Brewing Primer – How We Brew

Brewing Primer | Fermenting MacGyver Style

Fermentation MacGyver Style

An Offroad Homebrewing Primer

We’d like to give you a quickie primer on brewing — really, how WE (Joe and Colleen) homebrew beer.  This brewing primer is the very, very basic low-down on how we accomplish great beer.

Not everyone creates great hombrew this way, and other folks (even you) may have a better/easier/faster/more efficient strategy for creating great tasting home brewed beer — and that’s okay!  I don’t bake my cakes exactly like my mother’s and they still… okay, bad example (my mother is an incredible cook)… but you get the idea.

So here’s how we brew the amazing beer we’ve been serving our friends and family since early 2015:

Getting Started:

  • The night before our brew day, we create a yeast starter.  By doing this, we increase the yeast count, thereby ensuring the best start to the beer.  Happy yeast make fantastic beer!
  • On brew day, the first thing we do is clean and then sanitize everything (we like StarSan {shameless plug}).
  • Chances are, by this point we know if our water needs any minerals, and we have those supplements all ready to mix into both the mash as well as the sparge water.  Also, we have measured all the hops and other adjuncts into appropriately sized containers to make the additions during the boil that much easier.  I like to mark the container with the order of each addition (which is found on the recipe {shameless plug here for the BeerSmith}).

Starting to Brew:

  • Next, while keeping everything clean and sanitized, we get our water to the perfect temperature for the mash and prepare the mash tun.
  • When the water reaches the desired temperature, we pour it into the mash tun and then add the grains — mixing well to ensure there isn’t any clumping.
  • We then close the lid on the mash tun and wait the amount of time called for in the recipe.  What we are doing here is, essentially, making grain tea.  We will eventually want to steep out all the wonderful malt character in order to create a flavorful wort with properties that will provide nutrition for the yeast and make a full-bodied beer.
  • When the timer rings, we open the lid and check the liquid to be sure all the starch has converted to sugar (we use the iodine test).  If a full conversion has not taken place, we let it steep a bit longer – 10-15 minutes or so – and re-check.  Once it’s ready, we drain the wort and begin our sparge.  At this point we admire the amazing aroma of our wort.  Sometimes we even taste it!

After a Brief Break:

  • Remember: we are keeping everything clean and sanitized during the ENTIRE process.
  • We do batch sparging, where we drain off the first of the wort into a pitcher in order to set the grain bed.  When the pitcher is about 2/3 full, we pour it (carefully!) back over the grains (trying NOT to disturb the grain bed) and then drain wort into the pitcher again.  We repeat this process 2-4 times, or until there is minimal evidence of grains seeping through.
  • Once the grain bed is set, and the wort is as clear of grain as it can be, we set the drain tube into our kettle and control the flow to maximize the drain and minimize particles.  While this process is happening, we are heating the rest of the sparge water to 168 degrees.  Using the same process as above, we carefully pour the newly-heated sparge water (in batches) over the grains in order to rinse out all the amazing malt character (wort).  This might be considered the “second runnings” by some folks.
  •  After the proper amount of wort has been collected, we move the kettle to the cooktop and begin the process of bringing the wort to a boil.  Most boils will be at least 60 minutes, with some going as long as 90 minutes (or more).  During this time we add hops and adjuncts/other additions according to the recipe (remember the little containers I loaded up earlier?).  We are careful to avoid extracting tannins, which is why we are cautious with the amount of time the grains steep as well as how long we are boiling our hops and adjuncts.

Cooling the Wort:

  • Once the boil ends, it is important to cool the wort as quickly as possible in order to provide the best clarity to the wort.  We work hard to bring the temperature down within 15-20 minutes, but everything is always a competition with us, so every time we do this we try to beat the time before.
  • At the risk of repeating ourselves, we would like to remind you: Everything is clean and sanitized PRIOR to beginning our brew day and throughout the process.
  • Now is the time we begin to gather our numbers in order to monitor brewing efficiency.  We record the temperature of the wort, take a sample for our hydrometer reading (to determine original gravity (OG)), and write down any other pertinent information that isn’t already on our recipe (like did we unexpectedly lose the boil?  did someone tip over the pot between hop additions OR completely forget to add one or more addition?).

Getting Fermentation Going:

  • Typically, at this point, prior to pouring the wort into the bottling bucket, we add foam control to the empty (clean and sanitized) bucket if there is ANY question about how (over) active our yeast will be.  Experience dictates that we encourage VERY active yeast due to our amazing yeast starter.  SO, a few drops of foam control here can save HOURS of cleanup time later.  After a few drops of foam control, the wort is poured into the bottling bucket through a sieve that is lined with cheese cloth.  We take our time at this step, and try to filter out as much of the “trub” as possible in order to have the largest, clearest yield possible.  This step also aerates the wort a bit.
  • No we are not bottling at this point – it’s way too soon.  BUT, that’s the perfect bucket for this step, so just believe me when I say it’s the way to go.  See how that bucket has become multi-use?  We are SO clever!
  • During this next step we pour the wort from the bottling bucket (using a funnel – we try not to be daring at this step – no sense in wasting future beer!) into the carboy, and then aerate with a oxygen wand from 1-3 minutes (depending on the OG).  This is also the time we measure how much liquid we ended up with, and record that with the other numbers above.  Joe puts all of this in the BeerSmith after our last step (see below), and we get to see how efficient we were!
  • After the wort is aerated adequately, using the same funnel as above, we pitch the yeast.
  • Happily adding the lid and an airlock (or blow-off), we put the fermenter into our “fermenting closet,” and pop open a beer.
Homebrew Primer - Let's have a beer

A fantastic reward for a great day of brewing!

I realize this brewing primer doesn’t cover a second fermentation or bottling, but this will get you started if you want to try out our method.  When you’re ready, please feel free to email us and we’ll help you, encourage you, heckle you, or be of support in any way we can.  We’re just that nice.

Do you have brewing primer-worthy links and/or definitions?  Email us and we will add them to the page (providing they are appropriate, of course).