Your First Home Brew
Brewing Your First Batch of Beer at Home
July 25, 2014 by
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
Carefully siphon your home brew to the fully
cleaned and sanitized racking bucket. When about 1/4
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
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
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.