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New Homebrewers – Lose the anxiety

After a 5 or 6 year hiatus, my wife suggested I dig up my old brewing paraphernalia and get to brewing. She said she liked how it made the house smell while I was cooking up my secret concoction. Actually, my secret concoction is beer and there is nothing secret about it. It can be brewed be even the most “culinary inept” folks out there. By the way, I would lump myself into this category. If I can do it anybody can. All you really need is a true love of beer.

Getting started might seem overwhelming at first but you can easily get your arms around it if you break it into a few steps. First you need to get your equipment. Experienced brewers can get pretty elaborate with there set ups but you don’t need to. We can explore some of those set ups at a later date. For now, let’s keep it simple. My first brewing set consisted of:

  • A large pot. Something similar to what your grandma used to make stew in. It should be 3.5 – 4 gals.
  • (1) 5 gallon bucket with lid (fermentor)
  • (1) 5 gallon bucket with hole for spigot (for bottling)
  • (1) spigot (to be used with bottling bucket)
  • Air lock (to be used in fermenting bucket)
  • 6 feet of clear plastic tubing, 3/8” inside diameter (to use as a siphon)
  • (1) bottle capper
  • (24) 20oz. bottles (preferably dark bottles)

That’s it. That’s all you need to get started. I would like to point out that I still use most of this equipment and it has served me well over the years. If you are fortunate enough to have a homebrew supply store in your area just take this list to them and they will get you set up. If you are like me you have to rely on the internet to get your supplies. This is no big deal and you might even find it more to your liking. There are plenty of online stores such as www.homebrewheaven.com and www.monsterbrew.com that will carry everything you need. They also have start up kits with everything I mentioned above for around $100-$150.

At this point you will need to decide what kind of refreshing libation you want to create. This is big. Don’t get crazy. Remember, you are going to be testing this out on all your friends so you want to make sure it’s something they will like. Most of my friends like the India Pale Ales (IPA) or stouts but a lot of folks do not. The choices are many. I would suggest keeping it simple. Most homebrew supply stores (both local and online) will have prepackaged kits. If you are a first timer (which I assume you are if you are reading this article) BUY THE KIT. It is money well spent. The come with everything you need along with step by step instructions to take you through the process.

Once you have your basics it’s time to get brewing. The first thing you need to do is to take the bottling bucket, spigot, siphon hose, bottle capper, and bottles and store them away. You will not need these for now. Next take the rest of the equipment and give it a thorough cleaning. These items need to be sterile. I mix a small amount of Clorox with water and then rinse THOROUGHLY. This is probably the most important step. You DO NOT want any kind of bacteria or otherwise unwanted funk growing in your soon to be masterpiece. Once you have rinsed out all of the equipment you need to cover everything that will not be used right away. This will keep any stray dog hairs, etc. out.

The next steps in this article are general steps for taking the ingredients and making beer. Each recipe is going to vary slightly. I highly recommend you follow the instructions to the letter for best results. Once you get the basics down you can start experimenting with the process and ingredients to personalize your brew.

Beer consists of 4 basic ingredients.

  1. Water
  2. Malt (Sugars)
  3. Hops (Flavoring)
  4. Yeast(Fermenting)

Now, go to the refrigerator and take out one of your favorite beers. Open it and take the first of many sips during this process.  Take the large pot and add about 1.5 gallons of cold water. Bring this to a full boil. Stir in the malt. This comes in dry powder form or as a syrup. Keep stirring making sure not to let the malt settle to the bottom. This will scorch the malt adding an unpleasant taste and make your life very difficult when it comes time to clean the pot. Once all the malt has been added bring the mixture (called wort) to a rolling boil. DO NOT TURN YOUR BACK ON THE POT WHILE YOU ARE WAITING FOR IT TO BOIL! Once it starts to boil it will almost immediately start to rise to the top of the pot. Once this happens you must remove the pot from the heat until the mixture recedes. At this point it is safe to continue boiling the wort. If your wort boils over the top of the pot you are going to have quite a mess on your hands. Add the hops according to your recipe and continue to boil for 45 minutes to an hour.

When you are nearing the end of the boil, remove the lid from the fermenting bucket and add 3.5 gallons of cold water. Replace the lid.

Once the boil is complete, slowly add the wort to the cold water already in the fermenting bucket. Mix thoroughly and let cool to room temperature. Don’t forget to put the lid back on the bucket. Once it has cooled to roughly 70°F stir in the yeast. This ferments the sugars in the mixture giving your brew its alcohol content. Replace the lid and insert the airlock.  Place the container in a dark cool place for 7 to 10 days. During this time you will notice air escaping though the airlock this is telling you that it is still fermenting. Once it has completed the fermentation process it is ready for bottling. MAKE SURE IT HAS FINISHED FERMENTING. If it has not and you bottle it anyway it will blow the tops off your bottle. You can tell when it has stopped fermenting when no more air is escaping from the air lock. Also, you should not see any bubbles in the mixture when you remove the lid. Do not remove the lid until you are fairly confident it is ready for bottling.

Now, you want to go find the remaining equipment you stored away and clean and sterilize it using the same method used earlier.

It’s time to siphon the brew from the fermentor to the bottling bucket. Place one end of the siphon hose in the fermentor and the other end over the bottling bucket. DO NOT let the hose get too close to the bottom of the fermentor. All the solids remaining in the mixture have settled to the bottom and that is where they need to stay. Suck the mixture through the hose and let it flow into the bottling bucket. This is where you get the first hint of what your brew is going to taste like.

Once you have transferred the entire brew into the bottling bucket you will need to add the priming sugar (included in recipe kit). Dissolve the priming sugar in ¾ cup of boiling water and pour into you brew. Mix well. This small amount of sugar continues to ferment after the bottling to give each beer its carbonation. Now, you are ready to bottle.

Fill each of you sterilized bottles to within about 1.5” of the top and then cap. And now for the hardest part…..WAIT. Place all the bottles back in a dark cool location and wait for another 10 to 14 days. This is going to seem like an eternity but if you wait you will not be disappointed. You will be rewarded with the crisp taste and self satisfaction of creating a fine homebrew. Once you’ve done that no other store bought beers will compare.

As you become more comfortable with the process you will want to start experimenting with different things. I highly encourage you to do this. You are sure to find that one particular taste you are looking for. Check back for future articles on more advanced techniques and tricks. Cheers.

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5 Responses to New Homebrewers – Lose the anxiety

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