The Basics of Home Brewing

Through this column we hope to establish a conversation about making great beer at home. We will cover water, grain, hops, yeast, packaging and aging your home brew and all things in between. We will also offer recipes for the novice and the advanced home brewer, look at equipment options and answer questions from enthusiasts.

What you need to start:
  1. A big pot that holds at least 25 liters/6 gallons of liquid. We will be making 20 liter/5 gallons batches, and you want extra room when boiling.
  2. One 23 liter/6 gallon glass carboy for primary fermentation.
  3. One 19 liter/5 gallon glass carboy for secondary fermentation.
  4. A wort chiller. This is to cool your boiled wort to room temperature in order to add your yeast. Novices can try immersing the pot in a big tub of cold water, or if you live in Winnipeg and you are brewing in winter, putting the pot outside on the porch for a while may do the trick. But for quicker, controlled temperature drops, I recommend making an immersion chiller out of copper tubing. There are many sources online for this.
  5. A J-tube for transferring your wort and/or beer.
  6. Approximately 60 x 341 ml/12 oz bottles or equivalent in bigger bottles for packaging.
  7. Misc. extras: bung and air lock, bottles caps, bottle capper, hydrometer (for measuring the gravity of your wort), a cleaning agent for washing your carboys, a sanitizing agent for your carboys, a long cleaning brush for your carboys, a long spoon for stirring your wort, a thermometer, some Irish moss (to help clarify your brew), bottling tube with valve.

Of course, you will also need ingredients to start. So visit your local home brew supply store and check out what they have for extract syrup in cans or plastic pales. This is the simplest way to start, it?s easy and you can make good beer by just following a few simple steps. First of all, when you find the style of extract you want to use, pull off the plastic cap and throw away the dry yeast package that comes with the can. Buy a package of liquid yeast from the home brew store. The decision to do this will result in much better beer, I promise. Many home brew shops carry there own bulk extracts, if you use this, you still need to buy yeast, so bypass the dry varieties and go for the smack-packs from Wyeast or equivalent. You need to keep these in the fridge, and if fresh, can be started two or 3 hours ahead of your brew and will be ready to use by the time you are done. It might be a good idea to also pick up 28 gm/1 oz of hop pellets. Many canned extracts are already hopped, but something fresh always adds flavour. Oh ya, grab a pound of sugar. White sugar will do, but any brown sugar is better. Also get some dextrose to use as priming sugar when you get to the bottling stage.

Once you gather all of these things, then you will be ready to brew your very own first batch of beer!


A Simple First Brew

Start your smack pack of liquid yeast a couple of hours ahead of your brew time. Instructions are on the package.

Put 23 liters/5 gallons of water in your big pot and bring it to a boil. Later in this series we will talk about water and what water treatments might be necessary to emulate certain beer styles, hard water vs. soft water, etc. But for this first batch we won?t worry.

Add your 1.5 kl/3.3 lb can to the boiling water, stir until dissolved.

Add 0.5 kl/1 lb of preferably brown sugar, stir until dissolved.

Return to a rolling boil, adding your 28 gm/1 oz of hop pellets.

Boil for 1 hour.

15 minutes before the end of your boil time, toss in a teaspoon of Irish moss. Also place your wort chiller in the pot at this point, allowing the boiling wort to sterilize it.

Turn off the stove at the 60 minute mark and turn on your cold water. It should take about 15 minutes for your wort chiller to bring your boiling wort (100 °C/212 °F) down to room temperature (20°C/68 °F). Other methods vary greatly.

Once at room temperature, transfer using the J-tube into a clean 23 liter/6 gallon carboy allowing the liquid to splash into the new carboy (this helps aerate the wort), leaving behind any remnants of hops and other trub. Remember to take a gravity reading at this point with your hydrometer, this is your original gravity.

Grabbing the carboy with two hands, swirl the wort around in the carboy. This is an additional quick method of aeration, something the yeast needs to start fermentation properly. Do this for 5 or 10 minutes.

Your yeast package should have puffed up by now, ready to use. Sanitize the yeast package and scissors, shake, cut open and pour into carboy. Put an airlock in place and place in a warm (20°C/68 °F), dark place.

Fermentation can take anywhere from 4 to 7 days, keep an eye on it. It will foam and vigorously ferment for several days, then settle down and dissipate. At this point, use the J-tube and transfer the contents, now beer, into the clean, smaller 19liter/5 gallon glass carboy. Take another gravity reading, this is the final gravity.

To calculate your alcohol by volume, subtract your final gravity from your original gravity and divide that number by 7.5. The result will be your ABV. For example:

1.040 (original gravity) ? 1.010 (final gravity) = 30/7.5 = 4 % ABV

The beer can now sit for two week to settle, clear and mature.

Clean and sanitize all your bottles in advance of bottling. Boil a couple of cups of water, adding 0.5 kl/1 lb of dextrose, stir until dissolved, simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer your finished beer back into a clean carboy, adding the pre-boiled dextrose solution. Put the carboy on a counter top. Attach your cleaned bottling tube and valve on the J-tube after starting the siphon. Use the tube to fill each bottle, gravity fed from the carboy. Cap as you go to avoid spillage, capping 60 bottles can be like herding kittens sometimes. There you go, you are done.

Age the bottles at room temperature for a few days, then they can go into the basement, or a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks. Refrigerate only when ready to drink. Enjoy!

Stay tuned! We will soon talk about all grain brewing, the equipment you will need and how much time it takes. Cheers!