How to Make Quality Beer at Home
- Equipment Needed For Brewing
- Before You Begin
- Getting Started
- Brewing Water
- Steeping the Specialty Grains
- Adding the Malt Extract
- Boiling & Hop Additions
- What To Do During the Boil
- Cooling the Wort
- Rehydrating Dry Yeast
- Transferring to the Fermenter
- Pitching the Yeast
- Racking to Secondary
- Starting A Siphon
- Racking the Beer
- Pinching the Bubble
- Secondary Fermentation
- Skipping Secondary Fermentation
- Bottling Your Beer
- Preparing Your Bottles
- Preparing To Bottle
- Filling the Bottles
- Serving Your Beer
These are general instructions to making beer with our kits, so some parts may not be applicable to your brewing process. Please address any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. They also can be used when following your own recipes. They assume that you have read a good book on home brewing and are familiar with the general principles of home brewing.
The making of beer with malt extracts can be divided into three steps: boiling, racking and bottling. (Making beer from grain only has a preliminary step called "mashing") Boiling includes the boiling of the malt extract, the addition of hops, cooling of the liquid (called "wort", pronounced like “work”) and the addition ("pitching") of the yeast. Racking is simply transferring the fermenting beer from one container to another. Bottling is, of course, the transferring of the fermented beer to bottles for conditioning and carbonation. In between these times there is much work going on, but it is all being done by the yeast and all you have to do is watch!
Each of our kits contain the following:
- A bag or jar of malt extract, either liquid or powdered.
- A bag of crushed malt (grains).
- A bag with one to three sections containing hop pellets.
- A small bag of priming sugar (used for bottling).
- A Recipe Data Sheet with the details of your recipe.
- You should have also purchased a package of yeast, either dry or liquid when you purchased your kit. If you are missing any of these items please call us or return the kit.
You should have also purchased a package of yeast, either dry or liquid
when you purchased your kit. If you are missing any of these items please
call us or return the kit.
Equipment Needed For Brewing
- Brew kettle (a 20 quart pot, stainless steel, aluminum or ceramic on steel).
- Another pot, 6-8 quart pot
- Primary fermenter (usually a 6 gallon food grade bucket or a 6 1/2 gallon glass carboy)
- Fermentation air lock and stopper
- Large spoon, metal or plastic (NOT wood)
- Slotted spoon for removing foam
- Hydrometer (optional, but highly recommended)
- Iodophor sanitizer
Before You Begin
If you purchased a smack pack of liquid yeast, you need to activate it a few hours in advance of brewing. If more than 3 months have passed from the shipping date embossed in the foil on the back of the package, you’ll need to activate it the day before you plan to brew.
To activate the yeast, place the foil package on a sturdy surface such as a counter top. Locate the inner bubble and press hard or hit sharply with your fist to break the bubble. Then knead the package to mix the contents well. Let it sit in a warm place (70-75 degrees) out of direct sunlight. The package should swell up so it is at least one inch thick and may look as if it will burst (don't worry, it won't).
This is also a good time to start chilling 2 ½ gallons of your brewing water in your refrigerator or freezer. This water will be added to the fermenter after you’ve finished brewing.
Always have all of the required equipment close at hand and your kitchen well organized. Brewing beer entails periods of inactivity followed by frantic activity. If you do not have all your equipment close at hand, you may find yourself needing to do six things at the same time.
These are general instructions that can be used with any of our kits (or your own recipe). Some recipes may not require all steps in these instructions or may require additional steps. Your Recipe Data Sheet will have any additions or deletions needed for the specific beer you are making.
Good, clean water is important to brewing because your beer is mostly water! However, when using malt extracts, the particular water chemistry is not usually critical. The general rule of thumb is if your water tastes OK to drink, it is OK to brew with. If your water has a definite chlorine smell or taste, you should boil the water first, then allow it to cool. You may also use a charcoal filter system to remove the chlorine, or you may use bottled water. If you buy your water, generic drinking water is fine. Distilled water should only be used when brewing the lightest beers. You will need about 6 gallons of water to make 5 gallons of beer. When these instructions refer to "brewing water" they mean either tap water, treated water or bottled water, whichever is appropriate in your case. We do, however, recommend a sealed 2 ½ gallon jug of water for use as top-up water in the fermenter.
All of the measurements are approximations unless we say "exactly." That is, if the directions call for "6 quarts of brewing water" we really mean "approximately 6 quarts" and you do not have to measure precisely.
Steeping the Specialty Grains
There may be a packet of crushed grain in your kit. These grains are called "specialty grains" and are used to add color, flavor and body to your beer. In other words, they make your beer more interesting. The exact grains used are listed on your Recipe Data Sheet; you can try your own variations later on.
Place 3 quarts of brewing water in the small pot and add heat. When you see the first signs of simmering (i.e. the first bubble starts to rise), add the grains, stir a few times, cover and remove from the heat. Let the grains steep for 20-30 minutes with the lid on. If you like, you can stir the grains a few times in the first 15 minutes.
Adding the Malt Extract
While the grains are steeping, you should fill your brew kettle with 10 quarts of brewing water and apply heat. By doing this while your grain is steeping, you’ll save time, because it can take a while for a typical kitchen stove to bring water up to temperature.
By the time you see the small bubbles start to rise from the bottom of the pot, your grains should be finished steeping. Place the strainer over the brew kettle and gently pour the contents of the small pot (grains and liquid) through the strainer. If you have more grain than will fit in your strainer, do it in two steps. Rinse the small pot with a couple of quarts of hot brewing water and pour that through the strainer to remove all of the "good stuff" from the grains. (If you have to, do it in two steps).
When the malt extract has been completely dissolved, return the kettle to the heat and bring to a boil. If you have a skimmer, remove any thick foam that gathers on the top. Try not to get too much liquid. You may need to keep the kettle partially covered in order to reach a boil, but be very careful of boilovers! The worst mess you have had on your stove is but a shadow of the mess caused by a brew kettle boil over! The liquid in the kettle is now called wort (pronounced wert), which is just a word for beer before the yeast is added.
Boiling and Hop Additions
Once a vigorous, rolling boil has been reached, it is time to add the contents of the first hop packet (marked "#1") and stir to mix well. Adding the hops may cause the wort to foam up so be alert. This marks the start time of our 60 minute boil. Since some recipes call for different boil times (and some brewers prefer longer boils) the times for adding hops are measured from the end of the boil. So a hop addition of "15 minutes" means 15 minutes before the end of the boil, or in our case 45 minutes after the start of the boil.
After you’ve removed the strainer from the pot, remove the pot from the heat and stir in the malt extract. If you have liquid extract, you should pour some hot water into the bag or jar and swish it around to dissolve all of the extract clinging to the sides. Empty this into the brew kettle. If you have powdered extract, make sure that it is all dissolved and that there are no clumps or lumps.
Your Recipe Data Sheet will list the times to add the other packets. Some beer styles call for as many as three additions, while others may have only one.
You should maintain a vigorous, rolling boil for the full hour. You may have to leave the kettle partially covered in order to maintain the boil. You should not cover the kettle completely.
If your recipe calls for a "0 minute" addition of hops you should add the packet contents, stir the wort a few times, then cover and remove from the heat. You should let the kettle sit for five minutes before starting the next phase -- cooling the wort.
What To Do During the Boil
While the wort is boiling you should do a general clean up of your brewing area. This is also a good time to sanitize and rinse your primary fermenter. Fill the fermenter with cold water and add 1/10 oz. of Iodophor for each gallon (0.5 oz. for five gallons). This should sit for at least 5 minutes. At this time you should also sanitize your strainer.
When the fermenter has finished soaking, you should empty it let it air dry. Optionally, you may rinse it with your hottest tap water. Cover the airlock hole with foil to prevent airborne bacteria from falling into your fermenter.
Cooling the Wort
The wort needs to be cooled rapidly for three reasons. The rapid cooling helps coagulate some long protein chains that can later cause haze in your beer. There also are some chemical compounds being formed as long as the wort is hot. While boiling these compounds are driven off with the steam. Once you cover your kettle to cool it they are trapped in your beer and may cause off flavors. The main reason is that we have a sugar rich medium which is ripe for growing bacteria that can spoil the taste of the beer. Once the yeast gets going it will protect the beer, so we need to cool the wort down as fast as possible so that we can pitch (add) the yeast as soon as possible.
Fill your sink (or bathtub if your kettle won't fit in your sink) with a few inches of water. Now crack the drain and turn on the tap so that the inflow matches the outflow. Place the covered kettle in the sink. The water should reach (if possible) to the level of wort in the kettle. After about 15 minutes, close the drain and turn off the tap and let the kettle sit in the cold water. After another 15 minutes the wort should be cool enough to transfer to the fermenter. The kettle should not be hot to the touch.
While the wort is cooling, you should sanitize your airlock and stopper and also your turkey baster if you want to take a specific gravity reading.
Rehydrating Dry Yeast
If you purchased dry yeast, you may want to rehydrate it before you add it to your beer. This is optional, because most dry yeast work just fine if you simply sprinkle the yeast into the wort. To start dry yeast fill a sanitized measuring cup (clear is best so you can see what's happening) with body-temperature water (90-100 degrees). Open your yeast package and pour the contents into the glass. Cover with a sanitized piece of aluminum foil. In 10 or 15 minutes the yeast should show visible signs of swelling. Don’t expect dramatic yeast activity.. The yeast is rehydrating, you aren’t proofing it. You also don’t want to let it stand more than 30 minutes, so wait until your wort is cooling before you start.
Transferring to the Fermenter
Pour 2 ½ gallons of cold brewing water into your primary fermenter. Place your strainer over your fermenter bucket (if using a glass primary, we recommend using a bucket first, then siphoning into the carboy). Pour the wort through the strainer. This will strain out the hop particles which will look like green sludge. If the strainer stops up, scrape the hop particles from the strainer with a sanitized spoon. When you set the kettle down to clean the strainer, replace the lid. Splashing the wort at this time is good because it will add oxygen that the yeast needs for rapid growth.
When the wort has been transferred, you should then top up the fermenter to the five gallon point (just below the third rib from the top on 6 gallon plastic buckets) with brewing water. Snap the lid on tight (for plastic buckets) and insert the airlock. Gently shake the fermenter to mix the water and wort.
If you wish to take a specific gravity reading, now is the time. Use a sanitized turkey baster to remove enough wort to fill the hydrometer sample jar. Take your reading. DO NOT return the sample to the fermenter. You may, however, drink the sample. It will taste harsh and bitter and nothing like beer, but some people like it anyway!
Pitching the Yeast
When brewers say they "pitched their yeast" they don't mean that they threw it away! The adding of yeast to the wort is called "pitching" and is the next (and final) step in this phase of making beer.
For dry yeast users:
Gently swirl the glass to make sure the yeast hasn’t settled. then pour it into your fermenter.
For liquid yeast users:
Gently shake the pouch or vial, to make sure all the yeast is in suspension in the liquid. If you have a smack pack, cut open the pouch with a sanitized pair of scissors and pour it into your fermenter. If it’s in a test tube, carefully unscrew the top and pour it in.
After the yeast solution has been poured into your fermenter, you should replace the airlock and fill it to the marking line with water or cheap vodka.
You don't have too much to do here -- the yeast is doing all of the work. You should keep the beer warm (~70 degrees) until you see the first bubbles appear in the airlock. For dry yeast this should be within 12 hours or so. For liquid yeast, it may take 24-36 hours before you see signs of fermentation. When the airlock starts to bubble, you want to lower the temperature as indicated on your Recipe Data Sheet. Be sure and keep the airlock topped up. Changes in temperature may cause some of the vodka to be sucked back into the fermenter.
Yeast likes a consistent temperature. Wide swings in temperature may cause the yeast to go dormant or to run wild and produce off flavors. The easiest way to control temperature (other than a dedicated fermentation refrigerator) is to use a rope-handled utility tub or clean 33 gallon plastic trash can to hold a water bath. Place the fermenter in the trash can and fill with cold water up to the level of beer in the fermenter. You can then place your floating thermometer in the water bath to monitor the temperature. You can also add ice or frozen "cooler packs" to the water to lower the temperature or add hot water to raise it. Your yeast will love you for it and produce better beer.
Racking to Secondary
When the bubbling in the airlock is down to less than twice a minute, it is time to rack the beer to the secondary fermenter. Depending on your temperatures this will be from 3 to 5 days. You do not need to transfer the beer to the secondary exactly then, but you should do so within two weeks of brewing.
Equipment needing for Racking (siphoning):
- Secondary fermenter (5 gallon glass carboy)
- Racking cane and siphon hose with clamp
- Hydrometer (optional, but highly recommended)
- Iodophor or unscented bleach.
The first step is to sanitize your secondary fermenter and siphon equipment. Fill the carboy with cold tapwater and add 1/10 oz of Iodophor per gallon, which works out to .5 oz for 5 gallons(1 tablespoon). Let sit for at least 5 minutes. An easy way to empty the carboy and to sanitize your hoses is to siphon the sanitizer out of the carboy. If you can raise the carboy above the level of your counter top it will make things much easier. Remember though that 5 gallons of water weighs over 40 pounds, so be careful what you use under your carboy. If you use the recommended concentration of Iodophor and let the fermenter stand open to the air for a few minutes, you won’t have to rinse.
Starting a Siphon
If you opted for an Auto-Siphon® or Easy-Siphon®, you’re in luck because starting a siphon is a breeze and you can skip this section. If you have a standard racking cane, however, things are a little more difficult. The traditional way to start a siphon is to suck on the end of the hose until you get a mouthful of what you are siphoning. This is NOT a good way to siphon your wort because you risk infecting your beer with whatever bacteria inhabit your mouth. Here is a trick that will make starting a siphon much easier.
First you fill the hose with water (by holding the hose end up to the faucet and making a fist around the hose and faucet end, while all the time holding the cane end up) and then clamp the clamp. Place the cane into the liquid to be siphoned. Lower the hose end below the level of the carboy and release the clamp. The liquid will begin to flow. If you are siphoning beer, you will be able to tell when the water ends and the beer starts. If you let the water fall into a glass and close the clamp when the first beer comes out, you can then move the hose to your receiving container and not dilute your beer.
Racking the Beer
Place the primary fermenter (full of beer) on a counter top and the secondary fermenter on the floor. Remove the airlock from the primary fermenter. Fill the racking cane and hose with water to start the siphon as described above. Once the siphon is flowing, slowly pull the tip of the hose up until it is at the mouth of the carboy, then slip your hydrometer sample jar under the hose. When the jar is full, slide the hose back into the secondary fermenter so that the hose reaches the bottom of the carboy. At this point, oxygen is not good for the beer (it will make it stale) so avoid splashing if at all possible.
Pinching the bubble
Watch the point where the hose is attached to the racking cane. Because the hose is stretched around the cane, there is a little pocket that may cause turbulence as carbon dioxide comes out of solution (your beer is now very lightly carbonated). If you see a bubble forming here (it can stop your siphon), gently pinch the hose until the bubble travels down the hose.
While the beer is being transferred, you should re-sanitize your stopper and airlock. When the beer is all in the secondary, insert the airlock and place the fermenter back into the water bath, or wherever you were fermenting. You should leave your beer in the secondary fermenter for at least a week and you may leave it in for many weeks.
There are three main reasons why a secondary fermentation is recommended, all related to time. First, it allows more time for all of the sugars in the beer to ferment. If you bottle your beer before fermentation is complete you may over carbonate your beer and can even cause the bottles to break. You could leave the beer in the primary fermenter longer but prolonged exposure to the sediment (called trub -- pronounced "troob") can cause off flavors in your beer. Second, the time spent in secondary fermentation allows more particulate matter and yeast to settle out, giving you a cleaner and clearer beer in the end. Finally, you can bottle at your leisure, because you don't have to worry about off flavors from the trub. You can let the beer remain in the secondary fermenter for many weeks.
After you have racked your beer, you may see renewed signs of fermentation. This is because the transfer has roused the yeast. It should subside in a day or two. You should leave the beer in the secondary fermenter for at least four or five days. In any case, you should not bottle the beer while there is still active bubbling in your air lock. If your airlock is bubbling more frequently than once a minute, it is not time to bottle yet.
Another method to be sure that the beer is ready to bottle is to take hydrometer readings of the specific gravity. Use a sanitized turkey baster to remove enough beer to fill your sample jar. If the reading stays constant for two days, then the yeast has stopped fermenting. Go ahead and drink the sample, but DO NOT RETURN THE SAMPLE TO THE FERMENTER. Because each time you take a sample there is a small risk of bacteria infecting your beer, you should not take samples frequently. Wait until there has been no activity in the airlock and then use the hydrometer readings to confirm that the beer is ready to bottle.
Skipping Secondary Fermentation
You may skip the secondary fermentation if you do not have another fermenter or if you do not want to wait the extra time. In this case, you want to wait until all signs of fermentation have finished, then proceed with bottling. You do not want to bottle too soon because that may cause your beer to be overcarbonated or even to explode bottles. If you wait too long the yeast may start consuming the sediment (trub and spent yeast) and this could lead to off flavors in your beer. Seven to ten days is the norm.
Bottling Your Beer
- Primary fermenter (used this time as a bottling bucket)
- Racking cane, siphon hose and clamp
- Bottle filler
- Bottle capper
- Bottle caps
- Approx. 54 12 oz bottles or 30 22 oz bottles
- Bag of priming sugar
Preparing your Bottles
You will need approximately 50 12 ounce bottles or 30 22 ounce bottles or some combination thereof. Five gallons of beer is 640 ounces. Some is left behind when racking and some is invariably spilt when bottling so your final yield will usually be a bit less. However, it is probably a good idea to have a few extra bottles ready just in case.
You can generally use any non-twist off bottle for your beer. Brown bottles are the best, with dark green bottles second. Light green and clear bottles should only be used in a pinch as they will pass light that can harm the flavor of your beer. Bottles used for Samuel Adam's and Pacifico beers are especially good. If you are friendly with a bartender you may be able to get some high quality bottles in exchange for some of your homebrew.
You first need to inspect each bottle and discard any that have chips, cracks or obvious flaws in the glass. Carbonated beer is under fairly high pressure and if a bottle fails it usually leaves a big mess and there can be flying glass. Next, make sure your bottles are free of all visible soil. The bottles should be clean when held up to a light. If you need to clean the bottles, use a cleaner like B-Brite or PBW. Bleach or ammonia will work but rinse each bottle several times to remove all of the cleanser. If you purchased new bottles you can skip the cleaning step.
Now that the bottles are clean, you need to sanitize them. There are two popular methods for sanitizing: soaking in sanitizing solution and running through the dishwasher.
Using sanitizing solution is much like how you sanitized your fermenters. You soak the bottles in a solution of 1/10 oz of Iodophor per gallon of water. Your bottling bucket works very well for this. Soak the bottles in the Iodophor for 5 minutes and then empty and let them stand for another 15 minutes. Once the bottles have been rinsed, they should be covered with foil or stored upside down so that dust (and bacteria in the air) do not fall into them.
To use the dishwasher, put the bottles in the dishwasher. Do not put in any soap as soap residue will adversely affect the head of your beer. If you have one of those "Jet Dry" or similar spot inhibitors you should remove it from your dishwasher. Set the dishwasher to the hottest water and the hottest drying and start. The bottles must be cleaned beforehand because while water does get into the bottles, there is not enough to effectively clean them. When the dishwasher is done, leave the bottles in until they have cooled to room temperature. If you leave the door closed, you can leave the bottles in the dishwasher until you are ready to bottle your beer. Many people actually fill the bottles on the opened dishwasher door, which makes for an easy cleanup.
Preparing to Bottle
The first thing to do is to sanitize your bottling bucket (your primary fermenter may double as your bottling bucket). We are going to siphon the beer back into it to mix in the priming sugar. Follow the directions above for sanitizing.
Mix the contents of the priming sugar bag with a cup of water and boil for 5 minutes. This will sanitize the sugar and put it into a solution for easier mixing. Pour this into your primary fermenter (now a bottling bucket). Now rack the beer from the secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket, taking care not to splash or agitate the beer. If the end of the siphon hose reaches to the bottom of the bucket the swirling action will do a fairly good job of mixing the sugar with the beer but if you have a sanitized spoon, a few gentle stirs every few inches will do an even better job. You may redirect some of the beer into your hydrometer sample jar in order to take a final gravity reading.
The priming sugar is extra food for the yeast in your beer. It will consume the sugar and produce a small amount of alcohol and some carbon dioxide.
Since the bottles will be sealed, the carbon dioxide will naturally carbonate the beer.
While the beer is being transferred you should soak your bottle caps in sanitizer. Let the caps soak for five minutes and then transfer them to a bowl of hot tap water. You can cycle the caps through the two bowls as you need them.
Filling the Bottles
You will be transferring the beer to the bottles via a siphon, so the bottling bucket needs to be a couple of feet above where the bottles will be. Start the siphon and close the clamp. Place the bottle filler on the end of the hose and open the clamp. Take a bottle, hold it upright and place the bottle filler in the bottle. When you gently push down on the bottle filler, the valve will open and beer will flow into the bottle. You want to fill the bottle to the top because the bottle filler is displacing beer and the level will fall when you remove it. Once the bottle is full, remove the bottle filler and set a cap on the bottle but do not cap it yet. It is much easier to fill all the bottles and then cap them rather than to fill cap them one by one. By letting the bottles sit with the caps loosely on you also will allow some of the carbon dioxide in solution in the beer to displace the air left in the bottle (called headspace). This will improve the shelf life of your beer.
When all the bottles have been filled and capped, put them in a box and store them at room temperature (60-75 degrees) for three weeks. The beer should be carbonated after a week or two, but will improve with additional time in the bottle. However, if you can't wait, just go ahead and drink one.
Serving your beer
Ales should be served at 50-55 degrees. When you take your beer out of the refrigerator, let it sit for a few moments until it warms up a bit. Cold temperatures numb the taste buds and you will miss out on much of the flavor if your beer is too cold.
You may notice a white residue on the bottom of your bottle. That is yeast that has dropped out after carbonating your beer. When pouring your beer, do so gently and try not to disturb the yeast. When you see the yeast starting to go into your glass, stop pouring. This yeast is not in any way bad for you (in fact it is good for you -- lots of B vitamins) but it tastes like yeast and not like beer. Some people swirl the last bit of beer to get all of the yeast and drink it. Others pour it down the drain.
One last note -- You should rinse the bottle out when done, taking care to rinse out all of the yeast in the bottom. This will make using that bottle in your next batch of beer much easier.
Original text by Fred Waltman, 1994-5
Updated by Culver City Home Brewing, 2003-2009