Getting Started, Part 3 – How to Brew Beer

August 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

You’ve got your equipment and you’ve got your ingredients. Now it’s time to brew!

Here is an outline of what you will be doing:

  • Clean up your brewing space
  • Lay out equipment and ingredients
  • Add steeping grains to water and heat
  • Remove steeping grains and bring water to boil
  • Add malt extract
  • Boil, then and add hops according to schedule
  • Turn off heat, rest, then chill
  • Transfer, aerate and add yeast
  • Seal and store
  • Clean up your brewing space

Now, let’s talk about each step in a little more detail. This process is called “extract brewing” because we are using malt extract for our sugar source rather than the traditional “all grain” method. All grain brewing consists of creating wort by soaking a large amount of malt grain in water for a period of time, then draining it into the kettle. Think of it like making chicken soup. Instead of soaking a chicken carcass for hours to create the stock we’re using bouillon powder. I do extract brewing because I simply don’t have time to do all grain brewing.

Clean Up Your Brewing Space

A lot of resources for brewing don’t talk about this step. I feel it is necessary to talk about your brewing space because it is very difficult to brew in a cluttered environment. Brewing requires complete access to a hot stove, or open flame, and gallons of boiling wort. A mess will be made, for sure. But if you start with a clean space then nothing will be in the way when you move about during brewing. Boiling pots of wort are dangerous and Hop Dads are often distracted by their kids. A clutter-free brewing space is safer for you and your Little Hops.

Hint: Sometimes Hop Moms get annoyed when Hop Dads use the kitchen for brewing. Be respectful of the space and clean up after yourself. If you leave the place better than when you started, your chances of brewing there in the future will likely increase. You get to brew and she gets a clean kitchen. Win-win.

Lay Out Equipment and Ingredients

This is the equivalent to mise en place in the cooking world. You are cooking, after all, and having everything organized and at the ready will make your brewing experience go smoothly. Also, once the boil starts you will be on a schedule, adding ingredients as time goes by. If your hop additions are too early or late it can affect the flavor of your beer.

When everything is organized and ready it’s time to begin brewing our beer.

Add Steeping Grains to Water and Heat

Add the water to the brewing kettle and put the kettle on to heat. Add the steeping grains to your grain bag and set the bag in the water. Be sure to leave the draw string out so you can easily retrieve the bag. I tie the drawstring to the handle of the kettle and make sure the top of the bag is out of the water so grains don’t float out and get in the water. Also, get a large bowl to place the bag in when you’re done with this part of the process.

Heat the water to between 155F and 170F. Some recipes will specify a temperature. If not, then just go with 155F. Do not let the temperature get higher than 170F. Occasionally move the bag around gently as the water heats. You should see the color from the grains seeping into the water.

When the water reaches temperature, lift the grain bag out of the water and let it drain. While holding the bag over the water, pour an additional cup of water onto the grains to rinse them. Don’t squeeze the bag. Set the grain bag in the large bowl and set the bowl aside. Warning: the bag of grains will be hot so just leave it alone until it cools.

Heat the water to boiling.

Add Malt Extract

When the water starts boiling remove the kettle from heat and begin adding your malt. As you add the malt stir it gently and thoroughly so it does not gather on the bottom of the kettle and burn. Take your time and be careful not to splash hot liquid. Use a non-metal spatula or spoon to stir so you don’t scratch the inside of your kettle.

Tips: If you’re using liquid extract use a spatula to stir the wort so you can get all of the liquid out of the can. Do not be tempted to dip the can in the boiling wort or add hot wort to the can to get every bit of the malt syrup. That’s just dangerous. (Hop Mom does this and it drives Hop Dad crazy.) If you’re using dry malt extract make sure you cut a large hole in the bag. The malt will clump when it’s exposed to the steam from the hot wort and if you’ve cut a small hole in the plastic bag the dry malt can clog that hole. You might consider pouring the DME into a large measuring cup and then using that to add the malt to the wort.

Once the malt is added, stir the wort for another minute or two to make sure it is fully dissolved into the water. If there are clumps, they will fall to the bottom of the kettle and burn. Return the kettle to heat and bring the wort to a boil.

Boil, Then Add Hops

Once the wort is boiling again set a timer for 60 minutes. Now you need to read your recipe for the moments where you need to add hops. Hop recipes list those moments in terms of the amount of time left in the boil. For example, “Add .25 oz. of Cascade hops at 20 minutes” means add the hops with 20 minutes left to go in the boil. If you see an addition listed as “at flameout” or 0 minutes it means add the hops at the very end of the boil after you’ve turned off the heat. If you’re using hop bags do the same thing with them as you did with your grain bag. Find a way to secure them and leave the opening out of the wort so the leaves don’t escape. Let the wort boil for the full 60 minutes and stir occasionally. Do not leave a boiling pot of wort unattended. Make sure the wort is at a full rolling boil but watch out for boil-overs. They can be really messy.

Turn Off Heat, Rest, Then Chill

When the 60 minutes of boiling are done, turn off the heat and remove the hop bags. Using a non-metal stirring device of your choice, stir the wort gently for about two minutes, creating a whirlpool. This will help collect any floaties in the beer and bring them to the bottom of the kettle. Let the kettle sit for about ten minutes. Use this time to prepare for chilling the wort.

To chill the wort I use a wort chiller on its own or along with a water bath in the kitchen sink. If you don’t have a wort chiller you can set the kettle in a sink or bathtub filled with cold water. Adding freezer packs to the water helps.

Chill the wort to about 70F. From this point on it is important to remember anything that touches the beer must be sanitized first. This is a critical window of time when you can easily ruin your beer if you’re not careful. I keep a thermometer in a bowl of sanitizer and check the temperature as little as necessary during this process. While the wort is chilling prepare the fermenting bucket and airlock.

Transfer, Aerate and Add Yeast

When the wort reaches 70F pour it into a sanitized fermenting bucket.

Tip: When removing the kettle from the water bath, I set it on a towel for a moment to remove any excess water from the sink or tub it’s been sitting in. You don’t want any of that water getting in to your fermentation bucket.

Aerate the wort by giving it a good stir with a sterilized, non-metal device. We want to give the yeast an oxygen rich environment so stir vigorously for at least two minutes. I use a paint stirrer attached to a cordless drill. I cannot explain the feeling of using a power tool during brewing. You just have to try it.

Pitch the yeast into the aerated wort. Give the wort a short, gentle stir to distribute the yeast. Now put the sterilized lid on the bucket, attach the sterilized airlock, and fill the airlock with a vodka. Why vodka? Because we don’t want the liquid in the airlock to be a conduit for bacteria. You can use some sanitizer if you like but if the fermenter gets bumped it’s possible the fluid in the airlock could spill into your beer.

Set the fermenter in a dark place that has a consistent temperature for fermentation (68F-70F or so), like a closet in the middle of your house.

Everybody Do Their Share

Now it’s time to clean up. (Remember my hint at the beginning of this process?) When cleaning plastic equipment and the brewing kettle make sure you don’t use abrasive materials. Bacterial can collect and grow in scratches on those surfaces. Also, I don’t use soaps of any kind so there is no residue left on the equipment.

As for the leftover grains and hops, they make good compost or you can use them for cooking. I recently gave my leftover grains, called “spent grains”, to a coworker who turned them into a super-tasty bread.

Congratulations! You’ve just brewed your first batch of beer, Hop Dad! Pop open a tasty beer and celebrate. You’re on your way to many more brewing adventures.

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