Brewing Basics

Copyright © by Arlea Hunt-Anschütz 1999

Basic Equiptment:

  • Boiler --stainless steel or enameled saucepan with 2-3 gallon capacity

  • Fermenter --5-6 gallon size plastic beer fermenter with screw-on top

  • Stopper and airlock to fit fermenter

  • 5 gallon food-grade plastic bucket

  • Sodium metabisulphite (recommended) or household bleach for sterilizing

  • Milk bottle or other small wide-mouthed glass jug

  • Bag made out of fine plastic mesh or cheesecloth

  • Kitchen scale

  • Thermometer

  • Hydrometer and test jar (optional)

  • Plastic siphon hose

  • 38 half-liter bottles

  • Bottle caps and bottlecapper

Basic Ingredients for 5 Gallons of Good Ale:

  • 6 lbs malt extract (such as Edme DMS)

  • 3 lbs fermentable sugars made up of any combination of: malt extract, honey, brown sugar, treacle

  • 1 package dried ale yeast (such as Edme) or Wyeast liquid yeast

  • 6 oz fine brewing sugar (used at bottling)

  • One or more of the flavoring ingredients listed below (the list is not exhaustive!)

    Flavoring Ingredients:

  • 4-6 ounces dried nontoxic herbs (for flavor and medicinal effect) [Note, if you use fresh herbs, the amount you need to add to achieve the flavor or effect you want will vary greatly depending on the plant and the part of the plant used]

  • 2 ounces lightly crushed spice seeds (such as coriander, cardamom, fennel)

  • 2 ounces chopped licorice root or ginger root (for sweetening or spiciness)

  • 1 lb. lightly crushed specialty (crystal, black, etc.) malt (for sweetening, bittering, or colour)

  • 1 lb. powdered lactose (for sweetening and added body)
  • 5 pounds fresh berries or other fruit pressed or crushed to break skins and release juice [Note, sugars in the fruit will ferment and raise the alcohol content of the beer. If you do not want a high alcohol fruit ale, skip the 3 lbs. of fermentable sugars listed in basic ingredients.]

Basic Procedure:

Make yeast starter. Do this the day before you plan to brew. Put approx. ½ cup malt extract and ½ pint water in saucepan and bring to boil. Stir to dissolve extract. Simmer 5 minutes. Let cool down to approx. 28c (if you can stick your finger in it comfortably, it's cool enough). Stir in yeast from packet. Carefully pour into milk-bottle (or any small jar with an opening you can fit a stopper with airlock into). Stick in rubber stopper, cover hole with finger. Shake vigorously. Insert airlock. Leave be. Within about 12 hours the yeast should show signs of activity. (The water in the airlock should be bubbling at regular intervals and a layer of foam should be formingon the surface of the liquid.) If the yeast fails to show signs of life after 48 hours, throw out the starter batch and try making a new one.

Make infusion. Do this when yeast starter is ready. Fill boiler half-full of water. Put crushed crystal malt, dried herbs, crushed spice-seeds, and/or chopped roots in mesh-bag and suspend in water. Bring water to boil. Simmer for approx. ½ hour. (The best length of time depends on the flavor you wish to achieve and the ingredients you are using.) Extract as much flavored liquid as you can from the bag into the boiler. For optimum flavor, let the bag cool and squeeze it with your hands. Discard the contents of the bag. (It makes good compost.)

Brew Wort. While continuously stirring infusion slowly pour in malt extract and, if using them, brown sugar or treacle. Stir until sugars are dissolved. Bring to boil. Boil for approx. 15 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. If using honey or lactose, stir these in till dissolved. If using fruit, add it to the wort. Put boiler into sink or bathtub filled with cold water to cool for approx. 30 minutes.

Transfer to Fermenter. Sterilize fermenter and equipment (strainer, spoon, thermometer, etc.) Everything that touches the wort after you've stopped boiling it should be sterile. Pour approx. 2 gallons cold water into fermenter. Carefully pour wort into fermenter. Top up with cold water to make 5 gallons. Wait for wort to cool. If you wish to use a hydrometer to calculate alcohol content, now's the time. Transfer some wort into the test jar, wait for it to reach 20c, then take your hydrometer reading to find out the initial gravity. When the wort in the fermenter reaches 24 -28c pour in the yeast starter solution and stir vigorously. Replace the lid. Transfer the airlock from the yeast-starter bottle to the fermenter.

Primary Fermentation. Put the fermenter somewhere out of the way and leave the beer alone for a week. After a day or two, the ale should be actively fermenting with very frequent bubbles coming through the airlock. A layer of foam will form on the surface. In a few days this layer will break up and fall in. After a week, most of the foam should be gone and the bubbles in the airlock will have become less frequent. This is a sign that the beer is ready to rack.

Racking. Do this when fermentation has visibly slowed. Sterilize your 5-gallon bucket and siphon tube. Carefully siphon beer from the fermenter into the bucket. The goal here is to separate the clear beer from the layer of sludge that's formed on the bottom of the fermenter. Try not to disturb this layer while siphoning. As soon as sludge starts entering the siphon tube, it's time stop. When you're done transferring the beer, wash out the fermenter and sterilize it. Then siphon the beer from the bucket back into the clean fermenter. Replace the top and the airlock. Leave be for at least two weeks. If you're too busy to bottle, the beer can remain in the fermenter for up to six weeks after racking.

Bottling. You can bottle the beer any time after signs of fermentation have ceased. If you wish to take a hydrometer reading, do it just before bottling to determine the final gravity. Follow the instructions the come with your hydrometer to determine the alcohol content. Sterilize your bottles, bottle caps, siphon-hose and 5-gallon bucket. Dissolve the brewing sugar in about a pint of boiling water. Pour the sugar-syrup into the bottom of the bucket. Siphon the beer from the fermenter into the bucket, leaving behind the layer of sludge. Gently stir to make sure the extra sugar is evenly distributed. Now siphon the beer from the bucket into the bottles and cap them. The ale will be carbonated and drinkable after about 2-3 weeks in the bottles

Recommended Reading.

The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. ISBN: 0-380-76366-4

Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers by Stephen Harrod Buhner. ISBN: 0-937381-66-7

back to the Skvala site