Brewing With Extracts – Part 2: Materials and Process

Posted on 11.08.07 8:57PM under Brewing, Extract

Extract, Grains, Hops, and YeastLast time I introduced you to the fact that you need to make your own beer. I also told you what to get and where you might be able to get it. You now have everything you need to make beer… except for ingredients. Today I’ll tell you about the raw materials and process you’ll use on brew day.

Raw Materials
Beer is made from ingredients, like all food and drink products. For extract beer, this includes extracts, some grains, hops, and yeast. You can get that stuff, of course, at the local homebrew shop (LHBS). Most will sell pre-made kits as well as individual grains and extracts. For your first batch, just use a kit. It will come with step-by-step instructions and it is just the easiest way to do your first one. Most kits come with two cans of malt extract, maybe a pound or two of specialty grains (more on these later), a few bags of hops, a packet of yeast, a packet of corn sugar (for priming bottles), muslin bags, and a bunch of bottle caps. These enable you to make a real batch of great beer, in any style you can think of.

Then whenever you feel like taking the next step, you can build your own kit based on a recipe you find. There are tons of recipes all over the place, such as BYO magazine, Zymurgy magazine, Northern Brewer online forums, and Homebrew Talk online forums. There are even more places, but these should get you started. Building your own kit is really just selecting your amounts and varieties of extracts, specialty grains, hops, and yeast. Each of these has many options, which when combined in the right ways, produce great beer. Don’t worry; there are a lot of good ways to combine them, as you’ll see once you look around a bit.

Brewing Process
Finally you get to brew the beer. It will probably take you around six hours to make this first batch, so give yourself plenty of time. You don’t want to have to rush at the end because you’re pressed for time. I used to have a word document laying out my brew plan, step by step, that I would follow meticulously each brew day. I would even modify it specifically for each recipe, to tell me what exactly to do and when, including how many hops, etc. to add and when. You may find a similar approach useful until you get comfortable with the process. Or you may just want to wing it – depends on your personality. These days, I just print out my recipe sheet from and go with that. It tells me everything I need to know, such as how many of what hops and when.

You first must make sure all your equipment is clean, and sanitized where applicable. Most things only need to be clean. Only things that will touch the beer after the boil (this will make sense soon) need to be sanitized. In fact, if you cleaned up well after your last brew day, cleanup at the start can be really quick and easy. I normally just use dish soap to wash anything that isn’t clean. But make sure you rinse off any dish soap really well – you don’t want soapy beer. The things I normally sanitize are the fermenter bucket, fermenter bucket lid, airlock, hydrometer, sampling cylinder, a funnel, and a one-cup measuring glass, and maybe a spoon and thermometer. Make sure to leave these things in sanitizer until you’re ready to use them. Any time out of sanitizer is a chance for unsanitary things to happen to them.

Depending on your yeast type (i.e. if you have a Wyeast Activator), you need to smack it to activate it now. You could even activate the yeast pack the night before if you want to. Let it heat up to room temperature, feel inside for the little pack of nutrients, rest the pack on the palm of one hand, and then hit that nutrient pack really hard with your other hand to burst it inside the yeast packet. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

Now the actual brewing, I promise. First you start heating the water to steep the grains. Your kit will tell you how much water to use, or just use less than one gallon per pound of grain. Make sure you use water that is good enough to drink. If you won’t drink your tap water, don’t brew with it. Use spring water if you have to, or filtered water. Do not use distilled water – this will lack minerals needed to brew correctly. Heat up this water to the soak temperature specified in your kit (probably around 150-160°F), put the grains in the muslin bags, and then put the bags in the water. Make sure the grains are all wet, so you’re getting all your color and flavor out of the grains. Let them soak there for a half an hour, and then take them out and turn on the heat to bring the water to a boil.

At this time you will want to add water up to about half capacity of your brew kettle. This leaves room for the volume of the extracts and for the massive foam that you’ll get when your boil begins. It is to your advantage to boil as high a volume as possible. Low volume boils will have a high gravity, which will reduce hops utilization. That is, your beer could end up less hoppy, which could damage the flavor balance intended by the recipe. Once the water is about to boil, remove the kettle from heat and add your extracts. It might help to warm up liquid extract cans before trying to get all the syrup out of them, since liquid extract is very viscous. I like to carefully dip the cans in the hot water to make sure I get all that sweet malt extract into my beer, where it belongs.

It takes a little while to get the entire kettle boiling. Once it is boiling, it will be really foamy on the top. Watch it at all times. Especially if you are indoors. You don’t want it to boil over on your stove. That is a mess. Boiling over outside is not as bad, but still messy, and technically beer abuse. If it starts to foam up a lot, it will keep foaming, be ready to remove it from heat for a moment, or blow on it, or something to reduce the foaming. This foaming will go on for a few minutes, up to even twenty minutes possibly. Wait until all the foam is done and the boil is stable enough where you feel like you can look away for a few minutes before you add any hops.

Your kit or recipe will dictate what hops to add and when. Hops measurements are made in terms of how long they’ll be boiled for. Bittering hops are typically added at 60 minutes. This means you put them in 60 minutes before you intend to stop boiling. Then you leave them in there for the entire duration of the boil. Just thrown them in, mix them in, and let them bob around the whole time. You may have hops added at 30 minutes, sometimes some go in at 15 minutes, some go in for 5 minutes, or 1 minute, or even 0 minutes, or any amount of time you want. While boiling, make sure the hops stay in the liquid. This will allow them to become utilized and converted into bitterness, flavor, and/or aromas. They can’t do that if they’re up on the sides of the brew kettle.

Eventually the boil will be done. You need to cool down the wort (this is what we call the beer before it is fermented), strain the wort to remove trub (this is what we call hops and other solid byproducts of the brewing process), top off up to five gallons in your fermenter, and pitch the yeast (this is what we call just putting yeast in the wort). If you have a White Labs vial of yeast, get it out of the fridge now, to let it come up to room temperature before pitching. If you have a packet of dry yeast, rehydrate it now. To rehydrate, follow the directions on the pack of yeast, or add the yeast to some clean water, let it sit for 15 minutes, stir it gently to mix it evenly, let it sit for another 15 minutes, then it is ready to pitch.

Now, cool the wort using a cold water/ice bath in your kitchen sink, or any vessel large enough to hold water, ice, and your steaming hot brew kettle. Your wort is now susceptible to attack, so try not to contaminate it. Don’t sneeze in it, don’t drop anything into it, etc. But don’t cover it either. Let it breathe while cooling it. Getting the wort down to around 90°F is probably good. It will cool down when you add the water to top off to five gallons. The important thing is to pitch your yeast into wort that is the temperature you intend to ferment at. In other words, if you are going to leave it in your closet, where it’s 70°F, pitch yeast at 70°F. This will ensure the most prompt start of fermentation.

If you are a scientific type (and you just might be if you’re making your own beer) now is the time to take a hydrometer reading. The hydrometer will give you a specific gravity. This tells you the concentration of sugars in your wort, and gives you an idea of the alcohol content of your finished beer. Roughly, ten points of gravity is one percent alcohol by volume. So a gravity of 1.065 (we call that “65”) is likely to end up around 6.5% ABV. Most commercial beer is around 5.0% ABV. Gently stir the wort well with a sanitized utensil to make sure the sugars are evenly distributed. Then take a sample in your hydrometer sampling jar. I use a (sanitized) funnel to do this, but you can be creative. Be aware that your hydrometer is really only accurate at 60°F, so use the temperature compensation charts provided with your hydrometer. Also beware that even these compensation values are notoriously inaccurate at high temperatures. I never trust a hydrometer reading unless taken at 70°F or lower.

Then you pitch the yeast, apply the lid, insert the airlock, and set it down to ferment. The airlock needs to be partially filled with either sanitizer or vodka. I use a three-piece airlock, and with those, you fill them halfway up (there’s a little line etched on them already) with the sanitary liquid. This is the barrier between your beer and the world, that is why it must be sanitary. Plus, in some cases, the beer will suck the airlock liquid back into itself, and that is also why it must be sanitary. For a place to ferment, it should be dark and have a stable temperature, around 65-70°F. Just do your best. If you’re stumped, you can use a closet with some floor space, or maybe there’s a corner of your kitchen looking for a decorative fermenter. Some basements might be good candidates for fermenters. If you’re very fancy, you might even have a temperature controlled refrigerator for your fermentation needs. Anyway, once you find that spot, your job is done for now – but you have to wait a few weeks.

Honestly, that’s consistently the hardest part of the brewing process for me. No matter how many challenges I find on brew day, it is really the waiting – especially waiting for fermentation to begin, waiting for fermentation to end, and waiting for the bottles to be ready – that are hard.

Throughout brew day, you’ll find a lot of little bursts of down time while you wait for water to heat up, steep grains, boil, etc. Don’t go too far from the brew kettle, but feel free to relax while waiting for these things to happen. I like to read a book or magazine (about beer, of course) while brewing. Sometimes I will work on the computer writing or reading (about beer, of course!). Or sometimes I just like to relax with some great music when the weather is nice. If you are really ambitious, you can even work on another batch of beer in the down time. Theoretically, you could probably bottle your previous batch while you boil the current one. That’s multitasking!

When you’re done brewing and you have your fermenter all full of beer in your fermenting spot, you have to still clean up. Believe me, do this right away, because the longer you wait, the harder it becomes. If you do it right away as soon as you’re done brewing, you’re still all happy because you just made some sweet wort that will soon be beer, and it is just easier to get it done with. Believe me.

What’s Next?
Up next is bottling and conditioning, and then finally drinking. If you need more help or advice, there are abundant resources online and in print for your reading pleasure. How To Brew, by John Palmer is a classic, and it is available free online, or you can buy a hard copy. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian is also well regarded. Charlie is a big part of the American Homebrewer’s Association and the Brewer’s Association. You can also chat online at Northern Brewer or Homebrew Talk, or any one of many other online homebrew forums. If you look around, there are a lot of local homebrew clubs – check to see if there’s one in your area. Finally, I can always stop by and get hands-on with your brewing.

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  1. Posted by Brainard Brewing » Blog Archive » Brewing With Extracts - Part 3: Bottling and Conditioning on 11.13.07 3:42 PM

    […] I introduced you to the concept of brewing your own beer. Then I told you about how to make the beer. Today I finish the series with a post on bottling, […]