Introduction: Home Brewing - 3 Vessel System (Milk Stout, 5 Gallons)

Hi everyone,

I want to share my 3 vessel brewing method. I have been a long-time follower of Instructables, but this is my first time posting. In the past, I have brewed with a single boil kettle using the BIAB (Brew in a Bag) method. Making the jump to multi-vessel, all-grain brewing has been a very challenging, yet rewarding adventure. The batch covered in this Instructable is a chocolate milk stout that I call "Milk the Bull".

A couple things worth noting before reading ahead:

  • 3 vessel brewing consists of a Hot Liquor Tank (HLT), a Mash Tun (MT), and a Boil Kettle (BK). In more advanced systems, centrifugal pumps are integrated to transfer water and/or wort from vessel to vessel. I have one but decided not to use it. For 5 gallon batches, it is typically easier to let gravity do the work for you.
  • The recipe I use is based off of the sweet stout recipe in Chris Colby's Home Brew Recipe Bible. I highly recommend reading it if you are interested in home brewing. It is loaded with tips and over 100 recipes that are great for brewers of all levels.
  • While this method is not very complicated, it is a very fragile system. Don't expect to make a great beer on your first attempt. Things will certainly go wrong, but that is part of the fun! I am not an expert by any means and continue to learn something new with each batch.





Equipment Required:

A. Hot Liquor Tank (HLT)

B. Homemade Mash Tun (MT)

i. I made mine from a 10G Rubbermaid beverage cooler, a filter, stainless steel fittings, and a 3" thermometer

C1. Boil Kettle (BK)

C2. Boil Kettle Propane Burner

D. Conical Fermenter

E. Star San Sanitation

F. Homemade Immersion Chiller

i. Made from 25' of 1/2" ID copper tubing

G. Hydrometer OG/FG test kit (250 cc syringe, 250 test tube, hydrometer)

H. Siphon

I. Gallon pitcher

Miscellaneous items to have on hand:

- About 20' of vinyl or silicon tubing. I use silicon because it is very heat resistant and does not kink under normal brewing strain.

- Large wooden stirring paddle

- Oven mitt

- Stainless steel yard stick


Ingredients Required:

A. 1 pk Wyeast 1084 yeast (Irish Ale) **IMPORTANT NOTE: Activate 3 hours before brewing**

B. 7 lb Caramel Malt (40L)

C. 0.625 lb Caramel Malt (60L)

D. 0.875 lb Black Malt (500L)

E. 1.0 lb lactose (non-fermenting sugar)

F. 1.5 oz EKG Hops

G. 4.25 oz Corn sugar (Priming)

Step 1: Safety First!

Step 2: Clean and Sanitize EVERYTHING... Then Sanitize It Again.

Sanitation is the most important factor in brewing. Just because something looks clean, does not mean that it is sanitized. Star San works very well and doesn't need to be rinsed. Mix 1 oz of Star San with 5 Gallons of water and spray all surfaces before they come in contact with beer. Silicon/vinyl tubing should be briefly submerged in the sanitizer solution bucket. Allow the solution to bubble on the surfaces for at least 3 minutes and then wipe away if desired.

Step 3: Selecting and Heating Strike Water

The water used in brewing plays a very important role in the quality of the finished product. A general rule of thumb is that if water is good enough to drink, it is good enough to brew with. That being said, different sources have different characteristics. Although there are more, the three most common types of water in brewing are tap, distilled, and filtered.

1. Tap water is usually fine; however, it often has traces of chemicals such as chlorine that can negatively effect yeast attenuation. It should be tested before brewing, and used only as a last resort if testing is unavailable.

2. Distilled water is 100% H2O, so it lacks the minerals that allow yeast to grow.

3. Filtered water is the best option because it contains the minerals that allow yeast to grow, but it does not have the harsher chemicals like chlorine.

Hitting the strike temperature is critical in obtaining the desired wort characteristics. Higher strike temperatures typically result in thicker, less fermentable wort. The strike water temperature for this brew falls on the higher end of the spectrum at 164 degrees. When the water is added to the grains, it will immediately drop 11 degrees to the target mash temperature of 153 degrees.


Add 12 qts. of filtered water to the HLT and raise the temperature to 164 degrees. This will take approximately 25 minutes when using both heating elements.

Step 4: Mashing Grains

Note: Mashing is the process of steeping barley in hot water to activate malt enzymes and convert starches into fermentable sugars.


Once the water in the hot liquor tank reaches the strike temperature of 164 degrees, mash with the grains in the mash tun. I find it works better to have the grains in the mash tun before adding water. Allow the mash to hold at 153 degrees for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Add small amounts of boiling water if the temperature drops below 150 degrees.

Step 5: Recirculate and Sparge

Once the mash begins, add 17 qt. of water to the HLT and bring to a boil to prepare for the sparge. At the end of the mash, open the valve on the MT and recirculate until clear the wort using the gallon pitcher. This gets rid of large pieces of grain that slipped through the filter. Slowly rinse the grains additional water from the HLT to collect as much of the fermentable sugars as possible. Drain the mash tun into the boil kettle, collecting 5.8 gallons.

Step 6: Final Wort Boil

Add the hops and boil for 1 hour. Add irish moss and lactose with 15 and 10 minutes remaining, respectively. The final boil volume should be just over 5 Gallons. Since my boil kettle does not have volume marks on the inside, I used a stainless steel yardstick to measure the water height and calculate volume.

Step 7: Chill Wort

Chilling the wort allows it to be transferred to the fermenter more quickly, thus minimizing exposure to contaminants in the air. Copper works very well because of it's high thermal conductivity. My homemade immersion chiller was assembled by wrapping copper piping around a bucket to form a coil. 3/8" vinyl tubing fits snugly over the ends of the copper, but I added hose clamps for extra security. A 1/2" Female to 3/8" barb pipe fitting worked well as a hose faucet adapter.


Sanitize the chiller by immersing it in the boiling water for the last couple minutes of the final boil. Chill the wort to a max temperature of 120 degrees before racking to fermenter. This should take about 20 minutes. Some fermenters or plastic buckets can handle higher temperatures, but it's better to wait because yeast shouldn't be pitched until wort is under 80 degrees.

Step 8: Original Gravity Reading

Once the wort has reached temperatures below 120 degrees, use the sanitized 250 cc syringe to remove a sample take an original gravity reading with the hydrometer. Original Gravity (OG) is the measure of the content of fermentable sugars in the wort. This value will be used later to determine the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) and also serves as a great indicator of the success of your brew. For this beer, we should expect an original gravity of approximately 1.048. This value was calculated under the assumptions of 73% yeast attenuation and 75% brewing efficiency. The ABV contributions of each fermentable ingredient is shown in Photo 3 of this section.

Note: When recording OG, make sure the temperature is recorded as well. Hydrometers only read accurately at 59 degrees. Follow the Gravity Correction Chart to make the necessary adjustments.

Example: My hydrometer yielded an OG measurement of 1.038 at 120 degrees. 1.038 + .0106 yields a true original gravity of 1.0486. Since this value is close to the expected value (1.2% higher), my brew up to this point can be considered very successful.

This is also a great time to taste your wort. Although it doesn't always show you what the final beer will taste like. it allows you to taste the subtleties of the malts and hops that you are using.

Step 9: Fermentation

Allow the beer to ferment in primary fermentation at 68 degrees for two weeks or until fermentation stops. See the embedded video for expected airlock activity after about 24 hours. Typically airlock activity goes as follows:

  • 12-24 Hrs: little if any airlock activity
  • 1-2 Days: A bubble every few seconds
  • 2-3 Days: A bubble every second
  • 3-10 Days: Bubbling will slow down and eventually stop

After primary fermentation is over, the beer may need to be transferred to a secondary fermenter. Because my conical fermenter has a yeast collection jar at the bottom, the transfer to a new vessel is not necessary.

Step 10: FG, ABV, and IBU Calculation

Once fermentation is done, take a final gravity (FG) reading. This reading and the original gravity (OG) are used to calculate alcohol by volume (ABV%). The formula is:

ABV% = 131.25(OG-FG)


The final gravity reading for this batch was 1.020. Note that the gravity was not adjusted because the reading was taken at 59 degrees. Unfortunately the value of 1.020 was a bit higher than my target FG of 1.012, so the ABV of the brew ended ~0.9% lower than I had anticipated. This was probably because of the temperature of the wort when I pitched the yeast. As I mentioned earlier, you really want to wait until the wort is chilled to room temperature. Still, an ABV of 4.0% isn't too bad.

International Bittering Units (IBU) is calculated as a function of boil time, alpha acidity, hop amount, and hop utilization. The spreadsheet I made is in Figure 1 of this section.

Step 11: Bottling and Carbonating.

Now for the fun part.

There are endless sources of bottles for homebrewing. Local breweries are typically very generous and willing to give out a couple dozen of their bottles for cheap (or free). If that is not a feasible option, bottles can be purchased online, though that can get pretty pricey. Because of COVID-19 closures, my family had a surplus of bottles that we were not able to redeem, so I decided to clean, sanitize, and reuse them. Scraping the labels off the bottles was a pain in the ass, but the bottles actually cleaned up really nicely.


Start by gently siphoning the beer from the fermenter into a sanitized bottling bucket. Make sure you don't carry too much trub (sediment) which likely rests in the bottom of the fermenter. Boil a small amount of water with the priming sugar and stir into the beer. Wait a couple of minutes and begin filling the beers to 1 inch from the top. Slap on a bottle cap and move on to the next. When bottling is complete, let them sit in a cool, dark area for at least two weeks. This time allows the priming sugar to carbonate the beer. Trust me, it is worth the wait.

Step 12: Enjoy!!

And there you have it! Delicious homemade beer! Slap on some labels just for fun, and enjoy the reward of all your hard work.

This stout has strong chocolate, caramel, and coffee flavors as well as a refreshing level of carbonation. Definitely one of my new favorites.

Thanks for reading, cheers!