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Brewing Your First Beer

The process of taking natural ingredients and turning them into alcohol has been around for centuries and has often been the way for humans to rejoice, bond, share and meet together. Telling a tale over a pint of frothy beer in front of a roaring fire, sharing your latest brewing recipe, bottling your ales or sneaking off to the cupboard to take in the sweet smell of the hops and check the bubbling brew is something that should be celebrated, tried by everyone and mastered by you.

Brewing your first beer is very simple and only requires a small amount of ingredients and equipment but also a fair amount of patience and time. It is a process to be taken slowly, ensuring that each of the steps are followed and adhered to, else your brew will become spoilt and only destined for the drain.

This page will tell you how to brew your first 5 gallons of beer, which ingredients you need (from a tried and tested recipe), what equipment you will need to buy and use and the step by step process of brewing, boiling, cooling, fermenting, priming, bottling and ageing. Finish that off with the testing of the ale and you have just brewed your first beer.

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What equipment will I need?

If you are starting on the road to brew your own beer, through using a pre-made kit or from using borrowed or bought individual produce, there are a few other bits of equipment you will need along the way. You don’t have to have each of these to actually brew the beer and it might be an idea to befriend a local brewer and see if you can borrow some of his old equipment. It is likely that they may have grown out of some old kit that you could use.

When buying these items, it pays to shop around. Although a good “starter kit” will cost between $50 - $100, you can expect to pay less than double that for your own equipment. However, you do get what you pay for when doing this and the items you buy yourself will be of much better quality than the cheap plastic stuff you get in a pre-made pack.

A large storage pot (3 to 4 gallons)

Your pot will be where you do most of your mixing of ingredients, so make sure it is at least 3-4 gallons in size. If you have the room at home or in your “brewing shed” then get a larger one. The bigger the pot, the more beer you can brew and the less mess you will make along the way. A common complaint of the home starter kits is that the equipment is a little on the small side and often leaks or spills.

Plastic tubes/tubing

This is used to siphon the beer out of the pot into other storage containers. The most common is 3/8” plastic tubing. Your tubing will also need to fit your priming bucket, bottler and air lock.

Priming bucket or container

This large bucket will let you add the sugar to the beer before it is bottled. You can reuse the large pot you used to boil in, but a cheaper plastic bucket will do fine as long as it is large enough (5 gallons) and cleaned before each use.

Metal clamps

The clamps will be used to control the siphoning pipe as it comes from your pot to your other storage container. You didn’t think you would have to sit there and hold it all night did you? You can buy clamps from your local brewing store or online from many different websites including Amazon.

An airtight fermenting bucket (fermentor)

Later in the brewing process, you will need to store your beer so that it can ferment, which can take over 8 weeks, depending on how desperate you are to test it. I am sure that you will have heard horror stories where people have knocked over their fermenting beer, or discovered that it has leaked all over their floor - so getting a good one is important.

Most starter kits will have a plastic bucket with a lid that holds around 5 gallons of beer. However, the more professional beer brewers go for a glass carboy which is more expensive, but easier to clean and will not leak at all.

An air lock and stopper

When you are using your fermentor bucket, you will need to let off a small amount of excess gas and air from inside every so often. To do this, you will need an air lock and stopper so that you will not have to take the lid off each time which will introduce the risk of infection to your brew. The airlock will also have bubbles in so you can see that your beer is actually brewing and that no air is escaping through a broken seal or hole.

A bottle filler device

When you want to put your beer into bottles, you will use the bottle filler to pipe it through. You will need to find a filler that fits your tubing mentioned earlier.

A thermometer

An important part of brewing and fermenting is knowing the temperature of your brew. To do this properly, you will need a good thermometer that goes from 0 to 100 degrees Celsius.

Glass beer bottles

For 5 gallons of beer, 2 cases of beer bottles should be sufficient if they are 12 oz bottles. A tip someone told me is to buy the ones with lids that you have to pry or push off, rather than the twist off ones. I am not sure this made a difference to my beer though, so the choice is yours.

Bottle brushes or cleaning brushes

Brewing beer is all about reusing the equipment over and over again and it is very important to keep it all as clean as possible. A good quality bottle brush is not an essential purchase, but it will definitely make cleaning more easier.

A bottle capper

When storing your beer in glass bottles, you will need the metal bottle caps and also a hand driven bottle capper. Try to get a twin lever model as they will be easier to use and you will probably need around 60 bottle caps for 5 gallons of beer (depending on your beer bottle size of course).

A cleaning or sterilizing solution As I mentioned earlier, keeping your equipment clean and sterile is very important when brewing beer. The risk of the liquid becoming infected can be greatly increased by not using clean equipment and therefore being able to prevent contamination through the use of sulphur dioxide or chlorine based brewing cleaners or household bleach is important.

Buy Your Ingredients

If this is your first batch of beer, then I suggest that you try to make a simple ale; nothing too fancy or special. There are hundreds and thousands of different recipes out there and a whole world of beer and ale you will be able to discover once you have mastered the basics, but stick to something simple for your first brew.

I have been using the following set of ingredients for some time now without deviation and the amounts listed assume that we are brewing up 5 gallons of ale. If you want to increase or decrease the amounts, then fine, just adjust the values accordingly. 5 gallons is a nice size for your first try at brewing though. If it goes well there will be enough to last you quite a while and if it fails, it will not break the bank to pour it all away and start again.

6 to 7 lbs of Unhopped Pale Malt Extract

The malt extract comes in cans and is available from many different companies, shops and websites. The yeast you add to the brew feeds on the malt extract to produce a sweet taste and make the alcohol.

Malt extract comes in either dried or liquid forms. The liquid version is called syrup and if you choose to use this version, 1lb of dry malt extract would roughly equal 1.2lbs of syrup malt extract, so make sure you use the correct amounts.

2 Oz of East Kent Goldings Hops

Supplied in air tight bags, these fresh green hops will add the bitterness to your beer. Without them, the brew will be too sweet and sickly and will not taste like beer at all. The bags are quite small and easy to store and the East Kent Golding variety has a great smell as soon as you open the bag up.

1 pack of Wyeast American Ale liquid Yeast

This brand of yeast, or “activator” will give a great, clean and crisp flavor to your beer. It has a cool (60-66F, 15-19C) fermentation temperature and produces many beer styles allowing the malt and hops to give the taste. A great yeast for your first brew.

2/3 cup Priming Sugar

Adding sugar to your beer during the bottling process will help add a little more fermentation and also give the beer it’s natural carbonation - bubbles. You can use different types of sugar, from common or garden sugar you would find at home, to corn sugar which you may need to search around for. Most people cannot tell the difference if you use one different type of sugar or another.

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Lets Brew Beer!

Now that you have your main ingredients and equipment, it’s time to start your first brew. I know you will be tempted to rush ahead through the instructions but brewing beer and ale takes time and should be savoured and enjoyed at each step. The more care you take with each part of the process, the better your beer will taste at the end. Even once your beer has been put into the bottles, you will not really be able to drink it for many weeks - so what’s the rush?

The process will be split down into 7 distinct steps.

  1. Brewing
  2. Cooling
  3. Fermenting
  4. Priming
  5. Bottling
  6. Aging
  7. Drinking

Brewing and boiling

Take your large pot and place it on your stove, or somewhere where you will be able to heat up 2 gallons of water (not 5, which is your target amount - the other 3 gallons comes later). You are not looking to turn the water into a bubbling cauldron here, just get it nice and hot for the next step.

Open your cans of malt extract and mix this with the water to create the “wort”. You can also use some of the hot water to make sure that you get all of the extract out of the cans. Try to make sure you use all of the extract if you can. As you are adding the malt extract, you will need to stir your mixture so that none of the malt floats down, rests on the bottom of the pot and begins to harden and caramelise due to the heat. A slow, steady stirring motion will be perfect.

Next, add the hops to the brew, making sure that you mix them all in well, getting them all wet and mushy. This is where the sweet smell will start to fill your nostrils and remind you why you started this process in the first place.

Once you have added all of the malt and hops together, allow the wort to slowly come to the boil and continue stirring it and letting it bubble away slightly for around 60 minutes. Try to keep the temperature down to just allow it to boil but not go crazy and start to foam and bubble. Keeping the heat under control will also help get a good flavor for your beer. If the temperature gets too high, the wort will burn, causing caramelisation and a bad taste at the end.

Cooling

Once you have completed the brewing phase, you will need to cool your wort to allow it to be stored for fermentation. The most common way to do this and the perfect way for a first timer like yourself, will be to add some very cold water to the wort, bringing it down to around room temperature (72 F). This is also the stage where your 2 gallons of wort will become 5 gallons of beer, by adding 3 gallons of cold water.

Once your wort has cooled sufficiently (make sure using your thermometer) you will need to decant it into the fermentor. You can either do this by using the piping to siphon it from the large pot, down into the fermentor or by picking it up and pouring it out. If you don’t feel confident about pouring, then siphoning is the easiest way. You can even leave your pot on the stove whist you do this part.

An important thing to note here is that at this stage, the wort will be very open to picking up any infections. Making sure that all of your equipment is clean and sterilized before use will ensure that no nasties get into the process. I mentioned some cleaning products earlier, so make sure you use them well.

Fermenting

Once the wort has been cooled to room temperature and transferred to the fermentor, it is time to add the next ingredient, the yeast. If you have never brewed a single pint before, I recommend that you use liquid yeast as it is the easiest to use and gives a consistent result from brew to brew.

Depending on the yeast you have bought, there you may need to mix 2 parts together to make the yeast “active”. Some are pre-mixed and ready to use, so make sure you check the instructions on the packet before you begin to make sure you don’t make a mistake. Add the yeast to your wort and stir it all up. You may find that the hops are still in there, all lumpy and gunky, but don’t worry about them at all. They will most likely fall to the bottom of the brew.

Fit the lid to your fermentor bucket and attach the airlock. The airlock also needs a little water added that will let bubbles appear to let you know that your beer is fermenting properly. Again, follow the instructions for your airlock and make sure that it is fitted securely and that the lid of the fermentor is on tight too.

Place the container in a dark place; a cupboard or dark room will be best, but it is important to keep it somewhere that the temperature will not fluctuate too much. Keeping it outdoors in a shed might seem like the best plan, but if the weather in your part of the world changes quite a bit, then this may not be the best plan. It is best to keep the brew at room temperature, so a spare cupboard in the house is probably best. If you do not have a place to put the fermenting beer in that is dark, consider covering the fermentor with a thick sheet.

After you have secured it in it’s new home, it will need to stand there for around 1 week. You will need to check it every now and then and you should start to see bubbles appearing in your airlock after 1 to 2 days from the CO2 given off by the fermenting process. If you don’t, you will need to check that the lid or cover of the fermentor is airtight and that you have no leaks anywhere. If you do not ferment your beer for long enough, it will have a very sweet taste.

Priming

After the week is up, you will need to perform one last step before you can drain the beer out into bottles for storage. This part of the brewing process is called priming, where you add sugar to your fermented liquid. This small amount of sugar will help the beer ferment more when it is in the bottles and it will also slightly improve the flavor too, making it less bitter.

Use a (clean) tube to siphon the mixture out and into your priming bucket so you can add the sugar. Make sure that everything is clean and sterilized beforehand though. Add the 2 thirds of a cup of sugar to the beer, stirring it all up. Corn sugar is recommended to the newbie brewer as it is easiest to dissolve and work with.

The key to adding the priming sugars is to mix them in slowly without disturbing the mixture too much. You are not looking to make a bubble bath by adding the sugar and stirring it up like mad - slow and steady! If you add too many bubbles to the mixture at this stage, infection and bacteria can be added by accident, so be careful.

Bottling

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Once you have added and (slowly) mixed your sugar to the mixture, it’s time to move it from the fermentor to your glass bottles for storage. To do this, you use the bottle filler to siphon the beer from the priming bucket. It is normally at this point I get annoyed that I am moving the brew from one place to another all the time, but it’s all part of the process and you need to make sure you take your time over each step - remember when I said that earlier?

The trick to bottling the beer is to do it slowly without adding air to the liquid if possible. Angle the bottle as you add the beer so that it trickles in slowly and cleanly, rather than splashing into the bottle all over the place, which will add bubbles and possible bacterias. By leaving around an inch gap at the top of the bottle, you will allow for some additional fermentation, so don’t fill it right to the brim.

Once the bottle it full, use the hand capping device to pinch a metal lid down onto the top. Try to keep the beer still during this process, otherwise the bottle may slip away from you when you do this. If a friend is around, ask them to help you keep the bottle steady until you master the capper.

Aging

This is the hardest part of brewing your first batch of beer and it will be the part that most people struggle with or get wrong. Actually, I am joking, this part is easy but hard if you want to try your beer straight away!

Your beer will need to rest, or “age” for around 8 weeks for it to mature into a delicious brew but you can test it after the first 3 to 4 weeks to make sure it tastes good. The bottles will need to be stored (stood up) in a cool (not cold) place and preferably in the dark. The beer is still very susceptible to going wrong at this point so storing it properly and allowing it to age for the right amount of time is critical.

Many people rush to try their first beer and find that it does not taste to their liking. This is normally because they have not let it age enough. 8 weeks should be sufficient for this recipe, but you can leave it longer (up to 15 weeks) for the taste to mature and improve even more.

After the beer has aged, you will find that some sediment will lay at the bottom of the bottle. This is normal, as the excess yeasts, tannins and proteins will fall away or “fall out” of the beer to the bottom. You may have seen this if you have ever sampled real ales before; that small amount of dirt or grit in the beer. It will certainly not do you any harm to drink this. Some might say that it even improves the beer!

Drinking

This is the part you have been waiting for! After at least 8 weeks of aging, pop open a bottle, pour it into your favorite glass and settle back and sup your ale. Best served at room temperature, the light brown ale you have made with these ingredients will be not too bitter and not too sweet either. It should smell nice and “hoppy” as well as warm and refreshing tasting - the perfect pint.

The future

The process of brewing your first beer is now complete! So what is next for the no longer newbie brewer? Should you move on to bigger and better things such as trying to brew twice the amounts? Or perhaps test a difference recipe that will create a rich golden ale fit for a king?

Actually - none of the above.

I suggest that once you have completed this process and you and your friends are happy with the results, that you do it again and again until you know it all inside and out. Sometimes, a small mistake or change to the process can make all the difference between a good pint and a bad stomach. Knowing what to do and when will help you when you come to expand your knowledge by using new ingredients or trying new methods.

After a builder builds his first wall, he does not go straight on to building a whole house - he masters the basics first. Planning, preparing and repeating your brewing skills is the key to getting it right each time. Once you are confident you can decant a gallon in the dark, try different things; a new beer recipe is often the thing that people try first as it is the most straight forward way to increase your knowledge and expertise.

Above all, have fun, enjoy your brewing and take your time. Beer is often ruined by people who expect instant results and do not take care over each process. If your first batch fails, chalk it down to experience and try again. You will not have lost much (time or money) so starting from scratch will not break the bank or your back. Read this eBook again and see where you went wrong. Hell, read other eBooks, websites, real books and seek guidance from “old Bill” down the road who has been brewing beer since he was a teenager. Sometimes, getting advice from others can be the best way to fix what you are doing wrong.

Drinks


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