Fundamentals of Brewing

HBS Blogger Josh Ray. Questions? Email Josh,

Part 1: Brew Day

Brewing is a simple process that anyone can learn. My intent of this blog is not to be an in depth lesson on how to brew, but rather a 10 step quick reference guide to help you prepare for your brew day. If you are not familiar with the brew processes and why you do each step a certain way I suggest you do some research and seek advice from experienced brewers before starting your first batch.  Brewing is all about being prepared and having the ability to make on the fly adjustments so you can hit certain control points (temperature, time) during your brew day to ensure you have the best possible beer.  The easiest way to make sure you’re ready to hit these control points and make adjustments on the fly is to be prepared.   Do everything you can before you start brewing to ensure you are prepared so you can be focused on the task at hand.


Step 1: Check list


Make a check list of all equipment/ingredients you will need to successfully complete your brew day.  Do as Santa Clause does and check it twice.   We field a lot of calls here at Home Brew Stuff concerning what to do because they are in the middle of brewing and just realized they are missing an ingredient.   Missing an ingredient or a piece of equipment is not going to help you brew the best beer possible and could have been avoided by making a checklist.  By making a check list and checking it twice will help you avoid wasting your time and energy on fixing this problem. This in turn will help you focus on the next task or control point.


Step 2: Cleaning/Sanitizing In Advance


By cleaning your equipment and brew area in advance you will be ready when that space or equipment is needed.  If you have all your equipment and area cleaned and ready to go you will be able to focus your attention on the brewing process and not the equipment.  Now is a good time to sanitize your brewing area surfaces that are going to become in contact with any brew equipment.  I personally like to sanitize my equipment right before I need it. It is up to you if you want to sanitize your carboy and other equipment now or later.


Step 3: Measuring Ingredients


Measuring out your ingredients (Hops, Irish moss, Malt, Water ) beforehand will help you be ready when the time comes for them to be used. By having them measured out, you will be able to focus on times and control points.  I like to use zip-locks and label each one with the ingredient and time when need to be added to my boil.  This allows me to be focused on my control points and not my ingredients. 


Step 4: Starting to Brew


Begin to heat your water.  If you’re brewing a partial mash recipe bring your water to around 158° to 160° so when you add your grain to steep it will drop the temp down around 155°.   Try having your grain around room temp to help with minimal temperature drop.  These numbers may be adjusted because of the ambient temperature due to the time of year.  If using a partial mash recipe now a good time to pull a about a ¼ cup out before adding grain and put on an alternate heat source to bring to 185° for 10 minutes to sterilize the water.  Then set aside to cool down around 90° to 98° to be used to rehydrate your yeast.  If brewing a complete extract kit bring water to boil as it reaches 185° pull out a ¼ cup and set aside to cool for your yeast rehydration.  When water starts to boil turn off heat source and add extract. You turn off heat source to avoid scorching of extract while stirring to mix extract thoroughly.


Step 5: Boil Wort


Turn heat back on and bring wort to a boil.  As wort begins to boil it will start to rise/swell and will boil over if left unattended.   There are a few different ways to help stop this boil over.  One way is to buy an anti-foaming agent and add to your wort just before the boiling point.  Another way is to keep your garden hose or spray bottle with fresh water in it and spray the foam as it starts to form and rise. This will knock it back down but you will still need to stir to get it to level out and boil without a boil over.  I personally tend to turn the heat down a little and stir to get the boil to a stable boiling level.  Once your boil is at a stable boiling point add hops and start your brew timer according to your recipe. Most recipes call for a 60 minute boil while others are a 90 minute boil.  Add hops according to the hop schedule on your recipe.


Step 6: Sanitizing


As you approach the half-way point of the boil it is a good time to sanitize the equipment you will need for all post boil activity.  Start by sanitizing your carboy or fermenting bucket, remember to add water first then sanitizer to prevent too much foam from forming.   After the sanitizer has sat in your fermenter for the recommended time (according to package instructions) transfer the sanitizer into another bucket with your auto-syphon.  Once transferred add all equipment that will come in contact with your wort after the boil (cork, airlock, funnel, auto-syphon, spoon).  Remember if you are using a immersion chiller to add it 10 minutes left in the boil to sanitize.


Step 7: Chilling the Wort


After the boil is complete you will need to chill your wort down to a minimum of 75°. Fast chilling is important to the brewing process.  The less time that a beer is exposed to the environment when it is below 170°F, the safer it is.  This reduced exposure limits the possibility of airborne contaminants.  There are also negative flavor compounds that will form if beer stands at an elevated temperature for too long (i.e. 30 min or more).  There are many ways to chill your wort.  A economical way but not the most efficient is to ice bath your kettle, you will need a sanitize spoon and a place big enough to fill with ice and water that will hold your kettle.  Other methods are immersion chiller or a counter flow plate chiller. They are way more efficient and well worth the investment to save you time and possible your beer from contamination.


Step 8: Rehydrating Yeast

Rehydrating your yeast is a really simple process.  It should only take you a minute to start the process if you are prepared in advance and only needs to sit for 15 minutes.  If it sits more than 15 minutes before use you are risking the possibility of contamination.  Take the ¼ cup of sanitized water from step 4 and make sure it is between 90°to 98°.  Open packet of yeast and poor into the sanitized water and let sit for 15 minutes.  Try timing it so when you’re done cooling and aerating your wort the yeast will be ready to pitch into your fermenter.


Step 9: Aerating Wort


Aerating the wort is an important process.  The yeast needs the oxygen to help them start the fermentation process.  After your beer has cooled to 80° it is safe to aerate your wort and the only time when you should aerate your wort.  I like to let my wort splash into my fermenter as I’m transferring from my boil kettle to help start the aerating process.  If you have no aerating tools you can vigorously shake your fermenter to aerate.  You can buy a aerating wand and attach it to a drill and whip it to add oxygen.  Both techniques work but will not ever bring your oxygen levels up to the proper amount.  I use the aerating wand and feel I have never had any issues with inefficient levels of oxygen.  The only way to bring the levels up to a sufficient amount is to use a kit that uses pure oxygen and regulator or a sanitary filter and a fish pump. 


Step 10:  Pitching Yeast/ Fermenting


After your wort is aerated it is time to pitch the yeast.  Take the yeast that you have rehydrated and poor into your fermenter and let stand for a few minutes before mixing with the wort completely.  Next you will need to find a cool dark place to leave your fermenter for the next 7 to 10 days.    It is important to find a place that will stay a steady temperature with in the yeast tolerant level.   A steady temperature is better for fermenting than one that fluctuates up and down between the yeasts tolerant zone.  After fermentation is done it is recommended you move it into a secondary fermenter to help clarify the beer by letting more of the yeast and hop particles settle out.