sanitized water (or vodka if you are so inclined) to separate the fermentation vessel’s inside environment from the outside world.  There are countless contaminates that would love to get inside your fermenter.  If you don’t mind sharing that might be okay, but that kind of infection will cause off-flavors and a less than perfect beer.

Bottling Bucket with a spigot, and bottle filler.  Your beer kit will have a second food grade plastic bucket with a predrilled hole in the base for filling bottles.  You will use an inch or two of tubing to connect the bottle filler to the spigot at the base of the bucket.  By inserting the bottle filler into a bottle, pushing the bottle upward onto the trigger will cause your bottle to fill from the bottom up.  This process is used to minimize oxidization of the beer as it is being bottled.

Thermometer.  There will be several moments when you will need to measure the temperature of your concoction.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a couple of these, especially if one of them is glass.  They break easily.

Hydrometer.  This is a fun little measuring device that will give you specific gravity readings of the beer, and help you estimate how much alcohol will result.  You might remember in your high school science class that water has a specific gravity of 1.0.  Anything measuring more than 1.0 will represent fermentable sugars and other flavor contributing solutes.

Racking Cane and tube.  This little siphon will help move your beer from one vessel to another (a process we call racking) while minimizing splashing and excess oxygenation.  Oxygen is good before your yeast is added.  Oxygen is bad after fermentation has started.

Bottle Capper and caps.  With every batch, you’ll need to seal fresh bottle caps onto their temporary homes until some lucky soul feels the need to imbibe your beer.  Each batch of beer, assuming you make about 5 gallons, may yield up to 55 bottles of beer.  Caps usually come by the gross.

Bottles.  As soon as you think you might be interested in making beer, start collecting bottles.  You can buy them for about $13 or $14/case, but most prefer to collect.  It gives you an excuse to try a variety of beers from around the world; if you need an excuse that is.  Keep the brown bottles without the screw-tops.  Most of your best beers will come in these bottles anyway.  Wash them immediately after use so you don’t have dry mold stuck to the bottom of them when you go to use them.

Strainer.  Most brewers like to keep a strainer separate from their kitchens supplies as any oil from last night’s pasta will negatively impact your beer.  You will use this to hold your grain bag while you rinse the goody out and into what will be your beer.  This is not likely to come with your beer kit, but your kitchen strainer might do just fine, especially if it is clean and easy to clean.  Those wire net strainers can really hold some gunk.
2 Gallon Cylindrical Drink Cooler (igloo).  Many first-time instructions suggest you use just any kitchen pot to steep your grains.  For how little it will cost for you to get a small drink cooler, I find it is much easier to hold a constant temperature in a little drink cooler.  Put this little guy on your buying list.

Pots and Spoons.  Set your eyes on a 20 quart stainless steel boiling pot as you’re first main boiling pot. A smaller pot will also be helpful, say about 8-12 quarts.  You’re likely to already have that one in your kitchen.  You’ll need to stir in some ingredients.  A giant stainless steel spoon is preferred by most, but anything you can agitate water with will do just fine.

Sanitizer.  You’ll be using a little bit of sanitizer on every batch of beer you make.  Several varieties are available and each work a little differently.  I have written an entire section on sanitation.  It is just that important.  Actually, if I were to reflect its importance, I would do several sections on sanitation.  In fact, let me take a moment to at least introduce to you how important sanitation is to making good beer.  Sanitize.  Sanitize.  Sanitize.  Also, don’t forget to rid yourself of as many mycobacterial and fungal contaminates as you can.

Grain Bags.  A grain bag is to beer as a tea bag is to tea.  With 1-3 lbs. of grain, it is much easier to fish it out if you can keep most of it inside one of these bags.  You’ll use one of these for each batch of beer you make.

Notebook.  You will want to take notes on everything so you can learn and repeat your successes.  Write down everything.  You’ll find a need to look back on dates, times, ingredients, measurements, and your impressions of the beers you make.  Jot down any peculiarities and occurrences while you were brewing.  It may help you later to understand what happened that contributed to such a great beer.

There you have it.  Add this to your first recipe and prepare to make your first beer.  The more you learn, the more you’ll find a need and a desire for more toys.  Such is the way of any geek I would guess.  I certainly still have some toys on my wish list.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in How-To Brew


My Brewing Library

I find that to really know a subject, you have to absorb many viewpoints on it.  With something as personal as homebrewing, that is certainly true.  I have many more on my wish list, but here is my collection so far.  If you have something to recommend, let me know (comment below) so I can add it to my wish list.

  • The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, by Charlie Papazian.  Start here.  This is probably the best getting started guide I have seen.  It starts assuming you know nothing of yeast and continues into advanced topics.
  • Brewing Better Beer, by Gordon Strong. This one took me to the next level of understanding what I was doing and really gave me the edge to think for myself.
  • Designing Great Beers, the Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles, by Ray Daniels.  This is a must for anyone that wants to craft their own recipes.  It really gave me a good understanding of how to set and hit my target beers.
  • Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide, by Dave Miller.  This was recommended to me as a great book to help me diagnose and discern specific flavors in the beer.
  • A History of Beer and Brewing, by Ian S. Hornsey.  I got this to take a more serious look at history.
  • Wassail! In Masers of Mead, by Robert Gayre.  This one has a great historical approach and some awesome recipes.
  • Strong Waters, by Scott Mansfield.  I bought this specifically to help a friend make an alcoholic ginger beer.  It has some wine recipes I still want to try.
  • A Sip Through Time, by Cindy Renfrow.  This is a well-respected and just plain awesome guide to historical beverages and how to make them.
  • Sacred Herbal and Healing Beers, by Stephen Harrod Buhner.  Medicinal herbs go way back and everyone knows that beer is good for you, right?
  • German Wheat Beer, by Eric Warner. I got this for some further research on brewing with wheat.
  • Brewing with Wheat, by Stan Hieronymus.
  • The Joy of Home Winemaking, by Terry Garey.  I got this to learn more about the differences between making beer and wine.  It was helpful.
  • The Complete Meadmaker, by Ken Schramm.  This is a good guide if you really just want to focus on the making of mead, which I did for quite some time.
  • Cider, Using & Enjoying Sweet & Hard Cider, by Annie Proulx & Lew Nichols.   There is certainly a lot to learn about apples.  I’ll consult this book again when I start pressing my own.
  • Craft Cider Making, by Andrew Lea. This inexpensive guide to cider has some additional insights.
  • Cooking and Dining in Medieval England, by Peter Brears.  This had some great insight as to how brewing fit into the medieval life.
  • Homemade Root Beer Soda & Pop, by Stephen Cresswell.  I used this to experiment with some Ginger Ale and Root Beers.
  • Beer in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, by Richard W. Unger.  I purchased this one to look for more clues in the designing of recipes that give historical nods.
  • Early American Beverages, by John Hull Brown.  This one was given to me by a friend and has some great recipes to try.

Posted by on June 10, 2012 in How-To Brew