Brewing Your First Extract Beer
Planning and Acquisition
So, you have decided to brew your first beer. Congratulations! Before you start though, you need to do some planning. You need to decide what kind of beer you want to brew and you need to gather the hardware to brew the beer. First, lets start with the hardware. You don't really need that much hardware for an extract brew as you can do these brews on your stove. By the way, what is an extract brew? An extract brew is a beer made from malt extract as opposed to all grain. Actually, malt extract is made from all grains but think of it as making your beer from a molasses type syrup instead of grains, which requires more equipment. So lets go through the list of what you will need for your first extract beer.
Brew Pot ( 5 gallon )
Stirring Spoon
Floating Dairy Thermometer
Hydrometer and test tube
Plastic Funnel
Hop Bags(optional)
Grain Bags
6-6.5 gallon Fermentors(plastic or glass)
Rubber stopper(s) for fermentors
Fermentation Lock
Siphon/transfer device
Bottle Filler
Bottles(12 or 22 oz)
Cleaning brushes for bottles and equipment
Bottle Capper
Cleanser and Sanitizer
Corn Sugar
These are the basic things that you will need for that first batch and each item will be explained throughout this document so don't worry if some of these things sound foreign right now. For the ingredients, we are going to start with a recipe for a basic Pale Ale. A Pale Ale is a light to medium colored beer with more than the usual hop flavor. If you want to brew a different kind of beer then just subsitute the ingredients for your beer throughout the HowTo. So lets go through the list of ingredients for the Pale Ale.
7 lbs Light Malt Extract
1 lb 60L Crystal Malt
2 ounces of Centennial Hops
3 ounces of Cascade Hops
5-6 gallons of the best water you can find
American Ale Yeast
You are also going to need a way to cool the beer down after the boil so you will probably need some bags of ice too.
Brew Prep
Things you will need before you begin are *time*, it takes several hours to brew up your beer so make sure you have ample time, clean brewing equipment, and our ingredients. I get my malt extract in a plastic container which I like to soak in a sink full of hot water or throw in the microwave for a minute or two to get the extract a little more runny. This isn't totally necessary but it does make it easier to pour the extract. Speaking of the sink, now is usually a good time to clean it up as you may be soaking some of your utensils in cleanser and/or sanitizer.
Now, a word about cleansing and sanitizing. Cleansing is actually using an agent that will break up the grime or other organic material that you may have on your brewing equipment. Sanitizing is merely killing the germs on these items so if you have some utensils that are dirty, don't expect them to become clean by merely using sanitizer. A good rule of thumb for your brewing equipment is too rinse it off immediately after use so none of the sticky gunk gets a chance to dry and harden. If you get into the habit of washing your brewing equipment while it is still wet, cleansing and sanitizing will be a much easier task.
For the water, you want to use the best possible water for your beer. When I brewed extract beers, I always used spring water purchased at a grocery store and never really seemed to have a problem with it. Since you may not be boiling all of the water used in your beer, you want your water to come from as pristine a source as possible. You will also need to make sure you don't use distilled water as it does not have the mineral content needed to make beer. The minerals in spring water are needed in beer so we need to make sure we use water that contains minerals. If you have any questions about your water, it is not a bad idea to give it a quick boil in order to kill off anything unsanitary that might be lurking in it. At the end of the boiling process, you will be adding your cooled down wort to about 2-3 gallons of water and this is the water that you need to be concerned with since the water that you will be using in conjunction with the malt and hops will get boiled in the process. When in doubt, boil to sanitize. I have never had a problem with water purchased at the store and I usually did not boil it.
Another brew prep task is to prepare the yeast that you will be "pitching" into the beer, or "wort", once you have completed the boiling process. Yeast usually comes in a sterilized package or vile that is refridgerated until use. This keeps the yeast fresh and dormant. Before we use our yeast though, we want to "wake it up" and get it somewhat primed before we introduce it to our wort. To do this we need to take it out and let it slowly warm up to room temperature (70 - 75 degrees). I usually take my yeast out of the fridge and start warming it up about 6 hours before I am ready to pitch it but 3 hours is usually enough time for it to warm up.
Before you get started with the actual brewing process, lets take a quick minute and go over the basic process of brewing beer. We have our basic brewing ingredients, which consist of malt, hops, yeast, and water. You are going to steep the grains in the water for a little while to give the beer the desired color, and then pour the malt into the brew pot which we will slowly bring to a boil. You will then add your hops at different stages which will give the beer its bitterness and part of its flavor and aroma. After the boil, you are going to cool down the substance that you have created, which is called "wort" at this point, and pitch the yeast. You are also going to transfer the beer into a sanitized fermenter. The fermentation process takes about 1-3 weeks, upon which time you will clarify the beer and package it for consumption. That, in a nutshell, is the basic brewing process. Are you ready to get started?
Let's Brew!
OK, lets put that brewpot on the stove, or propane burner, add about 2-3 gallons of water, and turn on the burner. You want to make sure that you leave some space in your brewpot for the malt extract and expanded liquid so don't fill it up to the brim. Next, pour the grains into the grain steep bag, tie if off at the top to make sure none of them escape, and place the bag in the water. Heat the water up to about 150-160 degress f, then turn the burner way down as you want to hold this temp for about 20-30 minutes. Basically, you are steeping the grains to leech out the color and maybe some flavor too depending on which specialty grains you used. If you used some chocolate malt for your specialty grains, you will definitely get a dark color and a chocolate taste will also become part of your "malt profile". The malt extract that you will be using will give you a "base" malt profile, so the specialty grains are a way to add a different color or taste to this base malt profile.
Once you are done with the steeping, it is time to add the malt extract to the brewpot. Get your spoon or some other scraping device and get as much of it as possible out of the container and into the pot. Turn up the heat and wait until you start to get a foamy layer on the top of your concoction. You should also stir constantly as you are adding the extract and immediately after so that it doesn't just sit on the bottom of the pot, where it will burn!
WARNING!!! This is a fairly critical time of the process where you can make a *HUGE* mess on your stove. Watch your beer carefully right before the boil as malt has a tendency to foam up rapidly into a "boil over" within minutes, if not seconds.
So when your wort starts to foam up, turn down the heat until your beer is involved in a rolling boil. This is also when you are going to add your first addition of hops. You can also add the first addition before the boil if you would like. The first addition of hops will serve as the "bittering addition". Hops contain a resiny substance which in turn contains "alpha acids". The alpha acid content is one of the ways that hops are measured and rated. The more alpha acids in a hop, the more hop characteristic will be introduced in the beer. The recipe that I have outlined for this HowTo calls for more hops than the typical beer, but that is characteristic of a Pale Ale. So, for the bittering hop addition, you are going to throw 1 ounce of Centennial hops into your beer at the start of the boil, or earlier. The longer the hops are boiled, the more bittering characteristic is introduced to the beer and that is why the hops are added to the beer in stages. Most beers usually have a bittering addition, a flavor addition, and then an aroma addition at the very end. Most hop oils are completely "isomerized" by a 60 minute boil and that is why most recipes call for a 60 minute boil. The purpose of boiling the wort is to extract the hop oils from the hops and also to "sanitize" the wort. You are also going to want to make a note of the time when you add your hops as the other hop additions will key off of this time.
Continue to monitor the boil as wort has a tendency to "foam up" into a raging boil. You also want to stir the wort every few minutes or so. When you are about 15 minutes until the end of the boil, throw 1 ounce of the Cascade hops into the wort. Continue to stir the wort until you have 3 minutes left to go in your boil. Throw the other 2 ounces of Cascade Hops into the wort. Stir for another few minutes and then turn off the heat. You can either let your beer steep for a few minutes or immediately begin the cooling process. There are many ways to cool down your wort, but the easiest is probably to put it into your sink with an ice bath around the outside. NEVER add ice cubes to your wort to cool it down. The time between the end of your boil and when you are going to pitch your yeast is fairly critical and you need to make sure that anything that comes in contact with your beer at this point is completely sanitized. You should also have your floating dairy thermometer in your wort at this time so you can monitor the cool down. Cool the wort down to room temp, about 70-75 degrees. Your yeast should also be the same temperature by now. You want the combined wort/water combination in your fermentor to be the same temp as the yeast. If the wort temp is too hot or too cold, you could potentially do damage to the yeast when you introduce it to the wort so that is why you need it to be about the same temperature.
After the wort has cooled to room temp, you need to add it to the fermentor. I use glass fermentors because I like to see what is going on with my beer without having to open up the fermentor. If you use a plastic fermentor, you pretty much have to open up the lid if you want to inspect your beer. Whatever type of fermentor that you use, it is now time to add about 2-3 gallons of fresh, room temp water to the fermentor and then our chilled wort. NOTE: This fermentor must be 100% sanitized, as must the funnel, thermometer, strainer, etc.. Add the water first and then put on the lid if you are using the plastic version. Place your funnel into the top of the fermentor. Place your strainer in the funnel and start slowing pouring your wort into the fermentor. You are going to have 5 ounces of hops in your strainer so you might have to stop a few times and empty it out as it will fill up. I always liked to smash the hops down to make sure I got every bit of hop juice/wort out of the hops before I disposed of them and I would recommend that you do this too with a sanitized spoon. The stuff at the very bottom of your brewpot usually is not desireable in your beer so leave about the last 1/4 - 1/2 cup of wort for the disposal. You should end up with about 5 - 5.5 gallons of wort after this whole process. At this point, you should take a hydrometer reading of your pre-fermented wort. This will give a point of reference so that we can measure and monitor the fermentation process. Dip the sanitized test tube down into your wort and fill it up about 75% of the way. Now place your hydrometer into the tube, let it settle, and take the reading. Record the number of where the wort meets the hydrometer which should be around 1.050 - 1.060.
Now it is time to pitch the yeast. Oh yeah, did you remember to rinse out your brewpot and the other utensils before they dried? Now is a good time to do that if you have not done so already. Before you throw the yeast into the wort, you want to aereate the wort. The wort has already been areated to some extent when you ran it through the strainer but it is a good idea to slosh it around or stir it up with a sanitized spoon in order to get as much oxygen in the wort as possible. The yeast need oxygen in order to get going so this is why you need to perform this step. This is the last time that you will want to introduce oxygen into your wort/beer though. Once you are done with the aereation process, you can add the yeast to the fermentor and stir it in. Put the fermentation lock on the top and put it in a cool, dark corner somewhere. About the fermentation lock though. First you will place the stopper in the hole of the plastic lid or the top of the glass fermentor. For the fermentation lock, you want to have some sanitized water inside of it. I always add some water/idophor solution in my fermentation lock which is what I usually use to sanitize everything with also. After I have sealed the fermentor with the stopper, I place the fermentation lock into the stopper. This pretty much concludes the boil part of the processs and now you are ready for the fun part, cleanup!
For fermentation you will need 2 vessels, 1 for primary fermentation and 1 for secondary fermentation. Primary fermentation is where most of the fermentation process takes place and for an ale, this phase can last anywhere from 3-10 days. Once you have the cooled wort and yeast all mixed up in your fermentor, it is time to let the yeast start doing their work. Anywhere from 6-48 hours after you pitch the yeast in the wort, you will start to notice pressurization in the fermenation lock and then outright bubbling. A foam will also start to coat the top of the wort and then build up into a bubbly head. This is when the fermentation is going strong and your beer will be bubbling away during this phase, which can be as short as a couple of days or last a week depending on the strain of yeast and other conditions.
When the bubbling starts to slow down and the head collapses, it is time to transfer the beer, yes, it is beer now, into the secondary. Try and leave as much of the sediment behind as possible but it is OK to transfer some sediment into the secondary fermentation vessel along with the beer, just not all of it. You will still have some yeast that is suspended in the beer and it will probably start to ferment again once it has been stirred up and racked into the secondary. "Racking" means transferring the beer from one vessel to another. You cap off the secondary the same way that you did the primary, with a sanitized stopper and fermentation lock. Make sure that the secondary vessel has been cleaned and sanitized before racking. One other thing that needs to be mentioned about racking is that you want to try and transfer the beer with as little splashing as possible so that oxygen is not introduced into the beer. The beer will be oxidized if it is introduced to too much oxygen after fermenation so try and minimize this as much as possible. You will still have some air head space in your secondary vessel but the beer will quickly form a layer of carbon dioxide, which is what was bubbling out of the fermenation lock in force throughout the primary fermentation. The beer may form another layer of foam and undergo another "mini fermentation". This is OK as the yeast are finishing up the process and then dieing out. When the beer has completely stopped fermentation and bubbling, shake it up a little and you might notice some more fermentation taking place. When the beer has completely stopped bubbling, usually after a week or 2 in the secondary vessel, it is time to bottle.
You will need about 50 12 oz bottles or 26 22 oz bottles in order to bottle a 5 gallon batch. It is also a good idea to chill your beer down before bottling, if possible. I have a temperature controlled freezer that I use for my fermentations so the last step before packaging is always to chill the beer down to 33 degrees in order to get the yeast and other solids to drop down to the bottom and settle out. If you can chill your beer down before packaging, your beer will have much less sediment in it. If you can't, then that is no big deal as you should be refridgerating your beer before you drink it and this will also help to clarify the beer before consumption. But back to bottling, you will need to prepare a mixture of water and corn sugar in order to "prime" the beer for natural carbonation. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and then add 1/2 cup of corn sugar to it. Make sure you stir it up so that it doesn't burn! Now cool it down a bit and add it to the wort, stirring it in gently. The goal here is to mix the sugar in the beer without stirring up the sediment on the bottom. So what is the purpose of this? Well, the beer needs to be carbonated. There is still some yeast in the beer but most of the sugar has been fermented. By adding some sanitized corn sugar to the beer, we can get a slight fermentation going again and this will be enough to give the beer some "natural" carbonation. The alternative to this is to get a CO2 tank, kegs, and force carbonate the beer with CO2.
Now you need to start a siphon much like you did when racking between vessels, except this time you are going to attach the bottle filler tool to the end of the hose. Before the beer can go into any bottle though, the bottles must be sanitized! You should clean the bottles well before you begin the bottling process too as it will give them time to dry. Using a bottle brush in conjunction with cleanser/sanitizer is a good method to use. Don't use soapy cleaners as these leave an undesireable film on bottles and equipment. Bottling is a good *2 person" operation so try and have the hands necessary to perform the operation efficiently. My wife usually helps me and she will hand me the empty bottles and then cap the filled ones while I fill up the bottles. Works pretty well!
Oh yeah, when you carbonate the beer with corn sugar, you should let the beer sit for a week or so at room temperature in order to make sure that the "carbonation" fermentation takes place. Congratulations! I hope your first beer turns out to be a good one and that you will brew many more. Homebrewing is a GREAT hobby!