Brewing is an exciting hobby, but the sheer amount of new information can be somewhat off putting. Fortunately, you need only learn the basics in order to make great beer.
Like anything, a little bit of understanding goes a long way. This brief, step by step brewing guide will talk you through each stage of the brewing process, and discuss what is happening and how it affects the finished product.
BrüBox offers a practical first step into the world of brewing – removing the complicated steps and ensuring your first all grain brew is a pleasurable experience!
Mill the Grains
The first step of the brewing process is to weigh out and mill your grains. It’s essential that you crush your malt, as this enables the starches, sugars and enzymes to be accessed during the mash.
Ideally, you want to keep the husks whole, while cracking the inside. Whole husks are important for filtration, leading to a painless sparge. If you mill your malt too fine and create a powder, you’re likely to block your filter bed, resulting in a stuck sparge. If you don’t crush them enough, you won’t extract as much sugar as you need.
In the BrüBox kits, all of your grains are pre-crushed to perfection, allowing you to skip straight to the mash.
The mash involves steeping your crushed grains in hot water. The hot water activates enzymes within the malt, which convert the starches within into simple sugars. These simple sugars will later be transformed into alcohol during fermentation.
The ideal mash temperature is around 66°C, though anything between 62°C and 70°C is acceptable. Bear in mind, you will need to put hotter water in the pot first - known as strike water - as the temperature of the malt will bring the overall temperature down. Around 72°C works well.
The mash is typically left for 1 hour in order to convert all the starches. It’s important to keep the mash temperature as consistent as possible during this time. Wrapping your pot in reflective, foil bubble wrap is a cheap and effective method of insulating your mash tun.
Sparging is the process of rinsing any excess sugars from the grain bed, and diluting the wort. First, it’s a good idea to recirculate the first runnings. This removes excess proteins which can lead to off flavours. Simply run wort into a jug and carefully pour it back over the grain bed. Repeat until the wort clears.
Sparge water should be heated to around 75°C, but no more than 80°C. Hot sparge water denatures the enzymes and makes run-off easier, but if it’s too hot, it’ll lead to off flavours from the malt husks.
You should sparge as you’re transferring your wort into your boil kettle, with transfer and sparge flowing at the same rate. Typically, a fine spray of sparge water is sprinkled on top of the grain bed, though you can use a jug. Avoid over sparging, which can lead to an overly diluted wort and off flavours.
Wort is boiled for several reasons:
- To drive away compounds that can lead to off flavours
- Sterilize the wort and kill off any bacteria
- Encourage proteins to coagulate and drop out of suspension, improving clarity and stability
- Extract bitterness from bittering hops
- Extract essential oils from aroma hops
This important stage is actually the easiest to carry out. Simply allow your wort to reach a vigorous, rolling boil, and leave for anywhere between 1 and 2 hours, adding hops, finings and adjuncts as and when required.
Bittering hops should be added early in the boil, in order to isomerize (change the chemical structure) the alpha acids within. The longer you boil, the more bitterness you derive from your hops.
On the other hand, aroma hops should be added later into the boil, typically within the last 5 minutes, or even after the boil has finished. The delicate aroma compounds are easily driven off by boiling temperatures, so the later you add them, the more aroma you will enjoy.
It’s important - but not essential - to chill your wort fairly quickly. The quicker you chill your wort, the less time it is exposed to potentially harmful bacteria.
The idea is to chill it down to yeast pitching temperatures, which vary depending on the yeast. Generally, ale yeasts operate best between 17°C and 23°C, while lager yeasts work best between 13°C and 16°C.
There are a number of ways to chill your wort. Small batches can be chilled in a bathtub filled with ice water, or you can invest in an immersion chiller or plate heat exchanger. Once chilled, anything that comes into contact with your wort must be cleaned and sanitized.
Next, transfer your wort to a clean and sanitized fermenter. It’s important to introduce oxygen at this point, by splashing, stirring or injecting air or pure oxygen directly. Yeast needs oxygen to get going, and without it may struggle, causing off flavours or a stuck fermentation.
Once you’re happy, pitch your yeast, fit the lid and airlock and put your fermenter where it will be able to maintain fermentation temperatures. You should notice bubbling from your airlock, and a scummy looking foam rising up, and dropping down over the first 3 or 4 days.
It’s best to leave it for at least a week, though two won’t hurt. You can check if fermentation is complete using a hydrometer to take a gravity reading. When the reading remains the same 2 or 3 days in a row, fermentation is complete.
Beer & Packaging
Well, technically you now have beer - it will be flat, and a little rough, but good things come to those who wait. A period of conditioning is required before you can really enjoy your brew.
To naturally carbonate your beer, you will need to add a sugar solution before packaging it. This is mixed in with the beer, and then bottled, kegged or casked, and sealed tight. The beer then undergoes a second fermentation as the remaining yeast eats up the freshly introduced sugar.
In the process, CO2 is created, and with nowhere else to go, is dissolved into the beer. Be careful not to add too much sugar, or your bottles might explode!
This typically takes a week or 2, after which your beer will benefit from a further week or 2 in cold/cellar storage. Of course, it depends on the style, with some beers best enjoyed fresh, and others benefiting from months of maturation.
Finally, after all the waiting, you can grab a beer from the fridge, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour! This step by step brewing guide is typical of professional breweries and home brewers alike, though there are many different ways to go about making beer.
BrüBox kits simplify the entire process. By brewing smaller amounts, it’s possible to use just one pot for the entire brewing process. This simplified technique offers a fantastic way to get into all grain brewing, especially if you’re wary!
Get in touch, and tell us about your best and worst brew day experiences in the comments below!