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MoreBeer!

Preparing for Brew Day

11/30/-1

by John Palmer (Brewing Techniques)

 

Tips for Preparing and Organizing Your Brewing Sessions

 

 

Pulling together all the details that go into a brew session can seem a daunting task to the novice brewer. Here are some tips on how to make brew day more successful and enjoyable.

 


 

As the season-inspired story on the opposite page suggests, preparing for brew day can be a major event in any household. Taking the time to organize your ingredients and equipment and do all your cleaning and sanitization in advance, however, can help make for an easy and trouble-free brew day. This article provides some tips and a checklist for a typical extract-and-grain Saturday brew session.

For this article, I thought I’d prepare a batch of a favorite brown ale, my own Tittabawassee Brown Ale, named for the river near my hometown in Michigan. It’s an extract and specialty-grain brew made with liquid Scottish ale yeast.

 

To browse some of our top-selling extract beer recipes, click here!

 

Gathering the Ingredients

 

The first place to start is with the recipe, because the recipe will dictate not only the ingredients, but also the methods and equipment used. This brown ale recipe calls for unhopped pale malt extract, fresh whole hops, freshly crushed specialty grains, and a liquid ale yeast (see box for detailed recipe).

Although the yeast is used last in the process, the fact that it is liquid yeast means you should plan to prepare a starter in advance. Yeast preparation becomes the first item on my list of things to do when getting ready for brew day.

I use liquid yeast cultures instead of dry yeast because I like the flavor variety they offer. Liquid yeasts provide greater freedom for tailoring your beer ro particular styles. Dry yeast cultures have to be hardy to survive the dehydration process, so the number of strains available to brewers is more limited. Dry yeasts also have traditionally been more prone to contamination than liquid strains (though improved processing techniques may be changing that). The only drawback of liquid yeast is that you get much less yeast in the liquid packet than in the dry yeast packets. Consequently, liquid yeast (indeed all yeast) should be pitched to a starter wort before pitching to the beer in the fermentor. Using a starter greatly increases the number of yeast cells and prevents weak fermentations due to underpitching. Creating starter cultures is easier than you might think. The the box on page 28, “Preparing Yeast for Homebrew Fermentation,” explains the process in detail.

For my Saturday brew session, I usually squeeze the pouch on Wednesday evening. On Thursday evening, I add it to a starter and will often give it another feeding of wort Friday evening. It is raring to go by brew day.

By Friday evening, I have all the ingredients I need. I buy the extract in a 10-lb bucket from a homebrew shop and store it in the refrigerator with the crushed specialty grain. I also buy the hops — 8 oz’s worth — in bulk and store them in an oxygen-barrier bag that I keep in the freezer to maintain freshness.

 

Click here to browse some of our top-selling liquid yeast strains!

 

’Twas the Night Before Brew Day

by John Palmer

’Twas the night before Brew Day, and all through the house,

Everything was ready, even my spouse.

The towels were laid on the kitchen floor with care,

In case some wort should spill here or there.

The fermentor was clean, brought in from the shed,

And visions of dry hopping ran through my head.

The yeast had been started and the ingredients set out,

I had just settled down for a cool, hearty stout.

When out in the kitchen there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter.

I ran to the doorway as I heard a big crash,

And jumped over some toys without spilling my glass.

What had been on the counter was now strewn below,

And there with a big smile sat my two-year-old.

The room was a mess, and so was my tot,

Sitting amidst hydrometer, thermometer, and brewing pot.

Then what to my pensive ears should I hear,

But a call from the bedroom, “What’s going on down there?!”

Grabbing the little brewer, so lively and quick,

I knew I had better get this mess cleaned up, lickety-split.

More rapid than eagles my excuses they came,

And I responded quite quickly and calmly by saying,

“It’s nothing, Dear, don’t worry, I’m not hurt a bit,

I was getting some ice cream from the freezer and slipped!

“I bounced off the counter,

I bounced off the wall,

I didn’t spill anything,

Nothing’s broken,

Not to worry at all!”

Like dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

Malt extract was everywhere — on the stove, in the sink, even up high.

Holding on to my son, all sticky with goo,

I picked up the towels and my thermometer, too.

And then in the distance, I heard through the house,

The impending arrival of my sleepy spouse.

As I lifted my head, and was turning around,

Down the stairs she came with a leap and a bound.

She was wrapped in a blanket, peering in through the door,

Her blanket gathering up hops that covered the floor.

Her eyes opened wide; she was taken aback,

And she stared at my son, then at me, and then back.

His eyes, how they twinkled, he giggled and laughed,

His hair was all plastered, his pajamas were thrashed.

His cute little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the malt on his hair looked like new fallen snow.

The end of my spoon was held tight in his teeth,

And hop cones stuck to his head like a wreath.

He had sticky brown cheeks and a little round belly

That shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, the small jolly elf,

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A roll of my wife’s eyes and a shake of her head,

Soon gave me to know, I had nothing to dread.

She spoke just one word: “Amazing,” she said,

Then gave us a kiss and went back to bed.

And taking a rag to my son’s dirty face,

I wiped a few times and said, “Goodness sakes.”

I sprang to the cleaning, to my tot gave a whistle,

As new preparations flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard her exclaim, up the stairs out of sight,

“Happy brewing to all, and to all a good night!”

 

On Saturday morning, I organize the ingredients and weigh them out. I use two types of scales: a common 25-lb kitchen scale for weighing extract, and a 16-oz diet or postal scale for weighing hops and specialty grains. After weighing the hops, I set them in separate bowls that correspond to the different addition times. I pour the crushed specialty grain into a muslin grain bag for steeping before the boil.

 

The Equipment

 

Preparing your brewing equipment is mainly a matter of cleaning and sanitizing, but organization should be a part of the process, too. Make a checklist of the equipment you will be using and note whether it needs to be sanitized or only cleaned (see box). Everything needs to be cleaned, and anything that will contact cooled wort must also be sanitized to remove any traces of potential contaminants. You can clean the day before, but you should sanitize on brew day.

Cleaning: It is very hard to sanitize items that aren’t clean. Grungy deposits can harbor bacteria that will ultimately contaminate your beer. A sanitizing agent’s ability to kill bacteria is reduced by the presence of any extra organic matter, so prior cleaning is necessary to ensure complete sanitization. Several cleaning products are available for the home brewer. Space limitations do not allow me to go into great detail here. Most home brewing publications cover this topic in detail.

Bleach. Bleach is one of the most versatile cleaners available to home brewers. When dissolved in cold water, it forms a caustic solution that is good at breaking up organic deposits. Bleach contains an aqueous equilibrium of chlorine, chlorides, and hypochlorites. These chemical agents all contribute to bleach’s bactericidal and cleaning powers, but are also corrosive to a number of metals used in brewing equipment. If you plan to use bleach to clean a metallic surface, take care to minimize the contact time and thoroughly rinse the surface so that corrosion will not occur. The chlorine and hypochlorites in bleach cause oxidation and blackening of copper and brass. If these oxides then contact the mildly acidic wort, they will quickly dissolve, possibly exposing yeast to unhealthy levels of copper during fermentation. Cleaning and sanitizing copper with bleach solutions is not recommended.

 

Tittabawassee brown ale

Standard Recipe

 

Malt

 

Gravity Contribution

6 lb

Pale dried malt extract

80

1 lb

Crystal 120 °L malt, steeped at 150–170 °F (66–77 °C) for 30 minutes

3

¼ lb

Chocolate malt, steeped for 30 minutes

1

 

O.G. for 3 gal:

1.084

 

O.G. for 5 gal:

1.050

Hops

 

IBU Contribution

¾ oz

Nugget (10%) at 60 minutes

21

1 oz

Willamette (5%) at 30 minutes

11

1 oz

Willamette (5%) at 15 minutes

6

 

Total IBUs

38

Yeast

Wyeast #1728 Scottish Ale

 

Fermentation Schedule

Primary fermentation at 65 °F (18 °C) for two weeks, or one week primary and two weeks secondary fermentation.

Options

For an all-extract version, replace the malt bill above with 4 lb pale liquid malt extract and 3 lb amber dried malt extract.

For an all-grain version, replace the malt bill above with 7½ lb two-row base malt or British pale ale malt, 1 lb crystal 120 °L malt, and ¼ lb chocolate malt. Mash using a single-temperature infusion rest at 154 °F (68 °C) for 60 minutes.

For a nutty-flavored version, steep or mash with ½ lb home-toasted base malt. To toast, spread ½ lb two-row base malt in a pie pan and bake it in the oven, 275 °F (135 °C) for 60 minutes, then 350 °F (177 °C) for an additional 15 minutes. The malt will smell and taste like Grape Nuts cereal and will add a nutty/toasty edge to the sweet malt of the beer.

 

The high pH of a bleach solution will also dissolve the protective oxides from aluminum and stainless steel. Brewers using aluminum brewpots in areas of alkaline water may experience a metallic taste from the aluminum in their beer; however, this detectable level of aluminum is not hazardous. A common antacid tablet contains more aluminum than would be present in a batch of beer made in an aluminum pot with alkaline water.

As with aluminum, stainless steel develops a passive oxide layer that protects the surface from corrosion. The 300-series alloys (a.k.a. 18-8 alloys) commonly used in the brewing industry are very corrosion-resistant to most chemicals. Unfortunately, chlorine is one of the few chemicals to which these steels are not resistant. The chlorine in bleach acts to destabilize the passive oxide layer on steel, creating corrosion pits.

Detergents. Household cleaning products such as dish detergents and cleansers should be used with caution when cleaning organic deposits from brewing equipment. These products often contain perfumes that can be adsorbed into plastic equipment and show up later in the beer. In addition, some detergents and cleansers cannot be rinsed completely and often leave behind a film that can be tasted in the beer. Several rinses with hot water may be necessary to remove all traces of the detergent. Some laboratory detergents, such as Alconox, can be rinsed clean when used as directed. Detergents containing phosphates generally rinse more easily than those without, but because phosphates are regarded as pollutants to the environment they are slowly being phased out. I have often used mild perfume-free dishwashing detergents for simple cleaning jobs without, any ill-effects to the beer.

Trisodium phosphate. Trisodium phosphate (TSP) and chlorinated TSP (CTSP) are becoming harder to find, but are still available at hardware stores in the paint section. (Painters use them for washing walls because they can be rinsed away completely.) TSP is a very effective cleaner for organic brewing deposits, and the chlorinated form provides a sanitizing capability. The recommended usage is 1 tablespoon/gallon (4 mL/L) of hot water. Solutions of TSP and CTSP should not be left to soak for more than an hour because they can sometimes leave a white mineral film deposit on glass and metal. Such deposits can be removed with an acid (vinegar) solution.

Automatic dishwashers. Using dishwashers to clean equipment and bottles is a popular idea among home brewers, but it has its limitations. First, the narrow openings of hoses, racking canes, and bottles usually prevent the water jets and detergent from effectively cleaning inside. Second, if detergent does get inside these items, there is no guarantee that it will get rinsed out again. Third, dishwasher-drying additives (Jet Dry, for example) work by putting a chemical film on the items that allows them to be fully wetted by the water, thus preventing spots. The film, however, can ruin the head retention of beer that contacts these washed items; the wetting action destabilizes the proteins that form the bubbles. It is best to use automatic dishwashers only for heat sanitizing, not cleaning. If you do use them for cleaning, don’t use a dry additive.

Sodium hydroxide. Commonly known as lye, sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and potassium hydroxide (KOH) are the caustic main ingredients of most heavy-duty cleaners like oven and drain cleaner. In its pure form, sodium hydroxide is very hazardous to skin and should be used only when wearing rubber gloves and goggle-type eye protection. Vinegar is useful for neutralizing sodium hydroxide that gets on your skin, but if sodium hydroxide gets in your eyes it could cause severe burns or blindness. Brewers often use spray-on oven cleaner to clean the scorched bottoms of their brewpots. While a really strong solution could corrode your brewpot, as long as you rinse thoroughly, the oven cleaner shouldn’t do any damage.

Sodium hydroxide is very corrosive to aluminum and brass. Copper and stainless steel are generally resistant. Although strong unbuffered solutions of sodium hydroxide can dissolve the protective oxides on aluminum brewpots, (giving the subsequent beer a metallic taste), oven cleaner should not affect aluminum adversely if it is used properly.

Percarbonate. Both B-Brite and One-Step contain percarbonate, which is sodium carbonate complexed with hydrogen peroxide. These products are approved by FDA as cleaners in food-manufacturing facilities and are often used in automatic dishwashing detergents. The hydrogen peroxide does provide some degree of sanitization, but it is better to rely on it only as a cleaner. B-Brite and One-Step effectively remove organic deposits from all types of brewery equipment. They will not harm plastics or metals, but the solution should not be left in contact with dissimilar metals (for example, aluminum against stainless steel) for more than a day because galvanic corrosion could occur. Use these cleaners according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but generally use one tablespoon per gallon (4 mL/L) and rinse after cleaning. Other noncaustic cleaners are also available now, including BRU-R-EZ from Birko (Henderson, Colorado) and PBW from Five Star Products (Commerce City, Colorado).

Acetic acid. Acetic acid, also known as white distilled vinegar, is a very effective cleaner for copper. Brewers who use immersion wort chillers are always surprised by how bright and shiny the chiller is the first time it comes out of the wort. If the chiller isn’t bright and shiny when it goes into the wort, the grime and oxides will end up in your beer. The oxides of copper are more readily dissolved by the mildly acidic wort than is the copper itself. By cleaning copper tubing with acetic acid once before the first use and rinsing with water immediately after each use, the copper will remain clean with no oxide or wort deposits that could harbor bacteria. Cleaning copper with vinegar should only occasionally be necessary.

Acetic acid is available in grocery stores as white distilled vinegar at a standard concentration of 5% acetic acid by volume. It is important to use only white distilled vinegar as opposed to cider or wine vinegar because these other types may contain live acetobacteria cultures — the last thing you want in your beer.

Cleaning brass. Some brewers use a number of brass fittings in conjunction with their wort chillers or other brewing equipment and are concerned about the lead that is present in brass alloys. Tarnish and surface lead can be removed from brass parts by soaking for 15 minutes at room temperature in a solution of two parts white vinegar to one part hydrogen peroxide (common 3% solution). The brass will turn a buttery yellow color as it is cleaned. If the solution starts to turn green, then the parts have been soaking too long and the copper in the brass is beginning to dissolve. The solution will have become contaminated, and the part will need to be recleaned in fresh solution.

Sanitizing: For sanitizing my brewing equipment, I prefer iodophor because of its ease of use. Iodophor is a solution of iodine complexed with a polymer carrier and is used more commonly today than iodine alone, which is highly toxic. It is available through most homebrew supply stores or by mail order.

To prepare the solution, add 0.5 oz to 5 gallons of water, which produces a concentration of 12.5 ppm of titratable iodine. A 2-minute soak with this solution is all that is needed to sanitize equipment. For microbially sensitive situations such as yeast culturing, soaking equipment for 10 minutes in the same solution of 12.5 ppm of iodine is all that is needed to kill the majority of microorganisms that occur in the brewing environment. At 12.5 ppm the solution has a faint brown color that you can use to monitor the solution’s viability. If the solution loses its color, it no longer contains enough free iodine to kill microorganisms. There is no advantage to using more than the specified concentration. In addition to wasting the product, you risk exposing yourself and your beer to excessive amounts of iodine, which you will be able to taste.

As mentioned before, chlorine bleach is corrosive to metals and usually requires thorough rinsing to eliminate any residues that can corrode equipment surfaces and even contribute off-flavors to your beer. Though I prefer iodophor, bleach served me well for years, and inhibited chlorine-based sanitizers like Chempro* are also good choices. The recommended concentration for using bleach as a sanitizer is 1 tablespoon per gal (4 mL/L), with a contact time of 20 minutes to avoid corrosion (10, if you’re fermenting in stainless).

*Chempro is a chlorine-based sanitizer that is very popular in the UK and is now available through mail-order by homebrew suppliers in the U.S. It is “inhibited,” which means that it contains silicates that protect most metals from corrosion. Chempro, however, rapidly attacks and oxidizes copper. Chempro is billed as both a cleaner and a sanitizer, but it is most effective as a sanitizer. Chempro should be rinsed thoroughly with boiled water to prevent chlorine off-flavors.

Iodophor and other “no-rinse” chlorine-based sanitizers, including the “no-rinse” concentration given above, are sold with the intention that the equipment will be allowed to drip dry before use to ensure that the iodine or chlorine has evaporated and therefore no residues will be left to taste. I usually don’t have time to allow my equipment to completely drip dry, so I rinse with a small amount of pre-boiled water to avoid any off-flavors. In my opinion, there are no truly “no-rinse” sanitizers.

 

Browse our extensive selection of Homebrew Sanitizers, Cleaning Solutions & Equipment!

 

Preparing Yeast for Homebrew Fermentation

The most important thing about preparing yeast for fermentation is to make sure you have an adequate amount of healthy, viable yeast cells. Whether you double up the number of standard packets or go all the way by creating a starter culture, knowing how to handle liquid and dry yeast is critical to a successful brewing session. Good sanitation practices are essential to prevent bacterial infection of the starter.

Liquid Yeast from Packets

Liquid yeast packets must be stored in the refrigerator to keep the yeast dormant and healthy until brew day. Yeast packets usually contain a small solution of dormant yeast cells surrounding a smaller inner packet of yeast nutrient. The packets generally include instructions for use. Most involve warming the packet to room temperature and bursting the inner packet to feed and activate the yeast before opening. Most instructions say to start the process at least two days before brewing, but I prefer three to four days. The packet will begin to swell as the yeast wake up and start consuming the nutrients. When the packet has fully swelled, it will be time to pitch it to a starter wort.

Making Starters from Liquid Yeast Packets

Here’s the procedure I use to create yeast starters.

1.     Jump start the yeast. Assuming you plan to brew on Saturday, take the yeast packet out of the refrigerator on Wednesday and let it warm up to room temperature. If the packet contains yeast nutrient, place the packet on the countertop, feel for the inner bubble of nutrient, and burst it by pressing on it with the heel of your hand. Shake the packet well.

2.     Warm the yeast. Put the packet in a warm place overnight to let it swell. A certain brewer (who shall remain nameless) has been known to sleep with his yeast packets to keep them at the right temperature. However, his spouse assured him in no uncertain terms that the presence of the yeast packet did not entitle him to any more of the covers. So, just put the packet somewhere that’s in the range of 65–80 °F (18–27 °C), like next to the water heater or on top of the refrigerator.

3.     Make up a starter wort. On Thursday, get your starter wort going by boiling a pint of water and stirring in ¼ cup of dry malt extract. This will produce a wort of about 1.020 O.G. Boil for 10 minutes, adding a little bit of hops if you like to get the yeast used to them and to help prevent infection. It is also generally a good idea to add ¼ teaspoon more yeast nutrient. Put the lid on the pan for the last couple of minutes, then turn off the stove and let it sit.

4.     Cool the wort. Fill the kitchen sink with a couple inches of cold water. Take the covered pot and set it in the water, moving it around to speed the cooling. When the pot feels cool — about 80 °F (27 °C) or less — pour the wort into a sanitized glass mason jar or similar container. Pour in all of the wort, even the trub. This small amount of trub is actually beneficial for yeast growth at this stage.

Allow the wort to cool even further, if necessary. Ideally, the starter’s temperature should be the same as the target fermentation temperature for your brew, allowing the yeast to get acclimated to working at that temperature. If the yeast is started warmer (80 °F) and then pitched to a cooler fermentation environment (65 °F), it can go through temperature shock and may take a couple of days to regain normal activity.

5.     Add the yeast. Swab the yeast packet with some sanitizer solution (70% isopropyl alcohol or iodophor solution, for example) before you open it. Cut open a corner of the packet and pour the contents into the jar with the wort. Cover the top of the jar or bottle with plastic wrap and the lid. The 2-quart juice or cider bottles also work well, and the opening is often the right size to accept an airlock and rubber stopper. Shake the starter vigorously to aerate it. Remove the plastic wrap, insert the airlock, and put the container somewhere out of direct sunlight. Don’t worry if you don’t have the right size of rubber stopper to fit with an airlock. You can just put a clean piece of plastic wrap over the jar or bottle and secure it loosely with a rubber band to allow the escaping carbon dioxide to vent without exposing the starter to the air.

6.     Ready to pitch. On Friday, you should see some foaming or an increase in the white yeast layer on the bottom. These small wort starters can ferment quickly, so don’t be surprised if you missed the activity. When the starter has cleared and the yeast have settled to the bottom, it will be ready to pitch to the fermentor. It will keep until Saturday without any problems.

You may, however, want to add another pint or quart of freshly prepared wort to the starter to build up the yeast count even more. It’s also a good idea to build the gravity of the wort to the mix to avoid another kind of “culture shock.” For the main fermentation, it is best if the yeast are pitched to roughly the same original gravity wort as that in which they were started. Starting yeast right off the bat in 1.050 wort is equivalent to waking up to a surprise chemistry exam on Monday morning. Thus, it’s better to step up the gravity of the starter. When your 1.020 gravity starter wort has fermented and settled out, pour some wort off and add a pint of 1.040 wort (roughly equal to ½ cup of dried malt extract in 2 cups of water). If your wort’s original gravity is 1.050, the yeast have to make only a small transition at pitching.

The starter process may be repeated several times to provide more yeast to the wort to ensure a strong fermentation. A general rule is that the stronger the beer (more fermentables/higher gravity), the more yeast should be pitched. For strong beers and barleywines, for example, pitch at least ½–1 cup of yeast slurry or 1 gallon of yeast starter wort to the main wort for a standard 5-gal batch to ensure that enough active yeast will be available to finish the fermentation before they are overwhelmed by the rising alcohol level. When pitching a large starter, you may wish to pour off some of the starter liquid and pitch only the yeast slurry to the batch to prevent the taste of the starter from influencing the taste of the final beer. For more moderate strength beers (~1.050 gravity), a 1–1½ qt starter is sufficient. To aid the separation of the yeast from the starter, refrigerate it overnight. This will drop the yeast to the bottom and allow you to pour the liquid off more easily. Allow the slurry to warm again before pitching.

Resist the temptation to pitch your starter at high kräusen. Though the shorter lag time may seem appealing, yeast that have been allowed to settle out and build up their glycogen reserves often ferment more completely. Aside from providing for healthy, well-rested yeast, the glycogen reserves are thought to play a role in helping the yeast cells to strengthen their cell walls and prevent alcohol poisoning of the cells as the alcohol level rises in the beer. This is why it is important to pitch lots of healthy yeast from a proper starter. A lot of robust yeast will be able to finish the job of fermenting the majority of the fermentable sugars and settle to the bottom before succumbing to the rising alcohol levels.

Preparing Dry Yeast

If you use dry yeast, it should be rehydrated in warm water before pitching. Though some books advocate just sprinkling the dry yeast packet on top of the wort to start fermentation, I think any brewer who uses this technique is really trusting to luck.

For best results, rehydrate one or two packets of dry yeast in warm water and then check or proof the yeast by adding sugar to see if they are still alive after dehydration and storage. Rehydrating in wort can be difficult for the yeast cell. The concentration of sugars in wort is often high enough that the yeast cannot draw enough water across the cell membranes to restart their metabolisms. Have a third packet available as a backup, preferably a different kind or brand in case the first was from a bad lot.

Here’s the method I use for rehydrating dry yeast.

1.     Just add water. Put 1 cup of warm (80–90 °F, 27–32 °C) boiled water into a sanitized jar and stir in the yeast. Cover with plastic wrap and wait 15 minutes.

2.     Proof with sugar. Boil 1 teaspoon of extract or sugar in a small amount of water for a few minutes. Allow to cool, then add to the jar to “proof” the yeast.

3.     Let it work. Cover and place in a warm area out of direct sunlight.

4.     Evaluate before pitching. After 30 minutes or so, the yeast should be visibly churning and/or foaming and will be ready to pitch. If it’s not showing signs of life, it may be too old or dead and the backup packet will need to be used. Unfortunately, this can be a common problem with dry yeast packets, especially if they are those non–name-brand packets taped to the top of some malt extract beer kits. Using name-brand brewers’ yeast usually prevents this problem.

 

Preparing for the boil: Equipment used at the boil stage does not need to be sanitized beforehand, just cleaned. The boil will sanitize the wort and anything it contacts. For my Tittabawassee Brown Ale, I intend to steep the crystal and chocolate malts in a grain bag for half an hour. Therefore, the first step is to clean my thermometer, grain bag, stirring spoon, and my brewpot. To wash the brewpot, I use a mild, perfume-free dishwashing detergent or B-Brite. The grain bag should only need to be rinsed.

After the boil: All equipment used at this stage must be cleaned first, then sanitized. If you use the thermometer to measure the wort temperature after the boil, it will need to be sanitized. If you use your hydrometer and hydrometer jar to test a wort sample, they will need to be sanitized only if you intend to immerse the hydrometer in the full wort (not recommended). If you use a turkey baster to collect your hydrometer sample, sanitize that. The important thing is to sanitize anything that contacts postboil wort.

I use an immersion wort chiller made from ½-inch diameter copper tubing to chill the wort after the boil. You can sanitize the chiller by simply immersing it in the boiling wort during the last few minutes before the heat is turned off. It’s essential to clean it first, however, because any residual dirt and excess copper oxide will come off in the wort. You can use dishwashing detergent to clean copper, but if the chiller has darkened or turned green as a result of oxidation, use white distilled vinegar. Wash with detergent afterwards to remove any remaining vinegar, and rinse thoroughly.

If you plan to chill the wort using a water bath (for example, setting the pot in the sink or the bathtub), make sure you have enough ice on hand to cool the wort quickly. A quick chill from boiling is necessary to generate the cold break in the wort and reduce the susceptibility to bacterial infection while it’s warm. The cold break precipitates include proteins, polyphenols, and beta glucans, which are believed to contribute to beer instability during storage. A good cold break also reduces the amount of chill haze in the final beer.

Fermentation: Anything to do with the fermentation or the transfer process must be sanitized before use: fermentor, airlock, and, depending on your transfer methods, the funnel and strainer, stirring spoon, and racking cane.

If you use a counterflow chiller to cool your wort, the wort can drain into the fermentor directly. If you use a water bath or an immersion chiller, you will need a sanitary way to transfer the wort to the fermentor, and you’ll need a few extra pieces of equipment. The most obvious method is to pour the wort directly from the brewpot into a bucket-type fermentor. The only drawback is that all of the hot and cold break also ends up in the fermentor. The hot break forms during the boil and is more prevalent in all-grain brews than in extract. Extract has already undergone some degree of boiling and much of the break material has already been removed. While fermenting on the cold break is relatively benign, fermenting on the hot break protein material will produce some off-flavors and impair the metabolism of the yeast. The trick, then, is to get the wort away from the trub.

 

Checklist for Preparing Equipment and Raw Materials

·         Decide on recipe

·         Purchase and store ingredients

·         Check for all equipment needed

Scale(s) to weigh hops and grain

Yeast starter jar and airlock, if available

Grain bag, if applicable

Brewpot

Thermometer

Spoon

Hydrometer/jar for sampling wort

Wort chiller, if applicable, or ice for cooling

Funnel/strainer or siphon, racking cane, and scrubber, depending on means of wort transfer to fermentor

Fermentor and airlock

·         Prepare yeast starter (liquid yeast) — 3–4 days before,

or

·         Rehydrate yeast (dry yeast) — night before

·         Weigh out ingredients — night before

·         Clean all equipment — night before

·         Sanitize anything contacting the wort after the boil — brew day

 

The first step is to set up a whirlpool by gently stirring the wort in a steady circle for a minute or so. Remember to sanitize the stirring spoon beforehand. Once a vortex forms, remove the spoon and allow the wort to settle for about 15 minutes. The trub will have formed a cone in the center of the pot, and you can draw the wort away from it using a sanitized siphon and racking cane placed toward the edge of the inside of the pot. If hops or trub clog the siphon, you can fasten a copper scrubber to the end of the siphon with a rubber band to screen out the particles. Again, be sure to sanitize the scrubber.

Alternately, you can decant the wort off the trub and pour it through a sanitized funnel and strainer. This is a good way to remove the spent hops from the wort. Although removing the hops is not necessary, it does reduce the amount of trub in your fermentor. Pouring cool wort this way is also an excellent way of aerating the cooled wort, which helps yeast growth. It’s a great idea to spread towels on the kitchen floor in case you miss the fermentor while pouring.

 

The Makings of a Smooth Brew

 

By taking the time to prepare for your brew day, the brewing will go much more smoothly and you will be less likely to forget any steps. Cleaning and sanitizing your equipment beforehand will probably prevent an unsupervised boilover later. Preparing your yeast by either rehydrating and proofing or making a starter will ensure that the afternoon’s work will not have been in vain. Having your ingredients laid out and measured will prevent any mistakes in the recipe. Finally, preparing for each stage of the brewing process by having the equipment ready and the process planned out will make the whole operation simple and keep it fun — and avoid a last-minute run to the homebrew supply store. Your beer will probably benefit too. As in all things, a little preparation goes a long way to improving the end result.

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