Posts Tagged beginners tuesday

Beginners’ Tuesday–Homebrewing Cask Ale

Cask ales are a big new thing in the American craft beer scene, and a very, very old thing in the beer world in general.  The tannins from the oak used to make the barrels add a layer of complexity to the beer, and can change the flavor in some very pleasant ways.


You’re going to notice more difference between casked and uncasked beers if they’re less hoppy.  Malt flavors are more affected by the oak tannins; hop flavors are almost completely unaffected.
The good news is that you don’t actually need an expensive cask, which is difficult to clean and care for.  In terms of flavor, there is no meaningful difference between adding beer to oak, or adding oak to beer.  You can use oak cubes or chips instead.  In fact, homemade wine kits always come with oak chips that you add to the wine to simulate the flavors of the barrel.


There are two factors that determine how much oak flavor you will get–the surface area of the oak, and the time it is in contact with your beer.  Oak can be overdone, giving you an unpleasant and astringent beer, so you need a plan of action before you begin.  Typically, 1 ounce of oak chips left in contact with the beer 1-2 weeks gives a nice cask flavor.  If you’re using oak cubes, remember that there is a lot of oak in the cube that is nowhere near the surface, so you need more.  3 ounces of cubes is about the equivalent of 1 ounce of chips.


You can use oak in either primary or secondary.  I prefer secondary because I want them in for 2 weeks, and my beer doesn’t live in the primary that long.  Oak commonly comes in packages that are not well-sanitized, so I usually pasteurize them before I put them in the beer.  All that takes is 15 seconds in water over 161 F.


I usually do a 3-week secondary, so I actually add the oak to the secondary after the beer has been in it for a week.  You really don’t want to leave the beer on the oak too long, so if you can’t bottle it within two to two-and-a-half weeks, you’ll need to move it to a tertiary.


Beer is often casked in used barrels, and those barrels may have been used for other beers, for wine, or for whiskey.  To simulate used barrels, try this.  First, wash and sanitize a funnel, a beer bottle and a cap.  Then, pasteurize your oak and put it in the bottle.  Finally, fill the bottle with beer, wine or whiskey and cap it.  Let the oak absorb the flavors for a week, then add it to the beer you are making.  I’ve had great results with this!  Whiskey is so high in alcohol, you can use anything you have, but with wine and beer, you want to open a bottle fresh.  You don’t want any bacteria that have nested in that red wine bottle you opened two days ago to get into your beer.


Making cask ales at home is actually super easy!  Any store that sells winemaking gear will have lots of options, and you can always order online as well.




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Beginners’ Tuesday—Extract Lager recipes

I apologize for the long delay in posting this. Things have been very busy with non-beer things.

I had intended to finish up lager week with a couple of extract lager recipes for you to enjoy. Here are three: Pilsner, Oktoberfest and Doppelbock.

Classic Czech Pilsner

Czech Pilsners are one of the simplest beers going. The classic version has only four ingredients—pilsner malt, Saaz hops, yeast and water. This is one of the hoppiest lager styles, so it’s popular among American craft beer enthusiasts. For best results, brew with distilled water.

7 pounds Liquid Pilsner Extract (or 5.75 lbs. dry pilsner extract)

4 ounces Saaz hops for bittering (60 minute boil)

2 ounces Saaz hops for aroma (5 minute boil)

White Labs Pilsner Lager Yeast

Set your fermenter to 52 F for primary and secondary.

Oktoberfest Lager

Oktoberfests are sweeter, maltier, darker and heavier than pilsners. This is the classic amber German lager beer, and it’s my personal favorite style. Here is an extract recipe based on my award-winning Oberbräu Festbier. Use moderately hard water for best results.

8 pounds liquid pilsner extract (or 6.5 pounds dry pilsner extract)

2 lbs. 40L Crystal Malt (steeping grains)

3.5 ounces Hallertau hops for bittering (60 minute boil)

1 ounce Hallertau hops for flavor (15 minute boil)

1 ounce Hallertau hops for aroma (5 minute boil)

White Labs Oktoberfest yeast

Ferment at 55 F.


Doppelbocks are malty beers, and the hops should be in the background. This recipe uses boiling hops only for that reason. This one is punchy. You’ll get 9% abv or so.

13 pounds of liquid pilsner extract (or 10.5 lbs. dry pilsner extract)

1.25 lbs. 40L Crystal steeping grain

1.25 lbs. 120 L Crystal steeping grain

4 oz. Styrian Goldings for bittering (60 min boil)

White Labs German Lager X Yeast (or German Bock Lager, which will be less creamy)

Ferment at 52 F with Lager X or 50 F with Bock Lager


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Beginners’ Tuesday—I have my starter set. What should I buy next?

A wort chiller, no question.

Most beginning homebrewers chill their boiled wort to a temperature cool enough to add yeast (the pitching temperature) by putting it on an ice bath in their sink. This works, but it’s slow. I remember it taking about an hour or more to bring my wort down to 75 degrees. I got a very simple wort chiller for Christmas a few years ago, and now it takes less than ten minutes.

Simple wort chillers are coiled lengths of copper tube that you clean, sanitize, and plunk right down into the hot wort. There’s a fitting on one end that fits onto an outdoor spigot. Fittings for kitchen sinks are also available. The other end is simply a drain. You run cold water through the chiller while it’s sitting in your hot wort, and the wort gets cool very quickly.

Wort chillers are awesome for two reasons. First, the cooling stage is when your beer is most susceptible to infection. Any bacteria that get in before boiling are killed by the boil, but any that find their way into the cooling wort will make it into your beer. So, the faster your cooling phase, the less time malevolent bacteria have to get in.

Second, a wort chiller pays for itself. How much do you spend on ice for an ice bath? Ten bucks? Fifteen? A simple immersion chiller costs fifty or less. In five batches, you’ve broken even, and the chiller will last forever.

These wort chillers are effective even for five-gallon all-grain batches. You can move up to more efficient (and more expensive) counterflow chillers, but they are thoroughly unnecessary unless you want to move into larger batches.

I can’t recommend adding a wort chiller to your kit highly enough. You can find lots of options at amazon, as well as at your local home brew store.

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Beginners’ Tuesday—What are Extract, Partial Mash and All Grain Brewing?

Veteran homebrewers tend to throw the words “Extract,” “Partial Mash,” and “All-Grain” around, and I remember when I started brewing that I found that really confusing. So, for this week’s Beginners’ Tuesday we’ll discuss what each is, and what advantages and disadvantages each has.

Extract Brewing

Extract brewing is the simplest form of homebrewing, and it’s the version that almost all homebrewers start with. You may be surprised to know that it’s also what most homebrewers end with. Something like 4 out of 5 homebrewers does extract brewing exclusively, and many people in the other fifth still do it on occasion.

Extract brewing uses malt extract for the fermentable sugars. The most time-consuming and delicate part of making a beer in the traditional (all-grain) method Is converting the starch into sugars. With extract brewing, you let someone else do that hard work! Malt is converted on a large scale in a factory, then either condensed to form liquid malt extract or dried out to make dry malt extract. Either one is added to hot water to produce the wort.

There are a wide variety of kits that use hopped malt, which are the ultimate in brewing simplicity. Hop extract has already been added to the malt, so all you need to do is stir the mix into hot water, cool it, dilute it and add the yeast. You can do the whole thing in under two hours with practice.

Unhopped extract give you a little more control over the recipe, with slightly more work involved. You have to add your own hops, and boil them for an hour. Many recipes also have later additions that are boiled for the last 15 minutes, or last 5 minutes. The hour-long boil adds a little time and a little complexity, but not much.

Extract brewing often uses steeping grains to add color or flavor to augment the extract. You’re not getting sugars from these grains, but you’re getting other flavor chemicals. Crystal malts are often used for this purpose.

These days, there is a staggering variety of malt extracts available, and one can make almost any style of beer from extract, including wheat beers and rye.

The advantage to extract brewing is its simplicity. Nothing takes less time or equipment, and nothing is more forgiving to mistakes. Now, more than ever, the diversity of beer available to the extract brewer is nearly comprehensive. I can understand why 4 out of 5 brewers love making great extract beer and never move on to more complicated techniques.

The disadvantages to extract brewing are relatively small. To some, it feels untraditional. You are also restricted in the control you have over the recipe. While you can have some flavor from steeping grains, it is extremely difficult (or basically impossible) to say, “This beer is great, but it has a little too much pilsner malt and it needs more Munich.” There are differences in flavor between British and American base malts, and that’s tough to capture in extract. Cooks, gourmands, wine enthusiasts and others who have palates that easily detect subtle differences in flavor may find the versatility in extract brewing to be inadequate, as broad as it is.

Most people cannot tell the difference between extract and all-grain beer in a blind taste test. Some people detect a noticeable tang in extract beers that they may or may not find unpleasant. I don’t know whether this is a result of genetics or palate training, but if you think extract tastes tangy, you may be well served by moving up to a more complex method.

Finally, oats cannot be used in extract beer. If you want to make an oatmeal stout, you have to use partial mash or all-grain brewing. (This dilemma is precisely what inspired me to move up to a higher level of complexity.)

Partial Mash

If you find that you love beermaking, but want to do more than extract allows, I have good news! Partial mash brewing overcomes almost all the potential downsides of extract brewing without a significant investment in new equipment. You can use the full range of brewing grains including oats, so you can tweak flavors to your heart’s content.

With partial mash, you are going to produce some of the sugars for your beer by converting starch in the grain, and then you are going to use malt extract to provide the rest. Most partial mash approaches are about getting a few missing flavors into the beer, so normally, the extract is still most of what you will be fermenting. You can still do this in a relatively small pot, like a 3.5 or 4-gallon. You need room for 3-4 pounds of grain and 2-3 gallons of water.

Partial mash requires you to use a base malt, which is a grain that has high levels of the enzymes that turn starch into sugars. Ales usually use 2-row or 6-row malted barley as the base malt. Lagers typically use pilsner malt. Anything that you’re using that’s not a base malt is a specialty malt, which might include crystal malt, roasted barley, biscuit malt, oats, wheat, rye and many others. To get the sugars out of those grains, you’re going to need an hour of time and you’re going to need to control the temperature of your water to between 150 and 158 degrees. That makes it a little complicated for beginners, but lots of people move on to partial mash after a small number of extract batches.

I’m planning a future Beginners’ Tuesday post on how to do your first Partial Mash.

The advantage of Partial Mash is that you get most of the versatility of all-grain brewing with the more simple equipment of extract brewing. The disadvantages are that it is more complicated and time-consuming than extract brewing.


All-Grain is the most complicated and most traditional method of making beer. None of the sugar is coming from extract; all is starting as starch in the grain. This requires more complicated equipment. You can’t use a few gallons of water to extract the sugars and top up later, like you do with extract and partial mash brewing. If you’re making a 5-gallon batch, you will need a pot that can hold 5 gallons (or more) of water, AND 14 pounds or so of grain. You also need very good temperature control. There is little margin for error—if your temperature is significantly wrong, you will have no sugars to ferment.

The upside of all-grain brewing is that you have ultimate control over your recipe. You can literally make any kind of beer you can dream of, you can tweak ingredients to your heart’s content, and make your mixture of grains as complicated or precise as you want. The downside is that it is very time-consuming and complicated, and it requires a fair amount of expertise to pull it off.

For those who want the ultimate homebrewing experience, all-grain is the goal. Fortunately, you can build to it by making your partial mashes more complicated over time. I’ll do a post on this someday, too, after we cover how to get into partial mashing.

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Beginners’ Tuesday: Getting Started Part 2

In last week’s Beginners’ Tuesday, we walked through the process of brewing the first batch of beer. This week, we’re going to discuss how to get from your happily fermenting wort to something that is delicious to drink. There’s three steps to this process—secondary fermentation, bottling and conditioning. Fortunately, you’ve done the hard part already.

Secondary Fermentation

When we left off last time, your wort was in the primary fermenter. Within about 48 hours, you should have had lots of bubbling through your airlock, which is a sure sign that fermentation is occurring apace. We’re going to start secondary fermentation about 7-10 days after brew day, and by then, the bubbling will have slowed considerably. That’s normal. You do about 70% of the fermentation of an ale in the first week.

Now, we’re going to move the beer out of the primary fermenter into a secondary fermenter. Most of the yeast in the beer will have settled out. That inactive and dying yeast doesn’t taste very good, and if you leave the beer on dead yeast for a long time, it’ll taste kind of gross. At the same time, the fermentation is not actually finished, there’s still yeast active in the liquid beer, and it has about 30% of the remaining sugars to eat, so we’re not ready to bottle. Therefore, we need a secondary fermenter.

To prepare for secondary fermentation, wash and sanitize a 5-gallon carboy, a stopper, an airlock, your autosiphon and siphon hose. For ales, the carboy can be plastic or glass—it makes no difference. Plastic is a lot lighter, and much easier to move, especially once you have 40 pounds of beer in it. Put your carboy on the floor, and your fermentation bucket on a countertop or table. You have to siphon downhill; Isaac Newton says so. Now, carefully take the top off of your primary fermenter and behold! Beer!

The gut reaction of new brewers at this point is to worry that something has gone horribly wrong. The beer is not going to quite smell delicious yet, but it’s not supposed to—it’s not done! If something has actually gone wrong, the beer will smell like a filthy gym sock, or it will be oppressively sour. In any case, you’re not going to need to wonder whether your beer is bad. If it is, you’ll know. And it almost certainly is going to be just fine. (Just remember when you worry that you’re messing something up—if making beer were hard, men wouldn’t do it.)

Ok, pop that siphon in the beer, and put the hose in the bottom of the carboy. Start the siphon and watch your beer go, go, go! You want to hold the siphon as deep in the bucket as it will go without pulling up cloudy beer. The cloudiness is the yeast you want to leave behind. Feel free to draw off a sample into a shot glass to taste. You’ll get an idea how your beer is coming along, and over time, you’ll learn a lot about how to taste beer and how beer flavors develop. That will come in handy if you ever decide to start developing your own recipes. If you have a brewing buddy (always recommended) don’t forgot to pour a shot for him or her, too!

You’ll probably find it helpful to gently tip the bucket near the end. Try not to draw up too much yeast as you wrap up, but I err on the side of taking a little yeast with the beer over leaving perfectly good beer in the bucket. Now you should have a glass carboy full of beer and a plastic bucket with a big, wet cake of yeast in the bottom. Fill your airlock with water, pop it in the stopper, stopper up the carboy and wash that primary!


Bottling day is exciting! We’re almost ready to have some homebrew! Ideally, you should bottle 2-3 weeks after you move the beer into the secondary, so 3-4 weeks after your original brewing day. You’re going to need 50 twelve-ounce bottles, or 39 half-liter bottles, or some equivalent combination, enough crown caps for all those bottles, plus a few spares, a capper, a bottling bucket, a bottling wand, a short hose, your autosiphon, siphon hose, hydrometer and a packet of priming sugar (almost all homebrew stores will sell this pre-measured). If it’s been more than 4 weeks since you brewed, you need more yeast, too.

Wash and sanitize all those bottles, the bucket, the wand and the hose. I like to use my dishwasher to wash the bottles. It takes longer, but it doesn’t suck, and I can watch football instead of hunching over the sink. You can use brewer’s detergent in a dishwasher without drama. When everything is clean, dump your caps into a small container of sanitizer water.

Nuke about two cups of water so that it’s a bit warm, and dissolve your priming sugar in it. Set that aside and get your autosiphon going. Just like above, you’re going to move all the beer into the bucket, but leave the yeast behind. About every gallon, pour about a quarter of the sugar-water mix into the beer, and stir. If you’re using yeast because you left the beer in the secondary for more than three weeks, add half when you’ve siphoned 2.5 gallons, and the other half at the end. When you’re done, you should have a well-mixed blend of beer and sugar water, and maybe a little fresh yeast.

Pop your sanitized hydrometer into the bucket and take a reading. You can use an abv calculator like this one to determine how much alcohol is in your beer.

Attach the bottling wand to the short hose, and the hose to the spigot on the bottling bucket. Line up several bottles and open the tap. The beer won’t flow until you press the tip of the wand against something. Put the wand in the first bottle and fill it to just under the top. When you pull the wand out, you should have a half to full inch of space at the top of the bottle. That’s perfect. Pass the bottle to your brewing buddy and have him cap the bottle with a clean cap and the capper. (It’s REALLY hard to bottle by yourself. I’ve found most people will assist if paid in beer.)

When you’ve bottled all you can bottle, you’ll probably still have a few ounces left. Enjoy this now. Rinse any spill off the bottles, label them on the cap with a sharpie marker and set them aside.


With the beer safely in the bottle, all you have to do is wait. The yeast will convert the priming sugar into carbon dioxide, giving you the foam your beer needs. Give it a week, then put one in the fridge and enjoy! Congrats! You’ve made beer!

See, pretty easy stuff. With a little practice, you’ll be making beer that’s better than anything you can buy, because soon, you’ll be making EXACTLY what you want to drink.

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Beginners’ Tuesday–slight delay

If you’re waiting for this week’s Beginners’ Tuesday about secondary fermentation and bottling, there will be a slight delay. I’m on my way home from a family vacation. I’ll have the post up tomorrow.

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Beginners’ Tuesday: Getting Started Homebrewing

This is the first in a series of Tuesday posts specifically geared towards folks just getting started in homebrewing. Today, we’re going to start at the very beginning—how does one get started?


So you want to make your own beer at home? Awesome! You don’t know where to start? No problem! I’ve got you covered.

I’m pretty lousy in the kitchen. How hard is it to make beer?

Good news, it’s pretty easy. If you can make spaghetti, you can brew a batch of beer in your own kitchen in an afternoon. You’re going to heat up some water, steep some grain in it, kind of like you were making tea, then boil it, then cool it down, add some yeast and wait a couple weeks.

Sounds good! What kind of beers can I make?

Eventually, the sky’s the limit. While we’re getting started, we’ll keep it simple. Lagers take special equipment, so we’re going to start with an ale. Since I know you’re going to want to drink this thing quickly, we’ll start with something that doesn’t need much aging. Irish Reds, English Brown Ales and IPAs are all good starting points. Most good homebrew stores have lots of recipes for beginners, and I’ve included a good first-timer’s IPA recipe at the end of this post.

How much beer will I get?

Homebrewers typically work in 5-gallon batches, which makes 50 twelve-ounce bottles or 39 half liters. Start saving bottles now so you won’t have to buy them. You can use anything that’s a pop top with a big rim. You can’t use screwcaps.

This is a good bottle, note that the rim at the top of the bottle is about half an inch below the cap.

This is a bad bottle (though a decent beer). Note that the rim at the top of the bottle is right under the cap.

Cool, what do I need?

Let’s break this down. You’re going to need some brewing equipment and some ingredients.

What equipment do I need?

Most homebrew stores sell a starter kit, and those kits never have everything you need.

You need:

  • A big pot (3-5 gallons). One that fits in your sink is a good idea. I got started with a 3.5-gallon pot, which works fine for simple beers. You’ll need a bigger one if you want to get more advanced later. (I use a 10-gallon pot now.)
  • A spoon you can use to stir your pot when it is full without burning your hand
  • A primary fermenter (a 7-8 gallon food grade plastic bucket with an airtight lid)
  • An airlock for your primary fermenter.
  • An analog thermometer that reads from room temperature to boiling (you’ll cook the display on a digital one)
  • A hydrometer
  • A medium mesh “Grain bag”
  • A small mesh “hop bag” (One will do, but three will make your life easier)
  • An autosiphon and 6-8 feet of hose
  • A five-gallon carboy
  • A stopper and airlock for the carboy
  • A bottling bucket
  • A capper
  • 50 caps + a few spares
  • 50 bottles
  • A bottling wand
  • Brewer’s detergent
  • Sanitizer

All of this available through any homebrew store. If you don’t have one near you, you can order this, plus a few pieces of equipment. All tolled, you’re looking at about $110 if you already have the pot. Most of that expense is for equipment you’re going to reuse for future batches.

What ingredients go in beer?

There are four basic ingredients to a beer—grain, hops, yeast and water. For now, just grab the stuff that’s in your recipe. If your tap water tastes good, brew with it. If it doesn’t, buy 7 gallons of water. Don’t worry about whether it’s distilled or spring or whatever. (Many homebrew sites tell you not to use distilled water. Someday I’ll do a post explaining why distilled water is not a problem.)

The grain is the source of sugar, which the yeast is going to eat to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. Grain doesn’t have much sugar in it to start with; it’s mostly starch instead. For now, we’re going to let someone else do the hard work of converting the starch to sugar, and we’re going to use malt extract. We’re also going to use some steeping grains to add a little flavor and color.

Hops add bitterness to beer; without them, beer would be cloyingly sweet. We’re going to add them three times for reasons that will be covered in a future post. You can get them as whole hops, or processed into pellets. For now, it doesn’t matter which you use.

Yeast comes as either dry yeast packets or as liquid yeast. White Labs’ California Ale Yeast is a good one to use for a first batch. Its ideal temperature range is 68-72 F, and it’s the most tolerant yeast of temperatures higher than that. If you keep your house colder than 68, ask your home brew store employee for help selecting a yeast.

Ok, Great! I’m ready to brew! Walk me through this.

No sweat. The day before you brew, double check that you have all the stuff you need. If you can, put four gallons of water in the fridge.

When you’re ready to start, get 30 pounds of ice and put them in a cooler. Just trust me.

Clean your brewpot with the brewer’s detergent, then put 2-3 gallons of water in it. (Go big if you can, but don’t put in so much that it’ll make a mess when you boil.) Heat the water to about 150 F, and put your steeping grains in the grain bag. Plunk the grain bag in the water and try to keep the temperature between 150 and 160 for 15 minutes. (If you mess up, don’t worry. You haven’t ruined anything.) Remove the grain bag after 15 minutes.

Turn the heat up to high, and stir in your malt extract. Stir well, you don’t want to scorch the sugar before it dissolves! Congratulations, you have wort! (Baby beer)

Bring the wort to a boil, and put your bittering hops in the mesh hop bag. Add these hops to the boiling water and set a timer for 45 minutes.

Add the flavor hops to the hop bag. Add them when the timer goes off, and set the timer for 10 more minutes. (Don’t take the bittering hops out yet.) This is a good time to fill your sink with ice.

Add the aroma hops to the hop bag. Add them when the timer goes off, and set the timer for 5 more minutes. (All three hops should be in your wort now.)

When the timer goes off the third time, take the pot off the stove, remove the hop bags, and place the pot on the ice in the sink.

Stir the hot wort occasionally to mix as it cools. If you have four gallons of water in the fridge, cool the pot to 150 degrees. If you have only room temperature water, cool the pot to 105.

While the pot is cooling, clean the primary bucket with brewer’s detergent and sanitize according to your sanitizer’s instructions. Do the same with the hydrometer, fermenter lid, and airlock. Then drain the fermenter.

Poor the warm wort into your empty, sanitized fermenter. Top it up to five gallons with your cold water and stir well. Check that your wort temperature is 85 F or less, and add the yeast. Fill the airlock with water, and insert it in the lid BEFORE you put the lid on the bucket, in case the grommet on the lid pops out. Fit the lid on snugly, and let your beer do its thing for a week!

It’s ready to drink in a week?!

No, the whole process takes four, but you’ve done the hard part. The next post will take us through the rest of the process.  Update: Here is part 2.

Beginner’s IPA Recipe

Steeping Grains:

1 lb. 40L Crystal malt (If your store doesn’t carry 40L, get a pound of whatever is closest)


7 lbs. Amber Dry Malt Extract (you can substitute8.5 lbs. Light Liquid Malt Extract)


Bittering: 4 oz. Challenger

Flavor: 1 oz. Fuggles

Aroma: 1 oz. Fuggles


California Ale

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