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Homebrewing for the Absolute Beginner

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by Chris Holst, aka cdh

The Course

Welcome to the eGCI course on homebrewing. This course will be divided into five classes spaced two weeks apart to allow you to gather equipment and ingredients, and to let the yeast alone to work their magic.

Class 1, which follows, is a basic introduction to the concepts and necessary equipment. It ends with a shopping list for Class 2.

Class 2 will step you through the most simple kind of beermaking you can do, extract brewing. You’ll make a strong golden ale.

Class 3 will teach you what you need to know about bottling your Strong Golden Ale, and brewing another beer that combines malt extract and specialty grains for added complexity and body.

In Class 4 you’ll make a Red Ale using what we discussed in Class 3.

Class 5 will walk you through the next step up in complexity and control in brewing, where you’ll derive some of your sugar from malted grain, and some of your sugar from malt extract. This is called partial mash brewing, and incorporates all of the steps involved in all grain brewing. We’ll brew a Belgian Abbey style ale. We’ll not do any all grain brewing, since it is more equipment-intensive than this course envisions, but if you complete Class 5, you’ll know the procedures if you get the urge to try it.

The Instructor

Chris Holst spent some time living in England in the early 1990s, where his attention was caught by the homebrew kits that the Boots pharmacies stocked. The idea of making beer stuck in the back of his mind. After returning from England, the space and time to brew were available, so the hunt began for a homebrew shop. Luckily one was nearby, and staffed with helpful folks who got things off on the right foot. He's never looked back. Since then, he's brewed at least 3 or 4 batches a year, experimenting mostly with Belgian ales and English bitters.



Brewing is an ancient human activity. Making drinks out of grains has been a part of human civilization for a long, long time -- archaeologists have found evidence of Egyptian and Babylonian brewing. Over the ages we’ve refined the process, but in essence brewing remains simple in its process but complex in its ingredients. The process involves three steps:

1) Turn grain into fermentable sugars in the concentration you want, with the flavorings you want.

2) Let yeast loose on the fermentable sugars and leave them alone.

3) Carbonate it.

Getting at the fermentable sugars in raw grains is the art of malting. Although brewers used to malt their own grains, it is now a separate industry, which takes that element out of the job of the brewer and replaces it with a wide variety of prepared products you can buy at a homebrew shop. The primary factors that differentiate fermentable grain products are how far the natural starch-to-sugar conversion processes are allowed to proceed, and how much caramelization of the resulting sugars occurred. We’ll address grain options and the techniques associated with them in later lessons in this course.

Most beers today are flavored with hops, so we’ll look at the information they carry with them to give you the knowledge you’ll need to make an informed purchase and have an idea about what your hops will do.

Yeast gives beer a distinct character depending on what type of yeast you use. We’ll look at the commercial options available to you, and the tricks to use to get the best performance out of your yeast. Leaving the yeast alone means effectively removing competing organisms from the environment it will work in so it won’t be bothered by the wild yeasts and other beasts that might sneak in, and having the patience to let the yeast sit in your beer for a week or more to eat through all of the sugars.

Carbonation is more yeast work, which requires sanitation, and sealable bottles to keep the carbon dioxide in there once the yeast make it.


So, you’re curious about brewing and want to give it a try? Brewing in small batches is quite easy and within the reach of just about anybody interested in making a simple beer all on their own. This lesson will introduce you to a minimalist’s essential brewing equipment. As a bit of advance warning: homebrewing is a gadgeteer’s paradise, having been adopted wholeheartedly by folks with an inventive spirit and mechanical aptitude, so there is a vast array of toys and goodies designed to streamline some aspect of the brewing process. Here we’ll eschew all of them and strip the hobby down to the absolute basics.


The first thing we’ll do is list the equipment you’ll need to get a batch of beer brewing. Since this is a tutorial, I’m going to scale down the recipes from the homebrewer’s standard 5-gallon batch size to a more manageable 2 gallons, which will yield just short of a case of beer, and won’t require you to purchase a whole new kit of equipment. To get from here to beer you’ll need to get the following equipment together before the next lesson (you'll probably have some of these already; others are specialty items you'll need to purchase):

A pot that holds at least 12 quarts, and a tight fitting lid. You’ll use this to boil the malt extract and hops together for an hour. You want this to be a non-reactive metal, so cast iron is out. Enameled canning pots are good, so long as the enamel is intact and not chipped. Stainless steel is the gold standard.


A container that holds at least 12 quarts. This is where you’ll be fermenting the beer. Fermentation takes between a week and two weeks. You could use the pot you boiled in, or you could use a food grade plastic container. The standard in the homebrewing world is a food grade plastic bucket with an airtight lid and an airlock device that allows the gasses the fermentation produces to leave, but allows no new air in. It is great if you have one, but we’ll assume you don’t yet at this early stage in your brewing adventures.

A scale. Recipes call for certain weights of ingredients. Eyeballing can get you into the right ballpark, but a scale is really necessary if you want to be able to properly follow recipes or build your own reproducible recipes.

A thermometer. When you’re dealing with grains rather than just extracts, you’ll need a thermometer. Grain husks contain astringent compounds that are extracted at temperatures above about 170F, so you need a reliable method of ensuring that the water your grain is sitting in is not above 170F. There are other critical temperatures that activate and deactivate enzymes in grain that we’ll address later.

A large metal spoon. You’ll stir boiling liquid with this, so a long handle that doesn’t conduct heat would be the best.

A sanitizing agent. Homebrewing is as much about keeping unwanted additions out of the beer as putting the right ingredients in. As we all learned from those swab and swipe experiments in our high school biology classes, the world around us is crawling with microscopic life. Our job is to make sure that the microbeasts we like (namely our chosen yeast) get to eat all of the sugary nutrients in our beer, and to keep wild yeasty and bacterial party crashers from busting in, chowing down and leaving the beer a mess. That means we have to be vigilant about sanitizing everything that comes into contact with our beer. A great sanitizer that is likely already in your cupboard is chlorine bleach. If you’re using bleach, then one tablespoon to a gallon of water will make a fine sanitizing solution. I’ve been using either an activated oxygen cleaner (a lot like Oxyclean, but no blue crystals in it) or a bleach solution for my dozen years of brewing, and haven’t had an infected batch. There’s a lot of infection paranoia out there, but if you’re careful, you should not have problems.

A balloon whisk. You’ll use this to stir and aerate your wort after you have boiled it and cooled it down to room temperature.

Muslin hop bags. Hops should be isolated and easily removable from the pot. Homebrew shops sell little knit muslin bags really cheap; you’ll need to buy ingredients from a homebrew shop anyway, so pick up a few of these too.


hop bag, center

A nylon grain bag. Grains are something we’ll deal with in later lessons, but if you’re going to use them, you need something able to contain them. There are little nylon bags and there are big bags that can be fit inside big pots. I’d recommend the latter because they’re tougher, and more versatile. A little bit of grain in a great big bag is less of a problem than a lot of grain in a little bag. Some people advocate using nylon stockings for this purpose; make sure they don’t have runners in that will let your grain out.

A clean white dishtowel and a rubber band. Since we’re operating on the assumption that you don’t have an airtight fermentation vessel, it is important to keep airborne stuff from settling on your beer while it is fermenting. A clean dishtowel that has been soaked in sanitizing solution and wrung out can be stretched over the top of your fermentation vessel and kept in place with a rubber band. This will mean that you’re conducting an “open fermentation,” which is more traditional in some beer styles than others, but will work for everything.

A 4-foot length of flexible ½" (or so) tubing. Transferring beer from vessel to vessel should be done by siphon, and you need a tube to get a siphon going.

A racking cane and a bottle filler. These are rigid plastic tubes that attach to the flexible tubing. The racking cane has a device on the bottom end so that your siphon will not draw up sediment from the bottom of the vessel. The bottle filler has a pressure activated valve at the end, so that you can fill bottles without overflowing. Buy these and your tubing at the same time from the same place to insure that everything fits together.

Bottles. You need something that can handle the pressure of carbonation and can be sealed tight. If you are a beer drinker, you can save thick returnable bottles and cap them with a device you can buy from a homebrew shop, but the more common twist-off bottles are not recappable, nor are they sturdy enough to safely carbonate beer in the bottle. Since most people don’t have a case of empty recappable beer bottles sitting in the pantry, I’ll suggest an easier and cheaper alternative: PET seltzer bottles. You can get one- and two-liter bottles of club soda for less than the cost of shipping a case of empty bottles to you. You’ll need to take care about light exposure while your beer is aging, but that is as simple as keeping them in a dark closet. Don’t use soda bottles, as the flavorings in soda can persist in the bottles, and you’d probably not want to get stuck with two gallons of lemony-limey-brau.


Malt, hops, yeast and water -- Beer advertisements over time have extolled those four ingredients, which are the bare minimum needed to make a beer. Marketers love the ancient German beer purity law called the Reinheitsgebot for its mysterious name and simple message: pure beer is good beer. Under that law (since overridden by the EU) only malt, hops, yeast and water could go into beer, and Germany still managed to produce a wide range of beer styles. Other countries without such a legal restriction on what goes into a beer have created a wildly varied array of beers by adding herbs, spices, non-yeast microbes and alternative sources of fermentables.


Since this is designed for new brewers, we’ll keep it simple early on, and only talk about what we will use to brew the first batch in our next lesson.


When a kernel of grain begins to sprout, a complex alchemy of chemical reactions begins, converting the starch we grind into flour into sweet sugary compounds to feed the growing plant. Malting grain is the process of capturing the kernels in the midst of their transformation from starch to sugar, and then heating and drying them to kill the sprouting plant and take its energy stores for our use. These dried malted grains have a set of activated enzymes within them that will transform most of the starches into sugars when exposed to the right environmental conditions. When brewing directly from grain, part of the brewer’s art is setting the environmental conditions such that the transformative enzymes turn the starches into the right mix of fermentable and unfermentable sugars that will give the beer both its strength and its body. As a bit of trivia, the brewer’s word for the sugary solution is “wort,” though we’ll try to keep the specialist vocabulary to a minimum early on in these lessons. (Brewing does have its own well developed jargon that can confuse folks who don’t speak the language.)

In this introductory course, we are going to use a common shortcut and employ malt extract. Malt extract is the concentrated sugars derived from malt that has gone through its enzymatic transformation. There are two broad types of malt extract, liquid and dried. For our purposes, we’ll be using dried malt extract because it is easier to deal with in small portions, and is frequently available in pound increments at homebrew shops, whereas liquid extracts are often only sold in big cans that would leave you with sticky leftovers to deal with and sticky measuring cups and kitchen counters and clothes. In your homebrew shop, you’ll find a variety of dried malt extracts -- most often you’ll see light, amber, dark, and wheat extracts. Light extract is the best base extract to use, as further on in this course we’ll learn about using specialty grains to add color, flavor and body to our beers. We’ll learn about specialty grains in the second brew we make in this course of lessons.

Homebrew shops may have dry malt extracts from various sources. Keep in mind that Dutch type extracts tend to contain more unfermentable sugars, which give a beer a heavier body and thicker sweeter flavor and mouthfeel. Extracts from other sources tend to be more fully fermentable, and produce drier beers. By mixing Dutch and ordinary extracts you can affect the body and mouthfeel of your beer.


Hops are the flowers of a vine that sprouts from underground rhizomes. They contain an array of aromatic and bittering compounds that both preserve beer and give it the characteristic flavor we associate with beers. Hops can contribute many aromas and flavors, ranging from grassy to floral, from piney to citrusy, and all of them contribute a bitter counterpoint to the sweetness of the malt. Using hops is an exercise in the art of balancing, and where brewers demonstrate their skills. Since bitterness is such a personal matter of taste for people, a beer that appears well hopped to one person can seem overwhelmingly bitter to another. You’ll have to learn what you like and don’t like, and remember it the next time you brew.

The effects of adding hops to a brew changes depending on how long you allow them to boil. The longer the hops boil, the more bittering effect. In homebrewing there are conventions to hop usage, commonly called bittering, flavoring, aroma and dry. Bittering hops are supposed to be boiled in your wort for an hour. Flavoring hops are boiled for about 10 minutes, boiling off most of the volatile aroma compounds, adding a bit of bitterness and leaving the flavor compounds from the hops in the beer. Aroma hops are added right at the end of the boil and liberate their aromatic compounds, which don’t boil off because the boiling stops. Dry hopping is a technique where the brewer adds hops to the cold beer after it has already fermented, this adds even more hop aroma to the beer. Since brewers love experimenting with the rules, there are beers out there that don’t boil any hops for 60 minutes, but instead boil more hops for less time to achieve the same level of bitterness, but with more hop flavor retained in the beer as well. Other all-grain brewers have revived an old practice called first wort hopping, where hops are added to the vessel collecting the wort as it runs off of the grain. This long steep before the boil changes the way the hops express themselves in the brew, increasing the hop flavor. For our introductory purposes, we’ll break our hop addition into thirds to acclimate you to the different hop additions.

Hops are usually labeled with a name and a number. The name is the varietal of the plant that produced the flowers. Hops are like tomatoes or wine grapes, insofar as they are all one species but exhibit a wide array of flavors. The number is a measure of the percentage of Alpha acids present in the hops, and is most often abbreviated %AA. Alpha acids are the bittering compounds that turn into the bitter flavor in beer once they have been boiled together with the malt sugars for a period of time. High alpha acid hops require less hop volume to contribute bitterness than low alpha acid hops. The longer the hops are boiled, the more of their aromatic compounds vaporize and waft away with the steam from your brew pot, and at the same time more of the alpha acids are converted to bittering agents.

Hops are sold in three forms. For our purposes they’re equivalent since we’ll be using hop bags to contain them. The options you might be presented with are “whole leaf” hops, which are just the dried flowers of the hop vines, “plugs,” which are those flowers crushed down into a compact little puck, and “pellets,” which are the flowers pulverized and then extruded into little pellets. The pellets will leave much finer particles in your beer if you tossed them without any hop bag or other hop separation technology. While doing so with pellets would be problematic, it is theoretically possible to just throw whole and plug hops into the boil and strain them out later, but we’re not going to do it that way because the spare change that each hop bag costs is worth it.


Yeast are the microbes that eat sugar and turn it into alcohol and carbon dioxide. They produce other byproducts as well, often depending on the temperatures at which they are working and the magic of the organic chemistry going on in the fermentation process. There are many varieties of yeast, each with its own characteristics. Many types of beer, particularly Belgian beers, are distinguished by the contributions of the yeast used in brewing it. The crisp dry aspect of lagers that we are accustomed to is a byproduct of the species of yeast used to brew it and its preference for fermenting over long times at low temperatures. Since most homebrewers don’t have a fridge dedicated to brewing, lager beers are an advanced brewing project that requires significant investment. Ale yeasts, another species, are happy to do their work at room temperature or thereabouts, but they do contribute a number of flavors if they ferment too warm. Often flavors like banana, clove, bubblegum and butter are produced by yeasts fermenting outside of their favored temperature range, but you can also get spicy and complex flavors out of yeasts as well. Most ale yeasts prefer to ferment between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which should not put too much inconvenience on the average brewer who lives in a climate-controlled space.

Brewing yeast is sold both in liquid preparations and dried. Dried yeast keeps better and requires less effort than liquid yeasts to use, but is more limited in the varieties available. Early in the evolution of homebrewing the consensus was that dried yeasts were inferior to liquid yeasts. That is no longer the case, since dried yeast manufacturers have increased the quality of dried yeast available to consumers. Liquid yeasts are more expensive than dried yeasts, and when used in standard 5 gallon batches, they benefit from having their cell counts ramped up by making a starter culture before throwing the yeast into the hopped wort. Surf over to some online homebrew shops and look at the range of yeast available to get an idea of how distinctive and different yeast’s effects can be. That’s why it is a very bad idea to use yeasts bred for baking in beer. Don’t be tempted to try it, because you’ll probably not like the results.


By volume, your beer is mostly water, so you want to make sure your water is as tasty as it can be. If you have treated municipal water, you might want to boil it all by itself for a bit to boil off the chlorine so that it can’t latch onto compounds in your brewing ingredients. In more advanced homebrewing, some people advocate using distilled water and water treatment products to replicate the local water of the origin of the style of beer you’re brewing. That is well beyond what we’re doing here, but it does point out that your water chemistry will make your beer unique to your locality, so that if you went to visit friends in another state and brewed your beer at their house with their water it might not come out exactly as you expect. This is also why some parts of the world gain fame as centers of brewing or baking. Burton-on-Trent in England became famous for its beers because its water chemistry affected the grain and hops in ways that most other British water did not. New York bagels and Philadelphia cheesesteaks and hoagies are distinctive because of effects of the local water supply on the breadmaking process.


For a first small brew we’ll aim for a strong pale ale type beer, with a medium hoppiness. This beer will be about as strong as a Belgian trippel. We’ll use light dry malt extract to provide the fermentable sugars. For our hopping, we’ll use the archetypal citrus-y American hop, Cascade, which should be readily available in homebrew shops.

We’re shooting for a beer with the following characteristics:

Original Gravity 1.068

IBUs 23

Light yellow color

Original gravity is a measure of the density of the solution you drop your yeast into. Water has a specific gravity of 1.000. Ethanol’s gravity is less than that. The sugars in the solution push the number up to 1.068, though it will drop again once the yeast convert most of the sugars to ethanol. Your final gravity should be somewhere between 1.005 and 1.014. If you take density measurements at the beginning and end of your fermentation, you will be able to calculate its alcohol content exactly. As a rule of thumb, the digits after the decimal point in the original gravity reading will let you estimate how strong your beer will be by dropping the 1 entirely and moving the decimal 2 places to the right. That tells us that our beer will be somewhere around 6.8% alcohol, or about 1.5 times as strong as average American beers. The tool used to measure the density of a solution is called a hydrometer. For the moment, I’m going to advise strongly that beginners not get a hydrometer because it will provide the temptation to take lots of readings while the yeast is working and is better not disturbed. As you progress in your brewing you might want to get a hydrometer, but I managed to break mine a couple of years ago (they’re fragile glass things) and haven’t missed it and haven’t replaced it.

IBUs (International Bitterness Units) are a measure of how much hop bitterness is in your beer, calculated from the amount of alpha acids in your hops, and how long they’ve been boiled. The 20s represent moderate hoppiness. Some extreme beers have IBU measures above 100, and others have measures in the single digits.

The following recipe will yield something like what we want.

2 Gallons water

3 lbs. Light Dry Malt Extract

1oz. Cascade hops, divided in three parts for different stages of the brewing process

.25 oz crushed coriander seed (optional addition with the aroma hops, for its bright citrus-y notes)

Danstar Nottingham dry yeast

Now you have a shopping list for ingredients and supplies. Find your nearest local homebrew shop and stock up.

If you can't find a shop nearby, there are homebrew shops on the web that do a fine mail order business. I've had good experiences with morebeer.com and Hops & Dreams, and have read that many people are happy customers of Northern Brewer and Homebrew Adventures.

(Three of these have very active discussion forums that attract vocal homebrewers who write about brewing and are worth reading, although you should realize that there are plenty of contradictory opinions out there.)

Shopping list for the brewing supply store or website:

3 lbs light dry malt extract

1 oz Cascade hops

1 packet yeast

3 Muslin hop bags

Siphon hose

Racking cane

Bottle filler

A packet of priming sugar (we'll use this later as we bottle -- and carbonate -- the beer)

See you in a couple of weeks.

Please post your questions about the homebrewing course here.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The member-supported eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters is pleased to present the second class in the eGCI course Homebrewing for the Absolute Beginner. To help make this course and others possible, please take a moment, if you have not already, to upgrade to a Society Donor membership. If you are not yet a member, please first join the eGullet Society.


Now that you've stocked up on ingredients and supplies, you're ready to brew. The first order of business should be to make sure that your pot is clean and in good condition. For those with enameled canning pots, make sure there are no cracks in the enamel. If the beer touches the metal under the enamel, it can pick up metallic off flavors. You don’t want that to happen to your beer.

The second task is getting a little more than 2 gallons of water into your pot and heating it up to boiling. The excess is to make up for evaporation while it boils and the little bit of water the hops are going to soak up as they rehydrate. The evaporation from an hour should be in the 10 to 15 percent range, so adding 9 quarts to the pot should cover your losses. Your kitchen stove should be able to boil that without straining its capacity. (If you try to boil bigger volumes of water, say for a 5-gallon batch, on the kitchen stove, you may run into the problem that your stove isn’t putting out enough power to get the water to a good bubbling boil. Some homebrewers who do bigger batches use outdoor propane burners from turkey frying kits to do their boiling. You don’t need to do that.)

If you're stuck with chlorinated tap water, you want to get the water up to boiling and let it stay there for a bit to boil off the chlorine. While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, you can divide the hops into three equal portions and put them into the muslin hop bags. If you're using the coriander, crack it a little by putting it into a sealable plastic bag and working it over with a rolling pin, then put it in with the hops in one bag, and remember to use that bag last. Tie the bags closed at the top, but leave plenty of space in the bags for the hops to expand into. Hops absorb water and increase in size while they’re boiling.

Brewing is not a photogenic process, so I'm not going to show you any pictures as we go along. Get into your mind the picture of your pot, filled with liquid, bubbling away. That's all you're really going to see. Since there are proteins in malt products, you may see some white flaky looking things swirling around in there. That's natural, and nothing to worry about.


Also, now would be a good time to mix up a batch of sanitizing solution, because it will be necessary as soon as the wort stops boiling. You need to sanitize everything that will come into contact with your beer shortly before you bring in into contact with your beer. To do this, make up two quarts of water with a teaspoon and half of chlorine bleach in it. It is easiest if you make this in a tall thin container like a pitcher, since you've got long rigid things that need to be sanitized. Make sure to run your sanitizing solution over and through everything that might come into contact with beer. After sanitizing a piece of equipment rinse the chlorine water off. Remember, we're boiling your tap water to keep chlorine away from the beer, so don't reintroduce it by not rinsing thoroughly.

If you’re going to use a fermentation vessel other than the pot you boiled the wort in, wipe it down with sanitizing solution, and then rinse it out.


Now that your water is boiling, take it off of the heat. Sprinkle your 3 pounds of light malt extract onto the water and stir it with your spoon until it dissolves. The malt extract is a very fine powder that loves to clump up when it is exposed to water, so this may take longer than you expect. Once the malt extract is dissolved, put the pot back on the heat and bring it back to boiling. Watch for boilovers now, as the protein in the malt will come to the surface as foam. If it looks like it wants to boil over, stir it some and break up the blanket of foam. Once the boil resumes, add one of the hop bags and set a timer for 50 minutes. When the timer goes off, add another hop bag and set the timer for 10 minutes. When that timer goes off, remove the first two hop bags with your spoon and then take the pot off the heat and add the last hop bag (the one with the coriander seeds in it, if you’re using them). Cover the pot with its lid and keep it covered.

When your wort leaves the boil is when sanitation becomes crucial. Your wort is prime feeding ground for microbes of all varieties, and now that it is no longer boiling it won’t kill everything that gets into it. Of utmost importance now is getting the yeast you want in there to take over and dominate the wort ecosystem. That means we must isolate the wort from contact with anything that hasn’t been sanitized so that nothing else gets in there. Next in importance is getting the wort down to a temperature that is comfortable for our chosen yeast. That means about 70 – 80 degrees F.

Cooling the wort

Now it is time for some fun with thermodynamics. You want to get a bunch of energy out of your pot full of hot wort as quickly as possible. Since energy flows from things hot to things cold, and the denser things are the more heat they can absorb, it follows that getting as much cold dense stuff into contact with your pot as possible is key. Setting it down into a snowbank or into a frozen-over pond are fine methods of getting lots of cold water in contact with the hot pot to carry away all of the excess energy. If those options are not available to you, then a kitchen sink or bathtub full of cold water and ice cubes will do in a pinch. Give it about half an hour and then give it a stir with your sanitized spoon (now would be a fine time to remove that final hop bag too), and then take a temperature reading with your sanitized thermometer.

Let it keep cooling down until the temperature is in the 70s. Putting yeast into too warm an environment will kill it. When the wort is in the 70s, then you’re ready to sprinkle the packet of yeast over the wort. After you sprinkle the yeast onto the wort whip some air into the wort with your sanitized balloon whisk. This will give the yeast a healthy amount of oxygen to burn while it gets to work. Now you're ready to put it away to ferment for two weeks. It will produce lots of carbon dioxide while the yeast are doing their thing, so you need a cover that lets the gasses out, but doesn't let wild yeasts or other nasties in. Take a clean dish towel and stretch it over the top of your fermentation vessel, and use your rubber band to keep it in place. If you are suspicious about how free from dust and wild yeast your towel is, you could soak it in sanitizing solution and then wring it out well before rubber banding it in place.

Now comes the hardest part . . . wait two weeks. No peeking. Put it out of sight, in a corner where the temperature will be stable, and it won't be in bright light, or drafts. Light reacts with the chemicals that come from hops and results in a skunky smell. Make sure nothing gets into your fermentor, and hopefully nothing will escape from there while the yeast are doing their business. What's going to happen is that the yeast will begin to reproduce, and their population will grow into a huge number of cells. The yeast will begin turning sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and that will ramp up as the number of cells increases. There will be a foam on top of the beer that's called the krausen. Depending on the type of yeast, this foam can be a thin layer or it can get inches thick. Particularly enthusiastic yeast may rise all the way up to the covering towel. Don't worry if this happens, though if your fermentation vessel is almost full to the top before you put in the yeast (not recommended, but if a smaller vessel is all you've got, make do), you should put a pan under it to catch the inevitable overflow. If your fermentor is going to sit anywhere that cleaning up a bit of overflow will be tough (e.g. on a rug, or an old wooden floor), it would be best to use an overflow pan.

Those of you whose overflow pans see any overflow will get to observe first hand what infections with wild yeasts and microbes do, as your overflow won't be protected from them. It will probably get to be sour and funky smelling, but maybe not. Beer brewing started with wild yeasts, and some parts of Belgium are famous for the beers that their local airborne yeast populations naturally produce. Either way, if your overflow pan does accumulate any beer in it, empty it out quickly after it gets there. You don’t want to encourage wild yeasts to congregate around your beer. The chance of them getting in there and doing harm to your beer increases with the number of them around.

And that's it for this class. See you in a couple weeks, when we're ready to bottle.

Please post your questions about the homebrewing course here.

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  • 3 weeks later...


Part I: Bottling your first batch

Now that two weeks have gone by since you turned the yeast loose on the extract batch we brewed first, it's time to get that batch bottled. Again, this is a time when sanitation is extremely important. Anything that will come into contact with your beer should be sanitized and rinsed off. This means the siphon hose, the racking cane, the bottle filler, the container you’re going to siphon the beer into, the bottles, their caps, your spoon, and anything else that might come anywhere near your beer needs to meet your bleach solution, and get rinsed off right before you introduce it to your beer.

Get a container big enough to hold everything that is in your fermenting vessel sanitized and ready for action. Gently move your fermentor from where you hid it onto a tabletop. Put your other vessel onto a chair beside the table. Attach the racking cane to your siphon and put it into the fermentor. Siphon all of the contents of the fermentor that the racking cane will let you get access to into the other vessel. At the bottom of your fermenting vessel you’ll notice a layer of sludge. Those are yeast cells that have done their job and fallen out of suspension. That little packet of yeast you threw in there sure multiplied, eh? If you have a new batch of beer ready and down at room temperature right now, you could pour it onto the yeast cake at the bottom of the fermentor and it would start fermenting very happily. Since you probably don't have another batch of wort ready to go now, just clean up your fermentor after you're done bottling.

There will still be a few yeast cells suspended in the beer in the new vessel, and they'll be the ones that supply the carbonation for the beer. On your shopping list was "priming sugar." Find it and measure out two ounces onto something reasonably sure not to be harboring lots of wild yeast and other nasties. Two ounces should carbonate your beer up to about the fizziness of an American lager beer. You probably don’t want it fizzier than that, but some people enjoy beers a little less carbonated. If you’d like to try a little less than the full two ounces, go right ahead. Whatever amount you choose, stir the priming sugar into the beer, making sure it gets evenly distributed.

Remove the racking cane from your siphon and attach the bottle filler. Put the other end of the siphon hose into the beer, and use the bottle filler to fill your sanitized bottles. Cap them (with sanitized caps), and put them into a dark closet for two weeks. Two weeks is how long it will take the yeast to eat the priming sugar and in turn carbonate your beer. After two weeks, you can move the beer to your fridge.

That's it. Be patient for a little while longer, and you'll soon be drinking your first beer!

Part II: Getting ready for the second batch

Now that you've accomplished the brewing process once, you're ready to add a bit of complexity to the process and to the final result. There really wasn't much to the pure extract brewing, was there? Boil some water, add some extract, put in the hops on schedule, get everything clean, chill it down, and let your yeast go to work. The next step up in technique that we'll add is working with some grain.

Malt revisited

When maltsters process barley into malt, they have a huge number of options about how exactly they do it. Some of their choices result in a grain where much of the starch in each kernel was converted into sugar, and then heated so that some of that sugar darkens as it begins to caramelize. These malts contribute both flavor and mouthfeel to a beer, as they contain sugar compounds that have been chemically changed by the hot processing they’ve endured. These caramel or crystal malts have readily soluble sugars in them that will contribute additional complexity to your beer if they are just steeped in hot water without any concern for coddling enzymes into converting starch into sugar.

These malts are classified according to a standard scale called Lovibond ratings. The lower the number, the lighter the grain roast. Pilsner malts have a number around 1L. The roasted barley in a stout has a number of about 500L, and only makes up a tiny fraction of the grain that goes into the stout. In brew shops, you'll see bags of grain labeled with three pieces of information: name, Lovibond rating and origin. Origin is sometimes a country, and sometimes a specific maltster. For example, if you see something labeled "Fawcett Crystal 60" you should be able to tell that it is a crystal malt (hence steepable!), it is fairly dark roasted, and came from someplace called Fawcett (an English maltster). If there is a "Dingemans CaraMunich 54L" beside it, you should be able to tell from the "Cara-" that there is some caramelization going on in there, so it is steepable, that it is a little lighter roasted than the Crystal 60, and is from somebody called Dingemans (a Belgian Maltster).

Sometimes you'll see recipes calling for grains you just can't find locally, so you have to be able to figure out substitutions that are close. The best sub would be from another maltster in the same country as is called for, and as close an L number as you can get. Substituting the example Crystal 60 for the CaraMunich would produce a different beer, but it would be in the same general ballpark as what you're looking for.

The amount of flavor contribution that caramelized grains offer does depend on the degree of caramelization it has undergone. Light caramelized malts will offer a little color, a hint of sweetness, but mostly their effect will be on mouthfeel and head retention. Darker caramelized malts will contribute more distinctive flavors, like toffee, fruitiness, a little sharpness or even bitterness.

So, our goal is to bring some complexity to our next beer. We'll darken it up a bit, and give it a bit more body by steeping some grain in our water as it is coming up to temperature. This is where the grain bag comes in handy. Our grains are going to need to be cracked, which you can have your homebrew shop do for you, or you can do yourself with the Ziploc bag and rolling pin trick we used on the coriander seeds last time.

[Editor's note: The eGCI Team initially included the wrong version of the following recipe. The recipe as printed now is the correct one. Our apologies to Chris and to our readers.]

Recipe #2 – a red ale

2 lbs Light dry malt extract

5 oz Weyermann Melanoidin malt (German) ~30L

5 oz Caravienne (Belgian) L21 for maltiness

5 oz any British Crystal Malt in the 30-60L range (shops carry different brands, so get what is available to you.)

1 oz Cascade hops (citrusy American hop)

1 oz Kent Goldings hops (floral British hop)

Priming sugar

3 hop bags

1 grain bag, preferably big, in the 24”x24” size range

1 Packet Danstar Windsor yeast or Safale S-04 for British flavor, or US-56 for neutral flavor.

This beer will be less strong than the first brew, but will have more body and malt character. This is because rather than being fully fermentable like malt extract, one third of this recipe will come from caramelized malts that contain unfermentable sugars. These sugars add to the taste and mouthfeel of the beer, even though they do not get transformed into alcohol by the yeast. This beer will showcase the tasty byproducts of applying heat to food: caramelization (in the crystal malt), and the Maillard reaction (in the Melanoidin).

We'll be taking a little longer break at this point before picking up with the next lesson. In the meantime, as usual, post any questions here.

Edited by eGCI Team (log)
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  • 3 weeks later...


First, our recipe with the detailed instructions:

Rich Red Ale

5 oz Weyermann Melanoidin malt (German) ~30L

5 oz Caravienne (Belgian) L21

5 oz British Crystal Malt

2 lbs Light dry malt extract

.5 oz Cascade hops (60 minutes)

.25 oz Kent Goldings hops + .25 oz Cascade (10 Minutes)

.5 oz Kent Goldings (aroma hops)

(optional) .25 oz Kent Goldings hops and/or .25 oz Cascade as dry hops

1 package Danstar Windsor dry yeast


You've gone shopping for the ingredients called for in the last lesson, so now we'll do our prep work to get started. Take out your crushed grain and measure out 5 ounces of each kind. Put it all together into the nylon grain bag. Measure out the bittering hops, .5 oz of Cascade and put them in a hop bag and tie it shut. Now measure out the flavor and aroma hops and do likewise. Keep track of which bag is which since they’ll all weigh the same.

We've done this before for the first batch, so it should feel pretty familiar. The only real changes we're going to make are that we'll steep some grain in the water for a while to extract its colors and flavors, then we'll carry on just like before with the extract and the hop bag additions.

So, if you've got municipal water with lots of chlorine in it, get 2.25 gallons of it up to a boil for 10 minutes or so.

Now we'll depart from the way we did things last time to make room for the grain and its needs. If your water has been pre-boiled, you'll need to cool it down to no more than 170F. Only once the water is below 170 should you throw in your grain bag. Otherwise, astringent tannic compounds from the grain husks will get into your beer. You don't want that to happen. Allow the grain bag to steep in the water for half an hour, then remove it. The water temperature should be between 150 and 170 to maximize the efficiency of the steep.

If you didn't pre-boil your water, then simply add the 2.25 gallons of water to your pot, throw in the grain bag, and get it heating up. Use your thermometer to tell you when it has reached 160. When the temperature gets there, keep it there for 20 minutes, then remove the grain bag and continue heating the water up to the boil.

Once you reach the boiling point take your pot off the heat, add the 2 pounds of light malt extract, stir to incorporate, and return it to the heat. Wait for it to start to boil, then add the bittering hops bag and set your timer for 50 minutes. When it goes off, add the flavor hops and reset it for 10 minutes. At the end of the 10 minutes, remove the hop bags that are in the boil, add the aroma hops and put the lid on the pot.

Cool the pot down to 70-80F. If you're going to ferment in another vessel, sanitize it and then pour the wort in. Beat in some air into the wort with your sanitized whisk, and add your yeast, then cover it with a clean towel, rubber band it in place, and stow the fermentation vessel for two weeks in a dark corner with a stable temperature. Don't forget your overflow pan if your vessel is close to full.

After about a week, most of the active fermentation should have occurred, so if you want to try the dry hopping option, this is the time to do it. Just toss the hops in, and they’ll release lots of hop aroma into the beer. Put the covering back in place and let it sit for a week. After it has sat for two weeks, bottle it as we did before.

That's it! You're on the way to your second batch.

Please post your questions about the homebrewing course here.

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  • 1 month later...

The member-supported eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters is pleased to present the last class in the eGCI course Homebrewing for the Absolute Beginner. To help make this course and others possible, please take a moment, if you have not already, to upgrade to a Society Donor membership. If you are not yet a member, please first join the eGullet Society.


Preparation and shopping

With two brews under your belt, you've learned the essential techniques of extract brewing and using steeped grains to add layers of complexity to your beers. Now that your attention is directed at grains, you’ll see that there are a number of them out there that don’t have the tell-tale "cara" or "crystal" in their names, and some that aren't even barley at all. In light grains (exceptions are dark things like Chocolate malt, Black Patent Malt, Roasted Barley, etc.), that is a sign that tells you that the grain won't give up all the goods if you just steep it in warm water. We could have, for example, gotten more flavor and fermentables out of the Melanoidin malt we used in the Red Ale. Now how do we coax these grains into their most useful form?

The answer to that question is the art called mashing. In brewer-speak, "mash" means carefully controlling the temperature and hydration of grain so that enzymes in it convert the starches stored in the grain into sugars, and then washing those sugars away from the grains and into a wort solution. Enzymes are quite particular about the temperatures that they will work at, so to do it right, you need to be able to maintain a degree of thermal stability for the hour or so that the enzymes will need to do their job. The enzymes that convert starches into sugars really start working at about 140F, and stop at about 165F. "Mashing low," which means keeping your grains towards the low end of that temperature range, will result in the most fermentable wort, and a dry beer. "Mashing high" will promote the formation of non-fermentable sugars called dextrins, which add body and mouthfeel, but result in a sweeter beer. You can adjust your mash temperature to suit your personal preferences and your recipe.

Now what kind of beer are we going to brew that requires this extra work? Since summer is upon us, let's brew something that will be fairly light, but with a complexity to it that the earlier beers just didn't have. We're going to emphasize the spice flavors that you can generate in a beer. Stylistically, this beer will have a Belgian soul, but in keeping with the Belgian penchant for breaking rules, it won't quite fit anywhere in the classic style definitions, and will be located midway between the witbier style and the saison style. I’m going to call it a Four Grain Saison, since saison is the style that inspired the recipe, though a beer judge would probably tell you that it technically isn't one. However, we're not competing with anything other than our taste buds, so what a judge would say really doesn’t matter.

The shopping list

For a beer with IBUs in the low 20s, and an original gravity around 1.060 at 2 gallons:

1.5 lbs Belgian Pale Malt, crushed

.5 lb flaked wheat

.5 lb flaked rye

.5 lb Belgian Munich malt, crushed

.25 lb flaked oats

1 lb light dry malt extract or wheat dry malt extract

.5 lb table sugar

1 oz Styrian Goldings hops

1 oz Hallertauer hops

hop socks

Zest from 1 orange or 1/2 tsp orange oil

Coriander seeds or star anise

Crystallized ginger

Wyeast #3944 liquid yeast or Wyeast #3724, 3725 or 3726 or White Labs yeast #550 or 565

Priming sugar

What you’re buying, and considerations on the options presented to you

  • Pale malt is malted barley that is full of enzymes that convert starch into sugar. It has an overabundance of those enzymes, so it can convert all of its own starch, plus some extra.
  • Flaked wheat is wheat that has been processed such that you can mash it in the presence of the sort of enzymes that the pale malt contains. Wheat adds proteins that make for a thick head on the beer. It also brings a characteristic sharp, almost tart flavor.
  • Flaked rye is rye processed like flaked wheat. It brings a characteristic spicy flavor to the beer.
  • Munich malt brings maltiness and bit of color to the beer; it has enzymes of its own, but less than pale malt.
  • Flaked oats, like instant oatmeal, have been processed to be mashed. Oats contribute a velvety texture to the mouthfeel of your beer, but will make it less clear. A little cloudiness is fine in a saison style.
  • Malt extract. If you like wheat beers, choose to add wheat malt extract to this beer. The recipe would go well wheaty, but would be sort of outside the saison tradition. But who cares (if it tastes good)? The extract (plus the sugar) guarantees a certain amount of fermentables are going into the beer, so your efficiency at achieving starch conversion and capture with the grains is not critical.
  • Table sugar adds fermentables in a traditional Belgian way. Using sugar in brewing is characteristic of the Belgian style, and allows a beer to have higher alcohol content, but a relatively lighter body than if it were all malt. There are old wives tales circulating amongst homebrewers that "adding white sugar will make your beer taste cider-y.". These rumors have been pretty systematically debunked, but they still crop up now and again.
  • Hops. Styrian Goldings and Hallertauer are both moderately low Alpha acid hops that are traditional in Belgian brewing. They come from continental Europe, and are quite restrained in comparison to American style hops in terms of bittering potential, flavoring, and aroma.
  • Orange. Using orange peel has been traditional in some Belgian beers, saisons and wits being a couple of them. Boyajian’s orange oil (often sold at cookware shops) is a fine substitute. If you’re zesting oranges yourself, make sure to avoid the white pith and just get the oily outer part of the rind. I’m partial to Seville orange rind, but they’re out of season now. Next late-winter to early-spring, look for Sevilles and zest 'em. They make for great witbier brewing.
  • Coriander is another spice traditional in saisons and other Belgian beers. It produces citrus-y aroma and flavor, but if overused can seem a little metallic. It should be crushed, (see lesson 2).
  • Star anise is a little out in left field, but not unheard of in Belgian brewing. Provides a hint of an exotic, complex, licorice-y flavor. Only use one star, don’t crush it.
  • Yeast provides the defining essence of a saison. All of the choices will produce a spicy phenolic beer, but how the spice manifests itself will differ with each one. You should be able to find at least one of the listed varieties. Some of these yeasts are somewhat slower at finishing their work than many of the common yeasts. You probably want to cover your fermentor with a lid with an airlock if you’re going to use any but the 3944… the 3944, in my experience, ferments really quickly, but really violently, so make sure to use an overflow pan. Keep your yeast in the fridge when you get it home.

Do the Mash

First, on the morning of the day you intend to brew, get your yeast out of the fridge. If you're using Wyeast's products, you've got a "smack pack." That is a plastic pouch with another smaller plastic pouch inside it. By holding the outer pack in the palm of one hand and sharply hitting it in the right spot, you should be able to pop the smaller pouch inside the bigger pouch. Doing so will release some yeast nutrients and cause the yeast to make some CO2 which will swell the bigger pouch over time.

Remind yourself about sanitation, and mix up some sanitizing solution so that you can wipe down and rinse everything that is going to touch the beer after it is done boiling.

Get a plastic picnic cooler with a spigot at the bottom designed to let you drain ice-melt out if it. That will certainly maintain the degree of thermal stability you’ll need to achieve a successful mash. On your shopping list back in the beginning was a big grain bag. Get that out too, and put it inside your cooler. You’ve just created your "mash tun," which is medieval brewing speak for the container in which you'll convert grain's starches into sugars.


Put all of the grain into the grain bag inside the cooler. Note that you have 3.25 pounds of grain in there. You want to mash at a temperature of about 150F or a little less, which allows the enzymes that make fermentable sugars to operate at optimal efficiency to make a fairly fermentable wort. We also want to get the water to grain ratio to be about 1.25 quarts per pound. Rather than plowing through a bunch of math, just find an online mash calculator like this one at tastybrew.com, which will happily calculate how hot your gallon of water has to be to get it to your desired temperature. In our case, it says that heating the water to 162F should be enough to bring the whole lot to 150F, if the grain starts out at 75F. So, do what the calculator tells you, and heat up some water. Once your water reaches temperature, pour it into the grain bag in the cooler and then give the grain in there a stir around. Take its temperature to make sure the calculator was right, and then close the cooler and wait for 45 minutes while the starch converts to sugars. If it is too cool, throw in some boiling water until it gets up to 150. If it too warm toss in a few ice cubes and stir them around.


While you’re waiting, warm 6 quarts of water up to about 180F. Also, measure .33oz of the Styrian Goldings into a hop sock, and make two hop socks with .25 oz of Hallertauer in them. In one of the Hallertauer socks, add about .25 oz of crushed coriander, a few cubes of crystallized ginger, and the zest of one orange, or whatever spicing combination appeals to you.

Once 45 minutes have elapsed, put a heat-proof clear cup under the cooler's spigot, and fill it. Observe this runoff, and if it has grainy bits in it gently pour it back into the cooler. Repeat that step until the runoff is mostly clear of grain pieces. Then put your brew kettle under the spigot and empty everything into it. Let all the liquid run out into your kettle. You may have to move the grain bag some to get all of the liquid out. Don’t squeeze it too much.


Close the spigot again, pour in your 6 quarts of 180F water, and give the grain a stir. This step is about rinsing the sugars off the grains that didn’t come along with the first runoff, so let it sit for 10 or 15 minutes so that as much as possible dissolves. Repeat the clarifying step, and once it appears clear, drain everything into your brew kettle. Now you’ve made wort from scratch. Taste it to see how sweet it is.


Now add the dry malt extract and sugar, and stir it to incorporate. Top your kettle up to 2.5 gallons (longer boil means more evaporation). Then put your kettle on the stove and heat it up to boiling. Once you hit the boil, add the Styrian Goldings and set your timer for 60 minutes. Then add the Hallertauer sock with just the hops in and set it for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat, fish out the hop socks that are in there, and add the sock of Hallertuer and spices. This longer boil is to help coagulate the proteins that came from the mashing so they will form big clumps and fall out of suspension along with the yeast.

Cool your wort down to 75F, transfer it to your fermentation vessel, and add your yeast. By this point, you should probably have invested the ten bucks in a sealable airlocked bucket to ferment in. Let it go for at least 2 weeks. Saison yeasts like to ferment warm, so if you’ve got a garage or other spot that isn’t climate controlled, you want to expose this beer to the full onslaught of summer heat. Purchase a hydrometer from your homebrew shop and take readings after you get to the two-week point, and when the readings are identical for three days in a row, then you're ready to bottle (or eyeball it based on the airlock's activity and the passage of a reasonable amount of time). With this beer, aim for about 1.75 oz of priming sugar for two gallons, and make sure to stir it in evenly.

You could, if you wanted to, stretch this beer out past the two gallons it is planned for. If you were to add another pound of extract, quarter pound of sugar, and .25 oz of bittering hops for every extra gallon of water you add to it, it will maintain its character pretty well out to about 5 gallons.

Please post your questions about the homebrewing course here.

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