Brewing 101

Beer is closely linked to human history. Fermentation was our first form of food preservation. Before refrigerators and curing we had fermentation. Some anthropologists even claim that fermentation and domestication of animals led to agrarian communities instead of being a hunter-gatherer. These communities created art, culture, and changed the way humans had lived in this world up until that point. Home brewing allows you to tap into that history of brewing; from Sumerians in Babylon, to Trappist Monks in the Middle Ages, all the way to present day where Europe and the UK have distinct regional brewing traditions. American home brewers mashed up these traditions into modern day craft beer. Many books and blogs wax poetically about the history of brewing. Looking back at the history of brewing is usually the best way to be inspired to make your own brewed and fermented beverage for tomorrow. Part of the joy of brewing your own beer is you decide what your beer looks, smells, and tastes like. 

In today’s workshop, we will focus on brewing with homegrown fruits, vegetables, spices, and herbs; cover basic home-brewing procedures and techniques with demonstrations, and provide an overview about growing hops in Vermont.

Basic Equipment

·         Primary Fermentor (glass carboy, plastic carboy, plastic bucket)
·         Bottling Bucket (plastic bucket with valve)
·         Auto Siphon
·         Proper sized Flexible Tubing
·         Thermometer (glass is not safe for brewing applications)
·         Wing Capper
·         Bottle Caps
·         Bottles
·         Cleaner (PBW, oxy clean)
·         Sanitizer (Star San, iodine) not bleach
·         Muslin Bag
·         Spoon
·         Funnel
·         Airlock
·         Cooking Pot / Kettle (preferable not aluminium)
·         Secondary Conditioning Vessel (optional)
·         Bottle filler (optional, but wonderful)

Brewing Processes

There are many ways to produce beer. It’s best to do what works for you in the space and budget you have. Here’s a quick overview of different home brewing methods

  • ·         Dry Malt Extract with steeping specialty malts and grains

  • ·         Liquid Malt Extract with steeping specialty malts and grains

  • ·         All Grain Brewing needs Hot Water Tank, Mash Tun, and Kettle.

  • ·         Brew in a Bag – Small batch all grain brewing in a bag. Easy to do one to three gallon batches in the kitchen on the stovetop. Very popular in Portland and Brooklyn.

Traditionally people start out extract brewing or brew in a bag. Brew in a Bag gives you the ability to have more flavor control similar to large scale commercial all grain brewing, but you have to pay more attention to temperatures during mash rest. Extract brewing is more user friendly, but less flexible in terms of malt flavors. You have some choice in the flavor of extract but all grain brewing provides more malt choices. If you’re trying to brew five gallon batches I would recommend starting with extract brewing method. If you want to brew smaller one to three gallon size batches than brew in a bag is the way to go. For a three gallon batch you’ll only need six pounds of grain to make a five percent beer.

You need to consider where you want your fermentable sugars to come from? Grains that you crush, a powder you re-hydrate, or dissolve some syrup. It’s up to you.

Basic Brewing Order of Operations


This is how you gain access to all the sugars, flavor, color, and aromas from the grains during the mashing or steeping process. You can buy pre-crushed malt from online stores. You could also go to your local home brew store, buy the grains, and crush them on site.

                        Mashing (for All Grain)

Mashing is the process of converting carbohydrates into fermentable sugar (maltose). During this step you mix hot water and the crushed grains together and allow to rest. A mash rest of 146*f-158*f will make a dry to sweet final beer. Mash rest for thirty minutes to an hour depending on how sweet or dry you want the finished beer. Time and temperature of the mash determines whether beer finishes sweet or dry. Lower mash temperature produces more fermentable sugars making a dry beer. Higher mash temperatures produce less fermentable sugars making a sweet beer. A thirty minute mash rest will produce a sweeter beer. A sixty minute mash rest will produce a dry beer. Any combination of mash temperature and mash rest time can be used. It’s up to you to use this knowledge to better produce the beer you are trying to make.

Extract (steep specialty malts)

Using dry malt extract or liquid extract you can skip the mash rest and steep your specialty grains in a muslin bag for fifteen to thirty minutes at 150*f-170*. You are only extracting flavor, color, and un-fermentable sugars from the specialty malts so temperature isn’t as important. Remove grains and bring the liquid up to a boil. When the liquid starts to boil, turn down heat or remove from burner, and stir in the dry or liquid malt extract.


Return the wort to a boil and be careful of a boil over. You can always add water later to your fermentor before you pitch the yeast, so it’s better to be safe and not fill the kettle up all the way. Liquids expand by 5% at boiling point. At the very least you won’t have to clean up your stovetop from a sticky boil over. The liquid will settle into a rolling boil and the chance of boil over decreases. It’s important to have a rolling boil and not just a light simmer. When boiling, you are doing the part that makes beer safe to drink, compared to water during the middle ages. During boil you are also:

·         Concentrating the wort and kettle caramelization (Maillard Reaction)
·         Preventing Haze by adding fining agents, i.e.: Irish moss
·         Adding the Hop Bill. Hops are added for bitterness, flavor, and aroma.
·         Boil Off, Off Flavors       (Dimethyl Sulfide, canned corn. Myrcene, onion/drain)

                        Wort Cooling

Too long of a cooling process can increase the chances of re-absorbing the volatile off flavors. Also, the chance for wild yeast and bacteria to get into the wort increases. Cool it quickly and get the wort into your fermentor as sanitarily as possible. Simply put the hot kettle into an ice water bath without a lid and wait for wort to cool. Move the ice water around the kettle to reduce cooling time. Once wort is cool, pour or rack contents of kettle to a fermentation vessel. Anyway you do it, it’s important to stay extremely sanitary from this point on. There are also immersion style chillers that you can buy or build. Immersion chillers work better than an ice batch, but use more water to chill the wort than an ice bath. Immersion chillers work by running cold water through a copper or stainless steel coil that is immersed in the hot wort. You can use that excess water to do laundry or water your garden.

                        Yeast Pitching

Using dry yeast is the best way to start. You can always try liquid yeasts on future batches. Dry beer yeast used to have a bad reputation, but those days are long gone. Your local homebrew store has all the different strains you’ll need to begin with. Follow the directions on the back of the yeast packet. Some packets say to sprinkle yeast directly onto wort. Other packets say to hydrate the yeast the way you would for dry baker’s yeast. My friends, this is when the wort becomes beer. Affix your airlock to your fermentation vessel and let the magic happen.



Temperature control during fermentation is crucial for a healthy, steady fermentation. If you were to graph the starting gravity on an X axis and length of time on the Y axis you would want a nice steady slope down over 4-7 days for ales and 7-14 days for lagers. A sharp slope (rapid fermentation) can create off flavors. Different yeast strains have different ideal fermentation temperatures. Belgian ales prefer to ferment warmer, over 70*f. American and English ales typically ferment in the upper 60’s, while lagers prefer fermentation temperatures form 43*f-58*f.

The airlocks bubbles will slow down after 5 – 7 days. After two to three weeks in the primary fermentor you can either rack to a secondary conditioning vessel or into the bottling bucket or keg. You don’t want to leave home brew beer in primary your primary fermentor for more than four weeks as the yeast cake at the bottom can begin to die and put out off flavors. Going into a secondary condition vessel will allow the beer to clear up more.

Racking (another name for moving liquid through a house)

This is when you need to practice good cleaning and sanitation. You don’t want to introduce bacteria or wild yeast into your beer. No known pathogen can survive in beer that can hurt humans. It will only hurt the flavor in a whole range of possibilities. Use gravity to rack your beer. Place your primary fermentor on a stable table or kitchen shelf and your bottling bucket or conditioning tank on the ground.

Clean and sanitize all equipment before coming in contact with the beer, including the vessel you are racking into. Hoses, valves, spoons, everything! Use an Auto Siphon to easily rack your beer. For $15 an Auto Siphon saves you any hassle of trying to siphon beer. Putting your mouth on the end of a hose to stat a siphon is not a sanitary method to rack beer. Use an Auto Siphon, it’s easy to clean, easy to use, and makes it more fun to brew beer.


Add 2-2.5 oz. of sugar dissolved into ½ a cup of boiling water. Boil for a couple minutes to sanitize the sugar. Allow liquid to cool and mix sugar water into beer in the bottling bucket. That amount of sugar listed will carbonate 5 gallons of beer. You want to clean and sanitize all the bottles before filling them with beer. You can buy or make a bottling bucket with a simple plastic valve from the homebrew store and a plastic bucket. Attach a hose to the valve and fill bottles. You can control flow with the valve or buy a bottling wand. The bottling wand will make it easier to fill bottles. Sometimes spending a couple bucks can be what makes a hobby more fun and easy to do.                        


            At the end of the day when you home brew, you control what flavors you put into your brews. Get to know the raw materials, what they taste like and how they affect your beer. Whatever your process is, it’s important to keep track of your process beyond the ingredients so you can have repeatability and consistency. Every condition affects each batch, when you do make changes to a recipe, try to make only one at a time. That way, you can notice and appreciate the difference the change makes (or doesn’t).One malt, hop, yeast, or process change at a time will help you to better understand ingredients are their impact in the beer. Matt Bryndilson of Firestone Walker said, “I don’t know many ingredients, but the ones I do know, I know very well”. Whenever I’m designing a new recipe, I use all the references that are available. For example, if I’m coming up with a brown ale recipe, I’ll look at BJCP style guidelines, home brewing books, and the internet to see what others have used or recommend. Many times I’ll find a malt I was not thinking about using or a different yeast strain to accentuate malt flavors. Take the cornucopia of malts, grains, sugar, herbs, hops, spices, and yeast to create a fermented beverage of your own design.

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