Beer brewing

Beer brewing

Joel here. I brew beer as a hobby and wanted to take some time to share some pictures from the process and how I (currently) go about the brewing process.

I am currently doing two-stage fermentation extract brewing with steeped grains. My most recent batch was based on a winter warmer ale recipe found in a calendar, but I made some minor changes with the malts and hops to make it a little maltier and hoppier than the recipe called for, resulting in a slightly higher original gravity and thus higher alcohol content of the final product.

I start with a collection of malted grains and hops from Midwest Supplies, plus DME and LME seen at the top and left, respectively. Not pictured here, but I also use Star San to sanitize everything prior to brewing — all kettles, carboys, siphons, hoses, spoons, saucers spoons will be set on, etc. Any unwelcome bacteria has the potential to ruin the batch.



I start by bringing the water to a boil. I normally boil about six gallons of tap water, but in this case had some purified water set aside so it was added to the wort boil later. So to start I had about four gallons of tap water to boil. This is to eliminate any bacteria that may be in the tap water and reduce the chlorine which would otherwise inhibit the brewing process.


I then put about three pounds of crushed, malted grain into this muslin bag…


And after the water had boiled and then cooled again to about 150 degrees (with help of the rest of the water), put it in the water to steep for about half an hour.


After about 30 minutes, the water looks like this:


Then it’s time to add the extracts. Liquid…


…and dry.


Then I mix everything well and bring this mixture, called wort (sounds like wert) to a boil and keep it at a boil for over 30 minutes.


After boiling for about 30 minutes, then I add hops. These are hops in pellet form, and I added them in four stages during the boil.


When there are about 15 minutes of boiling left, I add Irish moss. Irish moss is actually a type of seaweed and helps clarify the beer by causing proteins in the beer to clump together and fall to the bottom, thus leaving a clearer liquid with fewer particles in suspension.


Some brewers prefer to do this stage with only part of the water, making a more concentrated wort, and adding the rest of the water after cooling but before pitching the yeast.  I prefer to steep the grains and work with the extracts and hops using the full amount of water. It is debatable if it really makes that much of a difference.

Once the boil is complete, it’s time to chill the wort. It is best to chill the wort quickly as the longer it sits at warm temperatures to cool, the greater the chance of unwelcome bacteria having a chance of growing.  So I use a wort chiller, which is copper tubing attached to a garden hose. Cold water flows through the copper tubing; the heat from the wort is transferred to the cold water resulting in warm outflow from the tubing, and the wort drops rapidly in temperature. Note that this photo is from my September brew as it was after dark when I did this step in my most recent January brew. And, strangely enough, it took longer to chill the brew in January with an air temperature of 38 degrees than in the summer when hot outside.


Once the wort is chilled to the appropriate temperature (74 degrees for this batch) it is time to transfer it to a fermenter. This photo is actually also from September since our old stove is visible in the photo. And I am actually using a different carboy now too, as the carboy pictured here broke while sanitizing it last week and I had to wait to get a new one in order to brew. I use a sanitized auto-siphon to transfer wort between containers. During this phase I also take a few ounces of wort to test gravity, useful in determining the final alcohol content of the beer. This beer has an original gravity of 1.07. With a target final gravity of 1.01, this beer will have an estimated alcohol content of just under 8%.


Once the carboy is filled, I shake it around for a few minutes to get as much oxygen as possible into the wort.  After fermentation starts, getting oxygen into the beer is a bad thing, but at this stage I want as much oxygen as possible to assist the yeast in fermentation. I shake it on the couch so as to have a soft surface for moving the carboy around, but with towels and blankets down so no wort spills onto the couch.


Then it is time to pitch the yeast, which means pouring the yeast into the fermenter. For this batch, I used liquid yeast though I have used dry yeast in past batches. Then it is time to close the carboy and start fermenting. I add a stopper with a hole it, and then insert an airlock device into the hole in the stopper. This lets gasses bubble out but keeps air from getting in.

This was a couple hours after putting the airlock on the top. Note some activity already starting to take place.

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It looked like this after a day:

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However, for more active batches like this one, it is better to use a blowoff hose leading from the carboy into a pail of sanitized water, as sometimes the foam from the fermentation process is actually too much for the carboy to hold and it ends up coming out through the airlock. That happened this morning!

After almost 2 days:


I have been keeping a towel around the carboy in order to shield it from light (other than when taking a photo) as light is also damaging to beer. I need to move the carboy to a dark, cool area of the basement soon. Normally I do that right after brewing.

Check out the churning activity of the fermentation process!

In about two weeks, I will transfer the beer from this carboy into a second sanitized carboy for secondary fermention. This will get it off of the “yeast cake” which will have formed and allow the beer to finish fermenting and “clean up” a little. (Many homebrewers are now strongly against the need for secondary fermentation unless dry hopping, but it is still my preference to transfer to secondary.) The beer will remain in secondary for two or three more weeks or until the gravity of the beer stops changing indicating final gravity has been reached and fermentation is complete. I will then transfer the beer into a bottling bucket with corn sugar (which reacts with the little yeast that is still there to release just enough carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer in bottles) and bottle the beer.

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