Author Archives: mashtronauts

Brewing Tips and Generally Recognized Best Practices

written by Chris Rafalik for the BAM wiki

This page is discussed in detail on the BAM Best Practices thread of the Beer Science or Superstition forum. Understand that while these are generally considered best practices home brewing is considered by many to be an art form. Everyone has a different opinion about art. We encourage you to learn from this page, but always remember what works for one may not work for everyone.

Remember first and foremost — this is supposed to be a hobby — keep it fun!

Basic Beer Procedure

  • Sanitize Everything
  • Steep specialty grains (150-160 degrees for 30-40 minutes)
  • Remove specialty Grains (Never boil grains, boiling grains extracts off flavors)
  • Add malt Extract (if needed)
  • Boil (60 minutes or per recipe)
  • Add hops (per scheduled recipe)
  • Chill wort back to fermentation temp (see yeast for temp but normally 70 degrees for ales and 40-50 for lagers) while maintaining pristine sanitation
  • Pitch/add yeast and Ferment (10-14 days normally) (secondary fermentation optional)
  • Bottle or keg (age 2-4 weeks optionally)
  •  Bring sample bottle to group meetings for feedback from other brewers. (yay free beer!)

General Tips:

Thou Shalt Sanitize – Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize. We can’t stress this enough. The first time you lose a 5 gallon batch of beer due to improper sanitation procedures you’ll likely fully appreciate this rule. You just can’t be too careful. Most brewers use a combination of cleaners and sanitizers.  Cleaners, such as Powdered Brewery Wash (PBW) and B Brite help remove particles and residue.  Sanitizers, such as Starsan and Iodophor kill any remaining microscopic organisms.

Respect the Yeast – Yeast makes it all happen.  No yeast… no beer.  It only makes sense then that yeast should be treated with respect.

First, it is important to select the proper yeast.  Many new brewers often highly under-rate the affect that yeast can have on flavor.

Second, be sure to pitch enough yeast.  While a beer can be made with a single vial or packet of yeast, most brewers strongly believe in having a “starter”.  When using a starter, the amount of yeast pitched is greatly increased.  This headstart for the yeast often results in a much cleaner and infection-free beer.

Useful Website for determining starter volumes:

How to make a Yeast Starter

Proper temperature control on both ales and lagers – Temperature control during fermentation is critical. Different yeast strains operate most effectively in a temperature range. Ale yeasts are top fermenting and typically prefer temperatures in the 70’s. Lager yeast are bottom fermenting and prefer a cooler range, usually requiring refrigeration. Ideally, temperature should fluctuate as little as possible.

Turn Out the Lights – Light has a detrimental effect on beer. It’s generally accepted that when possible you should keep your beer in the dark and preferably bottle in dark containers that are not 100% light permeable (dark bottles).

Read “How to Brew” by John Palmer – This is considered by many to be the bible of home brewing. If John Palmer says it, you can generally take it to the bank.

What are my options for my first homebrew batch? What equipment do I need?

I’m interested in homebrewing and would like to try brewing my first beer.  What are my options?  What kind of equipment do I need?

Written by Chris “Pasteur” Rafalik

I remember in the beginning, I knew that I wanted to brew so I went to a few brewing websites.  I was quickly confused by the terminology that gets thrown around.  Partial mash, all-grain, extract…  I wish that someone had been there to sit me down and give me a quick explanation of what it was all about.  So here you go:

There are three basic options for brewing beer.

Option 1

You can make an extract only brew. Think of this as making pancakes with a “Just Add Water” mix. The pancakes are good. And they are very easy to make. You add water and don’t have to worry about too much. Extract-only batches have everything included in a powdered form. You just need to add water, heat it a bit, cool it, and add the yeast.

Option 2

You can make a partial mash. Think of this as making pancakes using a mix that requires eggs, milk, and oil. A bit more to do but the basics are already there. In a partial mash, the majority of the carbohydrates that the yeast will eat are provided as an extract, but you will have a small amount of grains that you “make a tea” out of. These add color, some additional flavors to the extract and make your house smell great.

Option 3

All grain. This is the equivalent of mixing different amounts of flour, baking powder, eggs, etc and hoping you get pancakes. It has more challenges (a bit more equipment needed, takes longer, more variables) but you gain more control over your beer. Plus as in any good hobby, once you get good at something – we have an instinctive drive to make it more complicated.

You can make excellent award winning beers using any of the methods above. I started with partial mashes.  There are a number of members that use this method exclusively.

What equipment is needed

Boiling Kettle – 5 gallons is a good starter size but I brewed for years with a 3 gallon (and made an unholy mess when it boiled over).  For a lot of bio-chemical reasons you should not use a kettle made of a reactive metal like aluminium or iron as a boiling kettle. You do not want the boiling liquid exposed directly to those types of metals.  The simplest starting brew kettle is an inexpensive stainless steel stockpot of 12 to 16 quart capacity.  Make sure it has handles on it.  If you have an enameled pot, like one used for boiling shrimp, it can also be used as long as it is clean and not chipped to expose the metal to the boiling liquid. In either case a close fitting lid for the pot is a very helpful addition.  It allows you to cover the wort in the pot as it cools.  The lid forms a barrier between the wild stuff in the air and the cooling wort.

Fermenter – Usually these are plastic or glass. Plastic ones are cheaper but you can’t see what is going on inside. Also, you must be careful cleaning them.  Glass can shatter.  Again, if just starting, I would go with plastic.  You can always purchase a glass fermenter later if you decide you want to.

Spoon – A large long handled spoon is needed to mix the exctract and water or skim any residue that forms on the top of the wort during the boil.   Again stainless steel or food grade plastic is the material of choice.

Air locks and stoppers – This gives the excess CO2 a way out of your fermenter while keeping the bad bugs in the air from getting to the good stuff in the fermenter.

Sanitizer – A sanitizer is needed to kill any potential bacteria that might infect the beer.  There are several. You can use household bleach.  But there are better.  I use an iodine based sanitizer called Iodophor.  Of course, a sanitizer can only be successfully used after the equipment has been cleaned well with some elbow grease.  If the equipment is extemely dirty, there are some brewing safe cleaners that may be used. That is why, if just starting out, I almost always recommend the new brewer buy new equipment.  Detergent or soap should be used very, very carefully if at all due to issues with residue.  Cleaners such as PBW (Powdered Brewery Wash) or B-brite do an excellent job and have few issues of safety or residue. Be careful cleaning plastic containers. You do not want to scratch the surface of your fermenter.  Those scratches create all kinds of hiding spaces for infections you will not be able to remove no matter how hard you try.

Thermometer – Floating thermometer so you can know how hot the wort (soon to be beer) is

Hydrometer – Used to take the specific gravity of the wort. Lets you know how much alcohol your beer can have. Also useful for making sure you followed the recipe correctly.  Not necessary to make good beer, but many new brewers find it reassuring to check their beer to know that they are “doing it right”.

Racking cane with hose – This is used to get the beer out of the fermenter and into the bottles. I recommend getting one that has an autosiphon – basically an easier way to get a siphon started so that you can move the beer over.

Bottle filler – A plastic tube with a check valve at the bottom. Used to stop the beer flow when filling a bottle and preventing a huge mess… ok…. reducing the huge mess

Bottles – A 5 gallon batch makes 40 pints or 53 12 oz bottles.  That is about 4 cases. They should be pop top (not screw top) and amber. No need to buy these when Sam Adams makes some highly drinkable beer!

Bottle caps – Self-explanatory

Capper – Used to put the caps on the bottles

Is there a basic procedure to follow?

As far as instructions to follow, I used the ones on Defalco’s website with great success. (for partial mash brews).

Finally, Is there a basic referrence book?

The beginning book for the majority of homebrewers is The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. It is pretty much considered the starting book for homebrewing.  You should be able to get it at any homebrew supply shop.  It is guaranteed to be available online at any bookseller’s web site.

Good luck and enjoy. If you have questions, post a message on the Mashtronaut Facebook page or bring it up at a meeting.  There are always Mashtronauts standing by to help you out.  We all remember our first brew and are happy to help others out.

What is DME

What is DME?

Written by Chris “Pasteur” Rafalik

As you are beginning to look at some of your first recipes, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the alphabet soup of acronyms that most experienced brewers just take for granted: OG (original gravity), ABV (Alcohol by Volume), IBU (International Bittering Units)… the list goes on and on.  One of the acronyms frequently seen included in a recipe is DME or Dry Malt Extract.

The question logically follows – What is Dry Malt Extract and when/how/why do I use it?

Dry Malt Extract (DME) is a powdered version of Liquid Malt Extract (LME).  LME is the molasses-like syrup you may have seen at the homebrew store.  In order to really understand what DME is, we need to take a very simplified view of the use grains in making beer.  All beers have four common ingredients water (the liquid), hops (for biterness and aroma), grain (to provide flavor and carbohydrates), and yeast (to eat the carbohydrates and produce CO2 and alcohol).  In order for the grain to be useful in a beer, the carbohydrate “goodies” must be extracted.  These goodies are extracted by cracking the grains open and mixing them with water at very specific temperatures for a period of time.  During that time, a complex series of enzymes react with the carbohydrates in the grain and produce simpler fermentable and non-fermentable sugars.  A quick Google search on this process will yield reams of information.

The results of this process is a gloriously sweet bready liquid known as wort.  The wort is ready to be boiled with hops, cooled, and fermented with yeast.  However, not all brewers are interested or able to produce the wort from grains on their own.  These brewers prefer to purchase the results of this process.  Due to weight issues, purchasing 5 or 6 gallons of this liquid would be logistically challenging to say the least.  The obvious solution is to remove the water from the wort.  If only some of the water is removed, the resulting product is the “molasses-like” LME.  If the process is taken a bit farther, a bone-dry powder called Dry Malt Extract (DME) is created.

It stands to reason that the flavor of the DME is dependant on the types of grains used to create it.  DME can be purchased in a variety of flavors, depending on the type of beer that you are purchasing.

How do I use DME?

DME may be used in any beer recipe.  If the recipe calls for Liquid Malt, a standard conversion is 0.8 pounds of DME for every 1 pound of LME called for.  The DME is added to enough boiling water to allow it to dissolve completely (usually 1-2 gallons of water as a minimum for a five gallon recipe).  Once the DME is added, turn off the heat source. This will let the DME dissolve into the water without sinking to the bottom and scorching. (The same is true for adding LME.)  This concentrated wort can be dilluted down later to represent the full recipe volume.  After the DME has been fully dissolved, it should be returned to a boil.  Note that when the wort is returned to a boil, it WILL foam significantly and can make quite a mess.  Make sure that the pot is not completely full… or prepare to do some cleaning.  From here, procede with the boil and hops additions as indicated by the recipe.

If the recipe being used is an all-grain recipe, a few simple calculations will be needed.  On average, 1 pound of DME when added to 1 gallon of water will produce a wort with an OG (original gravity) of 1.044.  Therefore, a 5 gallon recipe with 6 pounds of DME will yield an original gravity of approximately 1.052 (6 lbs. DME X 1.044 = 2.640/5 gallons=1.052).

Many all grain brewers keep DME on hand for use in making a Yeast Starter or to boost up the OG (original gravity) of a wort if it came out a bit lighter than expected.