Minimum Amount of Equipment For An All Grain Brew

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The Minimum All Grain Brewing Setup

I spent last weekend brewing an all grain beer in the kitchen, using the minimum of equipment and I can tell you, it was the most relaxed brewday I think I ever had. It wasn’t by any means a demanding beer to brew, just a small batch of easy drinking German wheat beer. Rather than spending a day in the shed or outside (it was raining) I brewed in the kitchen on the stove watching the rain run down the window.

All the equipment I used would have fit into a space smaller than the cupboard under your kitchen sink. The batch size was a modest 9 litres, around 18 bottles. The ingredients cost £7.00 for everything, malt, hops and yeast. This has got to be the easiest way to get into all grain brewing, right?

When you first start all grain brewing you follow the advice of buying a 30 litre boiler or brewpot and burner, a mash tun that can hold up to 8 kilos of grain plus 20 litres of water, immersion chillers, sanitary valves and fittings. It’s quite a big barrier of entry and probably the reason why most brewers never start brewing all grain beers from the first batch.

I mentioned this quite recently, brewing can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. I like to try and simplify as much of the brewing process as possible because I find there is less to worry about when making a beer. I don’t want to be rushing around trying to deal with lots of stuff happening at the same time, I prefer to relax and concentrate on making the best beer I can with the minimum steps necessary for that particular type of beer.

Smaller Can Be Better

It’s clear if you want to minimise the amount of equipment you have, or the amount of space you want to dedicate to brewing then you will be limited to making smaller batches. If the amount of space you have is limited, for example, if you live in a small flat/apartment then the setup we will go into below is a great place to start.

The other great thing about smaller batches is you can brew more often without having lots of beer piling up. If you are brewing 20 – 25 litres at a time you are going to have a big surplus of beer if you are brewing more than a few times a month, even if you are giving your beer away. A smaller batch around 8 – 10 litres means you could brew every week and have multiple beer styles ready to drink at all times without having a cases of beer all over the house.

Brewing more often gives you that practice that we all need in order to improve. The more often you do anything the better you get at it. The same principle applies brewing beer, smaller batches more often means you hone your skills and develop your craft. I have written about smaller batches before so check out that article for more of the virtues of small batch beers.

The Basic Brewing Gear You’ll Need

To brew all grain beers you’ll need to have the ability to mash your grains, sparge, boil wort, cool it and ferment the beer. In larger batches it makes sense to have separate vessels and chillers to do these things, and these are largest and costliest pieces of equipment to get started all grain brewing.

Brewing smaller batches means you can get away with a small brewpot of around 12 -15 litres which you will be able to heat on the stove, a mashing bag and a fermenter. This is what I use to make small batch beers and everything fits in a kitchen cupboard. I put the fermenter inside the brew pot and tuck it away.

So, you’ll need the following equipment for small batch all grain brewing:

  • 12 litre Brew Pot
  • 12 litre Fermenter
  • Mashing Bag

You will of course need items like a thermometer, hydrometer and airlock but all these items are inexpensive and take up hardly any space.

Small Batch All Grain Brewing Process

Mashing

Step 1: Put 6 litres of water in your stock pot and begin heating to strike temperature of 72°C. Put your grain bag in the pot and fold the opening over rim of the pot.

Step 2: Ensuring you are at 72°C turn off the heat. Pour the grain into pot and stir thoroughly to ensure there are no dry spots in the grain and everything is well soaked. Take the temperature again it should be around 65°C

Step 3: Put the lid on and leave for an hour. Make a cup of tea, watch TV, read a book all you need to do is maintain the temperature between 62°C and 69°C. Check every now and again and apply heat if necessary.

Step 4: Towards the end of the hour, heat another 6 litres of water to 80°C and put in the fermenting bucket. If you don’t have another pot big enough use a big pan and the kettle and add 4 litres of boiling water to 2 litres of cold water this will give you a temperature around 70-80°C.

Sparging

Sparging

Step 1: After the hour has elapsed carefully lift up the grain bag from the stock pot and allow as much as possible to drain back into the pot. Once you have drained thoroughly without squeezing the bag gently lower the bag into the fermenting bucket full of water. Again tuck the opening around the rim and stir the grains thoroughly again.

Step 2: Leave for 15 minutes.

Step 3: Lift the grain bag once more and allow to drain as much as possible. Put this to one side I would suggest in a bowl to catch any extra drips. Now carefully pour the contents of the fermenting bucket into the stock pot. Begin bringing to the boil slowly.

Boiling

Step 1: Now that it is boiling it’s time to add the hops. Again be careful the hops will add to the foaming so make sure it’s under control before putting them in.

Step 2: Keep boiling for 60 minutes adding hops when indicated on your beer recipe.

Step 4: Remove from the heat and begin cooling. The easiest ways to do this is place the pot in a cold water bath in the sink and replenish the cold water as the heat transfers.

Step 5: This cooling should take 30 or 40 minutes to get to around 20°C. It is now time to pour the beer into your sterilised fermenting bucket. Make sure you’re on the correct temperature ready to pitch the yeast. This will be written on the tube or packet. Pour it straight in the beer.

Step 6: Fit the lid on the fermenting bucket and fit the airlock in the hole with a small amount of water in.

Fermenting

Step 1: Leave for 2 weeks.

Step 2: All activity in the fermenting vessel should have finished. There should be no bubbles emerging from the airlock. If there is still activity then stay patient and wait a few more days.

Step 3: Package or bottle as normal.

The Cheapest & Simplest Way To Start All Grain Brewing

As you can see the process is pretty simple. I find that making small batches like this takes around 3 hours and then however long it takes to let the beer chill for. It’s a lot quicker than brewing 20 litres batches.

The beauty of brewing small batches like this is you can make pretty much any recipe you find. As you are all grain brewing there are no grains you cannot use and you can even do step mashes if you wish because the mash tun can be heated directly.

All you need to do is scale down any recipe you want to brew. This guide will show you how to scale down a recipe and adjust it for your needs.

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Brewing Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

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I have been home brewing now in one form or another for around 7-8 years. I have settled into a way of making beer that I can now do on autopilot, it’s a process that I’m happy with and I consistently brew a beer that I enjoy. It wasn’t always like this. When I started I was constantly worrying that I had done something wrong, stressing over technique and being so overly thorough about things that my brew days would be several hours longer than they needed to be.

Information Overload When You Start Brewing

Brewing Complicated

When you first start home brewing everything is a challenge or unknown to a certain extent. I didn’t read a whole lot about brewing beer before I made my first batch. It was an extract beer with a little crystal malt steeped for half an hour and a combination of English Hops thrown in. I didn’t know anything about what malt extract was, what crystal malt was or how either were made (I just found a recipe, got the ingredients and made the beer). It turned out to taste exactly like beer, not particularly spectacular beer but still beer.

Brewing Is Not All About The Details, It’s Also An Art

One thing I find amazing about home brewers is their appetite to learn and understand every single detail about the beer making process. Past the point of being able to brew a beer a lot of information that brewers learn can be pretty technical and scientific and often not really necessary because, after all, you are making beer for yourself, it’s not a commercial brewery.

A lot of the information someone new to homebrewing reads online is over complicated because those already good at home brewing include all the technicalities and data relating to a recipe or brewing process they are talking about. This makes it pretty difficult for someone new to brewing to know where to start

When compared to other home based food production such as bread making you don’t really see so much focus on technical detail and minutiae. I bake my own bread a couple of times a month and I’m sure a lot of other people do as well with not much idea about the scientific principles that are happening. OK, so I know a bit about what the yeast in my bread dough is doing but only because of my beer making background. I’m not entirely sure how gluten works or why steam in the oven affects the crust. I’m also not really that bothered because the bread taste good and the texture is great.

The point I’m trying to make is that for hundreds and hundred of years people knew very little or nothing about things like yeast, enzymes, proteins and the various compounds in beer. All the knowledge that went into making beer was found through trial, error and repeated brewing of beers over many, many years. All of this was often on a commercial scale let a alone on a home brew scale.

Practice Brewing Rather Than Dwelling On The Details

It seems today however people can’t make a beer without performing hundred of calculations using software, home brewers aren’t happy knowing a beer will be blonde, ruby coloured or pitch black we need to know the exact SRM to a decimal point.

Let me give you an example, the first loaf of bread I made turned out more like a brick than a light and fluffy loaf. I did the recipe, again and again, altering the amount of time I spent kneading and the time and temperature I left it to prove. Soon enough I was able to make a loaf that was on par with one from a bakery. All of this was with trial and error

Some of the best beers I’ve made have come from recipes I’ve brewed again and again with minor tweaks until I got it just right. After a few times of brewing the same recipe, I ended up forgetting the technical details about it and started focussing on the beer as a whole. I relied more on handwritten notes from the previous beer and trying out new things and run no additional calculations at all. I made the beer on autopilot and adjusted a few minor things.

Think of beers like traditional farmhouse style beers and how they would have been made hundreds of years ago. They rely mainly on craft and making the best use of what’s available in terms of ingredients with little need to understand the technical processes. The same type of beer is made every year and after all those years it becomes a unique beer all of its own.

I think this is something more home brewers should try and incorporate into their beer making.

Asking a first-time brewer to understand all the enzymatic activities that occur in the mash or various flavour compounds that are found in beer and it soon becomes too much. Give them a recipe though and give them options on malts, hops and flavours and it’s much more of a creative process.

Knowledge Is Good, Practice Is Better

I’m not saying that all this extra understanding is a bad thing, it is most certainly not. It obviously helps a brewer to make more informed decisions and when you understand the principles behind something you ultimately have more control. It is also necessary to progress from those early stages of beer making into more advanced areas and understanding how you can get a beer tasting a certain way.

What if however you didn’t rely so heavily on software, calculators and reference guides and rely more on experience and practice. As I mentioned before home brewers aren’t the same as commercial brewers, there are no financial constraints on the beer a home brewer makes, plus, there is only one person to please.

Take one of your beer recipes you’ve brewed previously and make it again or find a recipe online that has plenty of positive feedback, tweak a few things you think will make the beer better and note it down so you can repeat it next time. It’s this kind of thing that will make your beers truly unique. Inject a bit more art into your brewing and learn a bit about the process through actually brewing.

How To Use Irish Moss, Protafloc and Copper Finings

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Crystal clear beers rely on a few principles when brewing, copper finings such as Irish Moss or Protafloc / Protafloc are one of the aids that can help the home brewer make a bright, clear beer. What are they and how do they work? This is what we are going to look at in this article.

Irish Moss, Protafloc, Copper Finings

Copper Finings To Make A Clear Beer

For hundreds of years, brewers have looked for ways to clarify their beers. It’s only when you brew your own beer do you release it’s not always necessary to do so, however, many people won’t touch a beer unless it’s crystal clear let alone drink it. This is the result of many years of marketing telling us clear is good cloudy is bad. It is usually preferable to brew a beer with the end result being clear because, if you are anything like me, you’ll share your brews with friends who may not know a hazy beer isn’t a bad thing and it isn’t going to taste any different.

Throughout the brewing process, there are many things you can do, or ways to develop your recipes to ensure your beers have a minimal haze. I have written a bit about brewing clear beers here. One of the easiest things you can do that require the least effort is to add copper finings to the wort such as Irish moss or Protafloc towards the end of the boil.

What Is Irish Moss

Irish moss is actually a type of red seaweed called Carrageen. This type of seaweed is very common around the shores of Ireland, hence the name, but also grows around coastlines elsewhere in the North Atlantic.

It has a few properties that make it helpful to both cooks and brewers and has been used as a source of food in the belief it will strengthen and fortify malnourished individuals. It is used in the food industry as a stabiliser and thickener, used a lot in dairy products like yoghurt and ice cream to improve its consistency.

The reason it is so useful to us brewers is that when added to the wort at the end of the boil it helps to clear the beer. It is for this reason we call it a copper fining as it is added to the copper during the boil.

Irish Moss

Copper Finings – Irish Moss / Protafloc / Whirlfloc

Finings are used in a couple of ways, either in the fermented beer to help drop out suspended yeast or in the copper/kettle to clear suspended particles like haze-forming proteins and other debris.

Copper finings like Irish moss and Protafloc are important because help to coagulate these haze forming proteins together which makes them denser and therefore they drop out of suspension. If you don’t remove these haze forming proteins during the brewing process, it becomes difficult to do so after the boil without relying on processes such as filtration or auxiliary finings which is not possible or overkill for most home brewers.

Copper finings work based on the way particles in the beer are charged. At the pH of wort in the copper, around 5.0 – 5.5, the haze forming proteins in suspension are positively charged, at the same time, the Irish moss which is added toward the end of the boil has negatively charged molecules. The effect of this is particles that will induce haze in the beer are attracted together making them heavier and so they flocculate to the bottom of the kettle.

The Differences Between Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc

All three finings Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc work in the same way, there are just some subtle differences.

  • Irish moss is the raw seaweed carrageen or blend of certain types of seaweed. It comes dried and in various sizes from flakes, granules or powder.
  • Protafloc comes in either a tablet or granules and is an extract of carrageenan and other seaweed. As it is an extract it requires a smaller dose by weight as it’s more efficient. Tablets are also easier to divide with a 25 litre batch requiring just half a tablet. It works in exactly the same way as regular Irish moss.
  • Whirlfloc is pretty much exactly the same as Protafloc as far as I can tell although the dosage rate may be fractionally different, as in less than a gram per litre difference. Whirlfloc is sold as tablets and both Protafloc and whirlfloc fizz as they hit the wort to aid their dispersion, this is caused by bicarbonate of soda in the tablet reacting in the wort due to the pH.

Using Irish Moss, Protafloc and Whirlfloc

All the copper finings mentioned above are added around 10-15 minutes before the end of the boil, added too early and the efficiency of the product will begin to degrade.

Depending on what copper fining you are using you’ll need to adjust the dosage:

  • Irish moss is best rehydrated by just covering with water, the amount needed is around 1.25 – 4 grams per 25 litre batch. As you can see this is going to be quite difficult to measure even with micro scales. It is around a teaspoon full in most cases. Add the rehydrated Irish moss 10 minutes before the end of the boil.
  • Protafloc is used at a lower dosage as it is more efficient. The dose is around 0.3 – 0.5 milligrams per litre or 0.75 grams for a 25 litre batch. Tablets are made in 2 gram sizes so just under half a tablet is fine. Add directly to the wort 10 – 15 minutes before the end of the boil
  • Whirlfloc is pretty similar to Protafloc but used at 1 gram per 25 litre batch, half a tablet in the last 10 – 15 minutes is good.

Install This Chrome Extension To Make Reading Beer Recipes A Whole Lot Easier

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Beer Recipes

When it comes to sitting down and researching a new beer recipe you are working on anything that makes the job simpler and easier has got to be good, right?

It is obviously a lot more fun actually making the beer than doing the groundwork. Before you even go anywhere near an ingredient you need to know the details, the ratios and the calculations that go into the recipe. This all requires a little bit of time researching, looking at other people’s recipes and processes.

This is one of the things I talked about in this article about beer recipe development. One of the easiest way to develop a new recipe is to look at the work of other brewers and replicate the bits you want to take away from a recipe and then add your own ideas.

This involves sitting down looking through a whole load of home brew recipes. The great thing about the home brewing community is the sheer amount of recipes you can find online no matter what you decide you want to brew there will be thousands upon thousands of home brewers who have brewed the same beer and posted the recipe online. Even commercial breweries are sharing their beer recipes.

Converting Weights & Measures

The problem I found with looking at recipes online is the units of measurement. So many of the brewer generated recipes you find are from the US where for some reason they have decided metric units are the devil.

All these recipes will be in pounds, ounces and gallons or quarts and the temperature is in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius.

I’m not saying that if you use anything other than metric units you are doing it wrong. It does make looking at recipes a lot more of a hassle. Trying to work out the percentages of a malt bill that’s written in pounds and ounces is a nightmare. The same goes for volumes of liquid, I have seen recipes where you mash in with so many quarts of liquor. A quart is equal to 1.13652 litres!

To top it all off the temperature on a lot of recipes is measured in Fahrenheit, this is another obstacle to understanding what’s going on in the recipe.

An Extension To Automatically Convert Home Brew Recipes To Your Preferred Measures

The chrome extension I use completely removes all these obstacles and is so convenient I sometimes forget it’s there. I have been using it for around 4 years and probably should’ve mentioned it sooner especially as it will convert all the recipes I have posted here on Home Brew Answers from metric into imperial units. Or any recipes you find online into your preferred unit of mesurement.

The extension is called autoConvert and is available in the Chrome web store for free, with no ads or any other stuff.

Get autoConvert here.

In a nutshell what you do is add it to chrome, specify your preferred units, for me that would be:

  • KG/Gram
  • Litres
  • Celsius

If you are reading this elsewhere, you may want your units to show as Pounds, Gallons, Fl. Ounces and Fahrenheit.

autoConvert

 

Whenever you are viewing a recipe online and the measures are not set to your preferred units, switch the extension on and it will automatically convert everything in the recipe and replace the measures on the actual page.

Here is an example from one of my own recipes here on Home Brew Answers that is converted from metric to lbs, ounces, gallons and Fahrenheit. As you can see it has replaced the metric units on screen with their relevant counterparts (due to formatting it also converted colour in Lovibond to gallons, you win some, you lose some).
Recipe Conversion

It will work as long as the brewer who puts the recipe online has of course detailed the units but the vast majority of people do indeed indicate kg for example or lb. I usually leave the extension off for general browsing and just switch it on when looking at a recipe that needs converting. Just switch on and everything is automatically replaced, no need to reload page.

Convert Recipe

Plus it will also convert currency to your native currency. This isn’t particularly relevant to brewing, it’s just an added bonus.

There we have it, no further explanation is really needed. Download it now, save yourself a tonne of time and give it a try.

Reusing Yeast From One Beer To The Next

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Reusing yeast isn’t a novel idea, in fact, in commercial breweries it’s the norm. A commercial brewery will reuse yeast by cropping the yeast from the top or bottom of a fermenter just after the primary fermentation has finished. The yeast can then be used in the next batch which benefits from large amounts of really viable yeast and a very short lag time before fermentation. In fact there are some breweries that take the concept to the extreme. A brewery in the US cultured yeast from a bug encased in amber and made a beer with it. It’s good to know yeast is hardy enough to survive 45 million years encased in amber, but, what are the practicalities of the home brew reusing yeast.

The example set by commercial breweries shows us home brewers a few important lessons with regards to culturing yeast and reusing yeast from previous batches. Reusing yeast is a great way to cut your brewing costs, especially if you use a lot of liquid yeasts that are more expensive as well as pitching large amounts of healthy, viable yeast. You can reuse the same yeast for around 4 – 5 generations of beer before having to purchase any new yeast so the savings stretch out for quite a while.

Reusing Yeast Slurry

Reusing Yeast

The easiest way to reuse yeast is to brew beers consecutively, one after the other. When you move the beer from a primary to secondary fermenter or to bottles you can see a whole lot of yeast that is still viable to brew with. An easy way of reusing it is to ahead and put another batch of beer on the used yeast slurry, so really you need to brew a beer the same day you rack your original to secondary and siphon the new beer directly onto the yeast cake. All that should be required is a gentle rousing of the yeast by shaking or stirring the fermenter and fermentation should begin quickly.

The only issue with reusing yeast like this really is the huge amount of yeast and trub left after the fermentation of the initial beer. You can sometimes have up to an inch of sediment which includes hop particles and trub in your fermenter after primary fermentation and pitching a new batch on top of it only increase the amount of yeast and trub further. I would only really use this technique for a beer that will be out of primary quickly i.e a lower ABV beer, so as to not cause any off flavours from the excessive amounts of yeast and trub.

Just like pitching too little yeast can have an impact on the quality of a beer, pitching too much yeast can also have an affect on the flavour. This along with the other debris from the previous batch of beer makes reusing yeast in this way a lot less desirable.

Alternatively, this is my preferred method of reusing yeast. After primary fermentation of you starting beer siphon out as usual and leave half an inch of beer in the bottom. Give the fermenter a swirl to get some of the yeast slurry into suspension. You will then be able to pour these into a sanitized jar or container and place a cover on for the first few days, a piece of sanitised foil secured with a rubber band will allow CO2 generated by the yeast to escape. After a few days you can put a lid on but do keep an eye and vent any carbon dioxide that may build up

Storing Yeast Slurry

You will need to keep an eye on these for the first few days and vent the container so no excess of CO2 can build up in the storage containers. You can keep these yeast slurries in the fridge for up to 4 – 5 weeks before reusing. When it comes round to reusing take them out of the fridge the day before to warm to pitching temperature. If you are reusing the yeast after a relatively short time then I usually pitch directly into the new batch. If the yeast has been stored for more than a few weeks you may want to consider making a yeast starter to test the viability and health of the yeast slurry.

To round things up, I will give you a few tips on successfully reusing yeast:

1. Make sure absolutely everything is sanitised. Use a good sanitiser and be through. If wild yeast or bacteria get in then you will ruin a whole batch. This of course is the most important part of making beer. If there is a problem with your sanitation from the previous batch of beer and you are repitching the slurry into your next batch you are in effect inoculating the beer with bacteria that will spoil it.

 

2. Only reuse yeast up to 4- 5 generations. Over time the yeast will begin to alter and fermentation may be affected, this can be something as simple as the behaviour of the yeast will change, it may not attenuate fully or flocculation may change.

 

3. If you are reusing yeast always go from light beers to dark beers, or from low alcohol to high. You don’t want to brew a 8% ABV beer then reuse the yeast for a 3.5% session beer. Ideally you should brew the weaker beer then work the yeast up to brewing a stronger beer reusing the same yeast.

If you are brewing a dark beer like a stout or porter and pitching the yeast into a light beer, it may affect the colour and flavour ever so slightly as if you are doing this just be aware that it may actually be better to wash the yeast before reusing.

 

4. Just to reiterate, keep everything sanitized.

Do I Need To Make A Yeast Starter?

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Making A Yeast Starter

You probably know a thing or two about yeast starters, either you’ve read about them, heard other brewers talk about “making a yeast starter” or you make one before brewing every batch. Home brewers will often profess it’s provided one of the biggest improvements to their beers, but, do you always need to make a yeast starter? That is what we will discuss in this article

Why Make A Yeast Starter?

Yeast is the organism that turns wort into beer or must into wine. Making sure that the condition of the yeast is as good as possible has the knock on effect of producing better beer or wine. To gain the biggest improvements on the fermentation and therefore the biggest improvements in taste you need to make sure you are pitching enough yeast cells and that those cells a viable for fermentation.

These two factors; viability and cell count are the primary concern when you’re pitching yeast. Other factors such as temperature and nutrients are easily controlled, viability and pitching enough yeast to ferment the beer requires a little bit of information about the yeast and some pre-planning before you start brewing.

Yeast Cells and Viability

The number of yeast cells you need for a healthy, vigorous fermentation depends on a few factors such as how much beer you are brewing, whether it’s an ale or lager and the gravity.

All of the yeast available to homebrewers are packaged in quantities suitable for pitching directly into 5 gallons of wort and will ferment the beer, the number of yeast cells in a package, however, starts on the low side, this is fine in most cases because the yeast first phase in the fermenter is to reproduce to ensure there are enough yeast cells available to ferment all the sugars in the wort. However, yeast doesn’t remain stable in the package indefinitely over time the viability of the yeast decreases and the cell count drops meaning the growth phase is stretched out and the fermentation starts poorly.

Yeast viability is a term used to describe the general health of the yeast. As a packet of yeast sits on the shelf in the fridge the number of cells that will be active when pitched in a beer decreases. If the viability drops too much the fermentation will start poorly or in the worst case not at all. Viability is easy enough to check, all packages of yeast have a production date or best before date, the viability of the yeast in the pack decreases over time. Check out the best way to store yeast here.

Liquid yeast has a much shorter shelf life than dried yeast. The shelf life for liquid yeast is 4 months, after the 4 months there will only be between 10% -20% viable yeast cells in the package. This means the vast majority of the cells are already useless.

Dried yeast, on the other hand, has a longer shelf life. The viability is only decreased by around 2% – 4% per month meaning after a year of storage you will still have more than half the yeast cells viable to ferment the beer.

When the viability drops and therefore the number of cells available to ferment the beer, it is then worth considering making a yeast starter to ensure fermentation starts quickly and the yeast ferments the beer with a minimum of off flavours.

Yeast Pitching Rate

The amount of yeast we need to pitch is dependent on a few things, firstly the amount of beer being brewed and also the amount of fermentables in the wort/strength of the beer.

A study by George Fix found that optimum pitching rates for ale were 0.75 billion cells per millilitre per degree plato. This translates to around 180 – 200 billion cells for a 20 litre batch of 5% ABV beer. Lager require a higher pitching rate of roughly double this amount.

Bear in mind this is optimum, which is more applicable to commercial breweries but what it indicates is that the stronger the beer you are making the more yeast you’ll need and the higher/lower the volume of beer the more/fewer yeast cells you’ll need to pitch.

Homebrew pitching rates are usually a little lower and this is not a problem if your cleaning and sanitation practices are up to scratch a cell count of 0.5 billion cells per millilitre per degree plato is fine which translates to around 120 – 140 billion cells for a 20 litre batch of 5% ABV beer

If you are ever unsure about how much yeast you are pitching then check out this calculator which helps you work out how much yeast to pitch for the beer you are brewing

When To Make A Yeast Starter?

Rehydrate dry Yeast

Yeast strains available to homebrewers are usually always formulated to be able to ferment between 19 and 21 litres of beer or around 5 gallons but depending on the age and condition of the yeast you have the number of cells may not be high enough to be optimum for getting fermentation started quickly, again if good sanitation practices are followed this isn’t too much of a problem.

If you are making smaller batches it is, of course, less likely you will need a yeast starter. If you brew larger batches then you should always be making a starter or pitching multiple packages of yeast. The best thing to do would be to use a pitching rate calculator as mentioned above to work out how many cells you need for the beer you are brewing, and how many are in the packet of yeast you are using.

If I am using a dry yeast, I usually don’t bother making a starter. The cell count in dry yeasts is a lot higher than in liquid strains and the dried yeast cells are a lot more stable in storage. My recommendation is to rehydrate the yeast as per the manufacturer’s recommendations and then pitch. If you are using a packet of dry yeast that is close or past it recommended use by date then make a yeast starter to ensure, firstly that the yeast is viable and secondly to increase the cell count before pitching the yeast into the wort.

Liquid yeast available, especially here in the UK is more likely to need a starter. As the yeast has to be shipped from the US in most cases it is usually at least a few weeks old if not more before it even goes on sale here. The viability will have dropped quicker than a dry yeast and so it is usually best practice to make a starter if you’re using a liquid strain.

Making A Yeast Starter

Here is the technique I use to make a yeast starter. I just use a simple jar, some people like to build stir plates and place Erlenmeyer flasks on them but that is not necessary when you are only stepping up a tube or package of yeast once to increase the cell count.

The yeast will naturally want to reproduce, this is exactly what happens when you pitch yeast into the wort. A stir plate is advantageous if you are culturing a very small amount of yeast cells either from commercial bottled beers or slants that have far fewer yeast cells as a stir plate encourages yeast growth far more aggressively by supplying the cells constantly with oxygen.

Things you will need:

  • Glass Jug or Jar
  • Dry Malt Extract
  • Sauce pan and lid
  • Yeast
  • Thermometer
  • Sanitiser
  • Foil

1. Put 4 tablespoons full of dry malt extract into the pan and add 2 pints of water. It is important that not too much dry malt extract is added as when the starter starts to ferment it will produce alcohol. If the levels of alcohol are too high it will become toxic to the yeast cells.

2. Bring the mixture to the boil. Whilst this is happening, make sure your glass container and thermometer are completely sanitised using your preferred sanitiser, this is imperative.

3. After boiling the malt extract and water for around 10 minutes this will also be sterile allow to cool to room temperature with the lid on. It may be a good idea to use a cold water bath for this to get it cool quickly.

4. Pour the malt extract solution (wort effectively) into the sterilised container and check it is at room temperature with a sterilised thermometer.

5. Pitch the yeast. If this is liquid straight from the vial. If dried it should be rehydrated according to the packet instructions.

6. Cover the container with a sterilised piece of foil and shake vigorously to get as much oxygen as possible into the wort. You can shake every so often for the next 24 hours whilst the yeast reproduces.

It may not seem to be doing anything for a while but eventually you will see some signs of activity and a layer of yeast will form at the bottom of the container in a whitish layer.

It is a good idea to do this a couple of days beforehand so you can ensure the maximum amount of yeast cell reproduction. When you are ready to pitch you can swirl the yeast back into suspension and add the whole lot or decant off a proportion of the starter without disturbing the yeast then swirl and pitch to the wort.

What Is The Best Way To Start Home Brewing?

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Starting any new pursuit is hard, starting home brewing, however, can be especially tricky with the sheer amount of technical jargon and intricacies. It doesn’t have to be especially hard however and that is what I want to discuss in the article. What is the best way to start home brewing.

Believe me, home brewing isn’t really that hard, it takes a short time to learn the basics. When you get into the hobby and you read a little bit about different processes and ingredients it all starts to make sense. You get to that point and take it for granted that most people know hardly anything, about how to even get started home brewing. The whole purpose of this website is to help me, as well as you, understand brewing in a greater depth. I started home brewing around 10 years ago, if I was to begin again, though, what would best way to start home brewing?

Start Home Brewing

How To Start Home Brewing?

Reading or doing, people like to learn in different ways. The problem with making beer, however, is there’s a lot of things you can be unfamiliar with. You can easily make a beer kit without any knowledge of what goes into beer. The next part is progressing from making that beer kit to brewing your own beer which requires you to read up a little bit about ingredients, the brewing process, and recipe formulation.

You can start the other way around reading as much as you can, I know some people who read and read and read but keep putting off actually brewing a beer thinking they need to know more. There is a worry when you start reading that there are multiple things that can go wrong, the language around brewing; lauter, wort, adjunct, trub, krausen. It’s easy to get information overload.

I think the ideal path is to take the best of both worlds, familiarise yourself with the basics and brew a beer following the information that was laid out in your small amount of reading. This is exactly how I have laid out the extract brewing guide. When I wrote it, I assumed the reader has only a small amount of knowledge on beer, the article lays out all the basic information you need and gives you exact step by step process to brew your own beer with a couple of recipes to choose from.

This extract brewing guide also forms the basis of the beer recipe kits available in the shop on Home Brew Answers. Starting home brewing by using malt extract, steeped grains, and boiling hops gives you a feel for ingredients without having to learn all the technical aspects you need to all grain brew.

Starting with Beer Kits, Extract Brewing Or All Grain Brewing

I think the vast majority of people start home brewing by using beer kits. They are an ideal way to get started but the quality of the beer kit is really important. The thing with beer kits is the cost has a big affect on the quality.

As a general rule the more you pay the better the beer, I have seen a lot of budget beer kits that have a really high percentage of sugar as the fermentable alongside malt extract. The issue with using large portions of sugar in a beer is it add no flavour only alcohol. It can lead to a dry beer with not much going on in terms of flavour.

Spending a bit more on a beer kit will mean you end up with a better quality beer and you are going to be more inclined to brew more beers in future. If your first ever beer doesn’t taste great you may decide brewing isn’t really for you.

Beer kits can be a little bit boring, though, most kits in the UK are hopped malt extract, you dilute these down with water and then ferment. This is fine but you don’t really get a feel for the brewing process, only fermentation. Beer Kits are obviously the simplest way to make a beer and generally require the least amount of equipment, the barrier to entry is a lot lower to getting your first beer brewed.

Starting All Grain Brewing?

All grain brewing, on the other hand, is at the other end of the spectrum, the barrier of entry is high, you need a fair amount of equipment and the initial cost of the equipment is higher. Along with this, the technical knowledge you need is higher, you can read a lot about all grain brewing and it’s still going to be difficult if you have never brewed before.

Although it’s entirely possible to start out by brewing all grain it’s not a route I would recommend. My second beer I’d ever brewed was an all grain beer and it was a really difficult day, the mash stuck and it was terribly frustrating. The beer ended up being good but the next beer I brewed after that was a malt extract brew. It wasn’t until a little while after that I fully adopted all grain brewing.

Malt Extract Brewing

Extract brewing is my pick for the best method to start out your brewing hobby with. It has the best of both worlds, you get to know individual ingredients. You steep grains and get a feel for what different malts can do to a beer, for example, you boil hops and make different timed additions as well as getting to know how fermentation works. At the same time, you eliminate the need to mash grain so the most technical aspects of all grain brewing are eliminated as well as a lot of more costly equipment.

Home Brew Answers Beer Kit

This is what I have tried to do with the beer kits on sale here. They are developed to make interesting and unique beers without being difficult or require a lot of equipment to actually make. They come with enough instructions that someone who has never brewed before could make the beer but not get bogged down reading. They also make smaller batches of around 16 bottles of beer per brew. This means you get a fair amount of beer but you can brew more often without beer piling up, this helps speed up the learning process because you brew more often.

If I were to recommend the best way to start home brewing it would definitely be extract brewing. If you want to read further on the subject check out the extended guide here. You’ll be up and brewing in no time at all.

Small Batch Home Brew Bottling & Video

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Bottling beer may be the least favourite aspect of brewing for many people. I have to admit it can be tedious at times, you can’t really complain though when you end up with a case full of delicious beer.

There are ways to make the process simple and pain-free. I rarely keg any beer I make and always opt to bottle. I like to be able to stick a couple of bottle in the fridge, ready for any moment, take them to friends places or just grab a few to take to the beach. To make bottling easier it’s good to be prepared and have the right tools.

Following on from the video I made a couple of weeks ago, where I made a small batch of Milk Stout. It is now time to bottle it. As I filmed the making of the beer it is only right that I film the packaging of it.

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Key Points From The Video:

  • Start with clean bottles
  • Use no-rinse sanitiser if possible
  • Sanitise everything
  • Although optional, bottling tools are a huge help
  • Don’t suck a syphon to get it started – Use this guide if you don’t know how

One of the great things about making small batches of beer is that when it comes to bottling, you know you only have half the amount of bottles to clean, sanitise and fill compared to a 5 gallon batch. Brew these small batches every couple of weeks and before long you can have a selection of 5 or 6 different bottled beers all available whenever the mood takes you.

Start With Clean Bottles

There is nothing worse than having to clean bottles that have been sat around with old dregs in. If you intend to reuse beer bottles then the best thing to do is rinse them out as soon as you’ve poured a beer. If you rinse them with warm water, allow to drain and dry and then store them away, you’ll be ready to bottle at a moment’s notice.

If your bottles are dirty or full of yeast sediment (or worse) it’s a case of soaking the whole lot in an oxy-cleaner or bleach solution and then getting out the bottle brush to scrub the inside clean, then rinsing out the bottles. Trust me, this can be a lot of work so in future just rinse the bottles as soon as you’ve poured a beer out. Check out this bottle cleaning guide on more in depth advice on cleaning bottles.

No-Rinse Sanitiser

When I first started brewing there was no commercially available sanitiser, available in the UK that didn’t need a thorough rinsing. This effectively doubled the work you had to do when sanitising bottle as well as pretty much everything else that comes into contact with a beer. Using a no-rinse sanitiser, such as Starsan means a couple of squirts in a bottle, let it drain and you’re good to fill it up with beer.

The foam the sanitiser leaves can be worrying but trust me, non-rinse sanitisers break down into harmless compound fairly rapidly without tainting the beer.

Bottling Tools

bottle coditioning

The three main tools I recommend everyone should get if they are bottling beer are; a bottling tree, a bottle rinser and a bottling wand.

Three super simple pieces of equipment that are pretty inexpensive also. These three items can cut a serious amount of time and hassle out of bottling beer and improve the quality of your bottled beers. I never want to go back to the time when I didn’t have these three things and I’ll admit that I spent a few years bottling beer without these helpful aids thinking they were gimmicky rubbish.

I have written quite a lot about bottling before, it is an area though that is overlooked. It takes practice to get good at it and it something you have to do whether it’s your very first batch, or if it’s your 100th batch. A beer can be good coming out of the fermenter but if you mess up whilst bottling and introduce oxygen or don’t sanitise properly the beer becomes unstable.

Hopefully you can see just how simple bottling beer can be from the video and how taking your time and keeping thing simple and sanitary can ensure you have a perfect bottled beer.

How Long Should Beer Be In The Primary Fermenter?

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Primary Fermenter

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times now, “How long should primary fermentation take?” or “How long can I leave the beer in primary for?”. That is what we are going to cover in this article.

The general consensus among home brewers is that racking a beer to a secondary fermenter is often unnecessary. I’ve even talked about it myself, with a couple of exceptions like extended maturation times and adding fruit or wood to a beer, I don’t bother with secondary vessels and neither should you.

If you aren’t using a secondary vessel to ferment in, the question then become a case of how long is enough and how long is too much time in primary?

I guess the confusion arises with regards to the period of time in the primary fermenter because of a couple of factors. It seems the two sides of the coin are either;

How quickly can I ferment my beer then get it into bottles
or
How long can I leave it in primary without affecting flavour before bottling

The two points can have different answers depending on a whole load of variables. Let’s start by looking at the first point of, “how quickly you can move a beer from the primary fermenter to bottles/keg?”

How Quickly Can I Move Beer From The Primary Fermenter?

First of all, I understand the desire to get a beer done as soon as possible. I have written about how long it takes to brew beer before. It is an exciting process and sometimes the patience required to go from brewday to trying the beer is hard to find. Take my advice, the more you rush a beer, generally, the quality will diminish. I’m not saying the beer will be bad, it just won’t be as good as it could be.

I am of the opinion that, the less time you condition in the fermenter, the longer the conditioning time in the bottle. Whereas giving time for the beer to condition in the fermenter, means a shorter time after bottling until the beer is at it’s best for drinking.

I almost always ferment my beers for 3 weeks in the primary fermenter. This works best for me and is what I recommend under most circumstances.

If you do want to get a beer out of primary and into bottles in a quick turnaround, what is the timeframe? Of course, there is no easy answer, there are however some ways to estimate it.

The main goal of fermentation is for the yeast to turn fermentable sugars to alcohol. It is easy enough to see when this has happened by using a hydrometer. After the activity in the primary fermenter has died down, take readings on consecutive days and when the gravity of the beer is stationary (i.e stops falling) you know the yeast have fermented all the available sugars.

This burst of activity can be over in as little as three days if the beer is a low ABV, stronger beers will take longer and can take up to a week or more. It would be wrong to take the beer out of primary at this point though as there is still important processes being carried out by the yeast.

How strong is my beer

Conditioning Takes Time

Byproducts created by the yeast during fermentation are still in the beer and they are undesirable in terms of flavour. In the next phase of fermentation, these byproducts are cleaned up by the yeast. A diacetyl rest, where the compound diacetyl is removed can take several days after the initial burst of yeast activity. This is just one example of the conditioning phase of fermentation.

The beer needs to be in contact with the yeast for this cleanup to happen, racking the beer off the yeast will leave these undesirable compounds in the beer after bottling.

The other concern about bottling the beer too soon after primary fermentation is that a lot of yeast will still be up in suspension. This means that when you bottle the beer you’ll have a large buildup of yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottles. Every time you pour a beer it will rouse the yeast and you end up with murky, cloudy beer. Waiting for the yeast to flocculate (settle out) to the bottom of the fermenter avoids this issue.

The rate of flocculation depends on the yeast strain, it can take anywhere between 3-4 days if you have a highly flocculant yeast strain to 1 – 2 weeks for a low flocculant yeast strain. This is after you’ve reached the final gravity.

Taking all of these factors into account how quickly can you bottle or keg from primary fermentation. The soonest I have done is for a 4% ABV beer and I fermented for 7 days, this leaves time for complete attenuation (allowing yeast to ferment all the available sugars), conditioning and cleanup of off flavours, and flocculation of the yeast. Would the beer of been better if left a little longer in the fermenter, it’s hard to say without testing, it definitely tasted good.

How Long Can You Leave Beer In The Primary Fermenter For?

This is possibly less frequently asked compared to “how quick can I ferment a beer?” What happens to all of us at some point is commitments and life, in general, can be busy and hectic. Finding time to rack a beer and package it in bottles takes time and when we are busy it’s not something we look forward too.

The problem with leaving a beer in the primary fermenter too long is the yeast. After the yeast have flocculated and cleaned up any of the byproducts created during fermentation they begin to break down. The yeast cells die and this creates unwanted flavours in the beer. This process is called yeast autolysis

When Does Yeast Autolysis Happen?

Yeast autolysis creates a kind of marmite or meaty flavour in the beer. It’s more prevalent in commercial beers than home brew it seems, which may be something to do with the amount of stress on the yeast.

In a commercial brewery, the fermentation vessels are much bigger, there is a bigger weight and pressure on the yeast and cells break down quicker. This is why commercial breweries are quick to remove yeast from the beer after the conditioning is complete. On a home brew scale, there is not so much pressure or heat generated by fermentation to contend with so autolysis happens at a slower rate.

If you do intend to age a beer for a couple of months I would recommend moving the beer to a secondary vessel. High ABV beers for example like Imperial stouts are suited to bulk aging in a fermenter. Moving it off the bulk of the yeast after 3-4 weeks would be my recommendation and then leave it for as long as you like in a secondary vessel, several months will be fine.

If you are brewing a straightforward, regular ABV beer though how long is too long? Personally, I have left a beer in primary for around 5 – 6 weeks without noticing any off flavours. I wouldn’t recommend it as a routine procedure, but it didn’t result in disaster.

I will stick to my 3 weeks as standard operating procedure. If the occasion does arise though there is room for maneuver.

Scaling Beer Recipes By Volume and Efficiency

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The are thousands of homebrew recipes online, plus there are plenty of recipes right here on Home Brew Answers that I have published. The trouble is, with home brew recipes they don’t always fit with the way each of us brews.

Not everybody brews the same amount of beer, maybe their process is different such as BIAB (brew in a bag) brewers who have different efficiencies or maybe you brew extract beers, check out this guide here if need to convert recipes from all grain to extract or vice versa.

The thing is there is no universal home brew process so at some point you’ll want to adjust a recipe. How you go about doing that is what we are looking at in this article. Scaling a beer recipe isn’t that hard and once you know the basics, there will be no recipe you cannot brew.

Scaling Beer Recipe

 

The Easy Option

If you use brewing software then many of the popular choices have options to scale a recipe. Once you have found a recipe you like, input the ingredients and their amounts into the software according to that recipe’s specifications. It is then a case of finding the option to scale the recipe to the amount you want to brew or the efficiency.

If you use brewing software and it has this facility look no further. If you want to know how it works however then read on. Remember that knowing how something works means you can do things on the fly without relying on a computer and software.

Scaling by Volume

The vast majority of homebrew recipes you’ll find in books and online are formulated to make around 5 gallons of beer. In the UK this is just shy of 23 litres in the US just under 19 litres. If you are brewing the exact recipe that is fine continue on without a worry. If however you want to adjust the recipe for any particular reason to make a different amount of finished beer how do you go about it.

Scaling a home brew recipe is relatively simple. There are many reasons of course on why you may want to scale a recipe up or down. The most likely reason to brew a certain amount is down to the equipment you are using.

Probably the most common measure for a home brew recipe is 19 litres or 5 US gallons this is due to many home brewers preference towards kegging beer in Cornelius kegs which hold exactly 19 litres. In the UK most home brew equipment such as fermenting vessels and boilers are designed to hold 23 litres so a common homebrew recipe in the UK can be 23 litres or 5 imperial gallons. Some brewers, me included will look at recipes and adjust them to my equipment, ensuring there is enough headroom and capacity in the equipment I use.

Equipment is only one reason why you would adjust a recipe of course. You may want to brew a small batch of beer to test or experiment with ingredients or techniques you haven’t used before. Small batch brewing is becoming more and more popular with people just getting into brewing who don’t want to commit to making 40 pints of beer but rather just have a handful of bottles.

The opposite is also true for brewers who don’t have much time to devote to a whole brewday and therefore brew larger batches but less often. Scaling a recipe up means they got more beer for the same amount of time spent brewing.

How To Scale A Beer Recipe By Volume

Scaling a beer recipe by volume is easy. Take all of the ingredients in the recipe, this will include each type of grain, hop, yeast, spice, fruit or other flavourings listed. Divide by the volume listed for the recipe and then multiply by the volume you intend to brew. It’s that simple.

As an example If a 21 litre recipe calls for 3.5kg of Maris Otter and you intend to brew 15 litres simply do the following:

3.5 / 21 * 15 = 2.5 – so you would need 2.5kg of Maris Otter for the recipe.

You then work through each type of grain listed in the recipe to get the amounts used for each type and do exactly the same for each addition of hops as well as the amount of yeast to pitch and any other ingredients.

The same method is also used if you want to brew a larger amount of beer, simply divide by the volume of the recipe and multiply by the larger volume you intend to brew.

Scaling For Efficiency

Most all grain recipes will inform you of the brewhouse efficiency. The recipes I have published here have this information and I usually adjust them to 70% efficiency to make all the recipes here the same. What this percentage tells us is how much of the available fermentables we have been successful in extracting from the grains, through the brewing process and into the finished wort that is run into the fermentor.

Of course, not everyone will have the same efficiency figures and this can be down to many variables, which I hasten to add are not really that important. As long as you know your brewhouse efficiency then you can adjust the recipe to suit your needs.

If you do not know your brewhouse efficiency, take a look at this article that details how to work it your brewhouse efficiency and get a reliable figure to work with. It is a variable that can change with each batch so what we are trying to do is get a close estimate so you can calculate how much grain is needed to achieve the original gravity listed for the recipe and therefore hit the desired ABV.

Scaling A Home Brew Recipe by Efficiency

The method of scaling a recipe by efficiency is similar to scaling by volume. What is important to note though is you only need to adjust the amount of grains used in the mash.

As the efficiency is an indicator of how well fermentables are extracted from malt and grains these are the only ingredients in the recipe that need scaling. Ingredients like hops, yeast and sugars are added after the mash so they stay exactly the same.

To scale by efficiency you take each amount of the mashed grains and malts and multiply by the recipes efficiency then divide by your efficiency

As an example, in a recipe that has an efficiency of 70% and calls for 4kg of Pilsner malt, you would need to do the following to scale the recipe to 75% efficiency:

4kg * 0.7 / 0.75 = 3.73kg of Pilsner malt required at 75% efficiency.

As you can see the more efficient you get the less grain you need to use and vice versa.

Perform this calculation for each malt and grain in the mash but not for hops, yeast and sugars, that is all there is to it.

Scaling by Volume and Efficiency

If you need to scale for both volume and efficiency then just work through both scaling methods. First, scale the recipe by volume, adjusting all ingredients to your intended volume. Once all the ingredients are adjusted then scale the mash ingredients by your brewhouse efficiency.