BeerDude Homebrewing

"Relax, don't worry, have a home-brew." - Chalie Papazian

For a quick overview, see FAQs. For experienced home-brewers, the following may give you some new ideas. For newbies, maybe it will wet your appetite. But if you really want to start making beer, you should get the home-brewer's Holy Bible, "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" by Charlie Papazian.


Brewers have our own language. That makes us feel important:

Malting - keeping barley warm and wet for 3 days, which changes the flavor and produces enzymes.
Malted-barley - barley that has been malted, duh. Also called malt.
Kilning - drying or roasting malted-barley to a light or dark color (for light or dark beer, aha!).
Cracking - coarse grinding the malt.
Grist - cracked malted-barley.
Mashing - cooking the malt in hot water, which causes starch-conversion.
Mash-tun - cooking pot
Enzymes - little organisms that perform starch-conversion during cooking.
Starch-conversion - converting starches to fermentable sugars
Sparging - straining the liquid after cooking.
Wort - the strained liquid.
Hopping - boiling the wort with hops.
Pitching - adding yeast to the cooled wort.
Fermenting - the conversion by yeast of sugars in the wort to alcohol.
Specific-gravity (SG) - the weight of a liquid compared to water.
Starting SG - the SG right before fermentation.
Ending SG - the SG right after fermentation.
Conditioning - aging.
Bottling - putting the beer in bottles or kegs.

Using our own beer-language, I can say that beer is simply barley that has been malted, kilned, cracked, mashed, sparged, boiled, hopped, cooled, pitched, fermented, conditioned, and bottled. Whew!

Three Magical Concepts:

As Friar Tuck said in the 1991 re-make of the movie Robin Hood, "This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our maker and glory to his bounty by learning about... BEER." Indeed, barley is very similar to wheat, except for some magical differences. It just so happens that when barley is kept warm and moist, special enzymes are produced. And it just so happens that when cooked, these enzymes convert the starches in barley to special sugars. And it just so happens that some of these special sugars are converted into alcohol by special types of yeast, while other special sugars are not converted and simply taste good. So, we end up with a beverage that tastes good and makes us feel good too. It's magic!

The three magical processes to remember are:
    Malting produces enzymes.
    Mashing causes the enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars.
    Yeast converts the fermentable sugars into alcohol.


All of these ingredients are available from home-brew stores

More than any other ingredient, malted-barley determines the flavor and color of beer. The more malted-barley used in a recipe, the stronger the beer will taste, and the stronger the alcohol content. Many recipes call for a combination of different malted-barley types. To make dark ales or beers, for example, about 5-10% of the malted-barley is dark roasted. Most home-brew stores will be happy to grind the malted-barley for you.
Hops add a pleasant bitterness to beer that balances the sweetness of the malted-barley. There are different type of hops, with different amounts of bitterness and different flavors. If you have ever tasted India Pale Ale, you have noticed its strong bitter taste. As you might expect, India Pale Ale uses lots of hops with a high amount of bitterness. Hops are available in fresh or pellet form, and either may be used.
There are many different types of yeast, and each imparts a slightly different flavor to beer. Yeast is available dried in packages, or fresh in small vials. Fresh yeast works the best.
Mashing, Fermenting, and Aging:
Although these are not ingredients, the time and temperature of cooking, fermenting, and aging make some subtle differences to the taste of beer, and are vital parts of any recipe.

From the almost limitless combination of ingredients and technique we arrive at all the beers of the world, which total over 20,000! (so many beers, so little time…)

Each recipe has a mashing profile to follow. In general, here is the effect of temperature upon starch-conversion:
    120 deg - no starch-conversion, it's too cold for the enzymes
    140 deg - starch-conversion best for light beers such as lagers
    160 deg - starch-conversion best for strong beers such as ales and stouts
    180 deg - no starch-conversion, because the enzymes start to die off
I used to go through a lot of trouble to precisely follow the correct temperature profile. Not any more. During one mash, I accidently left the mash-tun on the burner and let the temp go up to 200 deg! It was definitely a hot mash. As you might expect, the starting SG was low, probably because the enzymes were killed off too soon. Even so I still fermented it, kegged it, and drank it like any other batch, and it did indeed taste a little weaker. But no one but me noticed the difference. So as long as you're in the ballpark, you're OK.
For an ale mash, I heat the water to 175, add the grist which drops the temp to about 160, then turn off the burner and cover it. After an hour the temp is still at 155. Simple.
For a lager mash, I add the grist to cold water, and use the gradual warming as a sort of enzyme and protein rest, which is helpful for some lager malts. After the temp reaches 145 deg, I turn off the burner, cover it, and wait an hour. Again, simple.
Measuring SG (specific gravity) Levels:
The SG of a liquid is the weight of a liquid compared to water. The SG of pure water, of course, is 1.000. During the mash, starches are converted to sugars which raise the SG. After the mash, you can measure the SG to see how good starch-conversion is. Roughly, 1 lb of malt in 5 gallons of water should raise the SG about .005, or "5 points".  So, if a recipe calls for 9 lbs of malt, the SG after mashing should be about 1.045. This is called the "starting SG".
The reverse happens during fermentation. The sugars are converted to alcohol which lowers the SG. When the SG stops dropping, you know that fermentation has stopped. You can also determine the alcohol content by how much the SG has dropped. Roughly, for every SG drop of 5 points, there is 1% alcohol. So, if the starting SG was 1.045 and the ending SG is 1.025, the alcohol content is about 4%.
I used to carefully measure the starting SG to check the effectiveness of the mash. But then I noticed a funny pattern - If the starting SG was too low or too high, I would still ferment it, keg it, drink it, and enjoy it.
I also used to nervously measure the SG level during fermentation to see when it had stopped. But again I noticed a funny pattern - If the ending SG was too low or too high, I would still keg it, drink it, and enjoy it.
Now I just wait 2 or 3 days after the fermentation head drops, then keg it, drink it, and enjoy it. But I still measure the starting SG and ending SG, just to feel important.

For beginners, this is the exciting and nerve-racking part. Fermentation varies with temperature, the amount of fermentable sugars, and the type of yeast, but typically follows these stages:
    After 1 to 2 days - bubbles start rising, and you can actually hear them if you are real quiet (the yeast are "partying").
    After 2 to 3 days - a head of foam forms on the top.
    After 3 to 5 days - the head falls.
    After 4 to 7 days - fermentation is done.

After fermentation, siphoning provides a method of transferring beer that avoids contact with air that could cause spoilage. To start the siphon, some suck on the tube and get a mouthful of beer, others use a small pump. An easy and effective method is to insert the tube into the beer, hold the other end of the tube up high, pour water into it using a measuring cup or something with a nice spout, and then lower the end of the tube into the receiving vessel. The flow should be smooth and solid.

The basic procedure in bottling is to add some corn sugar or unfermented wort to the bottles, add the beer, cap the bottles, and store them for a month. During this conditioning, the added sugars ferment and give off CO2 which makes the bubbles. Like most home-brewers I started with this method, but now use small 5-gallon kegs instead.

Charging with CO2:
I've tried different methods of force charging kegs with CO2, including "rocking the baby", where you set the pressure to about 40 PSI, lay the keg on its side, and rock it back and forth 100 times. But it seems the best way to get a deep and lasting charge is the slow way, where you set the pressure to 10-30 PSI (depending on recipe) and let it sit in the refridgerator for 3 days. When ready, release the keg pressure and use a serving pressure of about 5 PSI, expecting the first few glasses to be foamy, of course.

Beer contains sugars and other nutrients that are easily spoiled. For this reason, after boiling it's important that everything that touches the beer should be clean and sanitized. A common method to sanitize is to soak or rinse all containers and utensils in water with chlorine bleach. Just a splash of chlorine bleach in a gallon of water is all you need. Many home-brewers soak everything for 20 minutes, which is the preferred method. But in order to soak all the containers you need several gallons of the chlorine-water solution, and I find this impractical and unnecessary. I just rinse everything thoroughly with a little of the chlorine-water solution, and have never had any problem.

Step-by-step Instructions:

Brewing (typical ale or stout):
1.    Place 3 gallons water in the mash-tun and start heating.
2.    When the temperature gets to 170 deg, add the grist and break up the lumps. The temp should drop to about 160 deg.
3.    Cover, remove from heat, and mash for 1 hour, keeping temp at 155-160 deg.
4.    During the last 15 min of the mash, start heating water for the sparge in the boiling pot.
5.    Set up the sparge system by placing the sparge-bucket on a chair, dropping the false-bottom into the sparge-bucket, lining the sparge-bucket with the grain bag, and placing the fermentation-vessel below the sparge-bucket to catch the runoff.
6.    When the mash is done, scoop it into the sparge-bucket using a medium size pan.
7.    Add the sparge water to the sparge using the same medium size pan.
8.    When the sparge is just about done draining, lift the grain bag and tilt the sparge-bucket to release the last bit of runoff.
9.    Rinse the grist from mash-tun and the medium size pan.
10.  Using the medium size pan, scoop the runoff wort into the mash-tun and the boiling pot.
11.  Place the mash-tun and boiling pot on high heat and cover.
12.  When the wort boils, reduce heat so that the wort boils, but does not boil over (messy!!!).
13.  Place the hops in the hop-bag, tie it closed, and place in one of the pots of boiling wort.
14.  After 45 minutes of boiling, add a pinch of Irish moss. This helps to keep the beer clear looking.
15.  After 60 minutes of boiling, place the pots in a bathtub of cold water.
16.  Clean and sanitize the fermentation-vessel.
17.  After 20 minutes of cooling, pour the wort into the fermentation-vessel, pitch the yeast, and cover the fermentor.
At this point you can use your hydrometer to measure the starting SG. Or not.
As mentioned before, I typically wait until 1 or 2 days after the head drops. If I'm bored I may put my ear down and try to hear the bubbles.
1.    Start dissolving a pinch of finings gel in a small pan of water.
2.    Put the fermentation-vessel on the counter.
3.    Clean and sanitize the keg, the racking tube, and the flexible tubing.
4.    Place the racking tube into the fermentation-vessel, and attach the flexible tubing.
5.    Start the siphon by pouring water into the flexible tubing, and dropping it into the keg.
6.    Place the pan of water and finings gel on a burner set to high.
7.    When the water and finings gel is boiling, add it to the keg.
8.    Seal the keg.
Charging the Keg with CO2:
1.    Connect the in-connector that leads to the CO2 tank to the in-fitting of the keg.
2.    Open the CO2 tank MainTitle valve, and set pressure to 5 PSI.
3.    Open the keg pressure release valve.
4.    Purge the air out of the keg for about 30 secs.
5.    Close the keg pressure release valve.
6.    Set pressure to 10-30 PSI (depending on desired charge), check system for leaks.
7.    Place keg in refridgerator.
After 3 nights in the refrigerator, the beer should be ready to serve:
1.    Set the CO2 pressure to 0 PSI.
2.    Open the keg pressure release valve, then close it.
3.    Set pressure back to 5 PSI for serving.
You are now ready to try your beer! Like all kegs, the first few glasses will be foamy.

Comments welcome: