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Your First Home Brew

Brewing Your First Batch of Beer at Home

July 25, 2014 by Rick Morris:

The moment has arrived!  You have your basic home-brewing equipment and a bag of ingredients (probably some dry malt extract, liquid malt extract, a bag of grains, hop pellets, and a vial of yeast).  What to do now?  I would suggest you view a couple of our early attempts at home brewing to see how we went about it...

There are more like these here.  As you will see, we experimented with some things (such as adding ice to help cool our wort).  It is recommended you not do such actions as you run the risk of infusing bacteria or oxygen to your beer.  Just stick to your instructions.

Cleaning and Sanitizing Home Brew Equipment

Now it's time to start cleaning and sanitizing your home brew equipment.  Don't make the mistake we made in believing "One-Step" cleaner is a sanitizing powder.  It isn't.  Get a bottle of Iodophor.  Looks like iodine.  Use about two capfuls per 5 gallons of water to sanitize your equipment.  Some people place the fermentation bucket in the sink and fill with water and Iodophor, and then place their siphon, spoon, brush, air-lock, thermometer, hydrometer, etc. in there to soak for a few minutes.  Two minutes is required.

Next, clean out your fermentation bucket, or 6-gallon carboy (if you have one) and rinse well.  Ideally, you want to add about 3 gallons of clean water to it the night before and allow it to cool in the fridge. Ensure it is covered with a lid (bucket) or plastic wrap (carboy). 

This cool water can be added to the brew pot when you are finished boiling.  Just make sure you know where the 5-gallon mark is on your brew pot (measure and mark it beforehand).  The idea is you want to cool the home brew as quickly as possible.  If you don't have a wort chiller, this is a good way to go about it.  Just don't siphon your boiled brew (wort) into a glass carboy!  You'll likely crack it, ruining both your beer and the carboy.  Pour the cold water into the brew pot at the end of the boil.

Prepare the Yeast

Oh, take your yeast out of the fridge so it can reach room temperature.  Most new home brewers will get a vial of White Labs yeast with their beer kit.  And, they are reminded to place it in the refrigerator when they get home.  Well, now is the time to take it out and place on the counter while you brew your beer.  By the time you have finished brewing (couple hours), they yeast will be ready for placement into the fermenter.  In short, it will have reached room temperature and be consistent with the temperature of the wort in the fermenter.

Boil the Home Brew

So, you essentially follow the instructions that came with your home brew kit.  This involves boiling the malts and hops per a pre-determined schedule of time, usually about an hour.

Cooling

You'll then cool the home brew with the wort chiller, cold water, ice-bath in the sink, or a combination of any of these.  Cooling quickly is essential for several reasons.  Primarily, you want to minimize the amount of time your brew's temperature is optimized for bacteria growth - roughly between 90 and 150 degrees F.  Moreover, you need to add (pitch) the yeast at a temperature around 72 degrees F.  Any higher, and you run the risk of the yeast not surviving to do their job of fermentation.

Check Specific Gravity

Then, use your hydrometer to check the specific gravity of the wort.  This will provide you with a general guess at how alcoholic your beer is going to be.  But, a reading later (just before bottling) will give you more accurate results.  It will also tell you how well your fermentation has performed and when it is completely finished.

Siphon Wort into Fermenter

After the wort has cooled to about 72 degrees, you can add it to the fermentation vessel.  If this is a carboy, you'll need to siphon with a thoroughly sanitized (inside and out) siphon and hose.  If it is a bucket, you can pour directly into it. 

Add Yeast

Next, add your yeast.  Simply open the yeast and pour it in.  Later on, you'll want to become proficient at making a yeast starter, which provides more yeast to the batch.  But, for now just pour the vial of yeast into the fermenter.  Then, siphon the wort on top of it.  It is ok to add the yeast afterwards.  But, our preferred method is to add the yeast, then the wort.

After the yeast has been added, seal/cover and shake the hell out of your home brew for a few minutes.  You want to aerate it so the yeast cells have a better start at fermentation.

Air-Lock

Add your air-lock, place some vodka or water in it to the fill line, and place the fermenter in a dark location in the house.  If this is an ale, you'll be just fine with room temperature.  If it is a lager, you need to place it in a cool location, such as the basement.  It needs temperatures around 35 to 55 degrees F. to function properly.  Of course, if you brew a lager and let it ferment at room temperature, that's ok.  You'll just create what is called "steam beer".

If you are fermenting in a carboy, cover it with a towel or some other dark material (bag?)  Just ensure you don't cover the air-lock!

Fermentation

Within 12 to 24 hours, you'll notice the air-lock bouncing.  This is a sign that fermentation has started and your home brew is coming to life.  A few hours later, you'll see it bouncing quite quickly, sometimes as much as 60 beats per minute.  Keep an eye on it and look out for signs of foam entering the air-lock.  This usually isn't going to happen unless you have a "big" beer (one with an expected high alcohol content), and are allowing it to ferment in a warmer than room temperature location.  Should it happen, see what we did with a "home brew blow-off" for our Appalachian Pale Ale to learn how to rectify the problem.

Secondary Fermentation?

For now, your work is done.  In a week or so, you may want to move the home brew to a secondary.  This is simply another carboy (preferably a 5-gallon one).  A secondary allows you to get your brew off the yeast and trub, which after a few weeks could impart off-flavors.  Of course, you should take care in transferring the wort to the secondary as this is a decent time for bacteria to enter the home brew

A 5-gallon carboy allows you to fill with brew to the upper part of the neck, limiting the about of air that is touching the home brew to about 2 square inches (as opposed to 144 if you used a 6-gallon carboy - which would not be filled to the top of the neck).  The 6-gallon carboy is used for primary (first) fermentation.

Bottling or Kegging

Typically, within 10 days to a couple of weeks, your home brew has completed fermentation and is going to be ready to send to the bottles or keg.  I would move the fermented beer vessel to the countertop the evening before so the trub can settle.  This will help reduce the amount of sediment in the bottle and make for a clearer beer.

When you are ready to bottle or keg your homebrew, the first thing you want to do is clean and sanitize your bottles, capper, and caps... or keg.  Use warm, soapy water in the sink along with your bottle brush to clean everything.  Rinse thoroughly with warm water.  Then, use an Iodophor solution to sanitize.  Toss your capper and caps in there as well.  We usually dip our bottles (or keg), in the solution, allowing them to reset for 3 or 4 minutes, completely submerged.  They are then moved to the racks/spikes in the dishwasher to air-dry, upside down.  We aren't washing them in the dishwasher to clean.  We simply use the racking system in there to hold the sanitized bottles prior to bottling.  Of course, like everything else, you may want to spray the dishwasher racks with a mixture of the Iodophor solution.

Make a Sugar Solution

Next, create a sugar water solution.  This is added to the home brew so the yeast will have something to eat.  Since the bottles are capped, the CO2 created this go around does not escape via an air-lock.  Instead, this is what carbonates your beer.  So, simply add about two cups of water and the 1/2 to 3/4 cup of corn sugar to a pan.  You most likely received the corn sugar with your ingredient kit.  Bring the sugar water to a boil.  Then, allow it to cool while covered.

Check Specific Gravity Again

Ideally, you'll want use a hydrometer to check the specific gravity, and compare that to the initial gravity check (just before you pitched the yeast).  This will tell you how much attenuation you have achieved.  In other words, you want to ensure fermentation is complete.  It probably is going to be good to go - especially if your air-lock has been inactive for a week or more.

Racking the Home Brew

Clean and then sanitize your racking bucket  (the one with the spigot) with the Iodophor and water solution.  To do that, simply fill the bucket to the top (6 gallons) and then add two capfuls of Iodophor.  Wait at least two minutes before emptying.  Allow the racking bucket to air-dry.  Don't wipe clean with a paper towel.  There could be household bacteria on the paper towel!  Also, if you don't want yellow discoloration on your white ale pale/bucket you should definitely empty it after 2 or 3 minutes.

Carefully siphon your home brew to the fully cleaned and sanitized racking bucket.  When about 1/4 to half has been add, pour in your sugar water, and give it a couple gentle stirs.  DO NOT STIR VIGOROUSLY!  You don't want to add oxygen at this point.  In fact, the only place you want to aerate is after pitching yeast.  Too much stirring before bottling will impart off-flavors in your brew, and in particular, oxidation.

Filling and Capping Bottles

Finally, add your bottle filler tube to the spigot.  Clearly, you have already sanitized this as well!  Fill your bottles from the bottom up using the filler, trying not to create any bubbles in the bottles.  Allow each bottle to fill to the top.  When you remove the tube filler form the bottle, you'll have a perfect fill - about an inch from the top.

Cap each one as you go.  Don't fill all your bottles, place them on the counter and then cap.  You run the risk of bacteria entering the open bottles.  Remember, the sugar you added is meant for the good yeast to do their job.

When you are finished, place your bottled beer in a dark location at room temperature or closet temperature.  In about a week or 10 days, take a six-pack and place in the fridge, standing the bottles.  After at least 24 hours in the fridge they should be perfect!

Filling Keg

If you are kegging your home brewed beer, you are probably placing it into a 5-gallon "korny" keg.  This is a keg specifically made for the soft drink industry.  It is now a common method for storing homebrew.  Just like the bottles and caps, you are going to clean and sanitize the kegs before moving the beer into them.  Follow the same procedures with the Iodophor solution and you'll be fine.  Let is air dry, and fill with beer!

Drinking Home Brew from Beer Glass

As a new home brewer, you may not know that beer should be drank from a glass.  And, not just any glass.  Anyone who appreciates a good beer knows you gotta drink it from the appropriate beer glass.  But for now, any glass will do.  Preferably a pint or pilsner glass.  Open a bottle and listen for the hiss of the carbonation escaping.  That's a good sign.  If you don't hear that, your beers have not finished conditioning.  Move them to a warmer (but dark) location.  Cover, if necessary to keep out the light - even if you have brown bottles.  Allow another week and try one.

When you pour your home brew into the glass, be careful not to upset the yeast layer, if any, at the bottom.  It's fine to drink as it is full of protein.  But, some say it can give you a bit of flatulence. 

Pour down the edge of the glass like you've seen people do on television.  It's not a fancy thing to do... it's an essential thing to do.  After the glass is half full, tilt it straight up and finish pouring the beer vigorously to achieve about an inch or two of head (foam).  Try to stop quickly when you notice the yeast sediment moving towards the bottle neck.  Immediately rinse your bottle.  Know that a warmer beer will produce more head quicker than one that has been refrigerated.

If you accomplish the head, you have most likely been successful in your first beer brewed at home.  Congratulations!

 
         
 

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