So now that you’ve decided homebrewing is cool and you should nerd out over it, how do you get started?
What do you need?
A brew pot – 6- to 8-gallon brewing pot.
A carboy – glass over plastic
Extract Brew Kit
A Large Spoon
A Thermometer – Digital Kitchen Thermometer
First step in my process is to sanitize everything. It’s most important to sanitize the stuff that will come in contact with the beer after you’ve boiled it, so that means the carboy, airlock, thermometer, and spoon. The reason for this is that you don’t want to introduce any bacteria into the brew after the boil. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to wear surgical gloves and breathe through a mask after the boil — in fact, I’ve cooled off the beer during the winter by setting it outside, uncovered — but it’s better to sanitize and control what you can. While completing this step, if I have liquid yeast I activate it so that it is warm and active at the end of the brew, since the yeast should be kept in the fridge until it’s ready for use.
Next, you fill the brew pot with 3-5 gallons of water and start to heat it up. During this process, you’ll steep the grains. A kit will come with a bag to put the grains in, like a cheese cloth, and the grains themselves. Most brew shops will help you grind up the specialty grains, but if you are going to get a kit and not brew for a few days, you shouldn’t grind the grains. Just before steeping the grains, you can prepare them by crushing them with a rolling pin, or grinding them in a grain grinder. While steeping the grains (generally 20-30 minutes), you’ll need to keep the temperature of the water between 120 and 155 degrees. Any lower and you won’t pull out the sugars and flavor form the grain; any higher and you’ll start to get a bitter flavor from it.
Once the grains are steeped, bring the water to a boil. Once it boils, add in the malts. Recipes will often recommend that you take the brew pot off the heat at this point, because you can burn the sugars on the bottom if you aren’t stirring constantly. If you have someone helping you, one of you can pour while the other stirs; otherwise, just turning down the heat works nicely, as this will keep it from burning as quickly. After the malts are added, return it to a boil. At this point, the boil goes on for an hour. During that hour, you’ll be adding in hops at different points — the recipe will tell you when. Remember that the early hops are added for the nose, and hops added later will make more of a difference with flavor.
Taking the wort (the product you’re left with after the boil) off the stove, you’ll then need to cool it down. There are wort chillers you can use, which basically run water through copper tubing to cool the beer faster. I’ve also put it in a bathtub that was filled with cold water. Or you can come up with some other way to cool it off, like setting it outside in the dead of winter. Once it has dropped to 80 degrees, which can take a while, you can move it to the carboy.
This is where the siphon comes in — you’ll now siphon the beer from the brew pot into the carboy. Alternatively, you can use a funnel instead of a siphon, but you’ll get more of the residue into your fermentation that way, and you’ll need a siphon later anyway. At this point, you’ll probably find that you have less than five gallons of water, so you’ll need to add some — taking water from the sink, or using filtered water, fill the carboy until there are 5 gallons. Next, add the yeast to the carboy, then put the plug from the airlock on and cover up the opening. Then, shake the beer up for one to two minutes to circulate the air into the beer. This will help the yeast work faster and keep less of it from dying.
To finish up on day one, fill the airlock with a little bit of water so the bottom of it is covered and air can’t pass through it. Next, put it on top and move the beer to a dark room. If you don’t have a dark room, you can cover the carboy with a towel, which is what I typically do. If things have gone correctly, within a few hours (or by the next day at the latest), you’ll start to hear air bubbles escaping through the airlock. This means that the yeast is doing its work. You then let the beer sit for two weeks, checking in on it once and a while. After a few days, you’ll notice that the bubbles are infrequent or may have completely stopped. This is normal, but continue to let it sit for the full two weeks so the flavors marry.
After that time, if you are going to keg the beer, move the beer to the sanitized keg with the siphon, so that any sludge that has settled on the bottom of the carboy is left behind. Closing the keg, put it under pressure and in a refrigerator or kegerator immediately. Cooling off the beer to the temp of a fridge or kegerator will stop the yeast from eating away any more sugars or doing anything else that might make your beer taste funky. The beer is put under 30 PSI of pressure for 24-48 hours to get it carbonated, and then find your serving pressure between 4-8 PSI.
If you are bottling, you’ll use the priming sugar from the kits, turning it into a simple syrup. Add this to a beer when you move to to the brew bucket. Use the spigot to fill the sanitized bottles. Taking the caps and the capper, put a bottle cap on each bottle. Once all the bottles are filled, the beers need to sit out for two more weeks out of sunlight.The yeast will eat the newly added sugars, but since there is nowhere for the air to escape, the beers will carbonate. After two weeks the beers are ready to enjoy.
And that’s how one brews from an extract kit. Next week, we’ll talk about how all-grain brewing differs and what you’ll need for that process.