The Beginner Brewer: Your First Brew: A Step-by-Step Guide

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Your First Brew: A Step-by-Step Guide


So, brew day has arrived! If you've been following this blog, you may now be itching to brew your first beer (at least I hope you are).

Today's post covers each step in brewing the recipe I gave you in the previous post (click here if you don't have it yet). We'll be brewing a Best Bitter, a pleasant, tasty beer that is very drinkable when done right.

It's going to be fun, so let's get cracking!


First things first: Prep


Just like when you cook a complicated dish, in brewing, it pays to prepare well. So before you light that flame and get brewing, it's best to set out everything you'll need on the day. That includes:


Crystal malt: Before milling

  • Measuring out the grain you'll be using
  • Measuring out the extract you'll be needing
  • Measuring out the hop additions, and placing them in order of adding
  • Getting the right quantity of water ready (about 23 litres)
  • Cleaning everything, from the brew kettle (stock pot) to your spoons, whisk, fermenter,and measuring instruments.
  • Measuring out and preparing other ingredients, like Irish Moss and the Lyle's golden syrup (yum).
  • Prepare the ice bath or wort chiller you're going to use.
  • Get a timer ready. You can download a really nice one from this site.



The brew kettle and burner
Important Sanitation Note: As part of the prep, fill your spray bottle with sanitiser (like Perisan) and fill another container large enough to hold the fermenter lid, spoons etc. This becomes your sanitation station--a critical and convenient solution.


Step 1. Crush speciality grains and steep.

If you haven't bought pre-milled crystal malt, you can crush the grains by putting them in a plastic bag and crushing them with a rolling pin or wine bottle. Try to crack each grain properly. However, don't overdo it! You don't need to mill them into a flour. For this recipe, you'll need 280 grams of crystal malt.


Put your grains in a plastic bag
 before crushing
Tie your bag to the kettle for
easy extraction later
Put the cracked grains into your grain bag, tie it, and then stick it into the 23 litres of de-chlorinated or mineral water you've got in the kettle. It may be useful to attach the bag to the pot's handle to allow for easy access later. Now, light the burner, and let the water temp rise slowly. Every now and again, agitate the bag with your spoon or whisk to let free some of the grain's good stuff.


Steeping grains: Adding flavour and colour
Using your thermometer, check the water temperature periodically. Once it reaches 60 degrees, start your timer and don't let the bag steep for more than 30 minutes, and don't let the water temperature rise above 75 degrees Celsius! When it reaches 75 degrees, pull out the grain bag, and let it drain naturally. 

Don't squeeze the bag. All this rigmarole is necessary: it prevents the extraction of unwanted tannins in the grain that makes for astringent flavours.



You'll need 2 kgs of DME

Step 2. Add the extract.


Once you've drained the bag, chuck it in the garden (the grains, not the bag), and turn off the burner. This is important, because you're going to add the extract now, and you don't want it to stick to the bottom of the kettle.

You should be using Dried Malt Extract (DME), so snip open the bags, and get your incredibly large whisk ready (ahem). Dump the DME into the water and whisk away, ensuring that you get rid of all lumps.

Once your satisfied that the DME is well mixed in, light the burner and turn it to maximum. It's time for the rolling boil!



A good, vigorous, rolling boil

Step 3. The Boil.


Bring your liquid (known now as wort) to a boil. You want to try and get it to boil vigorously and roll around in the kettle (see pic). Once that happens, it's time to start with the first hop addition. 

That's why it's important to prep properly, and measure out your hops in the order in which you'll be adding them.


Step 3.1. Bittering hop addition.



Once the rolling boil is up and running, add your first hops: 57 grams of Fuggles. Be careful at this point, adding the hops may cause a boil-over. You can prevent it by reducing heat for a bit or (better) spray some cold water on the rising wort.

At this time, also add the 340 grams of Lyle's golden syrup. Swirl the container with some of the wort to make sure you get all of the good stuff into the kettle.
Lyle's Golden Syrup

At this stage, you can begin your 60 minute timer.

Not much is going to happen until later, so this is a good time to sanitise all the equipment that will touch the cooled wort. Also, rehydrate your yeast.




Step 3.2. Rehydrate your yeast.


Yeast slowly hydrating--as it should
Take about 125 ml of sanitary, boiled water and put it in a mason jar (also sanitised). Let the water cool to 30 degrees C. Snip open your packet of Nottingham dry yeast (with sanitised scissors--picking up a trend yet?) and chuck it into the jar. 

Close the (sanitised) lid, and let it gently sublimate into the water for about 10 minutes. After that, you can swirl the yeast cream around every now and again until it's time to pitch (see the later step).


Step 3.3. Flavour hop addition. 

With 15 minutes remaining on your 60 minute timer, add the 14 grams of East Kent Goldings. This hop addition will impart a nice, spicy flavour to the beer. 
Irish moss: Weird stuff
Also add the teaspoon of Irish Moss to the wort: this will help to clarify the beer.

(If you're using an immersion wort chiller, you should stick its coils into the boiling wort at this point to sanitise it)


Adding some hops: Watch out for the boil over!

Step 3.4. Final aroma hop addition

With 5 minutes left on the clock, add the 7 grams of Fuggles and 7 grams of East Kent Goldings. This addition mostly adds a nice hoppy aroma to the beer.


Step 3.5. Flame out and chill

At the end of the 60 minute boil, turn off the burner, and let the wort rest for few minutes. 

Using your incredibly large whisk, create a whirlpool-like vortex in the wort for a minute or so. This will help to collect all the unwanted bits (the trub) in the centre of the kettle. 


The (covered) wort: Just chilling out
After this, carefully lift the kettle and place into your ice bath (or if using a immersion wort chiller, you can connect it up to a water supply and turn on the tap). Make sure to cover your kettle with a sanitised lid to prevent nasties from floating into the wort.

This is also a good time to take a sample of your wort. Let the sample chill to room temp and then take a reading with your test tube and hydrometer. 

If all went as planned, you should have a reading pretty close to 1.044

If it's higher, it may be because of the reduction in volume due to boil off (especially if you had a vigorous boil). Don't worry. You can dilute it later.


Step 4. Wort transfer: Fermenter time!



The Sanitation station: Keeping the nasties out
Please remember that from this point onward, your wort is very, very vulnerable to infection. Everything that touches it from this point onward MUST be sterile! Don't cut corners and don't take chances!

Once your wort is chilled to about 25 degrees C, it's time to transfer to the fermenter. Again, carefully take your kettle and dump the contents into the sanitised fermenter, preferably using a sanitised funnel and sieve.

 At this stage, it's not a bad idea to splash the wort quite a bit as it enters the fermenter--that helps with aeration.

Both the whirlpool and the sieve will help to keep your beer free of trub and thus make it far more pleasing to the eye (and mouth) once it's done. 

A good tip: mark your fermenter at the 19 litre level. If your wort comes to below the line, dilute to 19 litres with sterile water.


Step 5. Pitching

Your beer is in the fermenter. Well done! You're almost finished.

The last step is to ensure that there is enough air in your wort--this will help the yeast to survive its long stay in your beer as it produces alcohol and CO2--cool! 

You can aerate the wort in a number of ways. The easiest is to whisk the wort vigorously to introduce air, or if you're fermenting in a carboy of some kind, you can shake it for a few minutes to mix in the air. 


Beer in the fermenter. Note the thermometer to keep
track of the ambient temperature
Once that's done, you can pitch your yeast. Chuck it into the wort and give it a good stir. 

Half-fill the airlock with sterile water or vodka, stick it through the rubber grommet, and then pop that assembly into the fermenter lid. 

Seal the fermenter and put it somewhere dark, with an ambient temperature of between 16 and 23 degrees C. 


Step 6. Waiting..

Now comes the hard part. Waiting. 

Your beer should start fermenting within about 24-48 hours, which will be evident by the bubbling and gurgling sounds coming from the airlock. Leave it well alone and let the yeast do the work--no intervention necessary!

This beer should be complete (fermented out) after about 7 days or so, but will be improved if you let it condition for 2 weeks in the fermenter. During that time, feel free to take a reading or two with your hydrometer, but always sterilise your sampling equipment and never return the sample to the fermenter! 

Besides, there is a better receptacle for the sample: your mouth. Tasting the beer as it develops is all part of the fun and science of brewing.

You're aiming for a final gravity reading of approximately 1.011. It's best to give it some time and not rush things--a luxury the homebrewer enjoys over the commercial brewer!


Step 7. Bottling.

This is a whole additional project of its own. So tune in next time for my post on the basics of bottling.

8 comments:

  1. I have been brewing for about a year now, and your site has given me some new great tips on brewing, well done and keep on blogging!!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for the compliment and encouragement! It's been a while since my last post, but a new one will be coming soon!

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  2. Hi Harper. Sorry if this is stupid question. Do I need to steep the grain and boil all of the 23L of water or can I steep in say 13l and boil that and then add the rest of the water in the fermenter? This will be my 1st brew with grains! Whoop whoop!!

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  3. Hi KingPaul,

    Not a stupid question at all. The volume of water you'll use to steep your grains in and eventually boil depends firstly on the volume of your brew kettle. My recommendation: if you can, rather go for a full volume (i.e. 23L boil). There are several advantages to that which I've discussed in other posts--most notably the full utilization of hop flavor, removing haze, and boiling off compounds like DMS.

    However, if your kettle won't accommodate that volume, it's certainly okay to boil what you can, and then add (sterile) water later. The disadvantage is that you won't be able to get the full advantages of a full volume boil, and that you're importing some risk by adding that much water at a later stage, so make sure that the water is sterile (i.e. bottled or boiled). There's also the possibility that, due to the smaller volume, you're more likely to caramelize the extract you're using, thus giving the beer a burnt sugar flavor (not that nice).

    Hope that helps? Good luck and well done on giving this method a try! Let me know how it turns out, and don't hesitate to ask more questions!

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  4. Done! Only 2 hiccups. Could not find Lyle's, so had to use Ilovo. Then I struggled with transferring the cooled wort to my fermenter. The trub keep clogging up the sieve.I did whirlpool during cooling, but as soon as I tipped my brewpot, the trub got mixed up with the wort. Will try siphoning next time. OG was 1,044. Fermenting at 20C. Will leave it for atleast 2weeks. Thanx

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    Replies
    1. Nice one! If you find the trub clogging your sieve (did you use Irish Moss?), I'd drop the sieve--it's sort of optional. I wouldn't siphon--too risky and a bit of a pain.. Now for the difficult part--waiting! Good luck, and don't forget to let me know how it turns out!

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  5. Bottled today after 20days in the FV at about 16-18C. FG was 1,012. Bulk primed with 7g of brown sugar/liter beer. Nice taste, not to bitter but definitely not sweet. Will keep it to carbonate for 2weeks and then report on taste. Cheers!

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  6. Well done! Seems like you hit the FG right on the money. Let us know how the beer turns out please!

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