Simple Beer #1

85,488

501

65

Published

Introduction: Simple Beer #1

About: The answer is lasers, now, what was the question? If you need help, feel free to contact me. Find me on Reddit, Tumblr and Twitter as @KitemanX

My uncle was a master brewer, and I must own up to being a bit of a beer snob, so I have wanted to brew my own beer for some time. I even bought myself some equipment, but I was held back by information. 

Too much information. It turns out that there is an awful lot of very detailed information out there, probably quite a bit of it written by men in Arran sweaters who know what sparging is without looking it up. Unfortunately,  they often forget that some brewers have only just started, and wouldn't know a sparge if it climbed out of the barrel and bit them.

My uncle has been dead for some time, so I couldn't ask him.

Eventually, I realised that I was guilty of over-thinking the problem.

I decided to keep it simple, and brew a craft beer suitable for sharing with friends at a barbecue. 

-----------

Please remember that I am not an expert brewer, and that this is not "the" way to brew beer.  This is just documenting what I did for my first batch.  If you follow my example, you should produce something drinkable, from which you can experiment to find a beer that is perfect for you.

I should also point out that I am brewing this in the UK.  Here, we expect beer to have flavour. Proper beer does not need to be chilled to near freezing-point to be drinkable.  If you think that beer is yellow, cold and fizzy, then you are about to embark on a learning experience that will result in you growing up a little as a beer drinker.

Beware: it is difficult to accurately know the strength of home-brewed ales - drink responsibly, and do not drive or operate dangerous machinery after even a single glass.

Step 1: The Recipe

There, as I mentioned, lots of sites out there with lots of information.

What there are most of, though, are recipes - lots of combinations of grains, malts, hops, yeasts, sugars...

So, to keep it simple, I went for an extract method. This gives you a lot more flexibility of flavours compared to kits, but is a lot less fuss than the various full-grain methods.

So, my simple beer recipe, aimed at making forty pints* is;
  • 3kg malt extract
  • 50g hops
  • 1 packet yeast
  • Water.
For this first attempt, I decided to use a dried "amber" malt and a "Gold" beer yeast.

I bought them online, from The Home Brew Shop, but there are many other suppliers around the world.  If you are lucky enough to have a physical shop that sells brewing ingredients nearby, then I recommend you talk to them. [Edit: I've found a "real world" supplier called You Can Brew It in Diss, Norfolk. Not a huge range of malts, but enough to experiment for months, and it's easy for me to get to, and they have all the equipment you could possibly need. They also cater for cider and wine making from kits or raw materials.]


*A note on units - beer is drunk in pints, but European legislation means that ingredients have to be sold in metric units. Such is life.

Step 2: Equipment

There's no easy way around it, to make beer you need to buy specialist equipment.

You can buy kit online from many sources, to fit many budgets.

The kit I bought contains:
  •     A 25 litre Fermentation container (a big bucket with a lid)
  •     A 25 litre pressure barrel
  •     A syphon tube (a bit of flexible pipe)
  •     A bubbler airlock
  •     A hydrometer (for checking the strength of the brew)
  •     A liquid crystal thermometer to stick to the side of the bucket
  •     Steriliser
  •     A long spoon for stirring the mixture.
You don't want lumps in your beer, so you will also need a method of filtering the liquid. You can buy special mesh bags for doing this, but I used a piece of muslin in a colander.

You will also need a cooking vessel. You could splash out on a large stock pot to cook the whole batch as one, but they cost a lot, and I'm not willing to risk the weight on my induction hob.  So, I used a normal stainless steel, five litre (one gallon) cooking pot.

Unless you are planning to host a large party on the day your beer is ready, you will also need bottles. You can buy new bottles, with reusable flip-tops, but I chose to recycle bottles, adding fresh crown caps (which meant I had to buy a capping gadget).

Step 3: Sterilising

It is vital that you properly sterilise your equipment.

Unlike normal cookery, where bacteria are killed by the heat, brewing happens at the perfect temperature for microbes to thrive and multiply (that's kind of the point), so you need to use proper sterilising chemicals to clean your equipment before using it. If you don't sterilise properly, the best you can hope for is something that tastes really bad.

Your sterilising compound will have instructions on it, but you can sterilise a lot of your equipment in the fermentation vessel.  Do not be tempted to use bleach, as the flavour lingers in the the equipment, and on into your beer.

Glass bottles can be sterilised later, while the beer is in the pressure vessel, using the original fermentation vessel as a bucket, by boiling them in a large pan, or using the same equipment used to sterilise baby bottles.  I have also heard of people sterilising them by "baking" in an oven at 160C for ten minutes, but I've never tried that.

Step 4: Cooking and Cooling

When you are planning your own brew, be aware that this stage, done to my method, takes an entire day. You need to be able to stay close for around 12 hours. You will be able to do other things between stages, but you won't be able to go to work or go shopping.

You need to cook your ingredients in about 20 litres of water (with your ingredients, that should add up to about 25 litres).  You also need to cool the mixture fairly quickly to close to room temperature, to cut the chance of bacterial growth.

If you have got a big pot, then just put 20 litres water in the pot, along with the hops, sugar and malt extract, bring to the boil and then simmer for an hour.  You will then need to cool the pot down.  There are several ways of doing this, including special "wort chillers", standing the pot in a bathtub of cold water, or standing it in the sink and letting the cold tap run down the side.

Since I was using a small pot, I could cheat on the cooling. This technique also meant I didn't have to stagger around the house with a thirty kilo bucket of hot liquid.

I boiled three five-litre pots of water, poured them into the fermentation bucket, then let them cool in a cold draught for a couple of hours (with the lid on!). I then cooked about half the ingredients, mixing them in two THREE litre batches.

Note the three litres - while you stir the malt into the hot water, a lot of foam is generated. If I had not left an extra two litres of space in the pot, and watched the foam carefully with my finger on the temperature control, I would have had a very smelly, sticky mess to clear up.

I poured the last two pots into the (now cool) fermentation pot through a (sterilised) nylon mesh bag in a (sterilised) colander, then boiled up another three litres to make up the volume, and poured that through the hops in the bag as well.

The lid went on, and I left it to cool to room temperature before adding yeast.

-----------

A note on the smell:

I grew up in a town with a brewery. One of my lasting childhood memories is the wonderful smell of the hot wort being transferred to the fermentation vats.

Kitewife grew up in the same town. One of her lasting childhood memories is the hideous stench of the hot wort being transferred to the fermentation vats.

Consult any housemates you may have (if you live in an apartment block, then the whole building), and be prepared to do chores or sacrifice some bottles to the neighbours in compensation for the smell.

Step 5: A Note on the Hydrometer, and a Warning.

Beer drinkers used to quantify the strength of their beer by the "OG" (original gravity).

This is actually the density of the beer before fermentation began. The higher the number, the stronger the final beer, because more sugar had been converted into alcohol during fermentation. 

Brewers still use a hydrometer, but the scale also has a handy ready-reckoner to convert OG into alcoholic content by volume ("% abv").

There are also markings on the hydrometer to show when the beer is ready to be bottled, along with a handy warning;  Do not bottle (or keg) until hydrometer sinks below 1.006 or bottles will burst.

This means that you have to check the gravity of your brew before secondary fermentation, or you risk an almighty mess.

---------------

Edit: it has been pointed out to me by a proper brewer that it is not the actual reading of the hydrometer that predicts explosions. If the gravity of your wort stays constant over three or four days, then fermentation has stopped. Personally, though, I would worry that opening the bucket too often might allow contaminants in, so I'm happy to rely on time.

---------------

I forgot to check the OG of my brew, but I am expecting this recipe to end up at a strength of 4-6%abv

Step 6: Yeast - the First Fermentation

The yeast I used was Munton's Gold Premium Beer Yeast.

I chose this because it is supposed to be good at fermenting the complex sugars in malt, and is good at forming a gelatinous layer of sediment that is hard to disturb when pouring the finished beer.

This particular yeast is also easy to use - you just sprinkle the powder on the surface of the wort.  There is no need to hydrate or stir it in.

If you use a different yeast, make sure you use it correctly, or fermentation might not happen fully.

The fermenting mixture will produce CO2, which needs to escape.  You need to connect the bubbler airlock to the fermentation vessel (mine has a small grommet for the purpose). The airlock lets CO2 escape, but prevents air and bacteria getting back in - it needs to be part-filled with either boiled water or (cheap) vodka.

Leave your mix sitting at room temperature for two weeks. The location I used was standing on the floor next to our central heating boiler. It's reasonably warm and undisturbed.

------

My brew took about a day to kick off - I added the yeast Saturday evening, but it didn't start giving off CO2 until Sunday afternoon, at which point it went crazy.  It made so much gas and foam that it didn't just bubble through the airlock, it spewed foam all over the lid of the vessel.  I ended up having to build a dam around the top of the lid with a towel overnight, just for Kitewife's peace of mind.

One good point, even after only a day, it already smells like beer!

Step 7: Secondary Fermentation

After the two weeks are up, you have a choice:

You can bottle the beer now, adding a couple of grammes of sugar to each bottle, and a little of the yeast mixture from the first vessel. Leave the bottles in a dark room for about 8-10 days for secondary fermentation and carbonation.  Make sure that the bottle stands vertical for several hours before pouring, and be careful not to pour out the sediment into your glass.

I chose to syphon the beer into a pressure vessel (a plastic barrel) large enough to take the whole batch, making sure some of the yeast went over as well, and added another 150g sugar to feed the yeast for the last few days of the fermentation.

Remember to sterilise the equipment before you syphon, and then rinse out the tube with boiled water.

The pressure vessel's lid needed lubricating with petroleum jelly (commonly known as "Vaseline" in the UK), with a smear around the gasket, and a little on the threads.

Since I forgot to check the OG, I checked the gravity at this point, and it was 1004 - still plenty of fermentation to go.

I left the barrel in a cool corner of the house for just over a week before bottling the beer.

Step 8: Bottling

During the last fermentation, pressure could build up in the barrel.

If you just open the tap, the first beer might jet out at quite a messy speed.  So, crack the lid a little to let any excess CO2 vent off harmlessly.

Pour the beer into your sterilised bottles, and seal them how you choose (I used crown caps and a small capping machine purchased at the same time).

I have no idea how long the beer will last - some sources say as much as a year in cool storage, but we'll see...

Step 9: Naming and Labelling

The hardest part of brewing a new beer is naming it.

Whatever name you come up with, make sure you google for it before you announce the name to the world, just in case the name is already "taken" by another brew (for instance, there's already a kind of cider called "Special K"), or has an unwelcome connotation.

Since I have been trying to keep things simple all along, I decided to call this brew Simple Beer #1.

You can design and print professional-looking labels for your bottles, but I kept with the "simple" theme, and hand-wrote the beer details on a strip of masking tape.

Step 10: Drinking!

But, to the whole point of this project - after weeks of work, and nine long steps, does it taste any good??

Actually, yes!

As I said, I forgot to check the gravity before fermentation, so I don't know exactly how strong this beer is. By taste alone, I would judge it to be about 5%abv 6% abv.There was no carbonation from the second fermentation, so no head.

It's not very hoppy, and not very bitter, so I would class the type somewhere between a "mild" and a "ruby" ale. It proved quite quaffable, and went well with a spicy pizza, although the cloudiness threatens a wicked hangover, should one over-indulge.

I am definitely going to make this again, though I might add 70g hops next time, instead of this batch's 50g, but that's just my personal taste. I also might use a soft brown sugar in the second fermentation,  to add a caramel toffee overtone to the flavour. 

One last warning - brewing beer is a very satisfying activity, but please remember to take care in the consumption of any alcohol, but especially when drinking home-brew. Be careful with machinery, don't drunk-dial, and if you drink and drive you are a thoughtless idiot,  and ought to be disenfranchised from the entire human species.

Step 11: Final Thoughts

A collection of points, in no particular order:
  • I am definitely going to make this again, probably near Christmas, when I naturally consume more beer than usual. I might add cinnamon to that batch.
  • My bottles are all recycled,  so I had to soak and scrub them in very hot water to get their labels off. Because we have hard water, that left a grey hazy deposit on the glass. I wiped it off with a rough cloth soaked in lemon juice. Vinegar would also work,  but I didn't want traces of the smell of vinegar around my beer.
  • Clean as you go. Beer, and its ingredients, dry sticky. Clean up spills straight away. It also stops your home smelling like a back street pub. Splash very hot water on spills,  and mop up immediately with a cloth.
  • If you use colourless bottles, store them in the dark to stop the beer degeading in the light.
  • Lightweight bottles are easier to fill without spilling. The glass is thinner, so the opening in the neck is wider.
  • Be aware of the law. You're perfectly fine brewing your own beer in the UK, but check the laws of your nation or state to check you are allowed. You also run into difficulties if you want to sell your beer. In the UK, both the person selling the beer and the premises from which it is sold must be licenced by local authorities. I have heard of brewers getting around this by giving away beer free to anybody who buys a beer mat, or charging for entry to an event,  which includes a free drink with each entry, but such games often rely on the local police being in a good mood.
  • Brewing is a friendly pastime - I doubt I could drink all 40 pints before they go off, so I'll be giving quite a bit away. About a third is already earmarked for individual friends or events. If you give yours away, ask folk to save and return the empties for your next batch.
  • Lastly, and again, drink responsibly. You don't know for certain how strong homebrew is, and you should always avoid driving or operating dangerous machinery after partaking.

Share

    Recommendations

    • Stick It! Contest

      Stick It! Contest
    • Backpack Challenge

      Backpack Challenge
    • BBQ Showdown Challenge

      BBQ Showdown Challenge

    65 Discussions

    I explored home brewing once. The need for sanitation and equipment expense was more that I cared to handle. I wondered how our ancestors did it when sanitation was not a thought.

    6 replies

    One of the ways around the sanitation issue (at least in anglo saxon england) was having set brewery buildings. After a successfull brewery had been established it would be far more colonised by the desired yeast than anything else, so contamination wouldn't have been such an issue (setting one up at that period is generally thought to have involved a certain amount of luck!)

    In addition they used a "brewing stick" which was an apparently magical stick that would be used to stir all the brews and guarentee fermentation (using the same stick for all batches would inadvertantly transfer yeast accross to new batches)

    Also as previously mentioned brews generally weren't kept as long lessening the issues, which may be the most key part ;)

    The need for sanitation now is to control the final product. According to Wiki, fermented beverages have been consumed for over 7000 years and considering Pasteur in the mid 1800's is the one that really brought to light what "spoils" milk and fermented beverages, I think our ancestors consumed lots of things that we wouldn't find appealing. Although, now there are cultured forms of what i'm sure some would consider bad tastes in beer. Namely lactobacillus, brettanomyces and pediococcus which produce everything from sours to horse blanket tastes in beer but are making a surge in the craft beer market in the US. Once again using cultured versions and sanitation to control the final outcome.

    You can easily improvise a lot of the equipment. I use a plastic 2 gallon water container bought from the store for about $8, I already had a 2 gallon pot for boiling and a large spatula to mix it with. The thermometer and hydrometer really aren't needed and a bubbler airlock can be improvised by drilling a hole in the top of the fermenter and sticking a hose in it then having the hose sticking inside a bottle or jar or similar vessel filled with some vodka.

    As far as the sanitation, well, I didn't go through nearly as many steps for my beer. I made sure the water was boiled and I kept exposure to air to a minimum, and while I probably was a bit lucky, as long as you clean things off reasonably well with soap and hot water you probably should have a moderate success.

    This was a pretty long brew where I added ingredients to the fermentor halfway through its fermentation too.

    I'm not saying sanitation isn't important here, but don't let it discourage you, either.

    As for cleaning, just use a bit of bleach and wash your stuff in your shower.
    That's what I've done for years and haven't had a skunky brew yet.
    I've spent maybe $300 on brewing equipment over the past 30 years. Brewing shouldn't be expensive. It should be fun!
    Please give it another try.

    I find the taint of bleach lingers in plastic containers, which is why I used the sterilising compound I chose. Smaller pieces of kit can be boiled, so no need for chemicals at all.

    Early brewers did not brew for so long, days instead of weeks, so there wasn't so much time for dodgy microbes to grow.

    Plus, the most usual consequence of contamination is to spoil the flavour, not to poison drinkers, and early beer drinkers were not beer snobs...

    I'm back again...lol

    I won't write an essay this time. I had a friend at work ask about brewing beer. I told him, "I know of a great Instructable I can email you, once you've read it, give it a shot. If you want me there, let me know what day and we'll knock it out."

    Yes, I liked your Instructable so much I remembered it a year later.

    1 reply

    Brewing beer isn't new to me but i still enjoyed reading your instructible.
    And it read realy well.

    1 reply

    for caramel flavor try crystal malt somewhere around 45 levibond or a little darker. Keep it up!

    Always enjoy reading your projects, Kiteman.
    I just started brewing in January 2013 myself, and haven't done a 'beer' yet. Due to the size limitations of my stock pots (even for homebrew, I find it hard to afford 12 hours at a pop for the process) and stove BTU capacity, I have chosen no-cook varieties. I've done Mead and sparkling mead. Hard Cider and Hard Lemonade.

    I'm sure there's potential for other microbial contamination from these routes, but I just have to trust that the mix is more "yeast friendly" than it is hospitable to the other organisms. Also making sure to add plenty of yeast gives it a chance to get established faster than any other little critter that may have accidentally slipped in on the back of the spoon. I also trust one of the axioms I see frequently at http://www.homebrewtalk.com "the yeast knows what it's doing."

    about half of my brews have been hydrometer tested... I broke mine yesterday in the process of bottling my 9% (planned) honey beer, and I started without one. After my cousin started winemaking last year, I just had to break down and start regardless of insufficient equipment and experience. I've taken notes on every recipe I've made, and even though no two have been identical, I'm learning how different yeasts and sugars react with each other.

    As far as drinking 40 pints before they 'go off' I doubt it will happen. I've heard they only get better with age, and because I tailor my recipes to about 3 gallons instead of 5, I have to CONSCIOUSLY and physically mark a bottle of each batch for age testing, otherwise it would be gone before carbonation had fully developed/matured. I won't buy an Anheuser Busch product ever again, even their "specialty brews."

    I like the flip/top bottles, and bought 24 of them years ago when I tried Kombucha brewing. They cost about $2.50 USD apiece from the local brewshop. I hadn't had Grolsch since college, and was wondering if the flip top bottles were even still around. Now I can collect flip-top bottles (FULL of decent beer) for $7.50 USD for a 4 pack... it doesn't take long to do the math.

    I hope you've convinced Kitewife that it is a worthwhile endeavor despite the wonderfully horrendous aromas on wort day. Keep brewing, keep experimenting, (I've added rosemary, ginger, and even espresso to various meads. I think next will be Anise and/or cloves), and keep it simple.... the yeast knows what it's doing.

    beautiful color, by the way on your simple brew.

    3 replies

    Thanks.

    I think my first improvements to this recipe will simply be timing, adding part of the hops later in the cooking, mad crickleymal suggested, and maybe adding extra yeast for the secondary fermentation, although I need to check that idea with more experienced brewers.

    Depending upon how healthy the yeast is, there should be no need to pitch more for a secondary fermentation, unless you are also adding more malt or other sugars.

    You might also try adding a little nutrient. I use 1 each 100 mg B-1 and B-6 vitamin and 1 Calcium/Magnesium/Zinc mineral tablet, crushed, per gallon.

    Here is my 2 cents, ignore if it doesn't matter...
    Regarding the size:

    If you buy a 5 gallon beer kit (which is sort of what he did, but he picked the sugars) and then buy a pouch of "bottling sugar" to kick up the alcohol, you can make two 3 gallon baches from the kit.

    Lowe's sells a 3 gallon plastic water bottle (complete w/ filtered water!), which is perfect for the 5 gallon kit split in half.

    Then you make "hops tea", filter it, and FREEZE it. (takes 30 minutes to do this, then you wait over night to freeze)
    Then you make "grain tea", filter it, and refridgerate it. (takes 30 minutes to do this)

    Then you boil 1 gallon of water. Add the sugar. Add the grain tea (which cools it down) and then the frozen hops tea, which drops the temp to below 100 degrees.

    You mix up some sugar, yeast, and water in a cup until it foams, and mix everything together, and dump it back in the 3 gallon water bottle. (this takes about an hour).
    The jug will be bubbling within 8 hours. If not, redo the yeast step.
    It is "done" fermenting at 18 hours.
    Transfer it at the 2 or 3 day mark, to get the gunk out of the bottom.
    After a week, transfer again, add a pinch more yeast and some bottling sugar, and then bottle.
    Bottle within 1 week! The gunk in the bottom will make it spoil by the 2 week mark and it will smell like skunk.

    Most of the time is spent bottling, so if you get 1 quart bottles, you will get to the beer much quicker.

    You can get 1 quart cap bottles by buying mexican beer at the grocery store. The glass is good and thick. You can get brown or clear. It is abt $3.50 per bottle, mexican beer included.

    I have had the beer go "bad" from age - it gets sort of blah and excessivly mellow. It loses the "crisp" character. It still tastes ok, but probably not to a super pro.

    I have been home brewing since 1974, your first batch looks to have been done much more professionally than mine. My wife has been brewing with me since 1983. We prefer to brew English style Pale and Brown Ales.

    I definitely like that you mention that this is the process that works for you and the encouragement you give to find out more.

    I also like that you emphasize sanitation at every step.

    Nicely done.

    In the beginning God made Man.Then he made Woman.Then he felt sorry and gave him Beer.