Learn to Brew

Just getting into home brewing? Learn to brew beer and understand the process better with this easy guide. You’ll also get some tips and tricks to make your experience a little easier.

We’ll be making a 5 gallon batch of beer using malt extract, Cascade hops and an American Ale yeast. All of the ingredients and equipment you will need can be ordered directly from MoreBeer.com, they have great products, including a variety of starter kits, ingredient kits and more. Very fair prices, I have ordered from them many times. They have a distribution center set up on the east coast now too, so shorter transit times for those of us on this side of the country.

You can also find many of the ingredients you will need through our online home brewing and wine making store or if you’d rather shop local you can use our Homebrew Supplier Directory to find a Homebrew Store near you and they can set you up with the basics.

This is a concentrated brew using the extract late method. Concentrate means we boil 2.5 gallons on the stove, then cool it and add it to 3 gallons of cold water in the fermenter. I know, that makes 5.5 gallons, I’ll explain later. “Extract late” means we dissolve the extract after adding the hops. I prefer this method when brewing a concentrate because the extracts make it so dense that late hop additions can’t fully permeate the liquid, reducing the effectiveness of the hop oils and alpha acids.

Table of Contents

Beer in a Glass - photo by Drew Vics for Cryptobrewology.com

Basic beer is made from malted barley, hops and yeast. In a traditional brewing process, malted barley grain is milled and stirred into heated water in a mash tun. This mash is heated through specific temperature ranges, activating enzymes present in the grain to convert grain starch into sugars. During fermentation the yeast consumes these sugars, producing alcohol. Generally speaking, more fermentable sugar dissolved in the liquid means more alcohol will be produced, within limits of the yeast.

Hops are added at certain intervals during the boil and depending on the type of hops, will contribute a bitter quality to the beer, some flavor or aroma. Bittering hops are usually added earlier in the boil, and flavor or aroma hops are added later. The later the hops are added the more they will affect the aroma of the beer.

In this lesson we’ll be using malted barley extracts, so we won’t have to worry about mashing any grain, that process has been taken care of by the extract producer, and what we’re starting with are concentrated sugars.

I recommend buying complete home brewing kit, but at the very least the most important pieces of home brewing equipment you will need to get started, aside from some tubing and racking cane, and bottling equipment, is a 6 gallon fermenting bucket, and a 12 quart or larger stock pot.

If you’d like to do a secondary fermentation (which I highly recommend) then you’ll need a second vessel, and a glass carboy is the way to go. I’ll explain more about secondary fermentation later. First, here’s a rundown of what you will need to begin making beer.

  • A 12 quart stock pot.
  • Long handled plastic or stainless steel spoon.
  • Hop Bags to contain the hop additions.
  • A can-opener.
  • Your primary fermenter, the bucket.
  • Optional secondary fermenter, a glass carboy.

For this instruction I’ve decided to use my “Sorta Sierra” recipe. It is a very simplified version of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — one of my favorites — and it makes a good beginner beer, with a nice balanced flavor. You can, however, use almost any basic home brew extract recipe with these instructions, so don’t feel you need to make a Sorta Sierra.

  • Two 3.3 lb. cans of Light, or Pale, Unhopped Liquid Malt Extract (LME).
    Coopers or Muntons are great.
  • 3 ounces of Cascade hops, approx. 4-6% alpha acid (AA).
    Schedule: 1 each at 30 min, 15 min, and 5 min.
  • 1 ounce of Centennial hops, approx. 8-11% AA.
    Schedule: 1 at 45 minutes.
  • 3 gallons of bottled water (chill in fridge).
  • 1 package of Dry Ale Yeast (American ale yeast preferred).

This recipe will produce a very pale, relatively dry ale with a nice hop bitterness and aroma. If you’d like a more amber colored ale you can substitute Amber Malt Extract which will deepen the color, but it will also make the flavor a little more malty, with a hint of caramel. Darker malt extracts contain some caramelized sugars which will not ferment, and contribute to a more caramel-like malt flavor, sometimes nutty.

Before we get to the fun part of home brewing, there’s a little clean up that needs to happen. First make sure you’re work area is clean. I use Clorox wipes to clean my countertops, just to be safe. You don’t want anything to contaminate your first brew so work clean!

There are a variety of cleansers to use, and without going into too much detail I’ll explain the differences between the ones that I will recommend. First though, if you have a kit that included some cleanser packets then use the instructions that came with those packets, and that kit, and skip this section.

The types of cleansers and sanitizers that home brewers are most familiar with are powdered alkaline cleansers, powdered oxygen-based cleansers, and chlorine-, iodine- or acid-based sanitizers. We have One Step, Craft Meister Oxygen Brewery Wash, Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW), B-Brite, Iodophor, Star San and plain old chlorine bleach, to name a few.

Oxygen-based cleansers use active oxygen and water conditioners to break up the gunk on your equipment, alkaline cleansers use basic surfactants and water conditioners to break down acidic soils and oils. They are not called sanitizers because technically they do not kill every microorganism; we can say that they kill most microorganisms, but not all of them. One exception is C-Brite, it does sanitize.

OneStep Cleanser

OneStep is an oxygen-based “no-rinse” cleanser and it is easy to work with. I highly recommend it for use by the beginner. C-Brite is an oxygen-based sanitizer that actually sanitizes because it contains chlorine. Both OneStep and C-Brite do not need to be rinsed after use. The instructions are to drain and let the items drip dry after soaking.

B-Brite, on the other hand, while it is an oxygen-based cleanser similar to OneStep, does not claim to be no-rinse, same thing for Oxygen Brewery Wash. I recommend B-Brite and OBW as a post brewing and fermenting clean-up agent because they have a more powerful cleansing action and are perfect for reclaiming bottles, removing labels, and they also do great job of removing beer stone, the crusty ring left in the carboy after fermentation. Another great option for post clean up is Oxi-Clean, but use the uncented variety, with no additional ingredients.

You can find a host of cleaning and sanitizing agents at MoreBeer.com, and you can find One Step in 5 lb. Container or a 1 lb. Bag.

32 oz. Iodophor sanitizer

The other chemical sanitizers I mentioned, Iodophor, Star San and chlorine bleach are also no rinse. To use these clean the brewing equipment first with B-Brite, rinse with water, soak in the sanitizing solution for one minute, then drain and let the items air dry. Invert bottles, buckets and carboys to allow the solution to completely drain out and dry. These sanitizers can also be sprayed on to coat the surface to be treated, and left alone for one minute contact time before being inverted to drain and dry.

Tip: If you use one of the liquid chemical sanitizers and would like to get bottling or brewing quicker, without having to wait for the complete air drying process, you can rinse the sanitized equipment with OneStep solution, drain and brew or bottle. This is the method I employ most often using Iodophor.

Use caution when working with iodine or chlorine or any chemical-based sanitizer. Wear rubber gloves and even eye protection to prevent contact and irritation. These are dangerous chemicals and need to be used with extreme caution! That is why, for the beginner, I recommend OneStep cleanser to get you started. If you step up to using iodine (which I use), chlorine or other chemical, please read the labels and follow the instructions carefully.

Using 1 tablespoon of OneStep or C-Brite per gallon of water, clean your primary fermenter by sloshing, or “rolling” the solution around so it coats all areas inside the fermenter. You can use a clean sponge soaked in the solution to wipe down the walls of a bucket fermenter, and then drain it. No rinsing necessary.

If you’re using a carboy, use extra care in handling the fermenter, and make sure that the OneStep solution contacts all areas inside. Always work clean, and always work safe! DO NOT inhale the powder, and avoid contact with your eyes. Use rubber gloves to be safe as well, especially with the C-Brite.

DO NOT rinse anything with tap water after using OneStep or C-Brite, believe it or not tap water can contaminate the stuff you just cleaned.

It’s also a good idea to keep a bowl or pan with some OneStep solution on hand to cleane your can opener, and to serve as a place to rinse and rest your spoon when you’re not stirring the pot. Also, dampen a paper towel with the solution and wipe the top of the extract cans before opening them.

A few more steps and you’ll be making beer. First, place both cans of LME in hot tap water, this will soften the extract and make it easier to pour into the brew pot.

Next, put three gallons of bottled water in your fridge to chill them. These will be poured into the fermenter before the wort, and will help bring the temperature into range for pitching the yeast. Wort is pronounced “wert” and it is what brewers call the beer before it is fermented.

Now, separate your 1 ounce hop additions into 4 different grain bags. If you’re using the long, sock-like hop sacks you can loosely knot the end around the brew pot handle and open it up to add new hop additions to the same sack. That will keep the brew pot less crowded and make stirring easier.

Begin your brew by pouring 2.5 gallons of water into your kettle. About a quart or so of water will be lost to steam during the boil, and another quart or so will be trapped in the trub (yeast sediment) after fermentation, so in order to get 2 cases of beer from this batch, we need to make sure we’re left with at least 5 gallons at the end of it all. That’s why we start with an extra half gallon of water.

Turn your burner on and bring your water to a boil. Once you have a nice rolling boil set your timer for 45 minutes. A full 5 gallon brew boil would last 60 minutes, and hops would be added at intervals during that time. Since we’re brewing a concentrate, and adding extract late, we only need to boil for as long as our earliest hop addition. In this case the 1 ounce of Centennial at 45 minutes. Follow what I’m saying? If you understand that cool, let’s move on. If not, read it again, or move on anyway, you’ll get it later.

Time to add the hops…

  • Start with 1 ounce of Centennial at 45 minutes, when you start the timer.
  • Add 1 ounce of Cascade at the 30 minute mark.
  • Add 1 ounce of Cascade at the 15 minute mark.
  • Add 1 ounce of Cascade at the 5 minute mark.

Stir them around as you add hops to ensure even saturation. This part may seem a little boring, but don’t you just love the aroma? There’s nothing quite like the smell of hops wafting around the kitchen. When you’re time is up turn off your burner and remove your hop sacks. You can set them aside in a bowl for now. Later you can dump them down the garbage disposal (not in the sacks), compost them, or toss them in the trash.

MoreBeer! Absolutely Everything!

Now it’s time to add the extract…

To recap: extract late means we add the extract late in the boil after the hops additions. Dissolving extracts first increases the viscosity of the liquid, and reduces the effectiveness of the hops. So adding hops first allows the hop oils and acids to fully permeate the liquid. I prefer the extract late method because I get a much fuller hop presence in the finished beer. One downside of this is that the beer may turn out a little lighter in color than if extracts were added earlier and boiled longer, but it’s a small price to pay for a better hop presence in the beer.

After removing the hops it’s time to begin dissolving the extracts. With a sanitized can opener, remove the lid of each can and begin slowly stirring one can at a time into the hot brew water. Take your time, and stir thoroughly as your pour to ensure that the extract is dissolving completely. You don’t want to end up with a layer of undissolved syrup on the bottom of the pot, so make sure you take your time with this step.

[AdsWithin]After both cans are fully dissolved pour the three gallons of bottled water into the fermenter and proceed with the chilling process. There are a few different methods for chilling the wort, which include various kinds of wort chillers like this one, but I’ll use the easiest method which requires no additional equipment.

Put a stopper in your sink drain and fill it part way with cold water. you can even add ice to drop the water temperature further. Now immerse your brew kettle into the sink, and using the same spoon you stirred your wort with (the one that you had hopefully placed in your dish of OneStep solution when it wasn’t being used), carefully stir the wort. Don’t splash or slosh it, but try to stir it full enough to get the liquid to rise up the side of the pot a little. The circulation, and spreading out of the wort on the walls of the pot, will facilitate the transfer of heat from the wort to the cold water in the sink. An aluminum stock pot will allow the heat to transfer much faster.

After a few minutes you’ll notice the sink water getting warm. As it warms it will have less ability to draw heat from the kettle, so drain the sink and fill it again with more cold water, and ice if you choose. Then repeat the stirring process. DO NOT let your spoon touch anything but the wort in the pot. Caution is important at this stage because this is when the wort is most susceptible to contamination.

Once your the kettle feels warm to the touch, and the wort is not steaming, you can pour it into the fermenter. It’s best to use a sanitized thermometer to check the wort temp and make sure it is within a few degrees of 70&deg F. The cold water you poured into the fermenter previously will help cool the wort further, bringing us down to a safe temperature range for pitching the yeast, somewhere between 65° and 70° F. You can verify the temperature with a sanitized thermometer. I use a milk thermometer, but a stainless steel meat thermometer will work. Just make sure you’ve rinsed the thermometer in OneStep and hold it in the wort for a few minutes.

Aeration is desired, because it will introduce oxygen to the wort which will help the yeast do its job, so it’s okay to pour aggressively into your fermenting bucket. If you’re using a carboy as a primary, a large funnel will come in handy for this step.

Once the wort is in the fermenter, and within the proper temperature range, you can pitch the yeast. “Pitch” is a brewers’ term for adding yeast to the wort. For this step all you need to do is sprinkle the dry yeast over the wort, put the lid on the bucket, or cap the carboy, and secure your airlock. Fill the airlock up to the line with water. Some brewers prefer to use Vodka to prevent any potential bacteria from entering the fermenter. Either is fine.

I recommend a 6 gallon fermenter to ensure that you have enough head room to allow for a thick head of krausen. Krausen (pronounced “kroyzen”) forms in the early stages of fermentation. Krausen is basically a thick foamy head of yeast that forms at the top of the fermenting beer. It settles down after a few days. Having extra room in the fermenter to accommodate this eliminates the need for a blow-off tube.

Why do I recommend a 6 gallon fermenter, as well as hop sacks? One reason: years ago, the krausen that formed atop my first batch of beer contained full leaf hops and rose up into the airlock. It clogged, and the resulting pressure was so great that it blew the lid off of my fermenter and spewed hops and schmutz all over the wall of my apartment. Better safe than sorry.

At this stage, if you have a hydrometer, you can take an initial gravity reading, called the Original Gravity (OG). The Final Gravity reading (FG) can be taken after the first 7-10 days. If you’re doing a secondary then wait until you’re ready to bottle to take your FG reading. The easiest formula for calculating your ABV is to subtract the FG from the OG, then multiply the result by 133, like this: (OG – FG) x 133 = ABV.

Original Gravity, O.G., reading of 1.040 with hydrometer
Original Gravity
Final Gravity reading, F.G., of 1.008.
Final Gravity

For this recipe the OG should be right around 1.040. The FG for my batch was about 1.008. which means (1.040 – 1.008) x 133 = 4.42% ABV.

After 7-10 days, and I recommend waiting an extra day or to, so I typically push it to 10, you can either rack your beer to the secondary, or bottle. Here I’ll explain a little about secondary fermentation.

Racking (or transferring) the beer to a secondary fermenter is not necessary for all styles, but it can’t hurt. During a secondary fermentation there is not necessarily too much fermenting going on, but this additional aging and settling, off of the trub from the original fermentation, can really help improve the flavor of your finished beer and reduce the amount of sediment you see collected in the bottom of your bottles.

To properly rack your beer to a secondary fermentation you’ll need some tubing to slip over the spigot nozzle. This tubing will prevent splashing as the liquid is transferred into the secondary fermenter. Aeration is not desired now because we do not want to introduce any oxygen, as oxidation can cause off-flavors in the finished beer.

After secondary fermentation, another 7-10 days, rack your beer back to the sanitized bucket. This time it will serve as our bottling bucket. To transfer from the carboy you’ll need a racking cane and some tubing. I highly recommend the Easy-Siphon racking cane. Clean the racking cane (inside and out) with OneStep or similar cleanser before using it to transfer your home brew.

Before actually racking the beer to the bottling bucket, we’ll prepare our priming sugar solution and add it to the bucket first. So, dissolve 3/4 cup of sugar into about 1 quart of warm water. It’s a good idea to actually boil the water first, so it is sanitary, dissolve the sugar and let it cool a bit before hand.

I use plain old white cane sugar, but some brewers prefer to use dry malt extract, or corn sugar. Powdered confectioners’ sugar will work just as well. Here is a handy Priming Sugar Calculator that also provides sugar options for various beer styles. For this recipe use 2.4 for CO2 volume (or American Pale Ale), 70 degrees for the temp, and 5 gallons for the beer volume. If you decide to brew more, or less, adjust your beer volume accordingly.

Using your clean racking cane and tubing, begin a siphon by first “loading” the cane and tube with some OneStep solution. To do this you can coil the tubing and immerse it in the solution, fill the tube, then raise the tube and let the liquid to run into the cane. Keep a finger over the end of the racking cane to prevent solution from running out the other end. Repeat this until you have the racking cane and tubing loaded with solution.

Auto Siphon racking cane

Once the racking cane and tubing are fully loaded, gently place the cane in the fermenter and begin siphoning, but run the tube into an extra container until beer begins to flow. then crimp and move it over to the bottling bucket to continue racking. Don’t allow the OneStep to run into the bucket with the beer!

Granted it’s not easy, that’s why I recommend the the Auto-Siphon racking cane, as I mentioned above. This handy tool eliminates the need to load the cane and tubing prior to siphoning the beer into the bucket. You simply put the Auto-Siphon into the carboy, straight down, and gently to avoid stirring up the trub on the bottom, then after a few gentle pumps of the racking cane, the beer will begin flowing into the bottling bucket. It couldn’t be easier.

As the beer runs into the bucket it will blend with the priming sugar solution. That priming sugar will provide a little extra food for the yeast to consume, producing CO2 as a byproduct, and effectively carbonating the beer in the bottle.

Do not over carbonate your beer or you run the risk of bursting bottles. If the recipe you are using doesn’t specify a priming sugar amount then stick with 3/4 of a cup. Always wait until fermentation is complete before priming and bottling.

After racking, you can begin bottling your home brewed beer. Some brewers use a bottle filler tube, sometimes called a wand, with a spring loaded valve in the end. Beer won’t flow unless the valve is pressed against the bottom of the bottle. Lifting it up will cause the flow pressure to close the valve again. I have a bottling wand, but my method lately has been to simply hold the bottle under the spigot and slowly fill each bottle, to avoid aeration.

Fill each bottle to about half way up the neck. The extra space will absorb excess pressure, reducing the risk of exploding bottles and lost beer. Using a bottle capper, and blank bottle caps, cap the bottles and store them somewhere cool and dark. The beer will be carbonated and drinkable in about 7 days but if you wait two weeks, or a little longer, the flavor of your beer will improve. It’s a good idea to refrigerate your beer after about a week in the bottle for best results.

Empty 12 oz. beer bottles are available for purchase, but I usually save bottles from commercial beers I’ve purchased. Pop-top bottles are what I use. Twist-off styles may work sometimes but there can be no guarantee. I’ve had twist off bottles lose pressure because the cap didn’t seal properly.

If you don’t have beer bottles you can use plastic soda bottles, but you will need at least 48 12 ounce bottles for a 5 gallon batch of beer. CAUTION: Only use bottles that have, or are intended to hold carbonated beverages. DO NOT use wine bottles, salad dressing bottles, or anything like that. They will explode under pressure and that is extremely dangerous!

As I mentioned, leaving your homemade beer alone for a few weeks after bottling is a good idea. You may not be satisfied if you drink your beer too early. A lot of beginner home brewers have wasted their first batch of beer, literally pouring them all out, thinking that something was wrong when they tasted it only a week after bottling.

Have patience, a lot happens in the bottle as the beer settles and carbonates. Even after carbonation there are still some chemical processes going on that further clean up the flavor of the beer. Wait a little longer and you will be pleasantly surprised, provided you’ve carefully cleaned and sanitized your equipment before hand.

You will not appreciate the results if you rush your beer. Brewing is an art, and this should extend to those who want to learn how to home brew beer. Take your time and reap the rewards of preparation and patience in your craft.

Well, that concludes Home Brewing 101 here at Cryptobrewology.com. Stay tuned for future articles on brewing an all-grain batch, kegging and more!

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