I've been lurking for a week or so and already you guys are changing my mind about the homebrew community! I have always wanted to join in on the hobby but have been turned off by snarky attitudes elsewhere.
Cooked my first 5 gallon batch of wort over the weekend and while reviewing my notes decided to post them here. I've based my opinions on 2nd hand guidance (by way of a class and a few friends who brew) and information contained in this forum. Feel free to rant, rave or advise as you see fit.
Note: I stopped writing at Secondary on puprose -- Once I get through it, I'll add notes. Later I'll write up my bottling, conditioning and enjoying experiences too so stay tuned.
Use bottled water or filtered. Stay away from distilled water unless your recipe specifically asks for it. If your tap water tastes "good", it might work - But safest bet is bottled.
Full boil is the way to go, if you have a big enough pot. I chose a 36 gallon stainless from Bayou Classic. Even during the wildest foam up during my boil, it did not overflow.
You can cook on a gas stove inside, but a high pressure propane burner cuts time and offers more control, if you have an outdoor spot to brew. I chose an SP-10 from Bayou and brewed mine somewhere along Washington Blvd here in Los Angeles
Note: Buy some brown welding gloves from Harbor Freight for handling hot pots and utensils. They're cheap, effective and MANLY.
My first recipe (Sunset Blvd Amber Ale) contained 6 lbs of extract, 1 lb of specialty grain and three hops, to be added per a schedule during the boil.
Start with 1 gallon of clean water in a medium sized stainless pot. Bring the water to a near-boil (about 155 degrees) remove from burner and steep specialty grains [covered pot] for 30 - 45 minutes.
While that's happening bring 5 gallons of clean water to a near-boil (155) in your big pot and then turn off the burner. Add your extract while stirring. Note: I peeled the stickers off my extract container and soaked the whole thing until it was clean. Felt smart and efficient.
Using a strainer (to keep the grain out of your brew), pour the steeped wort from your smaller pot into the large pot. Bring this whole magic mixture to a boil.
Toss in "60 minute" hops when you reach a rolling boil (about 212 degrees). Follow the hops schedule on your recipe based on time-left. E.g. throw in "15 minute" hops 45 minutes into a 60 minute brew. Add slowly and watch out for boil over when throwing your first hops in - I nearly had a disaster on my hands.
Keep the water hot and rolling for a full hour. Don't forget to follow your hopping schedule.
During this time, sanitize everything in sight. I kept a spare water bath half filled with sanitizing solution nearby to make it easier.
Cooling + Pitching yeast:
After at least an hour, remove from heat and let your wort sit to cool for a few minutes. Then place it still full of wort in a water bath (large rope handled bucket) with ice before racking to primary fermenter bucket. Stir the cold water bath in one direction and the wort inside the opposite to cool faster. I used 5 lbs of ice with water, then drained and added 5 fresh lbs of ice and water again 15 minutes later. Should go without saying but: Do not put ice or water into your wort. We're using the water and ice in the bucket as a heat sync OUTSIDE of the pot.
Rack to primary when the wort reaches 75 degrees. Sounds wilder than it is. Simply pour through a strainer to aerate the wort and skim off hops/grains left behind.
Take a gravity reading with a sanitized ladle or wine theif. Write down the SG (starting gravity). As I understand things, it should be close to what the recipe calls out. Your hydrometer should come with a chart for measuring gravity at a variety of temperatures - Use it here to pull an accurate reading.
Pitch yeast. I used dry yeast so it was as easy as ripping open the package and shaking it tap by tap to cover the surface of the wort with yeast.
Cap primary tightly, install airlock 1/2 filled with vodka and visually review for air leaks. I'm told it's common for the top to be tough to get on properly, so put some elbow into it. With dry yeast you should see bubbling within 12 hours, if not I'd check the fit of your cap and airlock. Mine was bubbling every 30 seconds or so within 10 hours, and the bubbling has peaked at about once every 2 seconds continuously last few days.
Okay, so before you get excited -- I am basing my need for secondary FERMENTATION on a post I found and quoted here that convinced me to do-so. It just makes sense to me.
Really depends on what the recipe calls for but Ale's tend to prefer 65-75 degree temps. From what I understand, the lower end of any specified temp range will provide the best flavor however during primary you may want to keep it more towards the mid-high range to get the yeast going.
A water bath is my chosen method to regulate fermenting temperature. I love in southern California, in west Los Angeles to boot - So we're in Ale temperature about 80% of the year.
Alone, it should change the temperature of the fermenting wort by about 3 degrees. Add a small aquarium heater to warm, or 3/4 full frozen water bottles to chill. For every pair of frozen water bottles, you should see a 3 - 5 degree chill, depending on ambient temps and water bath size. Again, I haven't needed to adjust my temps - But this is what I've read.
Also, I choose to primary up on a table instead of on the floor. Makes things easier later on, I promise.
Primary fermentation should take between 5 and 7 days. Rack to secondary (carboy) when bubbles slow to only 4 or 5 per minute consistently and when specific gravity is steady for 3 days in a row. You may also notice that the foam on top of your brew goes down, this is a less reliable sign, but still a sign that you're ready.
While waiting, I took delivery of a dozen 22's and soaked a 12 of bottles clean (24 hours in warm water and oxyclean).
On day 4 of primary I noticed my bubbling had slowed down considerably so I took a gravity reading with my hydrometer, which showed 1.012 The next day, I took another and it too showed 1.012 As I understand it, 1.012 is about the prime 'finished' gravity for American Ale. On day six, I racked to my secondary.
Secondary fermentation should last at least 12 - 14 days, making your total fermentation time (including primary) about 3 weeks. The idea here is to let the remaining yeasts finish the job. The common belief is that clarity and flavor will improve.
Again, sanitization is pretty important during this part as you'll be working directly with your beer.
Get started by filling your secondary fermenter with lukewarm tap water. While that's filling, measure and set aside the necessary amount of sanitizer needed to dilute properly in that volume of water. I suggest you fill halfway, put in half of your measured sanitizer and mix. Once that's mixed up, fill the rest of the way and mix in the rest of the sanitizer you set aside.
Next, syphon the sanitized water from your secondary into a clean, empty, rope handled bucket. With no-rinse sanitizer your secondary should be fine just airing out, but make sure to dump any collected water out.
Stand back and let your imaginary Beerman cape flow in the wind. You've just sanitized secondary AND your syphon AND made a Sani bath!
Drop your other items (clean carboy plug and airlock) into the sanitized bath. For good measure I submerge my syphon again too. My sani methods are basic: Dunk everything and shake it off. Don't put it down, put it back into the sani bath if you're not ready to use it.
Now for the fun part. Pull the airlock off your primary and set that aside, carefully pry open the bucket lid and scoop out some of your brew for a hydrometer reading. Write down the reading, this is your final gravity.
Remember how I mentioned it's best to primary up on a tabletop? Here's where that comes into play. Place your secondary on the floor near/under your primary - You'll need gravity to help you transfer the wort. See what I did there? Saved you from having to move your heavy, settled, primary fermenter.
Get out the auto syphon you bought, because it was the smart thing to do
. Place the open end (outflow) of your syphon tube down inside secondary. Splashing is bad news for your beer at this point in the process, so the goal here is to get the flow started and get the outflow end submerged as quickly as you can. Follow the instructions for starting the syphon but be cautious with how deep you dip into the wort. There is at least a 1/4 inch of trub (sediment) on the bottom and you do not want to suck that into secondary. Keep the inflow end just-barely deep enough to keep the syphon alive. As the wort gets shallower, tilt the bucket towards you to create a 'deep end'. Eventually, you'll see the trub on the bottom and at the last possible chance you'll need to pull your syphon to avoid sucking any up. Play it safe and leave a sip of wort in there, it beats sucking trub into primary accidentally.
Set your syphon aside and grab the top/plug for your fermenter and your airlock and vodka. Shake off any sanitizer and top your fermenter. In my case, the rubber plug kept pushing itself out no matter how hard I pushed it into the carboy. Eventually pushing it back down for 3 - 5 minutes it settled at about 60% in and stayed there.
Now it's as easy as placing the airlock and filling it to the FILL line with vodka right? I thought so too.
I pushed my airlock down into the carboy top and it seemed to go in there okay so I filled it with vodka. A few minutes later I noticed that the carboy plug was pushing out again so I palmed the whole thing and pushed.
Well, my airlock shattered in my hands and poured about a shot of cheap vodka onto and into my carboy. Lucky for me, my LHBS is only a few blocks away (brewsupply.com!) so I sent my very helpful girlfriend over to catch them just before closing. Should be noted that they were actually locked up for the night and opened the door for her anyway. She bought me a trio of airlock and came right back. My second install went far better, because I was gentler and had relaxed and had a homebrew while waiting.
I run a 'green' brewery here (noob pun intended) so I re-used my primary water bath by replacing my empty primary with the now-full secondary. Added a wet t shirt, draped over the "shoulders" of my carboy and a fan to keep the temp as low in the 60's as possible and that's it. Racking to secondary: Complete.
Speaking of conserving water, I highly recommend the re-use of the sani bath out in your kitchen as a bottle stripper/cleaner. Add a scoop of oxyclean and it'll strip the labels off bottles within 48 hours. Note: You'll want to immediately rinse bottles you want to save once they're empty. If you leave a sip in there, it'll turn into a snot and be hard to clean. Get used to pouring into a glass, rinsing in the sink and submerging in your oxy bath.
At the start of Day 18 or so I'm starting to map out ideas for bottling this first batch. I've collected, cleaned and sanitized a collection of 12 and 22 ounce brown bottles, I've got my crowns and capper, and now for the math.
5 gallons = 640 ounces
30 12oz bottles = 360 ounces
12 22oz bottles = 264 ounces
42 bottles to fill = 624 ounces
So that leaves me with about 15 ounces leftover, some of which I'll use in a 1/2 crushed soda bottle to track carbonation. Need some for a gravity/flavor check too.
My plan is to follow the sticky article
with regard to the bottling process. I've got a bottling bucket, bottle wand, and plenty of space to work in. Only thing I'm missing is the dip tube, but I can deal without. Have a few bottle racks on order from thefastrack.ca but I'm not counting on those arriving in time. Again, I can deal without....
Picking this thread up again here on about Day 30. I bottled over the weekend and things went very smoothly. No mus, no fuss. It really was a very simple process to follow.
I took some good advice from a fellow HBT user and picked up a 6$ plastic busboy/waiter tray (the deeper kind for carrying dirty dishes) at my local restaurant supply shop. Worked really, really well. At one point I bobbled a big 22oz and it landed "on it's feet" between the other bottles in there perfectly. Had the walls of that tray not held them up, I'd have had dominoes on my hands for sure.
One thing that did surprise me, was the fact that my primary fermenter still stunk. When I racked to the carboy I cleaned it with some mild dish soap and soaked it in oxyclean water for 24 hours. I dried it out and left it alone, didn't notice the smell until I picked it up to use it to bottle from.
So, following advice from John Palmers book, I mixed up 6 tablespoons of bleach with about 6 gallons of water in the bucket and let it sit overnight. Seems to have cleared up the smell and left only a gentle bleach odor behind (I rinsed with hot water). The guru JP himself promises that at that dilution, it won't impart any flavor. Regardless, I did let it dry out before using, and I soaked it in Iodophor for 10 minutes before use.
At the time of this writing I'm impatiently waiting to see signs of carbonation in my crushed-soda-bottle tester. The beer is boxed up and stacked in the same spot it was fermented, at about 70 degrees all day thanks to a small space heater I dialed in over the course of the first day/night.
My older brother is coming into town midway through March and I'm really hoping it'll be ready to pour by then. In the meantime, I'll just stare at it randomly. You know you do it too.
Last night, day 9 of being in bottles, I heard a crackle from the plastic coke bottle while reading in my "conditioning" room (it's comfortable in there, being 70 degrees and lowly lit). Picked up the bottle and found it almost fully expanded. The crackle I heard was apparently a kink in the plastic being pressured out.
Following a suggestion from Palmer's book - I decided to taste some "green" beer (aka my ~week young bottled brew). Cracked open a 12oz and poured, and this is what came out:
I shared it sip by sip with my girlfriend. No harsh tastes, no weird mouth feel, smelled and tasted amazingly good. Malty, refreshing, with a slight hop.
I made beer... AND IT IS GOOD!
Going to leave the rest alone for the next two weeks until my brother gets out here to visit. If it's this good at day 9, I can't wait to see how it matures moving forward.
I will keep you all posted!
Fifth update: THIS TASTES LIKE BEEEEEER!!!
Fourth update: Notes about the bottling process, clearing the fermenter smell, busboy / waiter tray.
Third update: Notes about bottle count, bottling plans, etc.
Second update: Added notes overall, added notes from racking to secondary night.
First update: Added my notes about gravity above, most likely pushing the rack date to Friday (tonight) after work instead of Saturday.
First post: For a first swing, and a "to-date" style write up I think that's about all I have in me. Like I said at the top, I'm going to rack to secondary on Saturday afternoon (if all goes as planned and the bubbles are slowed) so I may have some notes to add there. In the meantime, I'd appreciate whatever feedback you all can give - Even if it's just a or a .