All-Grain brewing simply means brewing beer straight from grain instead of using pre-made barley extracts. It is considered to be an advanced form of beer brewing that most brewers don’t attempt until they have made several successful batches using extracts
If you are considering making the jump to All-Grain Brewing, then this week we are going to get into the concept of the “Mash”.
Mashing is the process of extracting simple sugars from barley. This is the first step in the process of brewing your own beer directly from grain, and most brewers consider it the most important..
Want to know more? Read our article: All-Grain Homebrewing Instructions: The Mash
If you have been homebrewing for a while and you are using extracts, then you are probably a little curious about all-grain brewing. What is necessary to make the leap? Is it really as difficult as it seems?
As usual, the process of brewing your own beer from grain is much less complicated than many brewers would have you believe. But it does require some specialized equipment, and that’s what our first all-grain article is about.
Read our article on All Grain Equipment for Beginners.
Have you ever thought about making your own liqueurs? No, we aren’t talking about breaking out grandpa’s moonshine still. Actually, you can use regular vodka, rum and other spirits to make your own liqueurs. And just like any other cocktail, you can customize them just how you like them. See How to Make Strawberry Liqueur.
One fact about Homebrewers is that they love to make life more complicated than it needs to be. I know, I’m a homebrewer; and I’m as guilty as anyone on this account. For this reason I really try to separate the necessary from the unnecessary – especially when I’m teaching a beginner how to brew.As I lurk around a few of the homebrewing forums out on the Internets, one topic that often comes up is the issue of secondary fermentation.
Experienced homebrewers often like to scare beginners with horror stories of all the nasty things that will happen to their beer if they don’t use a secondary. My opinion is that this step is unnecessary for most beginners, and is more likely to cause infections for inexperienced brewers.
That said, they can be very useful under certain circumstances.
If you have questions about secondaries, we have created a page on DrunkMansGuide.com that details more than you probably care to know about conditioning and secondary fermentation. You can get to the article here: “Do You Need To Use A Secondary Fermentor?”
Today’s Featured Mixed Drink Recipes:
- Do get a kegerator. If you drink beer regularly, then it’s worth it. The beer is cheaper when you buy it by the keg, and it’s more convenient to just take your glass to the tap.
- If your wife or girlfriend objects to the kegerator, then tell her you are doing it to save the environment. After all, re-usable kegs are much more eco-friendly than all that glass for the bottles.
- Do clean your beer lines each time you switch out your keg(s). The beer in those lines is the perfect growth medium for bacteria and yeast that will make your beer taste like crap. Your lines should be cleaned once per month at the least.
- Do everything you can to convince SWMBO to approve putting the kegerator right in the living room. It’s more convenient there. If you can’t get approval, then just put it there anyway – she probably can’t move it out to the garage by herself.
- Do set your regulator to about 10-12 psi for proper carbonation and to drive your beer faucet. If you accidentally over-carbonate your beer because you set your regulator higher, you can always unhook the gas line for a day or two. The carbonation in the keg will push the beer out even without the gas line, and it will help to relieve some of the pressure.
- Don’t buy your own CO2 tank. You can get a tank for less money by just putting the deposit down on a tank at the welding supply store. If you buy a brand new steel tank, then the first time you try to get it filled, they are just going to switch it out for some old banged up aluminum tank anyway – so why “donate” a new tank to the supply company?
- Don’t enclose your kegerator into a bar without proper ventilation. Refrigerators (and kegerators) need airflow around them to operate efficiently. If you are going to put it under a bar, then make sure you have ventilation grates or fans to blow air around it..
- Don’t allow beer to back up into your regulator. The best way to avoid this is to make sure your tank is open all the way before you attach it to a carbonated keg. If you homebrew, then it is also a good idea to suppress the temptation to hook your gas line up to your “out” port in an effort to force carbonate faster.
- If you are a homebrewer, then don’t buy your kegs new. You can buy a used keg on eBay for about 1/5th the cost of buying new. Or, alternatively, you can buy 5 kegs for the price of one!
One of the first types of tests that most beginning home brewers measure is the alcohol content of their beer. This is an easy test to do, and it is something many people like to know before they start drinking. I find it is one of the first questions anyone asks before they take their first sip of by brew, “How much alcohol is in this stuff?”
Before we go into the methods of measuring alcohol, a little explanation is in order. There are no devices that measure the alcohol directly. The best we can really do is infer the amount of alcohol based on other observable data.
Yeast produces alcohol by metabolizing simple sugars (Dextrose) into two primary by-products: ethanol and carbon dioxide. All the other by-products occur in trace amounts that are irrelevant to our interests here. The carbon dioxide (CO2)is released into the atmosphere, and the alcohol remains.
Because the CO2 has left the liquid, the beer becomes less dense. The more sugar the yeast metabolize, the higher the amount of CO2 that is released, and consequently the higher the percentage of alcohol.
In order to determine the alcohol content of your beer, you need to measure the beer before it ferments, and after it ferments. By determining the difference between these two numbers, you can infer the amount of alcohol in the brew.
There are two ways of doing this measurement. You can measure the density of the beer, or the amount of sugar that is in the solution. We refer to the measurement of the density of the beer as it’s Specific Gravity, and the amount of sugar is expressed in units called Brix.
The Specific Gravity of water at 60 degrees Fahrenheit is 1.000. Everything else is either more or less dense than water. You use a simple little tool called a Hydrometer to measure the Specific Gravity of a solution. It is essentially just a glass cylinder with a weight on the bottom and lines showing the different gravity points going up the side. Technically, you are supposed to cool the beer sample down to 60 degrees in order to get an accurate reading. However, as long as the beer is around room temperature, your reading will be reasonably accurate. Just keep in mind; a hydrometer reading of boiling liquid will be way off.
When brewers talk about Specific Gravity they will usually specify either the Original Gravity (OG), or Terminal Gravity (TG). The OG is a measurement of the beer before it ferments, and the TG (also called Final Gravity – FG) is the measurement that is taken after fermentation is complete. The difference between the two tells you how much alcohol is in the brew. As an example, a typical Pale Ale will start off with an OG of around 1.045 and finish off with an TG of around 1.008.
Calculating the percentage of alcohol is as simple as plugging some numbers into the following equation.
% Alcohol = ((1.05 x (OG – TG)) / TG) / 0.79
So, given a few numbers suggested above:
OG = 1.045
TG = 1.008
The equation would look like this:
.0487 = ((1.05 x (1.045 – 1.008))/1.008) / 0.79
So, this beer would be about 4.9% alcohol.
Another great way to measure alcohol content is by measuring the sugar level. You measure Brix using a nifty little device called a Refractometer. These things are great because all you need is a drop of wort or beer to take a reading, and you don’t have to cool it off before you take a reading or perform mathematical gymnastics to compensate for temperature variances.
There are complex formulas to out there on Internet Land if you want to get super duper accurate, but the simple formula is to just take your Brix level and multiply it by four to get a Specific Gravity.
For our example, let’s assume a Brix reading of 11.25. Therefore we find the Specific Gravity this way:
4 x 11.25(Brix) = 45
So, the “45” in this case means 1.045. In brewing language, “45” actually means 1.045 – which is why this little trick works. You can now take this number and plug it into the formula given above to calculate your alcohol level.
My personal preference is to use the Refractometer instead of the Hydrometer. There is just no way to express the ease of putting a drop of wort on the Refractometer while I’m mashing my grains, or to make sure my gravity is spot on when the wort goes into the fermentor. The alternative of using a Hydrometer is such a pain in the ass that quite frankly I almost never take gravity readings.
On the downside, Refractometers cost much more than Hydrometers. You will pay about $60 – $120 for a Refractometer versus $12 – $25 for a Hydrometer. If you are considering all-grain brewing, then I would highly suggest a Refractometer.
One of the most overlooked aspects of making great beer is the fermentation temperature. In fact, fermentation temperature is one of the most significant factors in determining the final quality of the beer.
If your fermentor is too cold then your fermentation may never take off, or it may be sluggish and give out before the beer is fully fermented. If your fermentation is too hot, then the yeast will produce off-tasting chemicals that might make your beer taste a little bit like bananas. A hot fermentation can also cause the yeast to speed up too much, and starve out – also leading to an incomplete fermentation.
The best way to ensure a full and complete fermentation is to keep the temperature right in the sweet spot for the strain you are using, and to keep the temperature very stable.
Commercial breweries have sophisticated ways of controlling fermentation temperature. On the large scales that they produce, the biggest problem they have is dissipating heat. The fermentors they use are “jacketed” meaning there is a thin gap between the outer wall of the fermentor, and the inner wall where the beer lives.
The brewer can pump glycol through the jacket to bring the temperature of the brew down to whatever level he desires, and can keep it within a degree or so throughout the fermentation process.
Most homebrewers do not have glycol systems. The cheapest ones available run around $1500, putting them well above the weekend warrior’s price level. I put this type of system on my Christmas list each year, but so far SWMBO hasn’t come through with it. So, we improvise.
The first step in controlling temperature is knowing what the temperature of your fermentation is. Your local homebrew shop (LHS) probably has an inexpensive “stick-on” thermometer that you can use to get a reading on the outside of a carboy. That’s a good start, but you might also want to invest in another thermometer that can take a reading of the interior of the beer since there can be a difference between the surface temperature of the carboy, and the beer inside.
It is far, far easier to increase the temperature of your fermentation than it is to lower it. Therefore, I find that it’s best to put the fermentor in a place that is a few degrees cooler than I actually want the beer to be. I can then use a heater to warm it up to the desired temperature. In this way, if I need to cool the beer, I just shut off the heater, and the ambient temperature will bring the fermentation temperature down.
The easiest thing to do is to get an aquarium heater that is designed for reptiles. This will be able to raise the temperature of your fermentation by 5 – 10 degrees F above ambient. These things cost about $15 or so. Do not put the heater on the bottom of the carboy; the weight of your carboy would destroy it. Instead, attach it to the side using bungies or big rubber bands. If you try and tape it to the carboy, it will expand and contract with changes in heat, and pull the tape off. There are also larger heaters that are designed specifically for home brewing that can raise the temperature even higher. If you find that your heater is not up to the task of raising the temperature enough, you can always wrap your fermentor (and heater) in a blanket to help retain some heat.
If your fermentor is in a place where the temperature fluctuates, you can always put the heater on a timer (they cost about $15 at your local hardware store). You can set it to turn on at night when temperatures are typically cooler, and turn off during the day.
Now that we’ve covered heating up your beer, it is important not to over-shoot your ideal fermentation temperature. There are devices you can purchase from various Homebrew shops that will allow you to set a temperature on a special probe switch that will turn your heater off if your beer gets too hot. These run around $100, and might be worthwhile if you brew a lot.
The most important thing is to keep your beer in an environment that has a STABLE temperature. The fewer variables, the easier it will be to maintain a constant temperature in your fermentation.
Another important thing to consider is that when your fermentation is very active, it will actually produce heat. As the fermentation slows, the internal heat goes down. So you will need to check on the fermentor a couple times per day to make sure it isn’t getting too hot, or too cold.
What if, despite your best efforts, your beer gets too hot anyway? Don’t freak out, there are solutions, and it won’t kill anything if your beer gets too warm for a day or two. Here are some things you can do to bring the temp down.
- Put the carboy in a cooler place. If you normally ferment in your closet where the ambient temperature is 70 degrees, and you find that the internal temperature during krausen has increased to 75 degrees (not an unusual circumstance), then you might relocate it to the basement where the temperature is 65 degrees.
- Put the carboy in a bathtub with about 6 inches of water in it. You can blow a fan on the water and it will actually cool the beer off by several degrees because of the evaporation of the water.
- If you are fermenting in a plastic bucket, you can also use copper tubing to create a heat transfer coil. Using a pump and another vessel (like a cooler), you can alternatively pump warm or cool water through the coil and control the temperature that way.
Either way, you want to make sure your cure isn’t worse than the disease. If you cool your beer too much (by putting ice in the bathtub trick), you will cause your yeast to go dormant, and it’s hard to wake it back up. If you heat it up too much, you can cause the fermentation to speed up too much, and that can have other adverse effects on the beer.
One excellent way to get the hang of it is to fill your carboy with water and practice maintaining a constant temperature with that. This way you won’t mess up your valuable beer if you make a mistake. Once you have found the ideal mix of heat and location, you can then graduate up to the real thing. Keep in mind, however, that the fermenting beer will behave a little differently than water because of the changing exothermic properties of the yeast over the fermentation cycle.
A yeast starter is a way of taking a small yeast culture and making it larger and more active prior to “pitching” it into your wort on brewing day.
A lot of people ask whether you really need to do a yeast starter, and does it really help anyway?
The short answer is that if you are only brewing 5 gallons at a time, and you are using White Labs pitchable yeast (or Wyeast Smack Packs, or something similar), then you probably don’t NEED to do a starter. If, on the other hand, you are brewing larger batches, or you are culturing yeast up from a slant, then you definitely need a starter.
Even if you are brewing 5 gallons and using a vial of pitchable yeast, it can still help to do a starter for three reasons:
- You will know for a fact that the yeast is viable and active because it is fermenting and you see bubbles in the airlock. Even store-bought yeast vials can go bad, and you really never know if the yeast is alive or dead until you see it fermenting.
- A starter will give you a larger inoculation. This decreases the likelihood of an infection, and increases your yeast’s ability to overcome the hardships of going into the beer.
- By starting the yeast in a wort that is similar to the beer you are going to make, the yeast will already be acclimated to the environment in which it will be fermenting. This improves the time frame that it takes to get a real fermentation started.
Creating a yeast starter does increase the amount of time it takes to brew since you essentially need to have two brewing sessions instead of one. That said, creating a yeast starter is usually easier than doing a full brew because it doesn’t take nearly so long to start the boil, or to cool the wort prior to pitching the yeast. It is also easier to clean small equipment than larger, so you will find that the whole process of creating the starter is something you can easily do in the evening while you are watching TV.
How to Make A Yeast Starter
There are three methods to making a yeast starter. Each has its benefits.
Bare Minimum Method
Take two cups of wort and a quart of water. Stir them in a saucepan, and bring it to a boil for 15 minutes. If you feel inclined, you can add a small amount of hops to this, but it isn’t necessary. Let it cool to room temperature, and then pour the simplified “wort” into a sanitized wine bottle. Put an airlock (sanitized also, of course) on top, and put it in a dark place to ferment.
The best starters are actually just small versions of the larger beer. The reason is that this method gets the yeast acclimated to the environment it is going to be fermenting in. For most Ales this is probably overkill, but if you are making a high-gravity barelywine or some other “exotic” beer that might be on the edge of what the yeast would normally tolerate, then it’s a good idea to use this method to acclimate the yeast.
So, you can easily make your starter by simply scaling your beer recipe down. Boil it just as you would for a full batch. Then, just as with the “Bare Minimum Method”, you cool it, put it into an appropriately sized (sanitized) container like a wine bottle, and put your (sanitized) airlock on it.
Another option is to make 5 gallons of wort all at once – just as you would if you were making a full-size brew – and then break it up into individual “starter-size” packages. You can freeze them in 1 quart containers, and use them for future brews.
The size of your starters depends on how large your batches are, but thinking in terms of at least a pint, but ideally a quart or more per 5 gallons is a good rule of thumb. My starters are usually two quarts per 5 gallons.
When to Make the Starter
The idea is to have your starter fermenting at full krausen by brew day. Usually, this means making the starter a day or two ahead. I do mine two days before.
Keep in mind that the starter will not produce as many bubbles through the airlock as a full batch will – even when it’s at full krausen – simply because it is smaller. This is one of the great reasons to use a clear container for your starter. That way you can see the thick foamy head on the top of your fermenting beer and know it’s ready to pitch. Keep in mind that if you use a clear container, you should make sure to keep it out of the sunlight, but in an area that will be the same temperature as you plan to ferment. I put mine in my closet.
When you are ready to pitch your starter into your final brew, place some plastic wrap over the mouth of your starter container, and stir or shake it up really well. Be prepared for the starter to foam up. You want to make sure the yeast sediment on the bottom is nicely suspended before you add it to your final beer.
Finally, just pour the starter into your final wort. You will find that your fermentations will take off in a matter of hours, and you will be much more confident that your yeast are healthy and active on brew day.
Good luck with your brews!
Have you ever thought about making your own beer? A lot of people have questions about homebrew. To answer these questions, we have launched a new section of the website to focus on home brewed beer.
We have also compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about homebrewed beer. Take a look, and visit the homebrew section at www.drunkmansguide.com/homebrew.
Q: How long does it take to make a batch of homebrew?
A: It takes about 2 hours to “brew” the beer. The beer ferments for 2-3 weeks. It takes a couple hours to bottle your brew. Finally, it takes another 2 –3 weeks for your beer to carbonate. Total labor: 4 hours. Total time to make drinkable beer: 4 – 6 weeks.
Q: Is it hard to make beer?
A: If you can follow instructions, then you can make beer. There are opportunities to learn all about the chemistry and biology of beer, but most homebrewers never get that deep into it. As long as you follow the instructions on this site, you will have great beer.
Q: Is homebrew any good?
A: Just like any food you eat, the taste of a beer depends totally on the talent of the brewer or chef. If the beer is brewed under sanitary conditions, and it is allowed to ferment at the correct temperature, it will usually taste great.
Q: Is home made beer legal?
A: In the United States and most western countries the answer is Yes! Homebrew is legal almost everywhere. You should check your local laws, of course, but home made beer has been legal in the United States since the late 70’s.
Q: How much does it cost to make a batch of homebrew?
A: Most styles can be made for around $25 – $35 for 2 cases (48 beers).
Q: What sort of equipment do I need to make homebrew? How much does it cost?
A: Home brewing equipment is like fishing equipment – you can spend as much as you want. Just like with fishing, a basic setup costs about $50, but some homebrewers spend thousands on their equipment.
Q: What kinds of beer can I make?
A: There are two kinds of beer: Ale and Lager. As a new home brewer, you will almost certainly start off making Ales. Lagers are more complicated, require a higher level of skill, and you need more expensive equipment to make it.
Q: Ok, what’s the difference between Lager and Ale?
A: The bottom-line difference between Lager and Ale is that Ale is fermented at around room temperature (68 – 70 degrees F or so), whereas Lager is fermented at colder temperatures (37 – 65 degrees F). The strain of yeast used in the beer determines the style. Lager usually has a smoother, more finished taste because it ferments more slowly at colder temperatures, and it is held for a longer period of time before it is served.
Many people have the false impression that Ales are dark in color while Lagers are light in color, or that the alcohol content determines the style. These are misconceptions. There are loads of “Dark Lagers”, and Ales can be made in any shade or strength.
Q: Speaking of strength, what is the alcohol content of Homebrew?
A: As a homebrewer, you have a great degree of control over the amount of alcohol that is in your beer. Generally speaking, most styles of homebrew are above 3% and below 10%. However there are ways to push the alcohol content up to around 15% or even higher if you know what you are doing.
Q: Is Homebrew safe to drink? Will I go blind if I drink it?
A: Beer is inherently safe to drink because the acids in the Hops and the antiseptic nature of Ethanol combine to suppress bacteria and keep the brew from spoiling. In fact, beer, in various forms, has been used as a way to safely store water for thousands of years before the days of modern water treatment.
As for going blind – no, you will not go blind from drinking home made beer. This myth is loosely associated with the speak-easies of the prohibition era when prohibitionists widely publicized a few cases where unscrupulous underground tavern owners served their customers turpentine- and methanol-laced liquor in order to cut costs. The myth still effectively persuades many people not to distill their own liquor (a practice that is illegal almost everywhere). As a Home brewer, you are not distilling anything and you are not going to put these poisons in your brew. So, you have nothing to worry about.