July 05, 2005
Note: All temperatures listed below are in degrees Fahrenheit. If you need to convert to degrees Celsius, here's a handy-dandy tool.
1) Immerse your cans of hopped malt extract in warm water for about 20-30 minutes. This will make it much easier to remove the syrup from the cans, which is a good thing. Malt extract syrup is gummy, sticky stuff. Dump the cans of malt extract into your brewing kettle which should already contain 1-1/2 gallons(US). If you use filtered water, you 'll be fine. If you don't, you might consider buying some "drinking water"; distilled water isn't a good choice. Regardless, bring all ingredients to a boil for 15 minutes. If you happened to buy some hop pellets, add 1/2 ounce 10 minutes into the boil, or 5 minutes from the end. This will impart a nice hop aroma to your beer. However, this step is entirely optional. No hops? No worries.
2) Sanitize your fermenter in a dilute solution of bleach and water. Add 1/4 cup bleach to your empty plastic fermenter and fill with cold water. Let stand for about 20 minutes and then rinse thoroughly with hot water to remove all traces of chlorine.
NOTE***: Sanitizing your equipment is the single most important thing that you will do when making your beer. Fortunately, it's also one of the easiest.
3) Add 3 gallons of filtered(or bottled) water to your sanitized fermenter. It should be cold; room temperature isn't good enough. An hour or two in the fridge should be sufficient.
4) Carefully, pour your hot wort(that's the mixture of hops, malt and water you've been boiling on your stove) into the plastic fermenter, splashing noisily. This will provide sufficient aeration for the little yeasties that you'll be adding.
Note: If you jumped the gun and bought a glass carboy, you'll need to use extra care. Make certain the 3 gallons of water you dumped into it are very cold. This will prevent the carboy from breaking due to the thermal shock of having boiling water added to it. Also, you'll need to pour the hot wort through a funnel to get it into the carboy. Then swirl the water around to make certain everything's been mixed well.
Optional Take a specific gravity reading using your hydrometer. It comes with a little tube in which you'll place some beer and then float the hydrometer on it. Feel free to skip this step for your first batch.
5) Add the yeast when the temperature drops below 78 degrees. You'll want to sanitize your thermometer before using it; I usually dip mine in some cheap vodka, which prevents the possibility of some nasty chemicals getting into the beer.
6) Seal the lid onto your plastic fermentation vessel and attach the fermentation lock. Again, I prefer to use vodka in the lock, as opposed to any type of sanitizing solution. Should the temperature drop suddenly, it will be vodka getting sucked back into my beer instead of bleach. If you're using a glass fermenter, sanitize the rubber cork, plug the carboy and attach the fermentation lock to that. Everything else stays the same.
Within a couple of days, and probably within the first 24 hours, an agressive fermentation will begin. The lock will be bubbling like crazy.
7) Sometime between day 7 and day 14, the fermentation will complete. When there's no noticeable activity in the fermentation lock for a couple of days, your beer will be ready to bottle. Which will be the topic of the next post in this series.
Update: After my fermentation lock foamed over from the fermenting beer, it occurred to me that maybe I should mentioned a little thing called a blow-off tube. What is it? Simply a piece of flexible plastic tubing inserted into the stopped hole where your fermentation lock goes. If you're fermenting in either a 6-1/2 gallon plastic pail or a 6-1/2 gallon carboy, a blow-off tube is unnecessary. If, like me, you're using a 5-1/2 glass carboy, a blow-off tube is pretty useful. Otherwise, you'll find foam pouring out of the top of your fermentation lock when you go check on your beer. Anyway, here's what you do:
6A) Seal the lid onto your plastic fermentation vessel and attach the blowoff tube. Submerge the open end of the tube into a dish containing an inch or so of water. After a few days, or when foam stops pouring out of your tube, remove the tube from the runner stopper and attach the fermentation lock. All other info in #6 above remains the same.
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