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Illustrated Brewing

How I Brew, Part III



Chilling Your Wort

From this point forward, you need to be concerned with sanitation. Anything that comes in contact with your wort needs to be clean and sanitary. Break this rule, and you are guaranteed to eventually having a ruined batch of beer.

You need to lower the temperature of your boiled wort as soon as possible. There are a 3 main reasons for this. First, if you were to add your yeast directly to the hot wort, it would die immediately. Secondly, you want to be able to add your yeast to your wort as quickly as possible so that it and not a wild yeast will ferment your brew. Lastly, you want to facilitate the "cold break". This is yet another "break" which extracts more proteins from your brew.

I hook the inlet of the Immersion Chiller to a garden hose and turn on the water. The cold water rushing through the chiller draws the heat from the wort. I also stir the wort, with a sanitized spoon, every 5 minutes. This greatly increases the efficiency of the chiller.

I am able to reduce my wort temperature from boiling to about 15 F over the temperature of my house water in 20-30 minutes (depending on how hard I've got the water turned on).

After the wort is cooled to around 80 F, I remove the chiller. With my sanitized spoon, I stir the pot, causing a vortex in the brew. What this does is causes all of the hot and cold break material to pile up in a cone in the center of my brew kettle. This way, when I rack into my fermenters, I can leave a good deal of the break material (now called trub - pronounced "troob" - because it also has hop goo and small pieces of grain) behind in the kettle.

After waiting 15 minutes to allow the break material to collect, I transfer the wort into my primary fermenters. I've hooked up a simple hose barb with a "T" barb and hoses so that I can collect the same "quality" of wort in each fermenter. Before I did this, my first bucket would always have more trub in it, as the first few quarts have more break material than near the middle and end.

At this point, I draw off a little of the wort and do a hydrometer reading. This tells you how much sugar is present in your wort. At the end of fermentation, it will let you know how much sugar is left in the beer, and you can calculate the alcohol content of your masterpiece ([Original Gravity - Final Gravity] x 131 = Alcohol By Volume)!


Now that you've got your cooled wort into the fermenters, you need to add oxygen to the wort. Suffice it to say, the yeast need the oxygen to quickly begin the fermentation of your wort.

There are a ton of ways to do this. The most basic approach is to simply shake your fermenter to get it nice and frothy. This can be messy, and dangerous if you use glass carboys.

To the other extreme, some brewers purchase oxygen systems and pump pure O2 into their cooled wort. My technique is somewhere in between.

I use a paint stirrer - the kind you can find at your home repair stores that are used to stir up 5-gallon buckets of paint.

I take my sanitized paint stirrer and place it in the wort, with the stem protruding out of the airlock hole. I then attach my hand drill and run it for 30 seconds, moving it up-and-down through the wort to help incorporate as much O2 as possible into solution. If you use carboys for your fermenting, you can simply use a Lees Stirrer, which are available at most home brew/wine making outlets. The wings of the stirrer fold up, allowing you to place it into the mouth of the carboy.

After the 30 seconds, a very nice, frothy head is evident on the top of the wort. Be sure you've moved the stirrer throughout the wort to fully oxygenate your brew Pitch your yeast, add your airlocks and start fermentation.


Fermentation is where you turn your sweet wort into beer. The yeast eat the sugars and produce alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products. There are really only a couple of things to keep in mind here:

  • From this point forward you do not want to add more oxygen to your brew. If you do this after fermentation has begun, you will oxydize your beer (duh!). This will most likely result in a cardboard taste to your finished product. This means you want to rack "quietly" - no splashing - when transferring between fermenters and when bottling or kegging.
  • Keep the fermentation at the proper temperature. Ale yeast typically like it in the 58F to 68F temperature range. Never go above 70F, or you'll get very heavy "fruity" flavors, and things called fusil oils. These will give your beer a very alcoholic flavor, and will give you a killer headache! Lagers like temperatures from around 48F to 58F. Check with your yeast manufacturer for proper ranges for your specific yeast strain.
  • If you don't have a fermentation fridge, and are having problems keeping the temps down, consider placing your fermenters in a bathtub, filling it up half way with cold water, then wrapping the fermenters with wet towels. Works great to drop the temps by 5 or more degrees.
  • Many brewers, including myself, rack to a secondary fermenter after a week or so. This gets your brew up off of the trub that makes it into the primary, and helps to give you a clearer beer. If you bottle your beer, don't worry - enough yeast will still be in suspension to properly bottle condition your brew.
  • When you believe your wort is fully fermented (after about 2 weeks total), you should take your final hydrometer reading. You should be pretty close to the final expected gravity reading for your style of beer. If not, you may have a "stuck fermentation" that you'll need to address. DO NOT bottle your beer if your final gravity is higher than expected. You have the chance of producing "bottle bombs". The bottle has too much sugar, and the yeast reinvigorates. Since the bottle is now capped, the CO2 has nowhere to go, and the bottles explode. You only need it to happen to you once to know how dangerous this can be.


Before you can consume your beer, you've got to either bottle it or keg it. Here are some pointers:

  • If bottling, batch prime your beer. For a 5-gallon batch, this means taking 1 cup of water and bringing it to a boil with 3/4 cup of corn sugar. Pour this into the bottom of a bottling bucket, then rack from your secondary fermenter on top of this. Quietly stir the beer (not splashing to introduce oxygen), then bottle. Trying to add a measured amount of sugar individually to each bottle is asking for trouble. You'll end up with some gushers, and with some that are flat. Place the bottles in an area that maintains a temperature of approximately 70 F for 2 weeks. This will ensure proper carbonation.
  • If kegging, rack from the secondary fermenter to the serving keg. Attach your gas source, refrigerate and let sit for 2 weeks to condition.
  • Then suck 'em up and know you've made something that the mega-breweries can only dream of....

Click to go back to Part II

Click to go back to Part I

Enjoy.... JMS


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