The Chili Parlor

Sep, 1998       Click here to return to
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Home Brewing

If you've never done it yourself, the thought of brewing your own beer can be pretty intimidating. Actually, brewing beer is not that difficult. It's a lot like anything you do. You start out as a novice. The more you work with it, the more you learn, becoming increasingly comfortable with the terms and process and progress to more complicated brewing techniques. But, even someone who has never been closer to making their own beer than popping a tab top can make a very passable beer on their first attempt. The keys to successful brewing, whether your starting with a simple Ale or trying to perfect a Belgium style Lambic are; Cleanliness, Preparation and Keeping Good Records.

Cleanliness is a must to successful brewing. Remember, the yeast you use in the fermentation process is a living organism. Any contaminate introduced through any of the ingredients or equipment you use during the process can absolutely ruin your beer. KEEP IT CLEAN!!!

Preparation is essential when brewing beer. The steps are simple but they must be carried out in a specific order, in the specified timing called for in each recipe. Make sure you've got all your ingredients out and in order. Make sure all the necessary equipment is sanitized and within easy reach.

Record Keeping is important because accurate notes regarding the ingredients used, the amounts used and the timing of each step during the process will give you the information needed to repeat good batches or determine what went wrong in poor ones.

Homebrewing has become so popular, most cities and towns have shops dealing specifically in brewing ingredients and equipment. If there's not such a store in where you live, consult the list of mail order and net sites at the end of this article. Here's the equipment needed for a successful brewing experience:


Boiling Pot
Minimum 3 gallon pot (Bigger is always better). Pot should be made of Stainless Steel, Ceramic-coated Steel or even Aluminum. Be wary of other materials. They can impart off-flavors to your brew.

24, recappable, 12 oz. Glass bottles. These can be used bottles from beer you've bought at the convenience store. But, don't use twist-offs, they don't work very well.

Bottle Capper
Hand Capper or Bench Capper.

Bottle Caps
Buy your caps from a brewing supply store, don't try to use used caps no matter how good they look.

Bottle Filler
This is a plastic or metal tube with a spring loaded valve used for filling bottles.

An Alternate to the Bottle Filler is a Bottle Bucket. This is a six gallon food-grade plastic pail. The Pail has a spigot and fill-tube. Finished beer is siphoned into the pail where it is primed (addition of fermentable sugar to carbonate the beer) prior to bottling. The spigot is used instead of the Bottle Filler to fill individual bottles with beer. The Bottle Bucket method allows you greater control and it's a lot less messy than the Bottle Filler. It obviously a little more expensive, but believe me, if brewing isn't a one time shot, you'll be glad you bought a Bottle Bucket.

Bottle Brush
Really needed to get used beer bottles clean.

A 6 gallon food-grade plastic pail is pretty simple to work with. There are also plastic or glass carboy available. I prefer plastic because your talking about a 5 to 7.5 gallon vessel. The glass carboys are a lot to handle, all that glass weighs a lot. That is until you drop it. All those little pieces weigh nothing at all.

Racking Tube
A rigid plastic tube with sediment stand-off.


Stirring Paddle
A plastic paddle (spoon) to stir the wort (the malt-sugar solution boiled prior to fermentation).

This should be a thermometer that can be immersed in the boiling wort with a range of 40°F to 150°F.

Getting Started

First things first. If you plan to use it, clean it. An excellent sanitizing solution is made up of 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water. You can prepare this solution in your fermenting bucket. Immerse all the equipment you'll be using, airlock, hoses, paddle, everything. Let it soak in this solution for at least twenty minute. Let these pieces air dry. The solution doesn't need to be rinsed off at this concentration, but it makes you feel better, rinse everything with boiling water and let air dry.

I'll describe the steps for making an Ale, a good place to start, because it's one of the easiest to brew. You can buy ingredient kits in the a fore mentioned brewing stores and in all cases pay attention to the directions on the ingredient kit you buy, with one exception. Often, commercial ingredient kits instruct you to add a pound or two of sugar to their malt extract. Skip that step, it will give your beer a cidery test. The recipe we'll step through here is simple and will give you the feel of you're getting into.

The ingredients we'll be using for our Ale are:
  • 5 - 7 pounds of Hopped Pale Malt Extract syrup
  • 5 gallons of water
  • 1 - 2 ounces of Hops
  • 1 packet of dry Ale yeast
  • ¾ cup of corn syrup
Starting the Process

Using a large pot, bring 2 ½ gallons of water to a boil. Boiling only two to three gallons at a time is purely for convenience. Five gallons of boiling water is difficult to deal with. We'll add the wort to the remaining 2 ½ gallons latter. While the water is boiling, re-hydrate the packet of dry yeast.

When the water comes to a boil, remove it from the heat. At this point, add all the malt syrup to the water you just boiled. Still this mixture until it is completely dissolved. While you're stirring, scrape the bottom of the pot to make sure there's no syrup sticking there. Any malt syrup left stuck to the bottom of the pot will definitely burn and burnt sugar is awful.

Return the pot to the heat. You need to pay close attention to it once you've returned it to the heat and stir it frequently. Begin timing one hour. If you plan to add bittering hops, now's the time to do it.

As the mixture gets hot, a foam should start to form on the surface. If the foam quickly boils over the sides of the pot, you've got what's refereed to as boil over. You need to back off the heat. It can take anywhere from 5 - 20 minutes for the wort to reach the Hot Break. This is when the wort stops foaming. Once you've hit the Hot Break, try to maintain the wort at a roiling boil for the remainder of the hour. Keep a watch over the boiling wort continuing to stir it occasionally to prevent scorching. You may notice a change in the color and aroma of the wort during this boiling period as well as particles floating on the surface. This is all normal, not to worry. If you're adding finishing hops to the wort, do it during the last fifteen minutes. This will keep the hops from boiling so long that their volatile oils boil away.

The next step involves Cooling the Wort after the full hour boil has been completed. This is a very important step in the process. The wort is very vulnerable to contamination at this point. If the wort cools too slowly, oxidation and damage from developing sulfides can occur. So, it important to cool the wort as quickly as possible.

Put the pot of wort into a sink that has been filled with ice and water. The more ice water coming into contact with the sides of the pot, the quicker it will cool down. Stir the wort in a circular fashion so the maximum amount of wort reaches the cooling sides of the pot. Your objective is to quickly lower the wort's temperature to below 80°F. This should take about 20 minutes. Don't put ice into the wort to cool it. Ice can be harboring all kinds of contaminants that can really do a number on your beer.

The remaining 2 ½ gallons of water (we didn't boil) should be poured into the fermenter. Pour the wort into the cool water in the fermenter. This should bring the mixture to the fermentation temperature of between 65°F - 75°F.

Following the instructions on the yeast packet, you should see some action in the re-hydrated yeast. If it's not foaming or churning, re-hydrate another packet. Pitch the yeast starter into the beer, put the lid on the fermenter and seal it by putting a clear piece of Saran-Wrap over the hole in the lid where the airlock goes. Cover the Saran-Wrapped hole with your hand and shake it several minutes to mix the yeast into the wort. You might try sitting in a chair with the fermenter balanced on your knees and a hand over the hole, to do this. Once you've completed this process, wipe any wort from around the hole with a paper towel wetted with the bleach water solution. Put the sanitized airlock and rubber stopper into the hole in the lid. The airlock should be filled to the line with the bleach solution. Some people use vodka but let's not get carried away yet. It's only your first attempt.

This is the beginning of the Fermentation process. The airlock should start bubbling in about 12 hours. Put the fermenter in protected area. The dog, cat and little kids are drawn to the sounds and smell coming from the airlock as it does it 's thing. You want to make sure you put it somewhere that nothing will be hurt if some foam runs down the sides of the fermenter. The fermenter should also be put somewhere where the temperature is consistent and between that 65 - 75°F temperature. Too cold and the yeast will go dormant. If the airlock stops bubbling, the yeast has just gone dormant. Move it to a warmer location and observe. Don't put it anywhere it will heat too quickly (above 80°F). This will affect the taste and I don't mean positively.

Fermentation time for simple Ales is typically about three days at 70°F. However, the process could take week or longer and this is OK too. It depends on the quality and activity as the yeast and the temperature at which it is kept. If during this time, as sometimes happens, the escaping foam pops the airlock off, just rinse it off with the bleach-water solution, wipe of the lid and replace it. After 3 days (or however long), and the bubbling slows down, don't mess with it. Let it sit for about 2 weeks or better yet, three weeks. Longer is better because the yeast in the fermenter will have more time to condition the beer, and there will be more time for the sediment to settle to the bottom.

A simple Ale doesn't really need a secondary fermentation step. Usually this reserved for more complex beers. Secondary fermentation can be tricky because in racking (siphoning the beer of the sediment) can result in oxygen exposure and possible contamination. If this transfer occurs before the Primary Fermentation has been completed, the yeast can get stuck and fermentation will be incomplete. Secondary fermentation can improve several aspects of the beer including the clarity and flavor. But lets get the basics down, save this process for your third or fourth batch.

After two - three weeks, you're ready to Bottle Your Beer. Make sure the bottles have been cleaned with a brush and sanitized using the bleach-water solution we've talked about. Let the bottles drain upside down in the cardboard six pack cartons. Rinsing shouldn't be necessary. Sanitize everything you'll be using in the bottling process (except the bottle caps).

You'll need to prepare the Priming Solution. Boil ¾ cup of corn sugar or 1 ¼ cup dry malt extract in a cup of water and let it cool. Here are two methods of Priming:

Method 1.
Pour the Priming Solution into the sanitized Bottling Bucket. Now you're ready to transfer the beer from the fermenter. Place the outlet of the siphon unit below the surface of the priming solution. This way you'll avoid splashing the beer around and introducing additional oxygen into the beer. Keep the intake end of the racking tube about an inch off the bottom of the fermenter to avoid disturbing the sediment and yeast in the fermenter.

Method 2.
If you're not using a bottling bucket, open the fermenter and gently pour in priming solution. Very gently stir the beer being careful to mix the solution into the beer while not disturbing the sediment. You can't help but stir up some sediment, so let the beer stand about 30 minutes. This will allow the sediment to settle and diffusion of the priming solution. Siphon the beer to your bottles.

The time honored method to get the siphon started is to suck on it…don't. You've kept everything clean to this point, why throw it all away now. Fill the siphoning hose with sanitizing solution. Pinch the end of the hose so the solution doesn't run out and place the intake end into the beer. Release the outlet end and when the solution's drained and the beer is flowing, start filling bottles.

There is a right way to Fill Bottles. Put the outlet end of the siphon unit at the bottom of the bottle. Fill it slowly at first keeping the tube below the level of the beer to avoid aeration. Fill the bottles to about ¾ of an inch from the lip and cap with a sanitized bottle cap.

Age the capped bottles of beer at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for at least a week, two will improve the beer immensely. Eureka, you've done it.
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