Some people think brewing beer is hard. Here’s the big secret: it’s not.
There are many ways to make craft beer and this is the simplest. From here, you can evolve to partial mash or all grain. It’s your process so adapt it as you see fit. As long as you learn how to make beer, my job is accomplished!
Follow the instructions for temperature on your recipe sheet. Your temperatures might vary depending on the style.
Brewing Steps for Extract with Steeping Grains
Clicking on the links below will take you straight to that step
Step 1: Gather Equipment
You will need the following ingredients (all links go to Amazon.com):
- 5 gallon (20 qt) kettle
- Reusable grain bag
- Extract, hops, yeast and filtered, cold water
- Mash paddle (optional, you could use a regular large spoon instead)
- Funnel (with strainer)
- No Rinse Sanitizer (Star San)
- Airlock and stopper (#10 size if using fermenter above)
I’m a big fan of doing a dry run. Imagine all of your ingredients and make a mental note of all the brewing steps. Especially when you are first learning how to make beer, I have found that this relaxes me so that I’m not worried about timing and screwing up the brewing process in some way. Remember, homebrewing is supposed to be fun. When in doubt, just relax. The wort (pre-fermented deliciousness) wants to be made into beer. You only have to facilitate the process.
To prepare for the ice bath later, fill a few jugs of water and stick them in the freezer. This way you can rotate these out when you cool your wort (which we will get into later) so that it saves you some time.
Clean the equipment
Using unscented cleaner, clean any kettles, fermenters or other brewing equipment. Even though we will be sanitizing later, it’s important to remove any gunk that could be on the equipment. Cleaning removes any particles and sanitizing reduces the amount of microorganisms to manageable levels. Got it? On to step 2!
Step 2: Steep Grains
Fill your kettle with 3 gallons of water and bring to 165°F
You will fill your brew kettle with your initial (strike) water. The ratio of water to grain is more important when actually mashing, whether in partial mash or all grain. Since you are only steeping the grains, I would start with 3 gallons. Keep in mind there will be about half a gallon of water loss during boiling.
Turn off the heat, add grains and keep at 150°F for 30 minutes
Once the temperature reaches 150-165°F, pour your grains into the grain bag and add to the kettle. Dip the bag in and out several times to let the water flow through the grain. Then leave in the kettle for 30-45 minutes. Maintaining an exact temperature isn’t a big deal for steeping. You are extracting the flavor and color of the grain but you aren’t “mashing”. The starch to sugar conversion is something that happens during partial mash or all grain brewing.
Remove and drain
After 30 or so minutes, remove the bag and let the wort drip down into the kettle. Once most of the liquid has drained, discard the grains. You can use these as compost or make bread with them.
Step 3. Add Half of your Extract
Add half of the total extract while heating up the wort to boiling.
Some people wait until the pot is boiling then add extract, but I have never had a problem with adding the extract while the pot is heating up. It also saves time on the brew day.
Careful not to scorch the extract on the bottom of the kettle. If it’s dry extract, it’s best to pour into a bowl and whisk that sucker into the kettle. The reason you only add half of the grain is mainly for color. Adding all of the extract isn’t the end of the world, but it may darken your beer which isn’t ideal for lighter styles such as hefeweizen or pale ale.
Step 4: Boil
Crank the heat and bring to a rolling boil.
The boil is around 60 minutes. Full boils (with the total volume that will ferment) can make for better beer. Due to equipment, I do a partial boil of 3 gallons. I add the rest of the volume with top off sanitized water.
Remove the lid. Removing the lid is important, as there are some bad flavors that need to boil off and escape.
Watch for boil overs.
Wort is sticky and is a pain to clean up. Don’t believe me? Look at the scars on my stove top. In order to save you hearing an earful from your significant other keep an eye on the pot during this time.
Add hops at times listed on your recipe sheet.
Hops that are added earlier in the boil are for bittering. Hops added towards the end contribute to aroma. Depending on your style, the time and amount of hops will vary from recipe to recipe.
Usually you’ll add half of the hops in the beginning and half of them in the final 15 minutes of boiling.
Add the rest of the malt extract after 45 minutes.
Pour and whisk in the malt extract just like you did in the beginning. Careful not to scorch. This will give the extract enough time to be pasteurized (sanitized) and won’t contribute off-color or flavor to the beer.
Step 5: Cool Down
Fill your sink with cold water and frozen water bottles. Place your kettle in the ice bath.
I would recommend an ice bath for those who haven’t purchased a wort chiller. Remove the frozen water bottles from the preparation and place them into a large sink. Place the kettle in the sink or tub. Replace the water when it gets warm with more cold water. Wait until it is at least below 80°F. Down the line, you can purchase a wort chiller which would exponentially speed up the process.
Why do you want to cool the wort quickly?
When the wort is between 60-100°F, it is most vulnerable to be infected. You want to cool it down and pitch the yeast ASAP to keep any bad organisms from infecting the wort.
Step 6: Sanitize
Sanitize airlocks, fermenters and blow off tubes
Cooling down the wort takes me about 45 minutes to an hour. Take your sanitizer, such as Iodopher or Star San, and mix according to directions. Many of these have a “contact time” of at least a minute. Star San has a contact time of 30 seconds while Iodopher takes at least 2 minutes. Make sure to get all areas inside the fermenter. Don’t scrub the fermenter otherwise it could make scratches which harbor bacteria. Just let it soak.
Sanitizers like Star San are no rinse. You just need to drain and it’s good to go. Other sanitizers will need to be rinsed. Follow the instructions on the label to be sure.
Step 7: Transfer
After your wort has cooled, grab your sanitized fermenter. Fill your fermenter with cool, sanitized water to make up the total volume of the difference between how much wort you have left and what your total batch size will be.
Here’s a simple example:
Total batch size: 5 gallons
Wort that is cooled down in your kettle: 3 gallons
Amount of water to add into fermenter: 2 gallons
Keep in mind that the sanitized water can also bring down the total temperature of the wort if it’s still high temperature. If the wort is about 100°F, I will often add it into the fermenter and the cold water will bring the temperature down.
Once the wort is cooled, it’s time to place in your fermenter. If using a carboy, it’s a necessity to have a large funnel. Wort is messy, a lesson I learned the sticky way.
This is a good time to take your Starting/Original Gravity (S.G, or O.G. for you brewing gangstas). This will tell you the potential alcohol content of your beer. It will be compared to the Final Gravity (F.G.) taken at the end of fermentation. Final gravity also will tell you when fermentation has stopped and the beer is ready to be bottled.
Step 8: Pitch Some Yeast
When the wort is between 65-80°F, it’s time to pitch your yeast. If using dry yeast, pour the yeast right on top of the wort and let it be. If using liquid yeast, it’s best to make a starter.
After you have a few batches under your belt, you can start rehydrating your yeast and making starters. However, it won’t be detrimental to start simple by adding as is and work your way up to yeast starters.
Step 9: Storage Tips
Store your fermenter out of the sunlight in a temperature steady area.
This may be difficult depending on your geographical location. There are many options to help stabilize your fermenter temperature. I have had a lot of success using this Cool Brewing Insulator. It keeps my temperatures steady with minimal effort even while I’m away at work. I just replace frozen water bottles every 12 hours and keep a close eye on the temperature.
The more you open up the fermenter, the more chances for infection. Leave it alone until you are ready to take hydrometer readings. Then you will know when fermentation is complete. If you took the time to read materials on how to make beer, the last thing you want is to ruin it by opening the lid and exposing the beer to contaminates!
Airlock activity is not a good sign of fermentation.
Hydrometer readings (gravity readings) are the best way to see when fermentation is complete. Once you have steady readings for several days then it’s time to bottle. Bubbling in the airlock is not a good sign of when fermentation has slowed down. The only way to find that out is to take hydrometer readings.
Fermentation can vary from a few days to several weeks. Most of the time, 2 weeks is ideal although you can leave the beer on the yeast for 4 or 5 weeks. This allows plenty of time for the yeast to clean up any byproducts from fermentation. After this, you bottle and wait for carbonation. All in all, the total process can be done around 5 weeks (including a week in the fridge to condition).
There are many ways to make beer and I wanted to share the way it worked best for me. You may have a totally different process, do whatever works best for you! That’s the great thing about brewing beer, you make it your own!
Feel free to share your process below. I hope you were able to see that knowing how to make beer is not as hard as you may think! It just requires some equipment, lots of cleaning and a little patience.