Editor’s note: The following is a set of instructions given to me when I first purchased a beginner homebrewing kit from Hop & Vine in Morristown, New Jersey. I still consider myself a beginner when it comes to homebrewing, and these instructions have not steered me wrong yet. Sadly, Hop & Vine went out of business some years ago. I hope these instructions help you as much as they’ve helped me.
Includes everything you need to make your first batch of brew, except bottles. Below is a complete list of everything included in the kit. Each batch makes 2 cases (48 bottles). After the initial setup costs, the ingredients for each subsequent batch run approximately $25 or $0.50 per beer.
- 2 fermenters (6 gal., 5 gal.)
- 1 lid
- racking tube
- brewing spoon
- airlock & stopper
- siphon tube and clamp
- bottle filler
- jet washer w/adapter
- capper and 144 bottle caps
- One Step sanitizer
- any prepared malt extract kit w/2-3 lbs plain extract
Hop & Vine cares about helping you make the best beer possible, while minimizing first time confusion. So we’ve tried to remove some of the more time consuming trial & error, leaving you time to experiment where it really counts, with flavor. As you’ll see, making your own beer is fun and rewarding, so read this before you start, and then have fun!
All the malt extract kits come with their own set of instructions. Some recommend one-stage fermentation (fermenting in the pail and bottling right away), and others recommend that you don’t boil your beer. You can make passable beer by following the package instructions, but if you follow our instructions consistently, you’ll make excellent beer every time.
Sanitizing your equipment is the most important part of successful homebrewing. There are many proprietary products on the market designed specifically for this purpose, like One-Step (environmentally friendly), Chempro, and iodophor. In addition, you can safely use chlorine bleach (1 tbsp per 5 gallons water), but you must rinse everything until you can’t smell the bleach anymore because chlorine is toxic to yeast.
There are lots of methods for sanitizing your equipment. Some people fill the primary fermenter (large plastic pail) with the sanitizing solution and let the equipment soak while they attend to other things, and some people sanitize their equipment pieces individually from a bottle of prepared solution. With practice, you’ll find the best method to suit your own style of homebrewing.
- Sanitize every piece of equipment that has the potential to come in contact with the beer.
- Equipment should have a minimum 10 minute contact time with the sanitizing solution.
- After sanitizing, rinse well with cold water. (One Step doesn’t require rinsing, but it couldn’t hurt)
- You should rinse immediately before beer comes into contact with equipment.
At first, the sanitizing procedure may seem tedious. But once you establish a routine, it will become second nature, and the excellent beer you make will be worth it. I’ve discovered that jet bottle washers, aviators, and bottle drainers save you a tremendous amount of time and sanity. Just say the word, and we’ll demonstrate them for you. (Ed.: They were great that way.)
2. Boil Your Wort (unfermented beer)
In a medium-sized saucepan, boil a few cups of water, then turn off the heat after the boil begins. Remove the label on your can of malt extract, and place the can in the pot of hot water for 20 minutes to soften.
While the extract is softening, in a large pot bring as much water to a boil as you can comfortably fit (minimum amount of water to boil = 2.5 gallons). The pot can be made of any material, except cast iron.
If you are flavoring/coloring your beer with crushed grains, put the grains in a sparging bag and soak in the wort pot as the water is heating. Remove the grains before the water boils, or you will release tannins which can make your beer too harsh.
After the water boils, and while stirring constantly, add the contents of the can of malt extract and the
prepacked bag of dry malt. We may have given you two cans instead, don’t worry. What you need is between 6 & 7
lbs of malt extract, liquid or dry. If you’ve got a large bag of dry malt, reserve 1 ¼ cup for bottling later, otherwise we’ve given you a small bag of dextrose (corn sugar) to be saved for bottling.
Boil the wort (pronounced “wert”) for 1 hour. This is done to help coagulate soluble proteins that can make your beer cloudy, and to ensure that the hops are fully incorporated. Make sure you stir often during the boil and watch the pot carefully, it can boil over unexpectedly. If you are adding bittering hops, stir them in near the beginning of the boil. You may also add hops during the boil for different flavoring and aroma effects. Follow instructions on each pkg.
What You’ll Need to Start
While your wort is boiling, you need to sanitize the equipment you’ll be using for primary fermentation:
- primary fermenter and lid (large bucket)
- small measuring cup
- brewer’s spoon
- floating thermometer
Rinse all equipment well and put aside. A convenient way to keep everything clean while you’re waiting to use it is to invert the sanitized pail lid clean side up and place all the clean pieces on top.
3. Cooling the Wort
After the wort is finished boiling, cover the pot loosely, and immerse in a bath of cold water (ice water if possible) in your sink (laundry sinks are ideal for this). Let it sit for about 10-25 minutes, as it gradually cools. A good target temperature to shoot for at this point is 90°F. Use the sanitized thermometer to measure the temperature of the cooling wort. Remember, you’ll be diluting with cold water to reach a total volume of 5 gallons, so the water will finish the cooling process. When you’re ready to add more equipment, we carry immersion wort chillers to quickly cool your wort and achieve better beer clarity.
While the wort is cooling, rehydrate yeast in ¼ cup boiled and cooled (80°F) water with 1 tsp cooled wort in a covered and sanitized bowl for 15 minutes. (You can sanitize the bowl by dunking it in the boiling wort with tongs, and it’s a good idea to cover the bowl with tin foil or a ziplock bag while the yeast is in it.)
Pour the cooled wort into the sanitized large primary fermenter. Next add enough cold water to the fermenter to equal a total volume of 5 gallons (up to the bottom ring on your 6.5 gal bucket). Stir the mixture well using the sanitized brewing spoon. Take a sample using the sanitized measuring cup and put aside. Place your sanitized thermometer in the fermenter and take a temperature reading of the wort.
If the wort is below 80 degrees F, you’re ready to pitch the yeast. If it’s still too hot, cover it and let it cool. When cool, vigorously stir the wort again using the sanitized brewing spoon (this is important for proper yeast growth), then pour the yeast on top. Cover the fermenter tightly with the lid provided. You may have to put all your weight onto one side of the lid rim to force the lid to lock onto the bucket. A tight fit is very important to avoid invasion by wild yeasts. Half fill the airlock with water, attach it to the stopper, and insert into lid. Place your fermenter in a dark, out of the way place, and maintain a room temperature of 60-75 degrees F. You should notice gentle bubbling in the airlock within 24 hours. Fermentation will last anywhere from 1 ½ days to 4 days. Many factors affect the length of fermentation. If you see activity in the airlock, don’t worry about the length of your fermentation.
Measuring specific gravity before and after fermentation allows you to determine the alcohol content of your beer, and make sure fermentation is finished. To take a proper reading, pour the sample that you put aside in the measuring cup’ into the hydrometer test jar (tube with hydrometer), filling it to the top (you should do this over the’ sink). Then drop the, hydrometer into the test jar. Some wort will spill ever the sides. Read the Specific Gravity scale by looking from the tube rim across to the hydrometer. Record the reading and tape it to your fermenter (or put it someplace obvious). Don’t take the reading while the wort is hot, you’ll shatter the hydrometer.
5. Secondary Fermentation/Aging
After one week in the primary, transfer the beer to the second fermenter by siphoning gently. Before siphoning, sanitize and carefully rinse siphon tubing and the racking tube. To start the siphon, connect the flexible tubing to the racking tube, and place the clamp at the end of the tubing. Fill the siphon setup with water, and while the water is still running into the tube, slowly clamp it off. If done properly, the water will remain in the tubing setup. This is a good thing to practice before you actually have to do it (it’s the hardest part of homebrewing). Now simply place the racking tube end into the beer filled primary fermenter, and release the clamp. Drain the water into the sink until you see the beer coming out. Clamp it off and begin filling the second fermenter. When transferring place the hose end at the bottom of the secondary, to minimize the amount of oxygen added during transfer. Gently siphon the beer, leaving behind as much sediment as possible. (If your primary has a spigot, attach hose and drain gently.)
After the beer has been transferred, carefully rinse the lid, add fresh water to the airlock and affix to the fermenter (or if you have a carboy, just rinse the stopper and airlock). You probably won’t see further action in the airlock.
Now let the beer stand for another week (you can age it as long as a month if you wish, it only improves the beer). The main benefits of aging are: (1) you end up with much less sediment in the finished product, and (2) many volatile flavor compounds have a chance to escape. The main drawback of a long aging is that your beer may carbonate a little more slowly, but it’s worth it!
After 1 week in the secondary (or as long as you want to age it), carefully take another sample using sanitized equipment. Take a hydrometer reading as before, and record it next to the first reading. Continue to take samples and readings every day until the readings remain unchanged for at least 2 days. This is your signal that fermentation is finished. At this point the beer should also he reasonably clear. Now it’s time to bottle!
There are several good sources for bottles. The best is simply collecting and saving your own. Friends can also be a good source for left over bottles – especially in exchange for beer! The best bottles are amber/brown for light protection, and non-twist off (these accept caps better). Of course, Hop & Vine has glass bottles available, both 12 oz, 22 oz, and “Grolsch” type. Our beginner’s kit includes crown caps and a capper.
Gather and sanitize your bottles. If your bottles are free of sediments and molds, you can easily sanitize them in the dishwasher- just don’t use soap, and run it through the full heat cycle. If the bottles have junk in the bottom, use the bottle washer that comes with the kit to rinse them out. If you don’t have a dishwasher, you’ll find that an avinator comes in handy when sanitizing your bottles, and it will pay for itself over and over. You’ll need approximately 48 standard 12 oz bottles.
In order to carbonate your beer in the bottle, you’ll need to add back some fermentable sugars (corn sugar or dry malt extract). The best way to do this is to prime the beer in bulk. Dissolve ¾ cup corn sugar (dextrose) or 1 ¼ cups (dry malt) in 2 cups of water and boil for 5 minutes. While the sugar is boiling, count out 50 caps and boil those in enough water to cover for 5 minutes. Pour the sugar solution into the sanitized large bucket. Let the sugar cool.
Next, gently siphon the beer from the secondary fermenter back to the primary, on top of the sugar. The siphoning action will automatically blend the beer and sugar, so there’s no need to stir. Before siphoning, sanitize and carefully rinse siphon tubing and the racking tube.
After siphoning the beer in to the primary, start a new siphon. Once you’ve drained out the water in the siphon setup, clamp it off and attach the sanitized bottle filler. Release the clamp. The, bottle filler is now ready to use. Insert the filler into each bottle and apply downward pressure to start flow. Fill to within 1 inch of the top, capping each bottle as it is filled. Store your bottled beer at room temperature for 5-7 days before moving it to a cooler area (65°F). Don’t refrigerate until you’re ready to drink it. (If your primary has a spigot, attach hose to spigot then attach filler to end of hose. Open spigot and fill bottles.)
When is it ready?
You can drink your beer 2-3 weeks after bottling, but if you hold off, it will only taste better. Try a bottle every few days and notice the differences as it matures. Let us know how it turned out and don’t hesitate to call if you have questions. (Ed. Telephone number removed to protect whomever might have it now.)