Order is what separates brewing from chaos. There is a distinct order to brewing. There is some room for variation, but the same process is what makes beer possible. We’ll break down the process into sections and discuss each in detail.
This isn’t the most exciting or enjoyable part of brewing, but its one of the most important. Because brewing relies on the activity of yeast, care must be taken to prevent other organisms from growing before the yeast has an opportunity to ferment the beer. Any contamination, living or not, can affect the flavor of beer. Cleaning isn’t fun. In fact, its probably the number one reason people quit brewing. It takes patience to clean, but its well worth the effort. Here are some pointers that you can apply throughout the entire brewing process.
Use iodophor, or some similar sanitizer for cleaning your tools, bottles, and anything that will come into contact with the beer after it has finished boiling. Iodophor is good because it doesn’t require that you rinse after cleaning with it. It will sanitize your utensils in a few minutes if you use the proper concentration.
Make sure you have your iodophor solution in contact with all your tools, containers, tubing and so forth for several minutes. A great way to sanitize your tubing is to run iodophor solution while transferring the solution between vessels.
Boiling is another way to sanitize your equipment. Boiling works well for the brewing water, spoon, kettle, and ingredients. If you are using a wort chiller, make sure you put it in the kettle at least 10 minutes before the end of the boil to properly sanitize it. Keep in mind that this section is called cleaning & sanitizing. Make sure your equipment is clean before you sanitize it. Its not enough to just clean, or just sanitize, so be thorough.
Cleaning a Carboy requires a brush, which usually has a 90¼ bend in it. Make sure the carboy is free of any dirt before sanitizing as well. Bottles can sometimes be quite gross if they weren’t rinsed after being used. Sometimes you’ll find bottles that have been used like ash trays. If you can avoid these, do. Also avoid Mexican Lager bottles if they are clear, or if they have lime wedges inside. It makes cleaning easier. You can wash bottles initially with a TSP solution or some other cleaner, such as bleach or soda ash. Soaking a bottle in TSP will remove the labels, mold, dirt, and other nasty stuff. After soaking in TSP, make sure you rinse well, then sanitize before bottling.
Boiling is the first part of brewing. Boiling is important for several reasons. It sanitizes, breaks down sugars and proteins from the malt, and extracts the acids and oils from the hops. Some kit brews have you skip boiling. This is stupid. I recommend boiling anyway, if only for the sanitary reasons.
If you are brewing a 5 gallon batch, your wort should be about 3 gallons. Add 3 gallons of water to your kettle and heat. If you are going to be using a partial grain recipe, you may be instructed to steep the grains at 150¼F before bringing the wort to a boil. As you approach boil, you should remove the kettle from the heat, add the malt extract, and return to heat. Once you get a rolling boil, set your timer for 60 minutes (unless instructed otherwise). Watch the boil, and add your hops when specified in the recipe.
If your recipe says 1oz hops at 30 minutes, you add the hops when there are 30 minutes left. If it says add hops at 5 minutes, add them when you have 5 minutes remaining. The length of time that the hops boil is key to the amount of bittering and aromatic oils and acids are extracted. Different hops will offer different amounts of bittering or aroma, and can be combined to almost any desired level of bitterness.
When the 60 minutes is over, remove the wort from the heat and cool as quickly as possible. If you have a wort chiller, you can cool it quickly. If you don’t have a wort chiller, try making an ice bath in the sink, and keep adding cool water to the basin. Keep a lid over the kettle for sanitation. Once the wort has cooled to 80¼F or less, transfer it to the carboy, making sure to splash as to aerate the wort. Top to 5 gallons with cool tap water, and shake vigorously. Withdraw a sample with a sanitized turkey baster of wine thief. Use this for measuring the Specific Gravity, covered in the Measuring section.
Once the wort has been cooled, and you have shaken it vigorously, you will add your yeast. Wine uses the yeast the occurs naturally in the vineyard. Brewers aren’t this careless. Different yeast strains yield very different tastes. Also, depending on the type of yeast your are using, you may need to get your yeast started before you even start brewing. Newer White Lab and Wyeast pitchable yeast allows you to simply add the yeast right to the wort without a starter. Some argue that a starter will result in better fermentation, but its sooo much work..
Once you add your yeast, put on your airlock and move the carboy to a dark, cool room. It may take several hours before fermentation fully starts. Once you hit active fermentation, you will get a lot of waste being produced by the yeast. This includes C02, which will be bubbling out the airlock. You may also get some nasty scum looking stuff that may even start leaking out the airlock. It this happens, make sure you clean the lock and replace it. After several days, fermentation should die down, and you will want to take some hydrometer readings. Once the readings have stabilized, you can either move to a secondary fermentation, or move to bottling
Secondary fermentation is a much less active part of fermentation which actually helps to remove extra yeast trub, sediment, and other suspended items. Secondary fermentation will result in a more refined beer, so it is recommended. After several days in secondary, its time to bottle.
I mentioned hydrometer and gravity. Hydrometer is the instrument, and gravity is the scale. The concept behind measuring the gravity is measuring the change in sugar in your beer. Malted barley is the sugar (maltose) which is eaten by yeast. The yeast give off waste in the form of alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide. When you measure the gravity, you are comparing the amount of sugar in solution at the beginning, and at the end of fermentation. This translates pretty closely to the %ABV, or alcohol by volume.
You will want to measure the Original Gravity just after you get the wort into the carboy, and add the water & shake it. This measurement will usually be 1.05ish, and end somewhere near 1.010. If you subtract the two, the difference usually translates pretty closely to the ABV. If the OG is 1.062 and the FG is 1.012, you can estimate the ABV at 5%. There are more exact methods, but they can get pricey.
Once you’re done with fermentation, and the hydrometer readings are stable, you can bottle. To do this, you will need a racking bucket, racking cane, 3/4 cup dextrose (corn sugar), clean and sanitized bottles, caps, and a capper. After sanitizing the racking bucket , siphon the beer into the bucket. Boil 2 cu
ps of water, and add the 3/4 cup dextrose. Once this has cooled, add it to the bucket, and stir in gently. You do not want to agitate the beer now, as oxygen will damage the beer.
The dextrose is called priming sugar. Priming sugar is the food for the left over yeast to create carbon dioxide with. This will carbonate your beer. You gotta love those little yeasties. Once you have added the priming sugar, you can attach the racking cane and fill each bottle, and cap them. Once the beer is capped, you will want to store it at room temperature for at least 2 weeks. This is hard, but you will get a beer with better carbonation and less of a sweet, sugary taste. With brewing, patience is a virtue.
Brown and Blue glass are preferred for bottling because they offer the most protection from ultraviolet radiation. UV rays can damage the hop oils, giving the beer a skunky smell and taste. Don’t believe me? Try a German lager or Mexican cerveza that comes in a green or clear bottle, and smell it. The UV light from sun, or even florescent lights in stores can easily pass through green and clear glass, affecting the taste and smell of the beer. Use brown or blue for your own sake.
If you have a label, make sure its on before you give any beers away.
This is the part you’ve been waiting for, isn’t it? This is the moment of truth, and can be joyous, or defeating. If you’ve brewing for the first time, its easy to get discouraged if the first batch doesn’t turn out. Believe me, my first batch tasted like band aids. This is because some bacteria had gotten involved before the yeast, and had created high levels of ester to the beer. How lame. Every time I brew, I get better, and it gets easier to be clean. This is why cleanliness is important.
Brewing a good beer is a great experience. It is its own reward, but the rave reviews of family and friends is also good. You’ll be surprised how much of your beer ends up in the stomachs of your friends and family. If you are brewing to save money on beer, you may be surprised. I believe it was Charlie Papazian who said it best when he compared homebrewing to fly fishing. You aren’t going to save money, but the reward is worth the effort.
Enjoy, it gets better every time.