How to Make Beer: hobby, obsession, way of life!
Brewing beer is fun and easy; if you can make mac ‘n cheese from a box without help, you can make beer, and we’re going to show you how.
Need a Starter Kit?
Whether an experienced hobbyist or complete brewing beginner, Northern Brewer has the perfect kit for you:
Get all your equipment ready for brew day
To ensure you have the necessary equipment and ingredients to proceed with brewing.
Success, so the saying goes, is 90% preparation and 10% inspiration, and so it is with beer. Brewing beer involves boiling malt, hops and water to create a grainy, sugary liquid. Next, we add a fungus – yeast – to the wort, allow for time to pass and we have flat, warm beer. Finally, we mix this warm, flat beer with a bit of sugar and bottle it, which will result in carbonated beer after a week or two.
Sanitizer keeps your equipment clean and prevents infection.
Used for boiling your wort.
A container used to ferment your beer.
Keeps your beer from being oxidized during fermentation.
Used for whirlpooling and helps prevent boilovers.
Use the hydrometer to figure out your original and final gravity.
Once your beer has fermented, bottle it for serving.
The auto siphon to transfers beer between fermentation vessels.
An essential piece of equipment, fastens caps to the bottle.
We have a variety of closures that work with many different bottles.
Choose a variety of Starter Kits to begin brewing!
Remember when we earlier mentioned adding fungus to our beer? Yeast is a fungus, a very special fungus, it is the crucial element to the creation of beer, it is what converts sugars into alcohol. We want to create an environment in which the yeast is happy; where the yeast is allowed to eat away at sugars without any competition. Competition means the yeast is unable to produce alcohol and even worse, competition means that some other element has entered our beer. Chances are this other element is bacteria. Bacteria will create off flavors in beer, beer that tastes, smells or feels unlike beer should, perhaps a strong smell of vinegar, a taste of cardboard, a viscous feel. Yuck.
To prevent the introduction of such odd elements, we clean and sanitize. It is the most important task of the entire brewing process. You must clean well everything that your beer may come in contact with, and just before use you must sanitize this equipment as well. Your brew kettle will not need to be sanitized as the boiling wort will accomplish this, but you will want the kettle clean.
There are many sanitizing solutions on the market, each with their own direction. Most are quick and easy to use.
For example, Easy Clean: 1-Tablespoon Cleanser per 1-Gallon warm water and 2 minutes of contact time. No rinsing required.Next: Ingredients
All Northern Brewer Recipe Kits and for that matter nearly all beer will have four basic ingredients: Malt, Hops, Yeast and water. Don’t be fooled by the length of this list; there is enormous variety within each of these categories, enough to produce the wondrous array of beers available today, from the palest pilsner to the blackest stout and everything in between.
Some recipes and kits may also include specialty grains, sugars or spices.
You provide the most basic ingredient for your beer, water. Water chemistry can make a dramatic difference in your beer, but if your water tastes good to drink, it is fit for brewing.
Beer is brewed by fermenting the sugars of malted barley and other cereal grains. Brewers utilize the process of malting, wherein seeds are prompted to sprout, after which growth is stopped through kiln drying, to eventually access these sugars.
Malting stimulates amylase enzyme production within the grain. Brewers crush the malted grain and soak it in hot water in a process known as “mashing.” This activates the enzymes, which convert the grain’s starch into sugars. These sugars are then rinsed from the grain and the resulting liquid, known as “wort”, is boiled with hops and other ingredients. After boiling and cooling the wort yeast is added to ferment the substance and produce delicious beer.
Most new brewers prefer not to perform the mashing step themselves. Liquid malt extract and dry malt extract are the concentrated results of this process, malt sugars that have been produced by mashing and packaged for later use. Extract brewers then steep a small amount (usually about 1 pound) of specialty grains to provide specific malt flavors and color in the finished beer.
Hops are the cone-shaped flower of the perennial Humulus lupulus plant. Hops are added to wort to impart a bitterness perfect to balance the sweetness of malt and to provide a wide variety of flavors and aromas. In addition to the bittering, flavoring and aromatic qualities that hops bring to beer, they also serve as a stability agent, preventing spoilage, contribute to head retention and act as a natural clarifier.
While the use of hops in brewing is the norm today, it wasn’t until the eleventh century that hop use was first documented in Germany and not until the sixteenth century the use of hops became common to British brewers. Prior to this introduction beers were flavored and preserved with plants such as heather, rosemary, anise, spruce and wormwood; adventurous brewers still use these ingredients today. Particular hop varieties are often associated with particular beer styles, regions or even a particular brewery’s signature style. Hops are grown in countless varieties. All hops contain alpha and beta acids, it is these acids that contribute to the stability and bitterness of the beer.
Hops also contain a host of essential oils which can boil off if added early in the boiling process but which lend characteristic flavor and aroma when added later in the boil or even after fermentation. Each hop varietal can contribute dramatically different qualities of bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer. These flavors and aromas are often described as grassy, floral, citrusy, flowery, spicy, earthy, etc. Hops are often found as pellets, plugs or whole leaf. A staple of homebrew stores, you can also grow your own!
In 1516, The Reinheitsgebot, or German Beer Purity Law, listed the only allowable ingredients for brewing beer to be malt, hops and water. As you can see, at one time, yeast was an unknown element, the primary agent of fermentation being completely mysterious!
The Vikings found that if they reused the stick used to stir their beer, it would help start the next fermentation process. These ‘magic sticks’ were so valuable they were often family heirlooms passed from generation to generation. In truth we now know that these sticks carried the family yeast culture, the crucial element in fermenting wort to create beer. Fortunately for German brewers the Reinheitsgebot was amended rightly to include yeast after the microorganisms were discovered.
There is an old saying: brewers make wort, yeast makes beer.So just what is yeast?
Yeast is a type of fungus. An organism that reproduces asexually, it is unusual in that it can live with or without oxygen. In a low oxygen environment yeast cells consume sugars and in return produce carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste products. This process is fermentation. Yeast is used in making wine, mead and cider as well as beer. Brewing yeast tends to be classified as either “top fermenting” or “bottom fermenting”. As the names indicate, the yeast strains tend to be most active towards the top and bottom of the wort respectively, though the cells are dispersed throughout. Top fermenting yeasts produce an ale style beer, bottom fermenting a lager style beer. These yeast strains are actually two different species, differentiated by temperature tolerance as well as a few other factors. Ale strains prefer warmer temperatures while lager strains ferment best at cooler temperatures.
Time to brew your beer
To prepare “wort” by boiling malt and hops, chill the wort and pitch the yeast.
You’ll Need: Your kettle, fermenter, funnel (optional), sanitizer, hydrometer and ingredient kit.
Directions: Brewing is a process. The process involves boiling and chilling, a period of fermentation and finally bottling and storage.
Pre Boil Preparation
You may be using liquid yeast or dry yeast. Most liquid yeast can simply be added to the fermenter with good results. However, if using a Wyeast Smack-Pack Activator System™, you should activate the pack by breaking the inner pouch with a firm smack. Let the pack incubate at room temp for at 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.Next: Adding Malt
After removing the steeping grains, bring the liquid to a boil. Many recipes require you to add the Malt Extract (Liquid or Dry) once the liquid reaches a boil. For best results, remove the kettle from your heat source first, then slowly add the Malt Extract and stir until dissolved. Then return the kettle to the heat source and bring it back to a boil. If you add the extract while boiling, it may simply scorch to the bottom of your kettle and create burned flavor in the beer.
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—the process by which wort finally becomes beer.
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 wait for the hot break before beginning their hop additions and timing their 60 minute boil. It is not, however, required. Watch the heat level carefully, as the foam can very quickly boil over and make a dangerous mess.
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 will contribute to an off-flavor in your finished product. When you boil your malt, you boil off sulfur and other compounds. Without the lid, those compounds boil off as vapor, but with the lid on, they may reappear as condensate, dripping back into your kettle and creeping into your finished beer. So, once you have the liquid boiling, leave the cover off.Next: Adding Hops
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 boiled, therefore times referenced always refer to how much time is left in the boil.
In this schedule, add the Goldings at the very start of the boil, which lasts 60 minutes. Add the Liberty 10 minutes before the end of the boil so as to boil for 10 minutes. Add the Willamette 5 minutes before the end of the boil so as to boil for 5 minutes.
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 stovetop a sticky, scorched and perhaps damaged mess. Stay in the brewhouse, not the doghouse!Next: Chilling
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.
As the wort cools, you can sanitize your fermenting equipment. 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 your brewed wort must be sanitized. As we discussed earlier, contamination by bacteria or wild yeast 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.
For future brews, you may eventually consider a wort chiller. This simple device will reduce the amount of time it take to chill your boiled wort. The sooner the wort is chilled and into the fermenter, the less likely it is that some other contaminant will ruin your beer.Next: Transferring
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 way it should be sanitized.
1. Add two gallons of cool water to your fermenter. It is handy to have a gallon water jug or pitcher around to avoid eyeballing your gallons.
2. Next, pour in the cooled wort. Leave behind any thick sludge in the bottom of your kettle.
3. Add more cool water to bring the total volume of liquid in your fermentation vessel to five gallons.
4. 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.Next: Pitching Yeast
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 your brew day, you prepared the 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. 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. 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. Ideally, the place where you store your fermenting beer will maintain a somewhat steady temperature and 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.
Adding yeast will begin the fermentation process
Providing an environment in which the yeast can accomplish a healthy and clean fermentation.
You’ll Need: Your primary fermenter, blow-off assembly, siphon and tubing, sanitizer, and secondary fermenter (optional).
Checking Your Gravity
While your specific gravity will begin to drop during the fermentation period, this is an aspect you should trust and not necessarily test. You want your beer to be exposed to as little possible contamination as possible. Every time you unseal the airlock, this exposure occurs. A good rule of thumb, measure your original gravity prior to pitching your yeast, then at any time you might transfer your beer, either to another container or, finally, during bottling/kegging.Next: Primary Fermentation
Within a day or two of brew day, fermentation begins. As the yeast convert malt sugars into CO2 and alcohol you will see bubbles come through the airlock. The specific gravity will steadily drop and a cap of thick tannish foam called krausen forms above the beer.
Note: if you do not see activity in the airlock, don’t panic. Airlock activity is not an indicator of a healthy ferment. It is just there to allow CO2 out and keep pests, like fruit flies, from getting in. Sometimes the CO2 will creep out from around the lid of a fermenter. This will not affect the beer. Krausen or visible activity will be a good indicator that your homebrew is fermenting fine. If using a bucket, simply open the lid a little and take a peek. More than likely, it will be fermenting. Just make sure the lid stays on tight to keep out pests. The CO2 from the active fermentation will prevent any air from getting in.
You may want to store your brew in an area that is easily cleaned, a particularly violent fermentation could cause a mess. Violent? Yes, violent. As with anything that builds with increasing gas levels, explosions can occur. Explosions are most common if your airlock fills with gunk,stopping the flow of gas out of the carboy. If krausen starts filling your airlock. You may want to initiate a blowoff set up, by replacing the airlock with a few feet of tubing and a jar of sanitizer. This is basically a large airlock that won’t get clogged with gunk.
Roughly one to two weeks from brew day, fermentation ends. Bubbles coming through the airlock become very slow or stop entirely. Most importantly, the specific gravity is stable and the cap of foam starts to subside. Always confirm the end of fermentation by taking a hydrometer reading. You’ll know fermentation is complete when the final gravity reading is the same,mthree days in a row. If the gravity reading continues to drop, there is still active fermentation and it is too early to move the beer off of the yeast.Next: Secondary Fermentation
During the fermentation process, a layer of krausen forms atop the beer. Where does it go? That krausen normally dissipates overtime and any remaining grain particles, hop particles, and dead yeast cells will accumulate instead at the bottom of your fermenter in a mass known as trub.
While sitting on this trub for a short time can impart flavors we want to see in a beer, letting our brew sit atop this trub for too long can create flavors we don’t want. To avoid these flavors setting in, we will rack or siphon the brew out of the first fermenter, being careful to leave the trub behind. Transferring the beer into a new, clear and clean fermenter allows the brew to settle out and conditions the flavor. It also gives the brewer an opportunity to add clarifying agents to the beer if needed. After racking the beer into a secondary fermenter, still more trub may form, but when racked into bottles during the final stage the beer should be less hazy and more clear than when it started.
emember, when racking into a new, secondary fermenter, it is important that this vessel is clean and sanitary. Be sure to sanitize your siphon, your fermenter, your airlock and stopper, and any tubing that may come in contact with the brew.
Sanitize your bottles and bottle your beer
To maintain sanitation and successfully prime, bottle and condition your beer.
You’ll Need: Bottles, caps, capper, bottling bucket, priming sugar, siphon, bottle filler and sanitizer.
You have been away from your brew and equipment for some time now. Do you remember when it was stated, sanitation was the most important task of the entire brewing process? It is worth stating again here. Prior to bottling your brew, you will need to sanitize anything that will come in contact with your beer.
Equipment to be sanitized and used in bottling:
Bottling Bucket, Beer Bottles, Bottle Caps, Auto-Siphon, Priming Sugar
Why we carbonate beer:
The same reason that you may not want to drink a flat soda product. For most, carbonated beer simply tastes better, the carbonation imparts a wonderful means of rounding out flavors and quenching your thirst. As a matter of fact, different beer styles call for different levels of carbonation. Beer can be carbonated in kegs or through the process of bottle conditioning. Bottle conditioning involves adding a measured dose of sugar (priming sugar) to your brew that will cause a small, controlled fermentation in the bottle. The CO2 released from this process will carbonate the beer.
Using the right bottle:
Capping bottles protects your brew from errant bacteria and oxygen. It is vital that bottle caps, just like any other equipment that comes in contact with the beer, are sanitized and in good condition. You can cap any bottle that is a pry off style. Screw top bottles are not compatible, often missing the lip required by the capper and presenting an uneven sealing surface which can lead to breakage.
You will have noticed your brew is now sitting atop a layer of trub; sediment made up of hop pieces, dead yeast, and malt brewing materials. While not harmful to consume, it’s not pleasant. Racking is the process of carefully moving beer off of the trub. Beer gets racked twice during the brewing process: during fermentation as described earlier and during bottling as the beer gets transferred from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. Racking to a bottling bucket allows you to fully mix your priming solution and beer. Mixing in the priming sugar will allow the yeast to carbonate your beer in the bottle.
Gravity is Your Friend: When racking, your filled container must be at least several feet higher than the empty vessel which you intend to fill.Next: Siphoning and Priming
Siphoning and Priming
Prepare the priming solution by boiling 16 oz of water in a sauce pan. Then remove from the heat and stir in your priming sugar (usually about 5 oz for 5 gallons). Once the sugar is completely dissolved, cover the pan until you’re ready for the next step.
Add your priming solution to the bottom of your empty bottling bucket:
Make sure the bottle bucket spigot is closed. Allow the priming solution to cool somewhat, then pour it into the bottom of the bucket. Siphon the fermented beer into the bucket, which will help mix the sugar solution.
Insert your auto-siphon into your carboy:
Your siphon should be deep enough to pull out the beer, but no so deep as to disturb or draw out the trub. Start with your siphon about 3 inches below the surface of your beer and slowly move deeper as your liquid is displaced into the bottling bucket. When close to the trub watch closely, you will want to stop siphoning prior to pulling any sediment. Siphon smart!
How Long is Your Tube? Have enough tubing to allow the tube to rest within your bottling bucket, this way, your beer won’t splash as it enters the bucket.
Move your carboy and siphon off to the side, you will now focus on your bottling bucket:
You may need to reposition this bucket so that you can open the valve and insert a beer bottle.Next: Filling and Capping
Filling and Capping
Fill your bottles:
The best way to bottle is to use a bottle filler attached by a short length of tubing to your bottling bucket’s spigot. Fill your bottles so as to leave about 3/4 inch of headroom at the top of your bottle.
Cap your bottles:
Carefully place your cap onto the bottle, then position the capper atop both, and, with equal pressure on the capper handles, pull down to the side of the bottle, crimping the cap to the bottle.Next: Conditioning and Storage
Conditioning and Storage
Once all of your bottles are filled and capped securely, move them to a safe place to condition. During this time, the remaining yeast will consume the priming sugar and carbonate the beer. Keep the bottles close to room temperature so that the yeast is active. The beer should carbonate in about two weeks.
After two weeks, choose one bottle, chill it, and enjoy. If the carbonation seems low, allow the rest of the bottles to condition for another week.Next: The Wait is Over
The Wait is Over!
You began a few weeks ago. Your brew day started with making wort. Fermentation transformed that wort into beer. Carbonation was achieved through priming sugar and bottle capping. It’s been a long wait, but today is the day.
Go ahead. Chill your bottle and open just as you would any other beer. Carefully pour your beer into a glass to inspect color, carbonation, and aroma. Keep in mind, this is a homebrew, you may find a small amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of your bottle. This is residual from the use of priming sugar, it is what brewers call bottle conditioned. Stop pouring just prior to this sediment and discard.
Ready to brew your next batch? Northern Brewer has plenty of kits to choose from!