Brew Your First Beer

You’ve got your gear. You’ve got your grain, your extract and your yeast. Now what?

  1. Clean your stuff! This is the most important step you can take to insure you’re going to make a good brew. Clean your kettle, make a bucket or bowl of sanitizer and put in EVERYTHING that will come into contact with the beer. This includes your stir spoon, your airlock, thermometer, the bucket or carboy stopper, etc. The more care you take right here, the better the beer. Do it
  2. Prep your yeast – If you are using a Wyeast “smack pack” follow the directions on the pack and get your yeast started now. If your using dry yeast, now is a good time to proof it. Just drop the yeast into 2 cups/500 ml of 80f/26C water and cover with plastic wrap. If you have liquid yeast in a vial, give it a good shake, crack and then reseal the lid. That will get the yeast thinking about moving around again
  3. If you took my advice from my Get Started Brewing article, you purchased a kit from your homebrew shop that includes both extract and specialty grains. Well done! You’re about to make a very nice beer. Take your specialty grains and put them in the mesh bag or sock. The easiest way to do this is to open the bag of grain, put the mesh bag over the open bag of grain, then flip the lot over and slowly pull out the grain bag, thus letting all the grain run into the mesh bag. Note, there will be a bit of grain dust that will get all over everything, so put down a clean dish towel or do all this inside a grocery sack to minimize the mess. Tie off your mesh grain bag and set it to the side
  4. Depending on your kit instructions, you now pour a measured amount of water in your kettle, usually about 3 gallons (11 liters), and drop in your grain bag. Take care to secure the bag just above the bottom of the pot. You don’t want to scorch any of the grains. I usually do this by tying the bag onto one of the handles or securing it with a strong clip to the lip of the kettle. By the way, use filtered or bottled water for this if your tap water doesn’t taste fresh or has a lot of chlorine. It makes a big difference in the finished product. Do NOT used distilled water
  5. Fire up your burner to High and drop in your thermometer (or clip it to the side if that’s the style you have). You’ll now want to heat the water to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76 degrees Celsius). Set your timer for 30 minutes. If you achieve your target temperature before 30 minutes, just turn the burner down to low and hold it there for the remainder of the 30 minutes
  6. After 30 minutes are up, take the grain bag and hold it above the kettle letting the wort (yes, that’s what it’s called) drain into the kettle. Now dunk the bag back in the wort, hold there for about 15 seconds then pull it out and drain it again. Repeat this about 5 to 7 times. You want to get all the sugars, flavors and coloring out of the grain and into the wort that you can
  7. Bring your burner back up to High and heat the water to a near boil, about 190F – 200F (87C – 93C)
  8. Shut off your burner and slowly pour in your extract, stirring the entire time. After you have the extract out of the container, continue to stir the wort while you turn the heat back on to high. Stir for a good 2 or 3 minutes after you turn the heat back on to insure that all the extract has been dissolved into the wort. If your working with dry malt extract (DME) keep stirring until you no longer see little chunks of malt floating around. If you’re working with liquid malt extract (LME), then you won’t really have any visual cues, so just keep stirring to make sure none of the malt is scorching on the bottom of the kettle.
  9. Bring the wort to a boil
  10. When you’ve achieved a boil, you’ll add in your first charge of hops. Set your timer for 1 hour keeping note of when your kit instructions indicate to add the next charge of hops (there are usually 2 to 4 charges of hops in a brew)
  11. When your hour is up, turn off your burner, put the lid on the kettle and drop the kettle in an ice water bath either in your sink (if it’s deep enough) or in your bath tub
  12. Take this time to clean and sanitize your fermenter bucket or carboy. If you’re using a bucket, don’t forget to sanitize the lid!
  13. In about 40 minutes, the temperature of the kettle should be down to about 80F/27C if you kept your ice bath cool enough. remove the lid and check the thermometer, if it’s not hit 80F/27C or below, check back every 10 minutes until it has
  14. Once you’ve got the wort to 80F/27C or below, slowly dump the wort into your fermenter. If you’re careful you can leave behind a good amount of the hop material. It’s not a big deal if some gets in the fermenter, but try to leave as much as you can behind
  15. Top off your wort with cold water until you have a total of 5 gallons. If you have a bucket, 5 gallons is conveniently marked for you on the side, if you have a glass carboy, you’ll need to pre-measure 5 gallons and mark the line with a sharpie or piece of tape
  16. Pitch your yeast and begin to swirl the bucket or carboy creating a whirlpool effect for about 5 minutes. This will aerate the wort and give the yeast the oxygen they need to do their job
  17. Snap on your bucket lid and insert your stopper and airlock (if your using a glass carboy, just insert the stopper and airlock) and store the fermenter in a place that will maintain a temperature of about 65F – 70F (18C – 21C). The more you can maintain the temperature the better
  18. You’ll now wait about 10 days or so for fermentation to complete. After 10 days, if there is no more activity in the airlock, you’ll rack your beer to the bottling bucket and start bottling, or you can rack directly to the keg. If your bottling, prepare your priming sugar by mixing the priming sugar that came with your kit with about 2 cups/ 500 ml of water and bring to a boil. This will act as food for the yeast to produce just a bit more CO2 to carbonate the bottle. Add this mixture to your bottling bucket before you transfer your beer. Take care not to splash your beer around when transferring. This can cause oxidation to set in.
  19. Bottle up your beer by lining up your bottles and adding beer to each until you reach the top of the bottle. When you remove your bottling wand that will leave just enough room for carbonation to pressurize the bottle. Bottle ALL your beer before capping the bottles. This will give the remaining yeast in the beer some time to begin producing CO2, thus pushing the air out of the bottles before you cap them
  20. Let your bottled beer sit in the same temperature as your fermenter for at least a week. It will take that amount of time for the yeast to properly carbonate the beer. After that, move it to the fridge, chill and enjoy!