In this section, we will detail the basic beer techniques for brewing. You will want to refer to your brew kit and/or recipe for more specific instructions (such as amounts of ingredients to be added, etc.).
Extract Brewing Day
You can either use malt extract for brewing or you can make your own extract directly from grain. This section will describe how to start the beer process if you are using only malt extracts.
Preparing Your Equipment
If you are filtering your water, you may want to do this the day before. Most home filtering systems will manage a gallon or two at a time, and you don’t want to be stuck waiting around for five or six gallons’ worth of water to filter through.
Make some ice the night before (or buy some) to make sure you have a way to cool your wort (wort is un-fermented beer) quickly.
If you are using a liquid yeast (remember you can use either liquid or dry yeast), put it out on the kitchen counter on brew day to allow it to warm up to room temperature.
Lay out all of your equipment and ingredients that you are going to use for the brewing day. This will keep you organized and will allow you to see that you have all of your equipment. Nothing is worse than realizing you do not have all of your necessary supplies midway through brewing.
Next, clean and sanitize all of your equipment either by boiling in water, or through contact time with a sanitizer. If you choose to use a sanitizer, you may find it most convenient to fill a 5-gallon bucket with sanitizing solution and keep your smaller pieces of equipment in the solution until you need them (things like the stirring spoon, airlock, etc.).
You can sanitize your carboy by pouring sanitizer into the container and shaking it around, coating the entire insides. If you are using a commercial sanitizing solution (like Star San), it will foam up, and when you pour out the sanitizer, some foam will remain. Don’t worry about this, as it will not affect the taste of your beer. You do not need to rinse out the remaining sanitizing solution before adding your ingredients.
Making the Wort
A “wort” is what your beer is called prior to fermentation. It is a malt solution that is heated up to a boil and then cooled prior to adding the yeast.
If your recipe includes crushed grains, you will begin by steeping your grains. This can be done in one of three ways:
- Steep the grains at room temperature water overnight (be sure to use a muslin bag rather than adding the grains loose: this keeps the grains together and is much less messy to deal with). Remove the bag of grains prior to heating your water on brew day.
- On brew day, bring your water up to temperature, which is generally about 150ᵒ-170ᵒ F (65.5ᵒ C – 76.5ᵒ C). It is important to take a thermometer reading and not just wing it, because if the temperature is too high, it will extract bitter-tasting tannins from the grains. Once your water has reached the appropriate temperature, you will add the grains in a muslin bag, turn off the heat to the pot, and let the grains soak in the pot for a set amount of time (just like making tea).
- On brew day, you can add the grains to cool water. Then heat the water and grains up to temperature, which is generally about 150ᵒ-170ᵒ F (65.5ᵒ C – 76.5ᵒ C). Remove the bag of grains at this point (no need to hold at temperature). If you go this route, just be sure to keep the grains off of the bottom of the pot, so that they don’t scorch.
Once your grains have been steeped, you will add the malt extract. If your recipe doesn’t include specialty grains, you will skip the previous steeping step, and add your malt extract to cold water. If you are using LME (liquid malt extract), take some water from your brew pot and add it to the jar to swish around. Then scrape down the sides of the jar to get as much of the malt extract out of the container as possible. Stir the extract into your liquid, and continue to stir and watch the pot as it reaches a boil.
It is important to watch your wort carefully at this point! The wort creates a lot of foam and can easily boil over, which would create a sticky mess all over your workspace.
Once your wort comes to a boil, you will want to leave it uncovered (you may cover it in the previous steps, as long as you are careful to watch it closely as it nears a boil). The hops and malt extract will create some compounds that do best if allowed to dissipate from the beer, rather than get trapped inside. Takeaway message: your end flavor will be best if the wort is left uncovered during the boil.
Consult with your recipe to see when to add hops during the boiling process. Remember that there are both flavor (bittering) hops and aromatic hops. The bittering hops will go in first (usually as soon as a boil is reached), and will steep in the boiling wort for about an hour before being cooled. In the last few minutes, you will add the aromatic hops, which typically boil for the last 5 to 15 minutes or so. As with the grains, place the hops in small muslin bags, which will make it easier to fish them out of the water when they are done.
Once your boil is complete, you will want to cool the wort quickly. Cooling quickly will create a “cold break” which is basically coagulated proteins that will come out of solution from the wort. This is desirable, as these proteins would otherwise stay in solution and create a cloudy, murky beer when chilled (known as “chill haze”). Cooling quickly also protects the flavor of your beer.
To cool your beer, place the pot of wort in an ice bath, and stir the wort to maximize contact with the outer, cooler edge of the pot. If you have a wort chiller, you may use it now to more rapidly bring the wort down to temperature. You want to reach a temperature lower than 80ᵒF (so as not to kill the yeast you will be adding soon). Ideally, you should chill your wort to the desired fermenting temperature of your yeast.