The beginner's guide to advanced and all-grain brewing

By Rich Webb, Brews Brotherstm 1993 Homebrewer of the year

Equipment | The Mash | Water | The Boil | Hops | Yeast | Mystery Ingredients

The purpose of this guide is to give you the brewer all the information you need to strike off into unknown territory, to help you become the ultimate brewing god. In it, I will try to communicate my brewing philosophy and techniques. In short, I will teach you the summation of everything I know about brewing and life!

Zymurgy (pronounced Zi-mer-gee, with the i pronounced like 'eye') is the study of living, organic chemistry. It seeks to use and manipulate chemical compounds (such as salts and sugars), living organisms (yeast), and a universal solvent (water!) to create a pleasant tasting, psychoactive substance called alcohol. Alcohol is a drug, similar to many other drugs that every culture known to man has used to expand the consciousness, commune with the gods, or just to catch a buzz. Alcohol in general, and beer in particular, may have been the driving force behind the eventual civilizing of the beast, man. After all, without fermentables, there is no alcohol, and without cultivation, and therefore civilization, there are precious few fermentables. Some societies come by their alcohol requirements the hard way, doing all kinds of mean, nasty, stupid things to make it. In modern times, and with modern methods, you and I can drink like kings, if not like gods.

The word alcohol describes a range of molecules, formed from carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms. These molecules are formed by the metabolization of certain sugars by living organisms, called yeast, leaving roughly equal parts alcohol and carbon dioxide as a by-product. We use this special ability of the yeast to make various types of beverages which include alcohol.


1 All grain brewing: What new equipment do I need?

1.1 Boiling pots

The process for all grain brewing is actually pretty easy. If you are an extract brewer now, you probably have the beginnings of an equipment pile already. An extract brewer can get away with a three or four gallon boiling container, but this is just a spittoon to serious all grain brewers. The first thing that you need for all grain brewing is a larger boiler. All grain brewing typically produces a gallon of water for every three or four pounds of grain, and it doesn't take much grain before the volumes of water begin to strain that old coffee cup of a boiler. My first bit of advice is to invest in a large boiler, the bigger the better, with a minimum of seven gallons is best. You may find yourself outgrowing even that size of boiler as your brewing plans become more ambitious, so consider getting an even bigger pot to start with. Stainless steel pots are ideal for brewing, but they can be a bit pricy. My first big boiler was an aluminum stock pot, coming to the scale at around eight gallons, but I wasn't very happy with it. The aluminum scratched easily, and stained too readily. Cleaning it up took up layers of the bottom, and fears of excessive intake of molecular aluminum led to the eventual discarding of the pot. If you do use aluminum, do not use it to store wort for very long. The acidity of wort often dissolves the aluminum, leading to discoloration or worse. An alternative to stainless steel is enameled steel. This is made by heating a glaze onto the surface of a cheaper type of steel kettle. This can work for you, but remember that any chip in the enamel that exposes the underlying steel will allow that steel to begin rusting. My advice? Find a used stainless steel mega-pot and use it until you feel the need to upgrade.

1.2 Cooling systems

Your old small boiler may have fit just fine in a sink filled with cold water and ice for cooling the wort after boiling, but your bigger boiler will never fit. If you don't have one already, invest in a wort chiller/heat exchanger of some sort, or better yet, learn to make your own. They are frightfully easy to make, and if you can get other people interested, you can sell wort chillers that you've made to them. I prefer the copper coil immersion wort chillers myself. As the hot wort is cooled rapidly, proteinaceous matter (also called floating junk) condenses and precipitates out of solution. An immersion type chiller allows this stuff to settle out to the bottom of the boiling pot before it is transferred to the fermentation containers. If you get really creative, you can build a couple of wort chillers and chain them together, with the first chiller immersed in a bath of ice water, pre-cooling the water before it seeks to chill your hot wort. Immersion chillers are best kept clean prior to use, and are sanitized by placing into the wort while it is still hot. If there is any water inside the chiller, especially if there are also air bubbles inside, the heat from the kettle will force the water out of the chiller. Watch your shoes! Another type of chiller is called a counter-flow chiller. This tube inside a tube system allows the draining of hot wort through a copper tube whose outside is being cooled by water. The picture formed is the opposite of the immersion chiller where the wort is on the outside of the tube, with coolant water flowing through the tubing. The counter-flow chiller has the advantage of siphoning the wort from the boiling container into a fermenter at the same time as it is being cooled, saving a step of transfer later on. This idea is seductive, especially if you have no better way to transfer cool wort to the fermenters in the first place. The use and care of the counter-flow chiller is a little more involved than the immersion chiller. Because the counter-flow chiller is much more efficient at cooling the wort flowing through it, the proteinaceous matter that precipitates out of solution tends to stick to the sides of the tube. Care must be taken to completely flush this matter out of the tube prior to the next use. Failure to do so will ensure that your next batch of wort will be contaminated by nasty beasties growing in your chiller between batches. Proper cleaning of the chiller involves back flushing the tube with a series of nasty chemical baths which themselves leave residue which may taint future batches! I guess you can tell which kind of chiller system I prefer. The system you pick depends on what your priorities are. You can choose high efficiency, balanced against the need for intensive cleaning protocol, or you can accept a lower efficiency, easier cleaning system. In either case, pick a system that works for you and your brewing system.

1.3 Mashing and Lautering

A tun is a container that is used to maintain certain environmental conditions while the malt sugar is being created. The mash tun holds the grain in a soup of water and sugar during this process. A lauter tun allows the liquid surrounding the grains to be drained off, while allowing more rinsing water (the sparge) to be run through the grains, allowing even further sugar extraction. One attribute of a good mash tun is the ability to allow liquid to flow easily through a straining system incorporated in the tun. An example of this kind of mash tun involves a bucket with some sort of false bottom inside of another bucket. This sieve design allows the grains to form a filter bed while allowing the sweet liquor to flow through the false bottom strainer. I tried this system, but I wasn't very happy with it. The sieve design took forever to make, and the whole thing suffered a major flaw in temperature control. Another of the attributes of a good tun is the ability to maintain a steady temperature, and the un-insulated bucket system just falls short. The most versatile tun that I've found is made from a large picnic cooler, with straining filters placed in the bottom to let the liquified sugars pass through while restraining the spent grains. This set up combines the best attributes of the mash and lauter tuns into a single device, saving money, process steps, and a mess on the kitchen floor. (Another reason I do my mashing in the garage...) My tun system incorporates a series of PVC pipe sections into which slits have been sawn. These sections are joined with PVC elbow, Tee and X sections to form a sieve type filter. The original design had a lot of joining sections, with poles of PVC pipe jutting into the bottom of the grain bed. This unwieldy structure was connected to the cooler drain spout, which allows the liquid to be drained out. A small rubber stopper fits over the spout, and a valve in the other end of the stopper allows the control of liquid flow from the tun. My latest design of the sieve is a very simple one. Instead of a trident design of pipes all along the bottom of the tun, I now use two four inch sections of slotted pipe, joined at the center with a PVC Tee section. End caps keep the grain out of the ends of the plastic pipes, and the outlet from the Tee section is connected to the cooler's outlet. Not only is this design simpler, but it is also harder to dislodge from the outlet. The smaller number of slits gives a longer sparge time, which increases the sugar extraction rate. If one of your goals is to maximize the amount of sugar that you can create from your grains (the ones that you've spent good money for!), then you need to know about sparging. In this example, sparging is the running of hot water through the hot grains to dissolve the last bits of sugar from the mash. This is best done gently and slowly. If the water is flushing through the grain, pathways of water are formed, channeling the water around, and not through the grains. Hot water is used, but the temperature of the grains should never exceed 170 degrees Fahrenheit, as this would leech out harsh bitter oils from the grain husks. And the quantity of water must be such that after a sixty minute boil, the amount of wort called for in your recipe is the amount you wind up with. If you do make an error, it's probably better to wind up with too little liquor after the boil, because it's relatively easy to add sanitized water to the fermenter, while any excess liquor is subject to contamination as it is stored. The important points to remember are 1) gentle sparging, 2) temperature control, and 3) try to get the quantities right! When creating such a tun and filter system, there are some points that you should keep in mind. The size of the tun determines the amount of grain you can mash, and if your tun is too small, you will be restricted to making light and wimpy beers, because you simply have no room to mash larger amounts of grain. When buying a cooler to make into a tun, get one with a drain system already in place. Drilling your own hole is a gateway to frustration. Finally, use high temperature PVC pipe for your filtering system. The maximum temperature required in a tun is about 170 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature sufficient to melt many thinner grades of pipe. The pipes won't become liquid at that temperature, but they will warp, allowing grain to enter the sieve, plugging up your system. You haven't lived until you have to spoon 25 or more pounds of grain into a straining bag because your filtering system has failed.

The Mash:

2 Sugars, Extracts and adjuncts

Brewing requires sugar to use as food for the yeast beasties. In ancient times, the only source of sugar readily available was to be found in the hives of bees. Honey, exposed to rain water in the trunks of trees where bees had built their hives, might have been spontaneously fermented by "wild" yeasts, and likely would have yielded mankind's first experience with the joys of alcohol. Today, we seek to make something a little more palatable. Sugars come to us from a variety of sources. In modern times, the most common form of sugar is made from distilling the sweet sap of certain plants, such as sugar cane, or sugar beets. This sugar, called sucrose, is white and granular in it's purest form, and is most suitable for putting on your corn flakes. Speaking of corn, the most easily fermentable type of sugar comes from corn. This sugar, called dextrose, is light and powdery. But each of these sugars come from giant processing plants, a process far removed from what we as brewers can come by on our own. Let us first deal with sugars that we can create ourselves.

2.1 All grain brewing: Where does the sugar come from?

Anything with the right kind of sugar can be fermented, and most any kind of starch can be converted to the right kind of sugar. Fermentable sugars used in beer have traditionally been made from barley, a seed grain which has little use outside of brewing, but any kind of seed grain can be used to make fermentable sugars. The body of a seed contains mostly starch. When a seed is planted, special chemical compounds, called enzymes, convert the starch, which the embryo inside the seed cannot use, into special sugars, which the embryo consumes in it's early stages of growth. (The yolk of an egg performs roughly the same function for chickens, but we mostly don't try to ferment poultry...) We go out of our way to collect special seeds that have shown that they are especially well suited for supplying us with fermentable sugars. We then encourage (some say trick) the seeds into converting this starch into sugar by controlling certain temperature, moisture, and other environmental needs. This process is begun at the great malting houses, and, in my case at least, is completed in my garage. Warmer temperatures (over 153 degrees Fahrenheit or so) encourage the type of enzymes, called alpha enzymes, that convert long chains of starches into medium length chains of sugars, called dextrins, which don't ferment very well, but are necessary for a well made beer. Temperatures below that encourage the beta enzymes, which convert the chains of dextrins into fermentable sugars. In order to get a good balance of fermentable and non-fermentable sugars, we seek to achieve a balance of temperature of around 150-153 degrees Fahrenheit.

The process by which seeds are made ready for brewing is called malting. When the seeds are bathed in warm water under conditions of continual aeration, they begin to germinate. This germination is interrupted by the maltster, who dries and sometimes roasts the partially germinated seeds. It is this drying and roasting process that determines the ultimate color of the malt sugars extracted from the malt. Barley that is taken farther along in this malting process is called well-modified malt. Historically, this type of malt has lent itself to English style ales. When you buy ale or pale ale malt from your friendly neighborhood brewery supply store, you are buying well-modified malt. Other types of malt, referred to as under-modified, or lager malt, are of course, less well modified. This means that the malting process has not proceeded along as far as is the case with the well-modified malts. If you desire to get the maximum amount of extract/sugar from your malts, you need to know how to treat these two kinds of malt. Otherwise you're throwing money into the compost pile in the form of starch and sugar that you've neglected to remove from the malt.

While we call these malts ale malt and lager malt, these terms are pretty much subjective. There is nothing to stop you from using an ale malt with lager yeast, or vice-versa. For all intents and purposes, the only difference in the malts is the method best used to get the maximum amount of sugar from the grain. Because the sugar in the well-modified malt is readily available to us, we can extract the maximum amount of sugar by a process called single step infusion mashing. Hot water at approximately 165 degrees is placed into the picnic cooler mash tun, and allowed to sit. This is necessary to heat the interior of the tun, allowing a constant and uniform temperature to be achieved. After the temperature settles, the grain is poured on top of the water and thoroughly mixed in. The starch tends to settle to the bottom of the tun where it is converted to sugar and drained away. The grain husks, which tend to float away, will then settle to the bottom of the tun, forming a filter bed to work in conjunction with the filtering properties of the slotted PVC pipe. A constant temperature of about 150-155 degrees is maintained for about 90 minutes, or until the starch has been completely converted to sugar. This conversion of starch to sugar is called saccharification. Some of the hot, sugary liquid is drained away, while more hot water is added to the tun until the temperature of the grains is about 170 degrees. This temperature is maintained for five to ten minutes, which allows the sugar created during saccharification to be readily dissolved. The liquid sugar soup is then partially drained away, while new water is allowed to flow through the grains. This sparge water should be no warmer than 170 degrees, as water hotter than that will leech out bitter oils and resins from the grains, potentially ruining an otherwise perfect batch of beer.

One problem with single step infusion mashing is that the initial temperature of the grains is very hard to control. If the water is too hot when the grains are added (the strike temperature), then the enzymes in the grains can be killed, and an insufficient sugar yield will result. If the temperature is too low, then it will have to be raised, especially for beer styles that call for rich, thick, and full bodied beers. The temperature can be raised in a couple of ways. First, hot water can simply be added to the mash. This works up to a point, but it has a certain drawback. The enzymes are more likely to survive the high temperatures of the mash in a relatively thick grain bed. Adding hot water only serves to dilute the grain bed, resulting in a loss of enzymes. The other method of introducing heat to the mash is to remove some of the grain, boil them, and then return them to the mash. This process is called decoction mashing, and is one technique used in program temperature mashing. This process, most commonly used with lager, or less-modified malt, is similar to single step infusion mashing, yet different. Because the malt is less well modified, there are proteins that remain in the starch which must be dealt with. Instead of placing the grains into a liquid bath at a single, high temperature, the grains are introduced at a lower temperature, and the temperature in the tun or kettle is slowly increased. As in the single step infusion mash, the hot water is placed in the tun, the temperature inside the tun is allowed to stabilize, and the grain is poured into the water and thoroughly mixed. The main difference here is that the temperature to be achieved initially is closer to 122 degrees Fahrenheit or less, as opposed to over 150 degrees as described in the previous method. After a short rest at this temperature, heat is added to the tun, and the mashing temperature is allowed to rise. Again the ultimate goal here is a temperature of about 150-155 degrees.

There are several methods for adding heat energy to the mash tun. One way that I've tried is by inserting a water heater heating element into the grain mash. This can work, but constant stirring is required in order to evenly distribute the heat throughout the tun. Too high a heat in any one place will scorch the grain, and can leech out the oils and resins that I mentioned earlier. Program temperature mashing also lends itself to heating in a kettle on the stove. Constant stirring keeps the temperature at the bottom of the kettle from rising too high, or from being heated more than the grain near the top of the kettle. At the end of the process, the grains need to be placed into some sort of lauter tun in order to sparge the grains of the hot, soluble sugar. I've also heard about people injecting steam into their tuns to put heat energy into the grains. But the most traditional way of gradual heating lends itself to the use of picnic cooler mash/lauter tuns. Using such a tun, some of the grain slurry is removed from the mash tun and boiled independently from the rest of the mash. As mentioned earlier, this technique, called decoction mashing, is well suited to the picnic cooler mash tun, but it can be tricky. Care must be taken not to extract, heat, and return too much of the slurry at one time, lest the temperature inside the mash tun become too great. It takes a lot of heat added to the tun to increase the temperature significantly, so after a few small decoctions there is a temptation to remove the whole batch and boil it and return it to the tun. Try not to be too impatient...

A variation of the decoction technique is known as the recirculating infusion mash method. A pump that can handle hot liquids is used to pump the heated liquor from the boiling kettle back to the mash tun. The hot liquor is continually being drained from the tun into the kettle where it is heated, and is then pumped back to the tun, resulting in a gradual heating of the grains. Recirculating systems can get complicated, and the pumps aren't cheap, and there is one more piece of equipment which must be maintained and cleaned. When the homebrewer sits thinking great thoughts about the best brewing system possible, thoughts often turn to recirculating mash systems. There are lots of different kinds of malt and grains to be put in beer. I have included an >appendix to this document with a partial list of the most common types of malt. If you know of other malt types that should be added to this list, feel free to tell me about them!

2.2 Extracts

Commercial malt extracts are made in the same way as I have described above. However, the extract manufactures have taken the extra step of removing some or all of the water that the sugar is suspended in. Doing this requires a tremendous amount of energy, both in the heating of the extract, and in the vacuum process by which water is most economically removed. Furthermore, certain unscrupulous extract manufacturers have been suspected of substituting corn sugars and other cheaper sugar alternatives for malt sugar in order to increase profits on their products. All grain brewing allows you to be 100% sure about what goes into your pridefully crafted brews. There is nothing wrong or sinful about using malt extracts. There are many wonderful malt extract kits available in the market today. Extract brewers have taken many knocks concerning their "beginner" status. This is mere provincialism. The use of malt extracts allows the all-grain brewer to thicken up a batch of normally extracted sugars without the long term boiling that would otherwise be required to reduce the sugar solution to the higher gravities required for styles like bocks and barley wines.

2.3 Non-barley additives

Other substances, called adjuncts, can be added to the mash or kettle for a number of reasons. The most common adjunct, at least in British style brewing are various kinds of sugars. Because the malting of barley is so labor intensive, and therefore expensive, many types of sugars have been added to the boiling kettle to stretch out the mix. Along with the previously mentioned cane and corn sugars are the intermediate steps in the production of these sugars. Molasses results from the initial boiling of the sap of the sugar cane. Condensation of molasses gives a product called brewers licorice, which tastes very similar. Further refinement yields brown sugar, and finally cane sugar. Other type adjuncts are more commonly added to the mash tun, with the most commonly added grain being wheat. Wheat is hard to malt, because it lacks a protective husk around the grain. Wheat is also higher in proteinaceous material, which can lead to a particulate haze in the final brew. However, it is impossible to make a wheat beer without wheat, so one must use it to match a particular style. Also, the use of a little wheat in the mash can contribute to improved head retention, and so many of my recipes call for a pound or so of wheat in the grain bill. Other grains can be added to the mash, but are not always malted. Rice is often used to stretch out barley sugars. In fact, the big mega-breweries use a lot of rice (and corn) to make the beer that makes the money that powers the hydroplanes and dragsters that seem to be these companies main products. Rice is not malted, but must be boiled, prepared just like you were going to eat it, to soften up the starches inside the grain. If this is not done, the enzymes provided by the barley malt will not be able to gain access to the starch in the grain. Another method of making starch available to the enzymes is used with grains like rye, oats, and corn. These grains are crushed in special rollers, with the heat released by this operation serving to cook the grain. The crushing action also makes little grain bits out of big grain bits, making enzyme access that much easier. These grains, especially rye and oats, could also be boiled, but this would allow some nasty oils to be leeched out. What other kinds of starch can be used to make beer? Your imagination (and the trust of your friends) is all that stands between you and the next big micro-brewing revolution. If you can think of a starch, it can probably be mashed into your next brewing adventure. Many cultures make their own kind of beer without knowledge of barley, but other sources of converting enzymes must be found. Sake is a type of rice beer that uses only rice for starch and sugar. A special mold is added that releases the enzyme that is responsible for this transformation. Millet and other grains are used for many intoxicating native beverages. In many cultures, it is the women's job to masticate (or chew) the grains to make them soft. Their saliva contains the same enzyme that converts starch to sugar. (This is where the trust of your friends comes in. Maybe you don't want to tell them how you made the beer until after they've tried it...) For other sources of starch, the sky's the limit. Potatoes? Sure. Pumpkins? Why not. Peanuts? OK. Chickens? Well maybe not. The important thing is not to limit yourself to doing what everybody else does. You can't learn anything if you don't make mistakes.

3 Water


What we call water is actually a rather complicated molecule formed from hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The structure of this molecule gives it some rather unique and interesting chemical properties. For our purposes, the most interesting of these properties is the way that water acts as a universal solvent for stripping bits off of bigger chunks and suspending the bits in solution. This type of reaction happens at several stages in the brewing process, and it is useful to understand how to make this happen to your advantage.

3.1 Salts

Before you get the water from your tap, the most common form of substance suspended in your water are various types of salts. A salt is a molecule containing various elements or compounds, held together by a weak electric bond. In water, this bond is broken, allowing the salt to be dissolved and the component elements or molecules to be held in solution. The most well known salt, which is so famous that we just call it 'salt', is a compound called Sodium Chloride. It is easily dissolved in water, separating into it's constituent elements of Na (sodium) and Cl (chlorine). Other types of salts use chemical compounds to make up one or another of these pieces. Calcium Carbonate, which is popularly known as Chalk, uses a molecule with three oxygen atoms and a carbon atom to form a Carbonate group, which binds to a Calcium atom to form the salt. The salt known as Gypsum (or in some British brewing books as plaster of Paris) also contains one atom of Calcium, but instead of a Carbonate, it binds with a molecule formed from four atoms of oxygen and one of Sulphur, called a Sulfate. The last salt we brewers must be concerned with is known as an Epsom salt. It uses the same Sulfate group as Gypsum, but it joins with a Magnesium atom instead of a Sulphur atom. Water chemistry is as simple as that. You don't even have to know the names of the different components of the salts. But you do need to do a little bookkeeping if you wish to keep track of the amounts of the various salt constituents in your brew. This is what you need to know:

The abbreviation "ppm" stands for parts per million. It is a measure of how much of particulate matter is suspended in solution, whether it is salt in water or smog in air. It is often the desire of the brewer to match the mineral content of the world's great brewing centers in order to better match the world's great beers. This is because the source of water for say, Munich, is unique, due to the various rock and mineral formations that the ground water must flow through before it is used for brewing. Water is considered 'hard' if it has a large percentage of calcium and / or magnesium atoms dissolved it it. (The term 'hard' refers to the ability of soap to clean in the presence of mineralized water.) It is also important to know the maximum allowable amount of these various salt components. There are other sources to tell you the mineral content of Munich, or Burton-on-Trent, or wherever, and how many ppm of various salts are required to match the classic pale ale, but here is my bit of advice for you that I picked up: Do not exceed 200 ppm of Carbonate. Do not exceed 150 ppm of Sulfate. Now all you have to do is keep track of how many ppm of the various salt constituents to match the beer style you are trying to achieve. But there is another method for getting the minerals to match the style.

3.2 pH

pH is a measure of the acidity of a substance. There are no limits on the pH measurement scale, but because the scale is logarithmic (like the Richter scale for measuring earthquakes), a solution with a pH of 5 is ten times more acidic than a solution with a pH of 6, and a solution with a pH of 4 is ten times more acidic than a solution with a pH of 5. Pure distilled water forms the neutral point on this scale with a pH value of 7. Water that has been carbonated by dissolving carbon dioxide in it (forming a weak carbonic acid) has a lower pH, as does rain water, which absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (If the rain falls through pollution from car exhaust or encounters sulphur from steel mill or power plant smokestacks, the water becomes even more acidic, resulting in acid rain.) But there are better ways to manipulate the acid/alkali balance of water than carbonation or auto exhaust. Why do we worry about pH? Because the enzymes which convert grain starch to sugar work more efficiently in an environment with a pH value of about 5.2-5.4. Most grains, when suspended in water, tend to force the pH to a value near that range, but sometimes we need to intervene to create the optimal conditions. This is done by adding brewing salts. Why is Burton-on-Trent famous for its pale ales, while Munich is known for its darker beers? It's because of the brewing water's pH. OK, it's really from the dissolved minerals in the water, but that's what changes the water's pH. Lighter grains leave a higher pH in a solution of neutral water than darker, more acidic grains. Water that has a high concentration of Sulfates is lower in pH than neutral water. Put another way, water that is high in Sulfates is good for brewing pale grains in because the resulting pH allows the enzymes to work most efficiently. To sum up, adding Gypsum lowers pH, while adding Chalk raises pH. Burton-on-Trent water is high in Sulfates (just like adding lots of Gypsum), and thus lends itself to the making of pale ales. (This water also accentuates the bitterness of hops, and therefore is useful for making very hoppy beers.) Darker grains, and thus darker beers, are made where the water is high in carbonates. So all of the arguments about matching water to your favorite brewing locale pretty much boils down to getting the right pH balance for the type of grains that you want to use. By the way, if you're putting your spent grains into a compost pile, be sure to add limestone or other "sweetening" agent to the pile. The acidity of the grains will create compost that is too acidic for most plants. One more word about salts and pH. Chalk does not readily dissolve in neutral water. It needs a slightly acidic environment to be suspended in (such as grains in water in your mash tun). Limestone is also chalk, formed into ancient geology from the shells of marine animals which sank to the bottom of the sea when the critters died. Over the millennia, these shells were heated and compressed, forming into hard rock formations. The white cliffs of Dover are just such a geologic structure. Water flowing through these structures can dissolve channels through the rock, leading to long caves that follow the meandering of the river channel that carved it. Water dripping from the tops of these caves leave a little bit of limestone with each drip, resulting in a stalactite hanging from the ceiling, while the water dripping to the floor of the cave piles up the limestone, resulting in stalagmites reaching up from the floor. These caves form natural reservoirs which city folk use to collect highly mineralized water, all the better to make dark beers with!

3.3 Tap Water

Because water is such a good solvent, there are often things dissolved in it that don't necessarily make for good beer. I was pleased to read a test survey from my local water district that reported no detectable sources of radioactivity were found in my water. Imagine my relief. However, there are other things in my water that I wish weren't there. Chlorine Chlorine is used in minute amounts to neutralize any organic matter that may have leached into the water source. Water that has been in contact with chlorine for a while, such as that found in your hot water tank, can be considered fairly clean of contaminants. Chlorine should be boiled away before it causes off-flavors in the beer, but who has the time? If you're worried about off-flavors from chlorine, boil your water before you use it for mashing. Otherwise, don't sweat it. Fluoride Fluoride is added to the water to strengthen the forming teeth of young people. It is not a communist plot for world domination as the John Birchers would have us believe. I have not heard of fluoride becoming a problem for brewers. Contaminants This is the everything else category. Some wells have a high concentration of iron is the water, and this can ruin a beer. Run-off from pastures soaks into the ground and into the water supply. Excess pesticides and fertilizers do the same. Oil that is not recycled, gas that spills from a siphon, intentional spills and discharges threaten our health, as well as the quality of the beer that we make. This is where each of us, as stewards of the planet, can do our part to ensure healthy supplies of water for us and for our descendants. And for our beer.

3.4 Other compounds in solution

Beer is a fascinating collection of chemical compounds all suspended in water. Pure water has a density equal to 1.000. Anything added to that changes the density. The specific gravity and the Balling scale are measures of the amount of suspended particles. Before the invention of these scales, the amount of sugar in a particular batch was a guess at best. One old method of dissolved sugar determination involved an inspector with special leather pants. A bit of beer wort was poured onto a wooden chair, which the inspector then sat on. If, after drying, the chair stuck to the inspectors butt, the amount of sugar dissolved in the wort was deemed sufficient. But we have inexpensive instruments that can measure dissolved sugars a lot easier than that. Get yourself a Hydrometer. It is the single most important tool in your equipment kit. And it's a lot easier on your chairs.

Water and alcohol mix very easily together, but they don't have the same weight. One gallon of water and one gallon of alcohol yields a mixture of 50% alcohol by volume, or 100 proof, but there is now less than two gallons of mix. This is because the alcohol molecules fit rather cozily in between the water molecules, physically taking up less space. By definition, water has a density of 1.000 gm/cc, and ethyl alcohol has a density of 0.789 gm/cc. Thus our intoxicating mixture of alcohol and water would have a specific gravity or density of 0.7939, giving about 44% percent alcohol by weight, but still 50% by volume. This is why the question of percent alcohol by weight or volume must be addressed whenever comparing the alcoholic strength of a brew.

One last mention about living chemistry. The enzymes that promote fermentable sugars are very temperature sensitive. Our compromise temperature of 150-153 degrees Fahrenheit is almost too much for the little compounds to stand. For some reason, the use of one gallon of water for every three or four pounds of grain for the initial mash enables the enzymes to survive and work more efficiently than either a thicker or thinner grain soup. Not that I'm trying to encourage high alcohol beers. Instead, I'm trying to help you get the most sugar, fermentable or not, from the starch that you've purchased from your friendly neighborhood homebrew supply store.

The Boil:

You've finally finished draining and sparging the grains in your mash tun. Now what? From here on out, the procedure is similar to the techniques that you use for extract brewing. But here are some tips that maybe you didn't know. When you are draining the rather warm sugar liquor from your tun into the boiling kettle, don't let the liquid fall too far, or splash up too much. This leads to what is called hot-side aeration, and can lead to some funny aftertastes. Rather unpleasant aftertastes. You should bring the wort to a full and rolling boil before you add any hops, waiting until after the foam, or hot-break, dissolves back into solution. There are important chemical reactions taking place in the wort even then. The foam consists of proteinaceous matter that you want to coagulate out of the final beer. Of course, if you want a thick, full bodied beer (nutritious, as the Brits would say), then a long boil, over 90 minutes, will encourage the protein to re-dissolve back into the wort. But there are plenty of non-fermentable sugars in the liquor now, especially if your mash was held at temperatures above 155 degrees or so. This long boil will also make the finished beer darker, due to caramelization and other chemical reactions taking place over time. If you are seeking to keep the beer nice and light, mash at lower temperatures, and only boil for an hour or so.


All right you hop-heads, listen up. Be careful with these things! When you were using malt extract to make your beers, those small boiling pots made for a denser liquid than you will be using in all-grain. Consequently, the extraction, or utilization of the hop acids will be greater. The effect that hops will have on this thinner, boiled beer is going to be more pronounced - particularly if you add Gypsum, which further accentuates the hops. If you don't do your calculations very carefully, you'll be scraping bitter hop resin off of your teeth long into the evening.

Here's one method for calculating hop bitterness in beer. There are as many methods for making this calculation as there are brewers, but this one has the advantage of being simple to use, and reasonably accurate:

Determine the gravity of the boil (GB).

If GB is less than 1.050, then the gravity adjustment (GA) equals zero. If GB is greater than 1.050, an adjustment should be made to the achieved hop bitterness.

If GB is greater than 1.050, then GA = ((GB) - 1.050)/ 0.2

To determine the IBU bitterness based upon the added hops and boiling time, use this handy formula. (percents expressed as decimal equivalents, 8% =0.08) This is good for boils up to 60 minutes long, after which the minutes of boil isn't changed.

IBU = (Weightoz * (minutes of boil/200) * (%Acid/100) * 7462)/(Volumegal * (1 + GA))

To determine the amount of hops of a certain alpha acid needed to match a particular bitterness level, use this formula:

Weightoz = (Volumegal * (1 + GA) * IBU)/((minutes of boil/200) * (%Acid/100) * 7462)

This chart of my own construction shows the IBUs necessary to achieve one definition of "balanced" hop bitterness, based on the original gravity of the wort:

4.1 Early Additions

Early hop additions add more bitterness than later hop additions. Using more hops adds more bitterness than using fewer hops. And using hops with a higher alpha acid percentage makes for more bitterness added than when using hops with a lower alpha acid percentage. Hopefully this is obvious to you. What you may not know is that winding up with 6 gallons of wort leaves your beer almost 17% less bitter than you would have if you gotten the 5 gallons that you planned for. (This is also true of the color of the beer, but that's not my concern here.) This just goes to show how important it is to not only accurately design your beer, but also how important it is to keep to that plan.

4.2 Late Additions

Hops that are added late to the boil do not complete the chemical changes necessary to extract all of the hop resins available to the kettle. Instead, the essential oils that are boiled away in long boils remain to contribute to hop flavor and aroma. Some hops are well known for their superior taste and aroma, while others are more suitable for long boil bittering. Try to match the hops to the style that you're trying to create.



The single most important thing that a beginning brewer can do to improve the quality of their beer is to use a healthy and dense yeast starter when pitching yeast. I had heard a lot about how people were getting one and two day ferments, while I had been commonly seeing ferment times measured in weeks. It turns out that I had been using very tiny initial yeast populations. It's not enough to pop the Wyeast pack and pour the contents of the swolen envelope into the cooled wort. Plan ahead, and pop that pack days in advance. Put that initial yeast culture into some cooled sterile wort ahead of time, and pitch as large a population of yeast into your main batch as you can. Sure this takes advanced planning, but the increase in the quality of your beer batches will be worth it.

5.1 Ale Yeast

Ale yeasts are happiest at or near room temperature. Fermentation temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit will pretty much shut down most ale yeast strains. Temperatures higher than 70 degrees for any yeast will encourage alcohols with higher molecular weight which will affect the taste of your beer. These alcohols will also increase the severity of your hangover if you over-indulge. There are some styles which benefit from these alcohols, and are therefore more suitable for warm weather brewing. These styles include: Barley wines/strong ales, Imperial Stouts, Strong Porter, Brown ales, and some fruit beers. Wyeast #1056, the Chico/American ale yeast is a low producer of off flavors at higher temperatures, so can be used where other yeast strains cannot.

5.2 Lager Yeast

The Wyeast lager yeast varieties have a reputation for not finishing their fermentation very quickly, especially if under-pitched (less than about 2 quarts of yeast slurry). What is true is that successive generations of yeast will become better adapted to the environment in which they are raised. Saving your yeast can be a good way to save money and keep the best characteristics of the yeast that you want. As is the case whenever you go about dealing with yeast, sanitation must be a way of life. To wash the yeast, you must have on hand some very cool pre-boiled water. (Whenever I boil bottle caps prior to bottling, I always save the water, cooling it and storing it before I use it to wash yeast.) After siphoning the fermented wort to either a conditioning container or secondary fermentation container, pour some of the sediment from the bottom of the carboy into a sterile jar with a lid. Pour enough of the cool water into the jar to thoroughly dilute the sediment. Secure the lid on the jar, swirl the contents of the jar thoroughly, and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to deal with it again (typically after bottling). The heavier particles of sediment, such as hop bits and coagulated protein, will settle to the bottom of the jar, while the lighter yeast bits will remain suspended in the water. I pour this water into a clean bottle and cap it, storing the yeast in the refrigerator. To re-use this yeast, allow the bottle to warm to the same temperature as the wort that you are pitching into. Remove the cap, and sterilize the lip of the bottle with flame. Simply stir up the yeast in the bottle and pour the contents into the fresh beer wort. Subsequent generations of yeast should be better adapted to the conditions in which they are raised. If you do this with enough yeast strains, you will never lack for a big dose of just the right yeast strain for the beer style that you're trying to match.

5.3 Other Yeast like beasties

There are other critters that want to live in your beer. Some of these beasties are wanted, most are not. To ensure that the only things in your beer are the things that you want there, try to develop a procedure for sanitization that will keep your equipment clean. I store my tubes, hoses, funnels, and other suitable equipment in a plastic (former) fermentation container that has a draining valve attached to the bottom. This stuff floats and soaks in a bleach solution, which I can also drain into carboys or conditioning buckets through use of the draining valve. When I'm through with the solution, I just pour it back into the storage container where it waits until the next time I need something sanitized. I keep smaller bits of equipment, such as airlock parts and my bottling siphon hose, in a smaller bucket, also with the same bleach solution. I have never had much of a problem with contamination, and I don't intend to start soon. Concerning those other beasties. For the most part, bacteria cannot survive in beer. The alcohol and low pH tend to inhibit most types of unwanted critters that live around the home. However, we must be on constant guard for those type of bacteria that thrive in such an environment, especially those that can establish beach heads in your wort before fermentation has begun. Anything that comes in contact with the cool, unfermented wort must be sterile. The most effective way to maintain sterility is to boil under pressure. Failing that, boil wort chillers and spoons in the hot liquor when you can. Other items of equipment may be better served by chemical sanitizers. Bleach is effective, but must be thoroughly rinsed off: otherwise it will lead to detectable off flavors. Iodophor in weak solution doesn't require rinsing, and is easier on your carpet if you are accident prone.

Mystery Ingredients:

Before hops were popularized in beer making, the sweetness of the malt was balanced by what was called "gruit". This tended to be a trade secret of the brewer, and was often grown right outside in the garden. If you have a creative bent, especially if you're also a prolific gardener, don't be afraid to try different herbs for bittering purposes. If you don't trust yourself, try small batches with new experiments. Maybe you don't want 5 gallons of hot chilli flavored beer, or maybe you don't have enough onions or garlic to flavor a large batch. And do you really like oregano that much? If I'm going to leave you with one thought, let it be this. Try to use your enthusiasm for this hobby as a springboard to bigger and better things. And don't be afraid to do something really stupid. It's the only way you're ever going to learn anything! And good luck in your brewing endeavors!

This document was placed here on Dec 5, 1996, was last modified on October 25, 2000, and has been viewed countless times since then.

This page is authored and maintained by Rich Webb.You can send E-mail to me by following this link to the contact page. And feel free to contact me if you have any comments, criticisms, or suggestions. I remain, however, perfectly capable of ignoring your useless opinion...