How To Brew Your First Beer

How To Brew Your First Beer
by John J. Palmer

These instructions are designed for the first-time Brewer. What follows can be considered an annotated recipe for a fool-proof Ale beer. Why an Ale beer? Because Ales are the simplest to brew. Brewing Beer is simple and complicated, easy and hard. Compare it to fishing - Sit on the end of the dock with a can of worms and a cane pole and you will catch fish. Going after a specific kind of fish is when fishing gets complicated. Brewing the specific kind of beer you want is the same thing. There are many different styles of beer and many techniques to brew them.

Brewing a beer is a combination of several general processes. First is the mixing of ingredients and bringing the solution (wort) to a boil. Second is the cooling of the wort to the fermentation temperature. Next the wort is transferred to the fermenter and the yeast is added. After fermentation, the raw beer is siphoned off the yeast sediment and bottled with a little extra sugar to provide the carbonation. But there are three important things to keep in mind every time you brew: Cleanliness, Preparation and Good Record Keeping.


Cleanliness is the foremost concern of the brewer. After all, Fermentation is the manipulation of living organisms, the yeast. Providing good growing conditions for the yeast in the beer also provides good growing conditions for other micro-organisms, including bacteria. Cleanliness must be maintained throughout every stage of the brewing process.


Take the time to prepare your brewing area. Have the ingredients ready on the counter. Prepare your brewing water. Have the ice on- hand to cool the wort when its done boiling. Is the Fermenter clean and sanitized? Make sure that all equipment is clean and ready to go before starting. Patience and planning are necessities.

Record Keeping

Always keep good notes on what ingredients, amounts and times were used in the brewing process. The brewer needs to be able to repeat good batches and learn from poor ones.

Brewing Terms:

The following terms will be used throughout these instructions. Many of the terms come from German and appropriate pronunciations are given. On the other hand, German pronunciation is optional.


A beer brewed from a top-fermenting yeast with a relatively short, warm fermentation.
Alpha Acid Units (AAU)
A homebrewing measurement of Hops. Equal to the weight in ounces multiplied by the percent of Alpha Acids.
The degree of conversion of sugar to alcohol and CO2.
Any beverage made by fermenting malted barley and seasoning with Hops.
Cold Break
Proteins that coagulate and fall out of solution when the wort is rapidly cooled prior to Pitching the yeast.
An aspect of Secondary Fermentation in which the yeast refine the flavors of the final beer. Conditioning continues in the bottle.
The total conversion of malt sugar to beer, defined here as two parts, Primary and Secondary.
Hop vines are grown in cool climates and brewers make use of the cone-like flowers. The dried cones are available in Pellets, Plugs, or whole.
Hot Break
Proteins that coagulate and fall out of solution during the wort boil.
Like density, gravity describes the concentration of malt sugar in the wort. The specific gravity of water is 1.000 at 59F. Typical beer worts range from 1.035
1.055 before fermentation (Original Gravity).
International Bittering Units (IBU)
A more precise method of measuring Hops. Equal to the AAU multiplied by factors for percent utilization, wort volume and wort gravity.
Krausen (kroy-zen)
Used to refer to the foamy head that builds on top of the beer during fermentation. Also an advanced method of priming.
A beer brewed from a bottom-fermenting yeast and given a long cool fermentation.
Term for adding the yeast to the fermenter.
Primary Fermentation
The initial fermentation activity marked by the evolution of carbon dioxide and Krausen. Most of the total attenuation occurs during this phase.
The method of adding a small amount of fermentable sugar prior to bottling to give the beer carbonation.
The careful siphoning of the beer away from the Trub.
Secondary Fermentation
A period of settling and conditioning of the beer after Primary Fermentation and before bottling.
Trub (trub or troob)
The sediment at the bottom of the fermenter consisting of Hot and Cold Break material and dead yeast.
Wort (wart or wert)
The malt-sugar solution that is boiled prior to fermentation.
The science of Brewing and Fermentation.

Required Equipment

Several styles are available. Fill to the water line with boiled water and cap it (if it has one).
Boiling Pot
Must be able to comfortably hold a minimum of 3 gallons; bigger is better. Use only Stainless Steel, Ceramic- coated Steel, or Aluminum. Plain steel will give off-flavors.
Two cases of recappable 12 oz bottles. Use Corona or heavier glass import bottles. Twist-offs do not work well. Used champagne bottles are ideal if you can find them.
Bottle Capper
Either Hand Capper or Bench Capper. Bench Cappers are more versatile and are needed for the champagne bottles, but are more expensive.
Bottle Caps
Either standard or oxygen absorbing are available.
Bottle Filler
Rigid plastic (or metal) tube with spring loaded valve at the tip for filling bottles.
Bottle Brush
Necessary for first, hard-core cleaning of used beer bottles.
The 6 gallon food-grade plastic pail is recommended for beginners. These are very easy to work with. Glass carboys are also available, in 5, 6, and 7.5 gallon sizes.
Racking Cane
Rigid plastic tube with sediment stand-off.
Available in several configurations, consisting of clear plastic tubing with optional Racking Cane and Bottle Filler.
Stirring Paddle
Food grade plastic paddle (spoon) for stirring the wort during boiling.
Obtain a thermometer that can be safely immersed in the wort and has a range of at least 40F to 150F. The floating dairy thermometers are great.

Optional but Highly Recommended

Bottling Bucket
A 6 gallon food-grade plastic pail with attached spigot and fill-tube. The finished beer is racked into this for priming prior to bottling. Racking into the bottling bucket allows clearer beer with less sediment in the bottle. The spigot set-up is used instead of the Bottle Filler above, allowing greater control of the fill level and no hassles with a siphon during bottling.


Commercial beer kits always provide 3-4 pounds of malt extract and instructions to add a couple pounds of sugar. Don't Do It! The resultant beer will have an unpleasant cidery taste. The following is a basic beer recipe:

  • 5-7 pounds of Hopped Pale Malt Extract syrup. (OG of 1.038 - 1.053)
  • 5 gallons of water.
  • 1-2 ounces of Hops (if desired for more hop character)
  • 1 packet of dry Ale yeast, plus 1 packet for back-up.
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for Priming.

This is a basic Ale beer and quite tasty. You will be amazed. Further descriptions of the ingredients follow.

Malt Extract:

Using Malt Extract is what makes first time brewing simple. Malt Extract is the concentrated sugars extracted from malted barley. It is sold in both the liquid and powdered forms. The syrups are approximately 20 percent water, so 4 pounds of dry Malt Extract (DME) is roughly equal to 5 pounds of Malt Extract syrup. Malt Extract is available in both the Hopped and Unhopped varieties. Screen the ingredients to avoid corn sugar. Munton & Fison, Alexanders, Coopers, Edme and Premier are all good brands. Laaglander is another good brand but the brewer needs to be aware that it contains extra unfermentables which add to the body, making the beer finish with an FG of about 1.020. Using Unhopped extract means adding 1-2 ounces of Hops during the boil for bittering and flavor. Hops may also be added to the Hopped Extracts towards the end of the boil for more Hop character in the final beer. Unhopped extract is preferable for brewers making their own recipes. A rule of thumb is 1 pound of malt extract (syrup) per gallon of water for a light bodied beer. One and a half pounds per gallon produces a richer, full bodied beer. One pound of malt extract syrup typically yields a gravity of 1.034 - 38 when dissolved in one gallon of water. Dry malt will yield about 1.040 - 43. Malt extract is commonly available in Pale, Amber and Dark varieties, and can be mixed depending on the style of beer desired. Wheat malt extract is also available and more new extracts are coming out each year. With the variety of extract now available, there is almost no beer style that cannot be brewed using extract alone. The next step in complexity for the homebrewer is to learn how to extract the sugars from the malted grain himself. This process, called Mashing, allows the brewer to take more control of producing the wort. This type of homebrewing is referred to as All-Grain brewing.


The water is very important to the resulting beer. After all, beer is mostly water. If your tap water tastes good at room temperature, it should make good beer. It will just need to be boiled for a few minutes to remove the chlorine and kill any bacteria. If the water has a metallic taste, boil and let it cool before using to let the excess minerals settle out, and pour it off to another vessel. Do not use water from a salt based water softener. A good bet for your first batch of beer is the bottled water sold in most supermarkets as Drinking Water. Use the 2.5 gallon containers. Use one container for boiling the extract and set the other aside for addition to the fermenter later.


This is another involved subject. There are many varieties of Hops, but they are divided into two main categories: Bittering and Aroma. Bittering Hops are high in Alpha Acids (the main bittering agent), typically around 10 percent. Aroma Hops are lower, around 5 percent. Several Hop varieties are in between and are used for both purposes. Bittering Hops are added at the start of the boil and usually boiled for an hour. Aroma Hops are added towards the end of the boil and are typically boiled for 15 minutes or less (Finishing). Hops can also be added to the fermenter for increased hop aroma in the final beer, called Dry Hopping, but this is best done during Secondary Fermentation. A mesh bag, called a Hop Bag, may be used to help retain the hops and make removal of the Hops easier prior to fermentation. Straining or removal of the Hops before fermentation is largely a matter of personal preference. Published beer recipes often include a Hops schedule, with amounts and boil times specified. Other recipes specify the Hops in terms of AAUs and IBUs. AAUs are a convenient unit for specifying Hops when discussing Hop additions because it allows for variation in the Alpha Acid percentages between Hop varieties. For the purposes of this recipe, 7 AAUs are recommended for the Boil (60 minutes) and 4 AAUs for Finishing (15 minutes). This is assuming the use of Unhopped malt extract; if using Hopped, then only add the 4 AAUs for finishing. In this recipe, these amounts correspond to 22 IBUs for the boil, and 1.25 IBU for the finish. IBUs allow for variation in brewing practices between brewers, yet provide for nearly identical final Hop bitterness levels in the beers. This recipe is not very bitter. For more information, see the Recommended Reading section.


There are several aspects to yeast; it is the other major factor in determining the flavor of the beer. Different yeast strains will produce different beers when pitched to identical worts. Yeast is available both wet and dry, for Ale and Lager, et cetera. For the first-time brewer, a dry Ale yeast is highly recommended. There are several brands available, including Coopers, Edme, Nottingham, and Red Star. All of these listed will produce good results. Ale yeast are referred to as top-fermenting because much of the fermentation action takes place at the top of the fermenter, while Lager yeasts would seem to prefer the bottom. While many of today's strains like to confound this generalization, there is one important difference, and that is temperature. Ale yeasts like warmer temperatures, going dormant below 55F (12C), while Lager yeasts will happily work at 40F. Using Lager yeast at Ale temperatures 65-70F (18-20C) produces Steam Beer, or what is now termed California Common Beer. Anchor Steam Beer (tm) was the founder of this unique style. For more information, see the Recommended Reading section.

Yeast Starter

Liquid yeast must be and all yeast should be, pitched to a Starter before pitching to the beer in the fermenter. Using a starter gives yeast a head start and prevents weak fermentations from under-pitching. Dry Yeast should be re-hydrated before pitching. Re-hydrating dry yeast is simple.

  • 1. Put 1 cup of warm (90F, 35C) boiled water into a sterile jar and stir in the yeast. Cover with Saran Wrap and wait 10 minutes.
  • 2. Stir in one teaspoon of sugar.
  • 3. Cover and place in a warm area out of direct sunlight.
  • 4. After 30 minutes or so the yeast should be actively churning and foaming. This is now ready to pitch.

Liquid yeast is regarded as superior to Dry yeast because of the refinement of yeast strains present and little risk of bacterial contamination during manufacture. Liquid yeast allows for greater tailoring of the beer to a particular style. However, the amount of yeast in a liquid packet is much less than the amount in the dry. For best results, it needs a starter. The packet must be squeezed and warmed to 80F at least two days before brewing. One day before, it should be pitched to a wort starter made from 1/4 cup of DME and a pint of water that has been boiled and cooled to 75F (25C). Adding a quarter teaspoon of yeast nutrient is also advisable. Let this sit in the same warm place until brewing time the next day. Some foaming or an increase in the white yeast layer on the bottom should be evident. The Starter process may be repeated to provide even more yeast to the wort to insure a strong fermentation.

The Wort and Oxygen

The use of oxygen in brewing is a double-edged sword. The yeast need oxygen to grow and multiply enough to provide a good fermentation. When the yeast has first been pitched, whether to the starter or the beer, it first seeks to reproduce. The yeast makes use of the dissolved oxygen in the wort for this. Boiling the wort drives out the dissolved oxygen, which is why aeration of some sort is needed prior to fermentation. The yeast first use up all of the oxygen in the wort for reproduction, then get down to the business of turning sugar into alcohol and CO2 as well as processing the other flavor compounds. On the other hand, if oxygen is introduced while the wort is still hot, the oxygen will oxidize the wort and the yeast cannot utilize it. This will later cause oxidation of the beer which gives a wet cardboard taste. The key is temperature. The generally accepted temperature cutoff for preventing hot wort oxidation is 80F. In addition, if oxygen is introduced after the fermentation has started, it will not be utilized by the yeast and will later cause the wet cardboard or sherry-like flavors. This is why it is important to cool the wort rapidly to below 80F, to prevent oxidation, and then aerate it by shaking or whatever to provide the dissolved oxygen that the yeast need. Cooling rapidly between 90 and 130F is important because this region is ideal for bacterial growth to establish itself in the wort. Most homebrewers use cold water baths around the pot or copper tubing Wort Chillers to accomplish this cooling in about 20 minutes or less. A rapid chill also causes the Cold Break material to settle out, which decreases the amount of protein Chill Haze in the finished beer. Aeration of the wort can be accomplished several ways: shaking the container, pouring the wort into the fermenter so it splashes, or even hooking up an airstone to an aquarium air pump and letting that bubble for an hour. For the latter method, (which is popular) everything must be sanitized! Otherwise, Infection City. These instructions recommend shaking the starter and pouring/shaking the wort. More on this later.


So far, sanitization of ingredients and equipment has been discussed but not much has been said about how to do this. The definition and objective of sanitization is to reduce bacteria and contaminants to insignificant or manageable levels. Sterilization is not really possible. The Starter solution, Wort and Priming solutions will all be boiled, so those are not a problem (usually). One note - Do Not Boil the Yeast! You need them to be alive. The easiest sanitizing solution is made be adding 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water (4 ml per liter). This can be prepared in the Fermenting Bucket. Immerse all of equipment - airlock, hoses, paddles, rubber stopper, fermenter lid and anything else contacting the beer. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Rinsing is not really necessary at this concentration, but you may want to rinse with boiled water anyway to avoid any chance of off-flavors. Clean all equipment as soon as possible. This means rinsing out the fermenter, tubing, etc. as soon as they are used. It is very easy to get distracted and come back to find the syrup or yeast has dried hard as a rock and the equipment is stained. Keep a large container with chlorine water handy and just toss things in, clean later. Rinsing bottles after each use eliminates the need to scrub bottles. If your bottles are dirty, moldy or whatever, soaking and washing in a mild solution of chlorine bleach water for a day or two will soften most residue. Brushing with a bottle brush is a necessity to remove stuck residue. Dish washers are great for cleaning the outside of bottles and heat sterilizing, but will not clean the inside where the beer is going to go; that must be done beforehand. Trisodium Phosphate and B-Brite also work very well but must be rinsed carefully. Do not wash with soap. This leaves a residue which you will be able to taste. Never use any scented cleaning agents, these odors can be absorbed into the plastic buckets and manifest in the beer. Fresh-Lemon Scented Pinesol Beer is not very good. Also, dishwasher Rinse Agents will destroy the Head retention on your glassware. If you pour a beer with carbonation and no head, this is a common cause.

Beginning the Boil

Bring 2 1/2 gallons water to a boil in a large pot. Meanwhile, re-hydrate the dry yeast. When the water is boiling, remove from the heat. Add all the malt syrup to the hot water and stir until dissolved. Make sure there is no syrup stuck to the bottom of the pot by scraping the bottom of the pot with the spoon while stirring. It is very important not to burn any malt stuck to the bottom when the pot is returned to the heat. Burnt sugar tastes terrible. The following stage is critical. The pot needs to be watched continuously. Return the pot to the heat and bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Start timing the hour. If you are adding bittering hops, do so now. A foam may start to rise and form a smooth surface. This is good. If the foam suddenly billows over the side, this is a boil over (Bad). By the way, adding hop pellets at this stage tends to trigger a boilover if the pot is really full. Murphy's Law... The liquid is very unstable at this point and remains so until it goes through the Hot Break (when the wort stops foaming). This may take 5-20 minutes. The foaming can be controlled by lowering the heat and/or spraying some water on the surface from a spray bottle. The heat control using an electric range is poor. Try to maintain a rolling boil. Boiling 2.5 - 3 gallons can be maintained fairly easily on an electric stove. Boiling the full 5 gallons of water on electric ranges is almost impossible (not enough heat) and dangerous to lift when the boil is over. Continue the rolling boil for the remainder of the hour. Stir occasionally to prevent scorching. There may be a change in color and aroma and there will be particles floating in the wort. This is not a concern, its the hot break material. If you are adding the finishing hops, do so during the last fifteen minutes. Add during the last five minutes if more hop aroma is desired. This provides less time for the volatile oils to boil away.

Cooling the Wort

At the end of the boil, cooling the wort is very important. While it is above 130F, bacteria and wild yeasts are inhibited. It is very susceptible to oxygen damage as it cools though. There are also sulfur compounds that evolve while the wort is hot. If the wort is cooled slowly these di-methyl sulfides can dissolve back into the wort causing cabbage or cooked vegetable flavors in the final beer. The objective is to rapidly cool the wort to below 80F before oxidation or contamination can occur. Here is one preferred method for cooling the wort. Place the pot in a sink or tub filled with cold/ice water that can be circulated around the hot pot. While the cold water is flowing around the pot, gently stir the wort in a circular pattern so the maximum amount of wort is moving against the sides of the pot. If the water gets warm, replace with cold water. The wort will cool to 80F in about 20 minutes. When the pot is still warm to the touch, the temperature is close enough. Pour the reserved 2.5 gallons of water into the sanitized fermenter. Pour the warm wort into it, allowing vigorous churning and splashing. Oxidation of the wort is minimal at these temperatures and this provides the dissolved oxygen that the yeast need to reproduce. Combining the warm wort with the cool water should bring the mixture to fermentation temperature. It is best for the yeast if the pitching temperature is the same as the fermentation temperature. For Ale yeasts, the fermentation temperature range is 65-75F. (The temperatures mentioned are not absolutely critical and a thermometer is not absolutely necessary, but is nice to have.) Note: Do not add commercial ice to the wort to cool. Commercial Ice harbors lots of dormant bacteria that would love a chance to work on the new beer. Bottled Drinking Water is usually pasteurized or otherwise sanitized to inhibit contamination.

Pitching the Yeast

If the Dry Yeast Starter is not foaming or churning, use the backup yeast. Repeat the re-hydration procedure and then pitch the Yeast Starter into the beer, making sure to add it all. Put the lid in place and seal it. Do not put the airlock in quite yet. Place a piece of clean Saran Wrap over the hole in the lid and cover it with your hand. With the fermenter tightly sealed, pick it up, sit in a chair, put the fermenter on your knees and shake it several minutes to churn it up. This mixes the yeast into the wort and provides more dissolved oxygen that the yeast need to grow. Wipe off any wort around the hole with a paper towel that is wet with bleach water and place the sanitized airlock and rubber stopper in the lid. The airlock should be filled to the line with the bleach water solution. Active fermentation should start within 12 hours. It can be longer for liquid yeasts because of lower cell counts, about 24 hours.


Put the fermenter in a protected area like the bathtub. If foam escapes it will run down the drain and is easy to clean. The temperature here is usually about the most stable in the house. Animals and small children are fascinated by the smell and noises from the airlock, so keep them away. The airlock should be bubbling in twelve hours. Maintain a consistent temperature if possible. Fluctuating temperature strains the yeast and could impair fermentation. On the other hand, if the temperature drops overnight and the bubbling stops, simply move it to a warmer room and it should pick up again. The yeast does not die, it merely goes dormant. It should not be heated too quickly as this can thermally shock the yeast. In summary, if the temperature deviates too much or goes above 80F the fermentation can be affected, which then affects the flavor. If it goes too low, the ale yeast will go into hibernation. The fermentation process can be very vigorous or slow; either is fine. The secret is in providing enough active yeast. Fermentation time is a sum of several variables with the most significant probably being temperature. It is very common for an ale with an active ferment to be done in a short time. It could last a few days, a week, maybe longer. Any of the above is acceptable. Three days at 70F may be regarded as typical for the simple ale being described here. If the fermentation is so vigorous that the foam pops the airlock out of the lid, just rinse it out with bleach water and wipe off the lid before replacing it. Contamination is not a big problem at this point. With so much coming out of the fermenter, not much gets in. Once the bubbling slows down however, do not open the lid to peek. The beer is still susceptible to infections, particularly anaerobic ones like Lacto Bacillus, found in your mouth. It will do just fine if left alone for a minimum of two weeks. The fermentation of malt sugars into beer is a complicated biochemical process. It is more than just attenuation, which can be regarded as the primary activity. Total fermentation is better defined as two phases, the Primary or Attenuative phase and a Secondary or Conditioning phase. The yeast do not end Phase 1 before beginning Phase 2, the processes occur in parallel, but the conditioning processes occur more slowly. This is why beer (and wine) improves with age. Tasting the beer at bottling time will show rough edges that will disappear after a few weeks in the bottle. Because the conditioning process is a function of the yeast, it follows that the greater yeast mass in the fermenter is more effective at conditioning the beer than the smaller amount of suspended yeast in the bottle. Leaving the beer in the fermenter for a total of two or even three weeks will go a long way to improving the final beer. This will also allow time for more sediment to settle out before bottling, resulting in a clearer beer.

Use of Secondary Fermenters (Optional)

Using a two stage fermentation requires a good understanding of the fermentation process. At any time, racking the beer can adversely affect it because of potential oxygen exposure and contamination risk. Racking the beer before the Primary fermentation phase has completed can result in a stuck or incomplete fermentation and too high a final gravity. Simple extract ales do not need to be racked to a secondary fermenter. It can improve clarity and aspects of the flavor, but wait until the second or third beer when you have more experience with the brewing processes. The reason for racking to a Secondary Fermenter is to prevent a yeast breakdown called autolysis, and the resulting bad taste imparted to the beer. This will not be a problem for these relatively short fermentation-time ale beers. Other beer types, like Lagers and some high-gravity beer styles, need to be racked to a secondary because these sit on the yeast for a longer period of time. The following is a general schedule for a simple ale beer using a secondary fermenter. Allow the Primary Fermentation stage to wind down. This will be 3-4 days after pitching when the bubbling rate drops off dramatically to about 1-5 per minute. Using a sanitized siphon (no sucking!), rack the beer off the trub into a another clean fermenter and affix an airlock. The beer should still be fairly cloudy with suspended yeast. Racking from the primary may be done at any time after primary fermentation has more-or-less completed.(Although if it has been more than two weeks, you may as well bottle.) Most brewers will notice a brief increase in activity after racking, but then all activity may cease. This is very normal. Fermentation (Conditioning) is still taking place, so just leave it alone. A minimum useful time in the secondary fermenter is two weeks. Overly long times in the secondary (for ales- more than 6 weeks) may require the addition of fresh yeast at bottling time for good carbonation. This is usually not a concern. See the Recommended Reading section for further information.

A Word About Hydrometers

A hydrometer measures the relative specific gravity between pure water and water with sugar dissolved in it. The hydrometer is used to gauge fermentation by measuring one aspect of it, attenuation. Attenuation is the conversion of sugar to ethanol by the yeast. Water has a specific gravity of 1.000. Beers typically have a final gravity between 1.015 and 1.005. Champagnes and meads can have gravities less than 1.000, because of the large percentage of ethyl alcohol, which is less than 1. By the way, hydrometer readings are standardized to 59F, since liquid gravity (density) is dependent on temperature. Temperature correction tables are usually sold with a hydrometer or are available from Chemistry Handbooks (ex. CRCs). Here is a short table of corrections:

50F => -.0006

55F => -.0003
59F => 0
65F => +.0006
70F => +.0012
75F => +.0018
80F => +.0026
85F => +.0033

A hydrometer is a useful tool in the hands of an experienced brewer who knows what he wants to measure. Various books or recipes may give Original and/or Final Gravities (OG and FG) of a beer to assist the brewer in the evaluation of his success. For an average beer yeast, a rule of thumb is that the FG should be about one forth of the OG. For example, a common beer OG of 1.040 should finish about 1.010 (or lower). A couple points either way is typical scatter. It needs to be emphasized that the stated FG of a recipe is not the goal. The goal is to make a good tasting beer. The hydrometer should be regarded as only one tool available to the brewer as a means to gauge the fermentation progress. The brewer should only be concerned about a high hydrometer reading when primary fermentation has apparently ended and the reading is about one half of the OG, instead of the nominal one forth. Incidentally, if this situation occurs, two remedies are possible. The first is to agitate or swirl the fermenter to rouse the yeastbed from the bottom. The fermenter should remain closed with no aeration. The goal is to re-suspend the yeast so they can get back to work. The alternative is to pitch some fresh yeast. Hydrometers are necessary when making beer from scratch (all-grain brewing) or when designing recipes. But the first-time brewer using known quantities of extracts simply does not need one.

Priming & Bottling

This ale beer will be ready to bottle in two weeks when primary fermentation has completely stopped. There should be few, if any, bubbles in the airlock. The flavor won't improve by bottling any earlier. Some books recommend bottling after the bubbling stops or in about 1 week. It is not uncommon for fermentation to stop after 3-4 days and begin again a few days later. If the beer is bottled too soon, the beer will be over-carbonated and the pressure may exceed the bottle strength. Exploding bottles are a disaster. After the bottles have been cleaned with a brush, rinse them with sanitization solution or run in the dishwasher with the heat on to sanitize. If using bleach solution, allow to drain upside down in the six-pack holders or on a rack. Do not rinse out with tap water unless it has been boiled. (Rinsing should not be necessary.) Also sanitize priming container, siphon unit, stirring spoon and bottle caps. But do not heat the bottle caps, as this may ruin the gaskets or tarnish them. Boil 3/4 cup of corn sugar or 1 and 1/4 cup Dry Malt Extract in some water and let it cool. Here are two methods of Priming: 1. Pour this into the sanitized Bottling Bucket. Using your sanitized siphon unit transfer the beer into the sanitized bottling bucket. Place the outlet beneath the surface of the priming solution. Do not allow the beer to splash as you don't want to add oxygen to your beer at this point. Keep the intake end of the racking tube an inch off the bottom of the fermenter to leave the yeast and sediment behind. See Note on Siphoning. 2. Opening the fermenter, gently pour the priming solution into the beer. Stir the beer gently with the sanitized paddle, trying to mix it in evenly while being careful not to stir up the sediment. Wait a half hour for the sediment to settle back down and to allow more diffusion of the priming solution to take place. Then siphon to your bottles. Note on Siphoning: Do not suck on the hose to start the siphon. This will contaminate the hose with Lacto Bacillus bacteria from your mouth. Fill the hose with sanitizing solution prior to putting it into the beer. Keep the end pinched or otherwise closed to prevent the solution from draining out. Place the outlet into another container and release the flow; the draining solution will start the siphon. Once the siphon is started, transfer it to wherever. Some books recommend 1 tsp. sugar per bottle for priming. This is not recommended because it is time consuming and not precise. Bottles may carbonate unevenly and explode. Place the fill tube of the siphon unit or bottling bucket at the bottom of the bottle. Fill slowly at first to prevent gurgling and keep the fill tube below the waterline to prevent aeration. Fill to about 3/4 inch from the top of the bottles. Place a sanitized cap on the bottle and cap. Inspect every bottle to make sure the cap is secure. Age the capped bottles at room temperature for two weeks, out of direct sunlight. Aging up to two months will improve the flavor considerably, but one week will do the job of carbonation for the impatient. It is not necessary to store the beer cool, room temperature is fine. It will keep for several months. When cooled prior to serving, some batches will exhibit chill haze. It is caused by proteins left over from the initial cold break. It is nothing to worry about.

Some Things to Watch out for:

Contamination of beer can happen at any stage of the brewing process. Some are not readily apparent. But any problem that can be easily drank will not cause physical harm. A few infections that may cause severe gastric distress will first be noted by their appalling smell. Here are some warning signs:

  1. Mold floating on top of the fermenting beer. Toss it.
  2. The beer has slimy strands in it. This is a sure sign of Lacto infection. Toss it.
  3. The bottled beer has a milky layer at the top and/or small residue bumps clinging to the sides of the bottle neck in the airspace. This is a micro-derm infection. The beer will smell rotten and taste nasty. Do not confuse this with the dew that condenses near the bottle cap; the dew is normal. Also, Priming with DME will leave a protein ring around the top of the bottle, just like what is left on the sides of the fermenter. This is also normal.
  4. The bottled beer has a very sweet smell, like molasses. This is a sign of an Aceto (acetic) infection. The beer is on its way to turning into malt vinegar. Malt vinegar is good, but not what was intended.
  5. The bottled beers are getting worse with time, a stale, cardboard-like or sherry-like flavor is becoming noticeable. This is a symptom of oxidation. Drink the beers sooner and try to avoid splashing the hot wort next time.
  6. A skunk-like or cat-musk smell. The beer is light struck. Always store beer in a dark or shaded area.

Recommended Reading:

The magazine for the Homebrewer. They also publish Special Issues which provide in-depth information on various subjects, including Hops, Malts, Styles, Equipment, etc.
Brewing Techniques
A magazine for more advanced home and microbrewing. It explores the science of Brewing.
The HomeBrew Digest
the computer zine available online by sending the word SUBSCRIBE to It is worth its weight in platinum.
Homebrew FAQ
FTP from
Yeast FAQ
FTP from
Hops FAQ
FTP from
The Complete Handbook of Homebrewing by Dave Miller
A great book for all the basics, highly recommended for beginning and intermediate brewers.
Brewing the Worlds Great Beers, Dave Miller
Another good book which explores the basics of beer making in a simpler approach than his Handbook.
Brewing Lager Beer by Greg Noonan
A more technical book for the Lager brewer who wants to know Why. He covers the lager brewing processes in-depth.
The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian
Not as recommended for beginning brewers because it contains some poor practices (like pouring Hot wort into cold water). Good info in the later pages, though applicable to more experienced brewers who know what to look for.
Principles of Brewing Science by George Fix
Explains the fundamentals of biochemistry involved in Fermentation. A great book to really understand the brewing process.
Essentials of Beer Style by Fred Eckhardt
A good book for targeting beer styles, provides information that can be used for formulating your own recipes for commercial beers.
The Pocket Guide to Beer by Micheal Jackson
The most complete book of all the worlds beers and styles. The beers of each country/brewery are rated to a 4 star system. A must for beer connoisseurs.
Using Hops by Mark Garetz
A good reference book for the different Hop varieties and their usages. Provides a more complete discussion of Hop Utilization and Bittering than can be found in other current publications.

This document is intended to be distributed freely and may be copied for personal use. Copyright © 1994 by John J. Palmer All Rights Reserved.