Beer Brewing - A Beginner's Guide to Extract Brewing

Beer Brewing - A Beginner's Guide to Extract Brewing

2013, May 29    

This information is readily available around the internet.  Home Brewing has become a regular pastime of tons of people in the US.  Unfortunately everyone who gets into it ends up getting really heavy into it and forgets that folks that are just learning aren’t going to understand what they are talking about.  So I thought I would put a quick cheat-sheet together for those just getting into home brewing.  If you want to learn more of the advanced concepts and techniques, please check out the brewing or homebrewing article on Wikipedia and start checking out the many blogs out there.


A single celled fungus.  These little guys are the most important part of brewing.  Everything we do is to make them happy. Since there are different thousands of kinds of yeast (at least), it is important that you buy the yeast from a brewers supply to make sure that you get a reasonably pure batch.WortA sugary liquid extracted from the mashing process.
Malted Grains
Germinated grains (e.g. started growing) that have been dried (which stops the growing process) with hot air.Malt ExtractFor the most part, in home brewing, this refers to malted grains that have been turned into a syrup or a powder, which contains all of the sugar that your yeast should need to eat during the fermentation process.
Come in many forms, such as pellets, plugs, and fresh whole flowers.  These are a close relative to the help plant that provide resins that Impart bitterness (using alpha and beta acids) and aroma to your beer.  These are not readily water soluble.
Alpha Acid
Heat and boiling (called isomerization) allow these types of acids to become soluble in water, which is why you steep the brew.  The more alpha acid a certain type of hop contains, the more bitterness it imparts to the beer.  The amount of alpha acid is usually listed on the package of the hops.
Beta Acid
It is important to use fresh, unoxidized hops to extract the small amount of beta acids available.


A lot of these can be bought in a kit and just add the extras on later.  My suggestion, go to your local brewery supplier.  They probably need the money and can provide you with tons of insights to any questions that you might have.

  • Pot - You have to boil the water and add things. Basically, you need a big soup pot, 5-10 gallon.
  • Spoon - You should have a really decent spoon
  • Bucket - Bucket Lid drilled for air lock
  • Bottle for Yeast (optional) - A growler or another similar bottle for the yeast starter
  • Air Lock(s) - Essentially a P-trap that lets out gasses, but doesn’t let anything in
  • Siphon - helps you transfer beer from one container to another (in a fairly sanitary way)
  • 50 non-screw top brown bottles (or one 5-gallon Cornelius Keg - for the kegerator making folks)
  • Fine strainer - For straining out particulates after fermentation is completed
  • Hydrometer - measures density, and thus sugar content (which translates to eventual alcohol content)
  • Your favorite Brew kit - something like this.

Step 1: Yeast Starter (optional)

The process of getting the yeast to start eating and reproducing so that they aren’t shocked when you throw them into the the wort. Some people skip this step by just sprinkling dry yeast into the wort at the end, but in my opinion, this is a mistake that can cause a bad batch because you might accidentally kill the yeast if your beer is a little less than optimal or you might need to wait longer until you beer will be ready.

In a pot, add one quart of filtered water and 1/2 cup of dry extract.  Boil this for about 10 minutes.  Rapid cool this using a sink of ice to about 70℉.  Pour into a sanitized bottle, add the yeast, and then shake vigorously to oxidize the solution.  Leave this to sit from anywhere from 5-24 hours.

For a nice video tutorial, watch this:

Step 2: Cleaning

Clean everything, getting all of the residual gunk off of bottles and tools.  Then sanitize the bottles and fermenting tools, either by boiling, hot air, or using a quick sanitizer.  Make sure that nothing in the wort comes into contact with anything that hasn’t been sanitized.  This is especially true after the cooling.  This is probably the most important part in the whole process, even though it is not very exciting.

Step 3: Malting & Lautering

The process of fertilizing grains, letting them start to grow, and hitting them with hot water, then separating the sugars from the grains. The more advanced home brewers will do this themselves, or at least do this in part.  For the beginner, ignore this.  You will buy a malt extract in a can (syrup) or in a bag (powder) form.  When you get better at this, you can perform what is called “all-grain” brewing.

If you really want to do this, watch this series of videos for malting Barley.  It’s a bit of an involved process.

Step 4: Mashing

This is the fun part of brewing.  Some people call this “boiling” or “steeping”.  It’s pretty much taking grains and putting them into a grain bag (aka muslin bag) and letting it steep in boiling water in the same way that you would add a tea bag to a cup of tea.  Some of the hops are also added directly to the water at this point as well to add bitterness and aroma.

So, fill a pot with about 3 gallons of water.  Add the bag of grains while the water is still cold.  Heat it up to 155℉.   Try and keep the grain bag from touching the sides of the pot, as it will burn/melt.

Keep the steeping over 150℉ and below 180℉ - the ideal conditions are to boil for 25 minutes at 155℉.  Keeping the temperature above 150℉ will break down the grain.  The type of grain you use will determine the majority of the color  and flavor that is perceived. Do not exceed 180℉ - This is because if you heat it above 180℉, it will start to break down the husk of the grain.  You do not want the husks to impart their tannins into your brew.  Don’t cover the pot as sulfur compounds that are being produced need a chance to escape.

Resist squeezing the grain bag as you want to avoid imparting any tannins from the grain husks.  If you want to make sure to get all of the good stuff out of the grain bag, I suggest running a couple of cups of hot water over the grain bag to flush it out.

Adding hops in the beginning of the steeping will impart bitterness to the beer at this point.  You can control the bitterness by understanding the amount of alpha acid you will be imparting to your beer.  This is determined by the original alpha acid amount and the length of time that the hops are boiled for.  Adding hops at the end (the last 5 minutes or so) of the steeping will impart aroma.

Step 5: Wort Cooling

You want to cool down the wort as fast as possible.  This is due to the fact that the sulfur compounds are still being produced as long as the temperature is high.  These will give your beer a slight egg smell/taste.  Also, the faster you cool down the wort, the more oxygen will be absorbed by the wort, which will facilitate yeast growth. In general. the faster you cool it down, the better.

When I first started, I simply filled a sink or tub with ice and immersed the entire pot.  Essentially, this is what these guys did.  If you enjoy brewing, and end up doing it a lot, I suggest purchasing a 25 ft or 50 ft copper tubing wort chiller which looks like this, as these will chill the wort significantly faster than the ice bath and is a lot less messy.

Bring the temperature down to about 80-100℉ (You are going to want it to be at 70℉ after the water is added, so whatever it takes to accomplish that).

Don’t let the beer sit around too long once and make sure to only use sanitized equipment once it reaches 140℉, as bacteria can start to grow in here.  If a small enough amount of bacteria gets in here, it’s not a big deal, as the yeast will likely kill it off in the fermentation process.

Step 6: Primary Fermentation

Once cooled, pour vigorously into your fermentation bucket.  I would suggest a bucket and not a glass carboy as this may lead to vigorous fermentation can cause it to explode, sending glass all over the place. To help facilitate yeast growth, I’d suggest wisking the wort (though this is not necessary).  Add cold water to the bucket to bring the total volume of the wort to 5 gallons.  Adding this water should also bring the temperature of the wort down to 65℉-75℉.

Grab a sample of the wort and your hydrometer to measure the specific gravity (or density of the water, based on sugar content), as described in this video.  What they don’t tell you in these videos is that you can add a little more finishing (corn) sugar to the batch if you want to bring up the alcohol content.  I wouldn’t add too much,  because you don’t want to change the flavor of the beer.

If you are doing something that requires dry hopping (adding hops in the fermentation process), you can add the hops and they will just float on top.

Add your yeast starter, or if you skipped that step, just add the dry yeast.  Add the bucket top with airlock filled about half way with sanitizing solution, and just wait 7 days (or when the foam starts to disappear) to test your gravity again.  Once it is at about 1.010, you can transfer to secondary fermentation, or if you are skipping secondary, wait until it drops to about 1.004.  These numbers are approximate, so don’t worry if they aren’t exact.

Put this in a cool dark place for  7 days.  For an ale, you want to keep this around 70℉, for a lager you want to keep them around 50℉.  There’s a great article here about controlling the fermentation temperature.  Make sure to check occasionally that the airlock doesn’t get blocked up by foam and clean it out and replace it if it does.

Step 7: Secondary Fermentation (optional)

You can skip Secondary Fermentation if you just keep it in the Primary Fermentation stage for 14 days, but you have to keep an eye on it to bottle/keg it to avoid autolysis.

Secondary Fermentation allows you not to worry about autolysis (when dead yeast at the bottom starts to contribute yeast flavors to the beer).  It’s not necessary, but I suggest it.  I use a glass carboy for this step, but you can keep it in a bucket in this step as well.  To transfer it, I use a siphon with a hose.  This is because the yeast has become anaerobic and thus you should avoid adding much additional oxygen (don’t stir too much).

Let this batch sit for another 7 days.

Step 8: Filtering and Bottling/Kegging

After your batch has completed, we need to siphon the liquid into our bottling bucket or keg through a strainer.   Using your bottling bucket, pour the liquid from your bottling bucket into a bottle and cap.  Repeat until you are out of brew.

Let these bottles sit for 3-4 weeks to finish.

Here’s a video to help with this too

Extra Credit: All Grain Brewing

If you understand the following and you’ve tried it a couple of times, the following video is good for understanding all-grain brewing.  The advantage to all-grain brewing is that you can make way more malts than you can purchase at a local brewery supply.  They tend to carry the popular ones.  The downside is that it takes 3-4 hours to boil/steep, as compared to the 1 hour that an extract takes to steep.  So, just be prepared to spend a little extra time if you do this, but a lot of people are much happier about the freshness of the flavor and the aroma and the different recipes that you can make.  I’m not about to start the “which is better?” war, but you get the idea.