Step Two: Let’s Brew
To prepare “wort” by boiling malt and hops, chill the wort and pitch the yeast.
Your kettle, fermenter, funnel (optional), sanitizer, hydrometer and ingredient kit.
Brewing is a process. The process involves boiling and chilling, a period of fermentation and finally bottling and storage.
Pre Boil Preparation:
Objective: To ensure you have the necessary equipment and ingredients to proceed with brewing.
You’ll Need: A list or knowledge of your equipment, ingredients and some sanitizer.
You may be using liquid yeast or dry yeast. If using liquid yeast, a Wyeast ‘smack pack’. You will activate the pack by breaking the inner pouch with a firm smack. Let the pack incubate at room temp for a least three hours. The best way to use Wyeast is to smack it a few hours before (or the night before) you plan to start brewing, and make sure that it inflates before you start the process. If you have dry yeast, simply allow the yeast to warm to room temperature. We will be using the yeast later on, set aside.
Fill your brew kettle with 2.5 gallons of water. Any good quality drinking water is fine to use.
Steep Specialty Grains:
Not all recipes or kits involve specialty grains. If your recipe grain does not involve specialty grains, proceed to step 4. Specialty grains add extra color and flavor to your finished beer. Specialty grains are steeped as you would a tea bag in hot water. Add grains to your muslin bag, soaking in the heating water for about twenty minutes or until the temperature of the water reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not steep the grains in water over 170 degrees, as this will result in a bitter flavor.
As you boil your malt, you will notice some changes in your brew kettle. A foamy substance will slowly rise and cover your kettle surface. The foam is a product of the proteins present in the malt. These proteins begin to coagulate during the boiling process and rise to the surface, when clumped together, the proteins will become heavy and drop to the bottom of your pot again. This process may take anywhere from five to twenty five minutes. This is referred to as the “hot break”. Many brewers will await the hot break before beginning their hop additions and timing their 60 minute boil. It is not, however, required.
To cover or not to cover, that is the question, and a good question at that. Covering your brew kettle will help achieve a quicker boil, but it if the cover is left on during the boil it can also contribute to an off-flavor in your finished product. When you boil your malt, you boil off sulfur compounds. Without the lid, the compounds boil off as vapor, with the lid on, they may reappear as condensate, dripping back into your kettle and creeping into your finished beer. Once you have the liquid boiling, leave the cover off.
We now have wort! Wort (pronounced ‘wert’) is the combination of liquid grain sugars and water. This sweet wort will be transformed as we add hops in our boiling period and later when we add yeast to begin our fermentation process during which the wort finally becomes beer.
Hop additions are typically performed according to what is called a hop schedule. The schedule is the order that the hops are added. While some brews may only call for one type of hop added at one time, typically there are more. Usually, the hop added earliest in the boil is the varietal responsible for bittering the beer, while those added towards the end of the boil contribute to flavoring and aroma. Hops are added with the amount of time they need to boil in mind, therefore times referenced are always those prior to the end of boil.
Variances in hop additions can dramatically alter a beer recipe. If you are new to brewing and want assured results, follow the hop addition schedule in your recipe kit. As you become more experienced, play around with your hop additions, you may find you like the results! Recipes may call for other additions like spices, sugars or more malt. Treat these just like hops and add them to the kettle at their specified times.
WARNING! The watched pot never boils, but the unwatched pot always boils over. If the wort starts to froth up dramatically towards the top of your kettle, immediately cut the heat and stir. Boilovers will leave your nice stovetop a sticky, scorched and perhaps damaged mess. Stay in the brewhouse, not the doghouse!
Yeast is highly temperature specific. Yeast varieties not only thrive in particular temperature, they can only exist in particular temperatures ranges. Temperatures too cold and too hot will kill your yeast.
Remember, No Yeast = No Beer
The extreme heat of the boil will surely kill your yeast. Before we even think to add our yeast we must make sure our wort is within a tolerable temperature range. The easiest way to do so is to use a cold water bath. Simply put your brew kettle in this cold water, replacing the water as necessary to ensure the temperature decreases quickly. You may even add ice cubes to this water bath.
During this water bath, you will want to keep your brew kettle covered almost all the way to protect the wort from any airborne microbes. Have you sanitized your fermenting equipment? Now is the perfect time. If you think back to discussion of preparation we noted the most important aspect of the brewing process was to clean and sanitize our equipment. Anything that may come into contact with our brewed wort must be sanitized. Brewers go through a lot of trouble to make sure yeast will thrive to transform our wort into beer. Any other elements introduced to the wort will compete with the yeast and may result in off flavors and an undrinkable beer.
When the temperature of the wort has fallen below 100 degrees Fahrenheit you can top it up with cold water to bring the temperature down to the appropriate range for your yeast. Then it’s time to get ready for fermentation.
Slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady also prevents precious beer spillage and tedious cleanup after brew day. Now that you have cooled your wort, you will need to transfer it to a fermentation vessel. Remember, this may be a bucket, this may be a carboy, but either one should be sanitized.
- Add two gallons of cool water to your fermenter. It is handy to have a gallon water jug around to avoid ‘eyeballing’ your gallons.
- Next, pour in the cooled wort. Leave behind any thick sludge in the bottom of your kettle.
- Add more cool water. This brings the total volume of your fermentation vessel to five gallons.
- Finally, seal the fermenter. Gently rock the wort back and forth for a few minutes to aerate for fermentation.
Measure your brew’s specific gravity with a hydrometer. Hydrometer readings before and after fermentation tells us whether or not fermentation is complete and can help estimate the alcohol content of the finished beer. Record this number, your original specific gravity (OG) to use as a reference moving forward.
Patience is a Virtue:
The fermentation process, the process that converts our wort to beer, begins on brew day and ends a week or two later.
Pitch the Yeast:
The brewing term for adding yeast to wort is pitching. Early on in our brew day instructions, step number one in fact, we prepared our yeast for this moment. You either gave a good whack to your Wyeast Smack Pack or you brought your dry yeast out of refrigeration to warm to room temperature. Go ahead and sanitize a pair of scissors and sanitize the area you will cut on the actual yeast package. Remember, odd elements, bacteria and the like can destroy our beer. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Open your packet, if you have liquid yeast, go ahead and pour it directly into the wort, if you have dry yeast, sprinkle it on the surface of the wort.
Seal Your Lid:
Seal the lid of your fermentation vessel, fill the airlock with some of your sanitizer solution and move your vessel into a dark, quiet spot. Basements and closets are great places to store your beer during the fermentation process. The temperature of your brew will typically remain somewhat steady and your brew will encounter little exposure to light. You may want to store your brew in an area that is easily cleaned, a particularly violent fermentation could cause a bit of a mess.