"Relax, don't worry, have a
home-brew." - Chalie Papazian
For a quick overview, see FAQs. For experienced home-brewers, the
following may give you some new ideas. For newbies, maybe it will wet
your appetite. But if you really want to start making beer, you should
get the home-brewer's Holy Bible, "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" by
Brewers have our own language. That makes us feel important:
Malting - keeping barley warm and wet
for 3 days, which changes the flavor and produces enzymes.
Malted-barley - barley that has
been malted, duh. Also called malt.
Kilning - drying or roasting
malted-barley to a light or dark color (for light or dark beer, aha!).
Cracking - coarse grinding
Grist - cracked
Mashing - cooking the malt
in hot water, which causes starch-conversion.
Mash-tun - cooking pot
- little organisms that perform starch-conversion during cooking.
- converting starches to fermentable sugars
- straining the liquid after cooking.
- the strained liquid.
boiling the wort with hops.
- adding yeast to the cooled wort.
- the conversion by yeast of sugars in the wort to alcohol.
(SG) - the weight of a liquid compared to
- the SG right before fermentation.
- the SG right after fermentation.
- putting the beer in bottles or kegs.
Using our own beer-language, I can say that beer is simply barley that
has been malted, kilned, cracked, mashed, sparged, boiled, hopped,
cooled, pitched, fermented, conditioned, and bottled. Whew!
Three Magical Concepts:
As Friar Tuck said in the 1991 re-make of the movie Robin Hood,
"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended
a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker and
glory to his bounty by learning about... BEER."
Indeed, barley is very similar to wheat, except for some
magical differences. It just so happens that when barley is kept warm
and moist, special enzymes are produced. And it just so happens that
when cooked, these enzymes convert the starches in barley to special
sugars. And it just so happens that some of these special sugars are
converted into alcohol by special types of yeast, while other special
sugars are not converted and simply taste good. So, we end up with a
beverage that tastes good and makes us feel good too. It's magic!
The three magical processes to remember are:
Malting produces enzymes.
Mashing causes the enzymes to convert
starches into fermentable sugars.
Yeast converts the fermentable sugars
All of these ingredients are available from home-brew stores
More than any other ingredient, malted-barley determines the flavor and
color of beer. The more malted-barley used in a recipe, the stronger
the beer will taste, and the stronger the alcohol content. Many recipes
call for a combination of different malted-barley types. To make dark
ales or beers, for example, about 5-10% of the malted-barley is dark
roasted. Most home-brew stores will be happy to grind the malted-barley
Hops add a pleasant bitterness to beer that balances the sweetness of
the malted-barley. There are different type of hops, with different
amounts of bitterness and different flavors. If you have ever tasted
India Pale Ale, you have noticed its strong bitter taste. As you might
expect, India Pale Ale uses lots of hops with a high amount of
bitterness. Hops are available in fresh or pellet form, and either may
There are many different types of yeast, and each imparts a slightly
different flavor to beer. Yeast is available dried in packages, or
fresh in small vials. Fresh yeast works the best.
Mashing, Fermenting, and Aging:
Although these are not ingredients, the time and temperature of
cooking, fermenting, and aging make some subtle differences to the
taste of beer, and are vital parts of any recipe.
From the almost limitless combination of ingredients and technique we
arrive at all the beers of the world, which total over 20,000! (so many
beers, so little time…)
Each recipe has a mashing profile to follow. In general, here is the
effect of temperature upon starch-conversion:
120 deg - no starch-conversion, it's too
cold for the enzymes
140 deg - starch-conversion best for
light beers such as lagers
160 deg - starch-conversion best for
strong beers such as ales and stouts
180 deg - no starch-conversion, because
the enzymes start to die off
I used to go through a lot of trouble to precisely follow the correct
temperature profile. Not any more. During one mash, I accidently left
the mash-tun on the burner and let the temp go up to 200 deg! It was
definitely a hot mash. As you might expect, the starting SG was low,
probably because the enzymes were killed off too soon. Even so I still
fermented it, kegged it, and drank it like any other batch, and it did
indeed taste a little weaker. But no one but me noticed the difference.
So as long as you're in the ballpark, you're OK.
For an ale mash, I heat the water to 175, add the grist which drops the
temp to about 160, then turn off the burner and cover it. After an hour
the temp is still at 155. Simple.
For a lager mash, I add the grist to cold water, and use the gradual
warming as a sort of enzyme and protein rest, which is helpful for some
lager malts. After the temp reaches 145 deg, I turn off the burner,
cover it, and wait an hour. Again, simple.
Measuring SG (specific gravity) Levels:
The SG of a liquid is the weight of a liquid compared to water. The SG
of pure water, of course, is 1.000. During the mash, starches are
converted to sugars which raise the SG. After the mash, you can measure
the SG to see how good starch-conversion is. Roughly, 1 lb of malt in 5
gallons of water should raise the SG about .005, or "5
points". So, if a recipe calls for 9 lbs of malt, the SG
after mashing should be about 1.045. This is called the "starting SG".
The reverse happens during fermentation. The sugars are converted to
alcohol which lowers the SG. When the SG stops dropping, you know that
fermentation has stopped. You can also determine the alcohol content by
how much the SG has dropped. Roughly, for every SG drop of 5 points,
there is 1% alcohol. So, if the starting SG was 1.045 and the ending SG
is 1.025, the alcohol content is about 4%.
I used to carefully measure the starting SG to check the effectiveness
of the mash. But then I noticed a funny pattern - If the starting SG
was too low or too high, I would still ferment it, keg it, drink it,
and enjoy it.
I also used to nervously measure the SG level during fermentation to
see when it had stopped. But again I noticed a funny pattern - If the
ending SG was too low or too high, I would still keg it, drink it, and
Now I just wait 2 or 3 days after the fermentation head drops, then keg
it, drink it, and enjoy it. But I still measure the starting SG and
ending SG, just to feel important.
For beginners, this is the exciting and nerve-racking part.
Fermentation varies with temperature, the amount of fermentable sugars,
and the type of yeast, but typically follows these stages:
After 1 to 2 days - bubbles start
rising, and you can actually hear them if you are real quiet (the yeast
After 2 to 3 days - a head of foam forms
on the top.
After 3 to 5 days - the head falls.
After 4 to 7 days - fermentation is done.
After fermentation, siphoning provides a method of transferring beer
that avoids contact with air that could cause spoilage. To start the
siphon, some suck on the tube and get a mouthful of beer, others use a
small pump. An easy and effective method is to insert the tube into the
beer, hold the other end of the tube up high, pour water into it using
a measuring cup or something with a nice spout, and then lower the end
of the tube into the receiving vessel. The flow should be smooth and
The basic procedure in bottling is to add some corn sugar or
unfermented wort to the bottles, add the beer, cap the bottles, and
store them for a month. During this conditioning, the added sugars
ferment and give off CO2 which makes the bubbles. Like most
home-brewers I started with this method, but now use small 5-gallon kegs instead.
Charging with CO2:
I've tried different methods of force charging kegs with CO2, including
"rocking the baby", where you set the pressure to about 40 PSI, lay the
keg on its side, and rock it back and forth 100 times. But it
seems the best way to get a deep and lasting charge is the slow way,
where you set the pressure to 10-30 PSI (depending on recipe) and let
it sit in the refridgerator for 3 days. When ready, release the keg
pressure and use
a serving pressure of about 5 PSI, expecting the first few glasses to
be foamy, of course.
Beer contains sugars and other nutrients that are easily spoiled. For
this reason, after boiling it's important that everything that touches
the beer should be clean and sanitized. A common method to sanitize is
to soak or rinse all containers and utensils in water with chlorine
bleach. Just a splash of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water is all
you need. Many home-brewers soak everything for 20 minutes, which is
the preferred method. But in order to soak all the containers you need
several gallons of the chlorine-water solution, and I find this
impractical and unnecessary. I just rinse everything thoroughly with a
little of the chlorine-water solution, and have never had any problem.
Brewing (typical ale or stout):
1. Place 3 gallons water in the mash-tun
and start heating.
2. When the temperature gets to 170 deg,
add the grist and break up the lumps. The temp should drop to about 160
3. Cover, remove from heat, and mash for
1 hour, keeping temp at 155-160 deg.
4. During the last 15 min of the mash,
start heating water for the sparge in the boiling pot.
5. Set up the sparge system by placing
the sparge-bucket on a chair, dropping the false-bottom into the
sparge-bucket, lining the sparge-bucket with the grain bag, and placing
the fermentation-vessel below the sparge-bucket to catch the runoff.
6. When the mash is done, scoop it into
the sparge-bucket using a medium size pan.
7. Add the sparge water to the sparge
using the same medium size pan.
8. When the sparge is just about done
draining, lift the grain bag and tilt the sparge-bucket to release the
last bit of runoff.
9. Rinse the grist from mash-tun and the
medium size pan.
10. Using the medium size pan, scoop the runoff wort into the
mash-tun and the boiling pot.
11. Place the mash-tun and boiling pot on high heat and cover.
12. When the wort boils, reduce heat so that the wort boils,
but does not boil over (messy!!!).
13. Place the hops in the hop-bag, tie it closed, and place
in one of the pots of boiling wort.
14. After 45 minutes of boiling, add a pinch of Irish moss.
This helps to keep the beer clear looking.
15. After 60 minutes of boiling, place the pots in a bathtub
of cold water.
16. Clean and sanitize the fermentation-vessel.
17. After 20 minutes of cooling, pour the wort into the
fermentation-vessel, pitch the yeast, and cover the fermentor.
At this point you can use your hydrometer to measure the starting SG.
As mentioned before, I typically wait until 1 or 2 days after the head
drops. If I'm bored I may put my ear down and try to hear the bubbles.
1. Start dissolving a pinch of finings
gel in a small pan of water.
2. Put the fermentation-vessel on the
3. Clean and sanitize the keg, the
racking tube, and the flexible tubing.
4. Place the racking tube into the
fermentation-vessel, and attach the flexible tubing.
5. Start the siphon by pouring water into
the flexible tubing, and dropping it into the keg.
6. Place the pan of water and finings gel
on a burner set to high.
7. When the water and finings gel is
boiling, add it to the keg.
8. Seal the keg.
Charging the Keg with CO2:
1. Connect the in-connector that leads to
the CO2 tank to the in-fitting of the keg.
2. Open the CO2 tank MainTitle valve, and
pressure to 5 PSI.
3. Open the keg pressure release valve.
4. Purge the air out of the keg for about
5. Close the keg pressure release valve.
6. Set pressure to 10-30 PSI (depending
on desired charge), check system for leaks.
7. Place keg in refridgerator.
After 3 nights in the refrigerator, the beer should be ready to serve:
1. Set the CO2 pressure to 0 PSI.
2. Open the keg pressure release
valve, then close it.
pressure back to 5 PSI for serving.
You are now ready to try your beer! Like all kegs, the first few
glasses will be foamy.