For years, I bottled my beer. I suggest that you do too until you are sure you will be in this hobby long term.
There are a variety of sizes of beer bottle available: 8 oz, 12 oz, 16 oz and 22 oz. Bottles should be rinsed with a water bleach solution and the insides scrubbed with a brush to remove any sediment.
Before bottling, the beer must have priming sugar added. For most five gallon recipes, this is 5 oz of corn sugar. Mix the corn sugar in hot water and after dissolved, add and swirl well into the batch of beer.
It is necessary to do this so your beer will naturally carbonate in the bottle.
I highly recommend the use of a stand alone beer bottle capper. It allows you to use your body for leverage to attain a better seal. I leave about an inch or an inch and a quarter of air space in each bottle.
The bottles are then left at room temperature to carbonate. The priming sugar will restart fermentation by the yeast- just enough to carbonate the bottle. Be careful and do not add too much priming yeast or you will have explosions from over-carbonated bottles!
I once made the mistake of not paying attention and using too much priming sugar…. as my family sat upstairs watching TV, we could hear the bottles in the basement explode. Often one explosion set off two or three more. It was a mess but I was too afraid to move the bottles from out of their cardboard box until all of the exploding and foaming was over.
As I said, only made that mistake once…
After couple of weeks, the bottles will be naturally carbonated and ready for chilling and drinking. All bottle-carbonated beer will have a small amount of sediment on the bottom of each bottle. There is nothing in this sediment that will hurt you, it is only yeast. In fact, some styles of beer such as wheat should be consumed while still cloudy.
However, if you are picky about drinking clear beer- tip your bottle and pour slowly.
While no one ever minds emptying bottles, cleaning them is a chore. Once you've gotten experience making beer and are sure you will remain in the hobby long term, I'm sure you will want to move up to a kegging system.
I warn you however, once you move up to kegging and let your friends know about it, you (and your kegs of homemade beer!) will never be short of invitations to parties, barbeques and other celebrations!
The favorite kegs for homebrewers to use are steel 5-gallon soda kegs also known as Cornelius kegs. Homebrew supply shops offer used/new kegs as well as CO2 tanks, beer line, taps and other necessary equipment.
Beer in kegs may be naturally carbonated with priming sugar, the same as bottles. However, most of us who keg beer prefer to simply attach it to the CO2 hose and allow the carbonation to take place. It allows for cleaner beer with no sediment. However, beer purists claim they can tell the difference. They believe that CO2 carbonation in the keg results in a harsher, less smooth, carbonation compared to if the beer yeast is allowed to do it naturally.
Myself, I have not been able to tell a difference. I guess I'm not a beer snob.
I turn up the CO2 to about 10 or 15 psi and give it a week or so to carbonate. If you are in a pinch and need carbonated beer ASAP, you could turn up the CO2 to 30 psi and it will be carbonated overnight. Beware, if you forget to turn down the CO2 to the dispensing pressure, you will have problems with excessive foaming.
I converted a chest freezer over to a beer 'fridge to store my kegs and keep them cool while I am dispensing beer from them.
With all of the beer and CO2 lines, there's barely enough room to fit the kegs and still close the door!
I purchased an exterior thermostat that allows me to set the inside temperature at anywhere between 20 – 80 degrees.
I usually leave it set at around 34 degrees to prevent the growth of mold on surfaces inside it. Although this is colder than ales should be served, I have no problem pouring my ales and then giving them some time to warm up before drinking.
My beer 'fridge holds six 5 -gallon kegs and one 2.5 gallon baby keg (usually we put homemade root beer or another soft drink in that). I cut a hole in the top door of the freezer and run the beer lines up into a wooden box I built myself. Each beer line goes to a stainless steel tap.
At the bottom of that is a stainless steel drain. A plastic tube runs from that into a collection container to hold any spilled beer or foam. It is removable so it may be rinsed and cleaned in the sink.
To pour beer from the keg with minimal foaming, the tap is opened all the way and beer allowed to run slowly down the side. As the glass is almost full, a head of foam is allowed to form.
If the beer has filled the glass without as much head as you'd like, you may now close the tap to only half-way to add some.
I hope that you have found this series of posts on homebrewing beer informative.
If brewing your own beer is something you've always wanted to do, I encourage you to go ahead.
You CAN do it!
Now that your beer has been brewed and the yeast pitched into the cooled wort… one must be patient and wait.
As the yeast does its work, a foam is formed on the top (especially with ales) known as krausen. For most basic ales, this primary or first stage of fermentation takes about 7 to 10 days. Lagers and more highly alcoholic ales take longer.
I wish I could share the fruity floral pleasant scent of actively fermenting beer with you. Words cannot completely describe it.
You'll just have to make a batch for yourself so you know what I'm talking about.
Once the beer is done actively bubbling and the krausen decreases, primary fermentation is over.
It is now time to transfer to another smaller carboy for some more time, known as secondary fermentation. This siphoning into another container is known as racking. Fill your siphon hose and siphon tube with water, then allow it to drain into the smaller carboy. Try to avoid shaking or moving the primary fermentor too much to avoid stirring up the lees (dead yeast and other sediment at the bottom of the carboy). Your goal is clear, not cloudy beer.
Although secondary fermentation is not an absolute requirement- as most of the alcohol has already been created- I strongly encourage it. Resting for a few more weeks allows the yeast to finish its work and most of the larger particles to settle out. This results in clearer and more fresh tasting beer.
Although it may be cloudy with sediment and barely carbonated, I always sample some of my green beer while I am transferring from carboys between primary and secondary fermentation. I mean"green beer" in the context of being young and un-aged- NOT green beer as in the colored stuff some folks drink on St. Paddy's Day!
I enjoy tasting the changes of the beer as it develops and ages.
The airlocks are replaced filled with water and the carboys are placed in a cool, dark, quiet place for secondary fermentation.
Pictured above in our storage closet are my Irish Red Ale, the Pale Ale (which I just made) and a Barley Wine (about 12% alcohol).
The other enemy of beer (beside oxygen and wild yeast/bacteria) is light. If beer is exposed to light, hydrogen sulfide will form, resulting in a rotten egg or "skunked" beer smell. Beer should always be kept away from light. If the carboys cannot be placed in a closet out of light, then I wrap a towel around them.
Depending on the type of beer, secondary fermentation may take only two or three weeks (most ales), or up to two to four months (some lagers and barley wines).
Now that you have a general idea of the ingredients and equipment required to brew beer at home… let's have some fun and make some beer!
A time honored tradition while making beer is to enjoy a glass of your previous batch while brewing. Be careful: don't enjoy too many! You don't want to get distracted and forget the watch the wort as it simmers. Boil-overs are sticky messes which will not endear you or your new hobby to your spouse.
If you don't have any homebrew to enjoy while brewing then a store-bought microbrew or import will have to do. Just make sure to have a couple of homebrews around next time.
For my example batch, I decided to brew an American Pale Ale. Not too dark and not too light- Pale Ales do have a bitter hoppiness that are often more than many non-beer drinkers would prefer. There are few beers that quench the thrist on a hot summer day after a 20 or 30 mile trail run than a citrusy-bitter Pale Ale however.
If you don't like hoppy (ie bitter) beers, don't worry, you can brew something else entirely for yourself such as a wheat or an Amber Ale.
The ingredients for this Pale Ale recipe are:
- 3 lbs Gold Dry Malt Extract
- 3.3 lbs Gold Liquid Malt Extract
- 1.5 lbs Carapils 60L grain
- 6 oz Dark Crystal grain
- 1/2 oz Magnum bittering hops
- 1/2 oz Ahtanum aroma hops
- Irish moss (a fining to help clear the beer)
- Wyeast London ESB Activator liquid yeast
- Enough water to make five gallons
I purchased these ingredients as a pre-assembled kit from Midwest Homebrewing. There are many books of beer recipes. As your experience with homebrewing increases, you'll be sure to want to try some recipes out. However, many homebrewing suppliers offer kits with all of the ingredients assembled and sold together.
Athough I enjoy trying out new recipes and tweaking old ones, sometimes when all I want to do is brew, the convenience of a kit is just the ticket.
The first step is to heat the water to boiling and then steep the specialty grains. After the water is heated to boiling, the heat is turned off and the grains in their cheese cloth muslin bag are left to soak for 30 minutes or more. These grains add flavor and body to the beer.
After the grains are done soaking, they are removed and discarded. Livestock and wild birds love them after they've cooled so we never throw them out.
Your hot unfermented beer is now known as wort. The next step is to add the liquid and dry malt extract. Once dissolved the heat is turned back on and the wort heated back to bubbling.
This next part is a critical step…
The wort must be stirred..and stirred… and stirred….
Do not walk away….
Do not turn away for even one second to do something else….
This initial heating of the wort is when boilovers occur. The same as a pot of milk, wort when first heated to boiling will foam and boil over in a second or two.
When the foaming begins, turn the heat down or off completely. This is where brewing with propane or natural gas is much better than on an electric range top. You are able to turn the heat down immediately and avoid boilovers. Brewing outside has the advantage of easier cleanup in the event of a boil over compared to on the kitchen stove.
Once the wort is done foaming, adjust the heat so it bubbles with a slow rolling boil- a little more than a simmer but a little lower than a brisk boil that foams over.
As soon as you have the heat regulated, it is often time to add the bittering hops, depending on the particular recipe.
In the pale ale recipe I am making, I added the 1/2 oz Magnum bittering hops at this point.
The wort should be slowed boiled for an hour or more. This allows the bittering hops and the eventual beer to be smoother. It also allows for a better "protein break." After the wort is boiled and beer is fermented, any unfermantables that could cloud the beer will more cleanly settle out.
Finings such as Irish Moss help clear the beer as well. Irish moss is usually added about 15 minutes before the boiling is done.
About one or two minutes before the end of the boil, the aroma hops are added. In this pale ale recipe, the aroma hops were the 1/2 oz Ahtanum aroma hops. Do not boil the aroma hops too long or you will loose the floral, spicy, citrusy or piney scents that each particular variety of aroma hops is known for. If overboiled, however, the aroma hops may become bittering hops.
Some recipes use dry hopping (not this one). The hops are added to the cooled wort in the fermentor to impart even stronger flavor and aroma.
The heat is turned off and the wort allowed to cool.
Some brewers cool their beer using a special device: a wort chiller. This allows for a better protein break and a fresher, cleaner tasting beer. I haven't invested in one yet, as my beer has always tasted and looked good the way it is.
Perhaps it is because I brew outside during the cool time of the year?
There are two basic types of fermentors: plastic bucket and glass carboy.
Plastic is less expensive and less likely to break. It has the disadvantage of being less airtight (oxygen is the enemy of beer) and less easily sanitized.
Glass is somewhat more expensive, but has the advantage of being airtight and better able to be sanitized.
I strongly encourage you to use a glass carboy. If you recieved a plastic bucket in a beer making kit given to you as a gift, do yourself and your beer a favor: put the bucket away and buy yourself a 6 1/2 gallon glass carboy for primary fermention.
Before using any beer equipment, it is essential to sanitize it to avoid wild yeasts or bacterial "infections" to your beer. Although they won't hurt you, an unwanted yeast or bacteria could result in strange off-flavors and bad-tasting beer.
There are beer sanitizers available from homebrew suppliers. However, one which is effective and readily available is plain-old household bleach. Add a small amount of bleach to your carboy, then some water and swish around to cover all surfaces.
Rinse at least twice or until there is no more bleach scent and you are ready to transfer the wort into the fermenter.
Once your equipment is sanitized and the wort is cool, you may now add it to the fermentor.
Always make sure it is completely cooled to avoid cracking the glass. As an added precaution, I always have some cold water already sitting in the bottom of the glass carboy before I pour the wort into it.
In the funnel, I have also placed a strainer to assist in filtering out large particles of grain, hops, etc. Anything that is missed will settle out during and after fermentation.
The next step is fun and easy: pitching the yeast!
Now "pitching the yeast" has nothing in common with throwing a ball…. "pitching the yeast" is simply pouring the yeast culture into the cooled wort to let it begin fermentation.
Dry yeasts and some of the older liquid yeasts required a starter culture to be prepared of 500 ml or so of wort. After several hours or a day, the actively fermenting starter culture was ready to be pitched into the main batch.
Not so with the Wyeast Activator, it is ready to be pitched directly into the wort immediately-without any preparation or starter culture.
Nevertheless, old habits die hard and I still prefer to warm my Wyeast Activators to room temperature, "smack" open the yeast culture inside and then let it work for a few hours until the bag puffs up.
That way I know I have a live culture…I've only had a dead yeast culture a handful of times in my two decades of brewing. Needless worry is eliminated when you know you've pitched a living healthy yeast culture into your batch.
The carboy may now be placed into a quiet, dark place to allow fermentation to begin. Most ale yeasts prefer room temperature; lagers require somewhat cooler temperatures. Follow your recipe!
An airlock in a rubber stopper is then inserted into the carboy.
As the yeast grows and coverts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide is produced which must be vented off. Oxygen, however, is the enemy of beer and must be kept off of it. An airlock half filled with water allows the CO2 to be released while preventing oxygen from getting into the fermentor.
The sound of actively bubbling airlocks makes homebrewers smile:
Bloo-ip! Bloo-ip! Bloo-ip!
When the airlocks bubble, we know that our yeast is happy and the wort is being fermented into beer.
As I've mentioned before, I have several hobbies, er… passions… besides running ultramarathons.
One that I have been involved in the longest is homebrewing beer and wine. I began making beer almost 20 years ago and have been making it off and on ever since.
What better way to relax after running an ultramarathon than sit in our hot tub overlooking a pine forested canyon enjoying a refreshing cold homebrew?
We had an Oktoberfest party recently; after an evening of visiting and listening to Bavarian beer drinking music…our friends emptied almost all of our kegs.
I love when my kegs are empty. That means I have space to store new beer and can start brewing again. Making beer is as much fun as tasting it-almost. The creation and trying out new recipes are the best parts of the hobby. However, I could never ever consume all that I make which is why I'm always eager to share.
I started out using kits and simple recipes. I learned from the mistakes I made along the way. I've never made a bad batch of beer- but some have turned out better than others.
One bit of advice is to aquire a good homebrewing book and/or have an experienced homebrewer show you how.
My favorite book…indeed it should be called the "bible" of homebrewing… is The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, one of the pioneers of home brewing beer.
It was he who first coined the phrase "Relax… Don't Worry… Have a Home Brew!" which remains the unofficial motto of homebrewers to this day.
I make all kinds of beer. I also enjoy trying out new microbrews or imports to get ideas of which style of beer I might like to try brewing next.
Sometimes I am asked which is my favorite: "I have none… I appreciate them all…."
A pale ale with the citrusy bitterness of Cascade hops may be just the thing on a hot August afternoon after working in the garden… while a rich, creamy oatmeal stout accompanied with homemade whole grain bread, soup and salad might be exactly what's needed after coming in from slitting firewood on a winter's evening.
Which beer is best? It all depends…
There are two main styles of beer: ales and lagers. The difference is in the type of yeast that is used.
Ale yeast forms a thick krausen or head of foam on the beer as they ferment- they're top fermenters. Ale yeasts produce fruity esters. Sometimes these are clove-like and spicy, sometimes they are fruity, even banana-like- it all depends on the variety. Ale yeasts work best at room temperature and usually they do their job more quickly than lager yeasts. Thus, ales are the best types of beer for a beginner to learn to make first.
Examples of ales include: Pale ales, English Bitter, IPA, red ales, light ale, amber ales, stouts, porters, and wheat beers.
Lagers, on the other hand, ferment more slowly and require cold aging, often as long as 3 or 4 months or more. They are bottom fermenters and do not work asaggressively as most ale yeasts. However, the wait is worth it: lager yeasts produce crisp, clean tasting beers, highly prized by beer drinkers around the world. Nevertheless, lagers are slightly more tricky to work with which is why it is best for beginners to develop their skills on ales first.
Examples of lagers include: Pilsner, Amber lager, Vienna lager, Oktoberfest, Marzen, Bock, Dopplebock and others.
My second bit of advice: use liquid instead of dry yeast.
The quality of beer made with liquid yeast is markedly better than with dry yeast. I keep a few spare packets of dry yeast around in case I have a "stuck" batch of beer that won't ferment. Dry yeast does not expire as quickly as does liquid. Otherwise, I use only liquid. Plus, there are many more varieties to choose from.
My favorite brand is the Wyeast Activator, avalable in countless different strains. There's a kind for every conceivable style of beer you might want to make.
The next important ingredient in beer is hops. There innumerable varieties of hops available. Hops are used either for bittering or aroma. Some varieties are used for both.
Hops are the dried female flower of a perennial vine that dies back to the ground every winter before sprouting up again from its roots every spring. We grew hops on the south wall of our house back when we lived in Wisconsin. Within a couple of months every spring they were touching the roof of our two story farmhouse.
Amazing vines- hops can grow a foot or more in a day!
Hops add both bitterness and the familiar aroma to beer. They also possess natural antioxidants which help preserve beer, a useful trait back in the days before pastuerization and refrigeration.
Some beers, such as the India Pale Ale were purposely made extremely hoppy so they could survive the travel for months on a ship around the Cape and through the warm tropical seas- eventually to quench the thrist of the British in India a century ago.
Certain beers are known for the specific type of hops they are made with. The noble Saaz hop is an essential ingredient to Pilsners; the citrusy, almost grapefruit-rind like, aroma and bitterness of the Cascade hop is a favorite in American Pale Ales.
One confusing thing, sometimes the same variety of hop is used for both bittering AND aroma. Bittering hops are added to the wort (unfermented beer) early in the boiling process- aroma hops are added only a few minutes before the boiling is done. Bittering and aroma hops can be two or more different varieties or they can be the same- it all depends on the recipe.
Hops are available as dry leaves, plugs or pellets (pictured above). I prefer the latter for availability and ease of use, unless I happen to be using some hops I've grown myself.
But yeast and hops without malt would be nothing more than bitter hop flavored tea. Yeast needs food to grow on and carbohydrates to convert into alcohol. Just as bread yeast feeds on the starch in flour; beer yeast needs the sugars in malt. Malt is made from the sprouted barley and other grains. As the grain begins to sprout, starches are converted into sugars, easier for yeast to digest. The malts are then dried and roasted to various darkness, imparting a rich complexity to the beer. In the past, all brewer had to malt and roast their own grain- a few still do.
Now however, you can buy pre-made malt extract from homebrew suppliers- it is easy to use and almost as good. All grain brewing is much more challenging than using malt extracts. I prefer to use a combination of grains and malts. The quality of beer is better but using some extract makes brewing more convenient.
Finally, the last important, and probably least appreciated, ingredient in beer is water. Most tap waters are acceptable- as long as they don't have off-flavors or are too highly mineralized.
Our pure cold Black Hills mountain aquifer water is perfect for creating great beer.
Many homebrew suppliers offer kits with all necessary ingredients. These are tried and true recipes which minimize the possibility of starting a batch and later finding out one or more essential ingredients is missing. However, before you can begin brewing, you need the tools to do the job. Again, homebrew suppliers offer new to homebrewing supply kits for new homebrewers.
The minimum equipment and tools required to make beer include the following:
- Stainless steel brewing pot: to boil the wort (unfermented beer).
- Slotted bewing spoon- to stir the wort while it boils
- A burner to boil your beer- a stove top will do but does not heat as quickly and is harder to get the exact right temperature to allow a slow bubble without messy boilovers. I bought a propane burner for frying turkeys on sale after the Holidays. It works great!
- Cheese cloth muslin: to put the hops and specialty grains in when steeping and boiling
- Household bleach- diluted it makes a cheap and effective sterilizer for beer equipment. Use gloves and don't forget to rinse!
- Carboy- preferably a large glass one instead of plastic bucket- for the beer to ferment in. Glass is easier to keep clean.
- Air locks- the beer needs to "breathe" or release CO2 as it ferments but oxygen must never touch it. Air locks with filled half-way with water do the trick.
- Stoppers with hole- to fit the air lock into and put on the carboy
- Strainer and funnel: to strain the wort and allow it to be poured into the carboy. Make sure the wort has cooled before pouring it into the carboy or the glass will shatter!
- Siphon with plastic hose: for transferring beer into another fermentor, into a keg or into bottles
- Bottles (until you move up to kegging beer as I have): to store your beer until you drink it- duh!
- Bottle caps- to cap your bottles- another duh!
- A bottle capper- I recommend spending the extra money to get a stand alone one. They're much easier to use, with less hassle and frustration
The above are the minimum equipment needed. As you become more experienced, you may decide to invest in a set up to keg your beer and more specialized equipment such as a wort chiller and so on. Those are nice but not an absolute necessity when starting out.
Once you have assembled your equipment and ingredients- it' time to make beer!