Beginner’s Guide to Home Brewing – Ingredients

Brief Overview of the Four Ingredients

1. Malt

The major ingredient in beer is malt and this can be purchased in different forms. A liquid or honey-like form is called liquid extract and the powder form is called dry malt extract. The liquid form can have hops already added but we are going to use unhopped and add the hops we have chosen. As a beginner we will be using extracts and possibly some grains to create beers so no mashing equipment will be needed. Mashing is a term used to describe a process where malted barley is added to a certain amount of water at a certain temperature and held for a period of time. This process allows the enzymes in the grain to convert the malted barley starches to sugars that the yeast uses for food. Extracts are the result of this process where the breweries do all the work mashing then remove some water. Advanced homebrewers do this processing which Involves considerable time and effort along with a vast array of equipment.

Any malted barley or grains we will be using are called crystal malt and these can range from light to very dark. We can use these grains to accent the flavor and create different styles. They are rated in degrees lovibond ( L) with 7 L being light to 120 L being dark. The grains are placed in a special bag to steep in the kettle water at 150 F for 15-30 minutes. Recipe # 3 will use this step.

Liquid malt extracts can be purchased in cans of 3.3 or 4 #, prepackaged 6# or bulk. A good start for a 5 gal. batch is 6# with a # or 2 of dry malt extract added for a heartier brew. Liquid extracts are produced all over the world and usually offer a selection that typically mimics a style particular to that area. Prepared and ready to use they range in flavors from light to dark, including specialties like reds, I.P.A, nut brown, stouts and porters. Dry malt extracts come in light to dark, as well as adjuncts such as wheat, rice, and corn sugarpowders. Advanced brewers often use oats and other specialty grains.

Once malt and other grain sugar is dissolved in water the liquid is called wort. The wort is boiled, hopped,cooled, and then allowed to ferment. When fermentation is over the liquid is called beer.

2. Hops

Hops give beer its distinctive flavor. Hops for brewing are sold as pellets, flowers, plugs and oil. The easiest to use are the pellets and all my recipes will use this form. There are many varieties of hops and they are chosen for the qualities they impart in the final taste. They can be split into two groups known as bittering and aromatic. Bittering hops are added to the kettle at the beginning and or during the boil depending on the intensity of bitterness desired. The process is referred to as the hop schedule where hops may be added at time intervals of 60, 45, 30, 10 min. before or at the end of the boil. Aromatic hops are usually added at the end of the boil to give the beer that floral aroma often associated with fine pilsners and robust ales. Generally, when creating a recipe follow the hop profile charts to recreate the style you are shooting for.

My recipes will specify the type and amount of hops as well as the schedule. This determines the characteristics of the beer outlined in the recipe section of this book.

All hops differ in the strength of bitterness they impart to the beer so a system was set up to measure this. Hop varieties are judge for their quality and assigned an alpha acid unit percentage. These percentages typically range from around a 3% of a Kent Golding to a 10 % of a Bullion variety. So choosing the right hop will result in a beer that closely resembles the style that you are trying to duplicate. Consult your supplier or check the profile chart listing all the available stock.

3. Water

The quality of the water used can greatly affect the quality of beer produced. The water has to be free of bacteria and chlorine. Tap water can be used even if it is chlorinated, just boil the volume you will need to drive off the chlorine. Chlorine will also dissipate if the uncovered container is filled and set aside a day or two. Water disinfected with chloramines cannot be used since it will not dissipate, so check with your provider. Well water is great if it’s the water you usually drink. In brewing, hard water is used to make dark beers and generally lighter beers use softer water. Darker grains are more acidic than the lighter varieties and using harder water tends to result in the proper pH levels. Hard water can be “softened” by boiling and cooling since the minerals will drop out of solution. Avoid using water from softener conditioning systems since the sodium content may be too high, altering your final product. If you have access to spring water and know it is safe to drink, test for hardness , or bring it to a pool water tester to get an idea of what you are working with. Hey, promise to let them sample one of your great creations. A safe bet is to use bottled water because it’s recognized as being clean and sometimes even has the mineral levels on the label. Don’t be too concerned right now with water chemistry , as you grow from beginner to advanced you will be experiencing different recipes and techniques on your own and from other sources that unfold in a curious way.

Additions of certain chemicals can alter mineral content of brew water. Food grade Gypsum, or Calcium Sulfate, lowers the pH and is used to add a vital yeast nutrient, Calcium. Calcium Carbonate can be added to increase the pH and also add this nutrient. No more than a teaspoon of either should be added to a five gal. batch.

Water comparison charts are available to see how your water matches those used by famous breweries throughout the world. Light pilsners are brewed by using the soft water of certain regions in Europe while heavy ales and stouts are created using high mineral content waters of the British Isles.

4. Yeast

Beer yeast comes in two types, ale and lager, with several varieties in each group. It is also available in different forms with the most commonly sold being dry, liquid and cultures. Two liquid yeasts come from Wyeast in a smack pak and White Labs in a vial. A few days before brewing the pak is smacked to break the inner pouch, shaken and then left in a warm place to ferment. The pak swells and it’s ready to be used. Simply pour the entire contents into your fermenter. This is called pitching the yeast. This amount of yeast is adequate for a 5 Gal. batches however larger colonies of yeast produce quicker and more complete fermentations. For this reason I recommend a yeast starter.

Once the pak has swelled it can be increased in volume by adding it to a sterile container that has a pint or quart of sterile wort in it. This can be achieved by boiling a pint of water with an 1/8 cup dry malt extract, cooling the pan in an ice bath (carefully avoiding contamination) and pouring it into a sterilized growler with the contents of the smack pak. Shake well. Top off the container with a sterile cotton ball clump misted with vodka and set it aside covered in a warm place for a few days. Those that have canning experience can make up 12 1-pint starters using 1.5 # dry malt extract with appropriate amounts of water and process accordingly. I use this method since it is the most convenient way to have starter on hand, especially in hectic schedules. White Labs yeast is a pint starter “condensed” into a vial so for 5 Gal. it is sufficient. When choosing a particular style of beer you want to brew an appropriate yeast must be used. Check with your supplier or read the yeast profiles they furnish to make your own decision.

Observing the temperature of the fermenting area that will be used can give a good indication of the style that will do best. Remember, ales do well between 60 and 70 degrees F and lagers between 50-60 degrees. Yeast that was started can be stored in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks if the brew day had to be postponed. Then place the growler in a warm area and give it a feeding of a few ounces of sterile wort a few days before needed. Allow fermentation to resume and then use to pitch. A quality dry yeast can be used if a brew session wasn’t planned and yeast is needed without allowing for a starter. Always use 2 packets for 5-Gal and 3-4 for 10-Gal. batches.

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