Monthly Archives: May 2014

Homebrewing Basics – Kit/Extract Brewing

Most homebrewers who start to get serious about brewing will begin with extract brewing using kits commonly found in homebrew shops or online at popular retailers like Northern Brewer or Midwest Brew Supplies.  These kits give a wide variety of styles as well as clone beers of popular commercial beers.  

Some more experienced look down on brewers who use these kits because they view them as inferior products.  And in some cases they are right but it’s usually due to bad product and not simply because it’s coming from a kit.  Great beers can be brewed from these extract kits but sometimes the product is old or low quality.  The hops, yeast, extract and specialty ingredients can all be poor quality and contribute to a substandard beer.  But in general, a high-quality kit can be just as a good an all-grain beer.

Another option is doing extract brewing without the kit.  The extract can be picked out separately and added to fresh hops, customized ingredients and a yeast of your choice.  So what’s extract exactly?  Well, simply it’s the result of the mash step of all-grain brewing done for you.  The first step of brewing is getting sugar out of the grains that will later be converted into alcohol.  Different grains give different tastes, colors and amounts of sugars.  Extracts, coming in liquid and dry, already have that process done for you.

So what’s the advantage of extract brewing?  Simplicity.  You don’t need to use as much water.  You can use smaller pots to brew.  It takes much less time than all-grain brewing.  And there’s much less opportunity for you to mess it up.

With all those advantages, why doesn’t every homebrewer use extract?  The main reason why people move on to all-grain brewing is the ability to customize their beer.  And for many, it’s the belief that extract beers are low quality.  But I’ll go more into the advantages of all-grain brewing in another entry.


The Supplies
The needed supplies for extract brewing is a very short list.  The big thing you need is a pot for boiling.  Stainless steel is the best way to go.  Extract brewing, unlike all-grain brewing, doesn’t require you to do a full-boil.  If you’re making a 5 gallon batch, you only need to boil 2-3 gallons and a pot with 3.5 to 4 gallon capacity.  For the boil, you will also need a long spoon used to stir in the extract during the boil.  You will also need a few other supplies depending on the recipe/kit.  In most cases you’ll need a can opener to open the extract cans.  In some cases, especially when using specialty grains, a thermometer will also be need.

After the boil is done, you will need some supplies for the fermentation.  You’ll need a fermentation bucket big enough to hold your batch, a lid with a grommet hole and an airlock.  There are other optional supplies that I will go over later.  Bottling supplies are also needed but will be discussed in a future post.  Below is a picture of the basic supplies you’ll need.


Getting Ready To Brew
The most important thing you must do to give yourself the ability to make great beer to have properly cleaned and sanitized equipment.  Anything that’s used in the brewing process must be first cleaned then sanitized.  You cannot sanitize something that is not already clean.

There’s a variety of products used in both the cleaning and sanitizing process.  For cleaning, many people use a oxidized cleaner.  I personally use OxyClean for most of my brewing needs but I also use Craft Meister’s Oxygen Brewery Wash.  For sanitation many products exist, I use IO Star.

The easiest way for a batch to go bad is the use of dirty equipment introducing a ‘bug’ into the brew.  So make sure everything is cleaned and sanitized and re-do the process anytime during brewing.

You will also need water, the start of any beer.  Some brewers will go with natural tap water, giving it the characteristics of the minerals of the water.  Most will go with treated water.  I’ve used spring water most of the time but I’ve also used filtered water.

The Boil
The boil is when process of brewing really takes form.  This is when you add all the ingredients that contribute to the heart of the beer.  This is when you add the extract, specialty grains and any other ingredients to make the beer.  Below is an example of dry malt extract.



The boil starts simply with the water you choose to use.  That water is most cases is brought to a boil and then the ingredients are added gradually according to the recipe.  Once the extra or grains are added to the water it becomes the wort – another name for the ‘baby beer’.  Below is a picture of the wort after the addition of dry malt extract.


The thickness of the wart quickly goes away during the boil and as you stir the wort.  The boil typically lasts 60 minutes but can be shorter or longer depending on the recipe.  The next thing to talk about is the addition of the hops.  Hops make beer what it is.  They add bitterness, flavor and aroma.  Each type of hop adds different things to the beer and when you add them also changes what it adds.  Hops that are added early in the boil add more bitterness to the beer.  Hops added in the middle and end of the boil add more of the flavor to the beer.  Hops added at the end of the boil will mainly add the hop aroma to the beer.  Below are pictures of a typical package of hops.  These are pellet hops that typically look like something you’d feed a rabbit.



In most cases, several different types of hops are added at different times during the boil.  Other than keeping track of when to add ingredients to the boil, the rest of the time is just keeping an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t boil over.  Once the time is finished on the boil, it’s time to cool it down.  

The last step in brewing is the pitching of yeast.  The yeast will turn the sugar in the wort into alcohol.  Actually the yeast is just feeding on the sugar and alcohol and CO2 are the by-products of the yeast eating the sugar.  However, the yeast needs to be in a happy environment or else it won’t eat.  Each yeast has a preferred temperature range.  The main difference would be using an ale yeast and a lager yeast (which requires lower temps).  With most ale yeasts a temperature of 65-72 degrees F is needed for proper fermentation.  So the wort must be brought down from boiling to that temperature before pitching the yeast or risk killing the yeast.  This can take awhile but it is a quicker process with an extract brew because there is less liquid to cool down and cold water can be added since you need to add water to get it to the final volume.  Here’s a picture of one way I cool the wort:



Here I’m using the simple method of putting the boil kettle in ice to cool it down to fermentation temperature.  This can take some time and time increases as you have to cool more liquid.  It can takes hours in some cases.  But once the wort is finally cooled down to fermentation temperature, the wort is transported to the fermentation bucket and in extract brewing, enough water is added to get it up to the final batch volume, usually 5 gallons.  The lid is placed on tightly and an airlock is placed is placed in the grommet hole.  This is done to monitor the fermentation process.  The airlock will pop whenever CO2 is released during the fermentation.

So how do know if you did a good job of brewing?  Well waiting and drinking it is a pretty good indicator but another one is testing the sugar content of the wort prior to pitching the yeast.  You can do that by taking a sample and using a hydrometer.  The hydrometer tests the specific gravity of the sample which will tell you how much sugar is in it.  Most kits and recipes will give you a target Original Gravity (OG).  If the reading is close to the target, then you know you did something right!  This is also how you calculate the alcohol content of your beer.  Once fermentation has ended and before you bottle your beer, you take a second reading which is the Final Gravity (FG).  The difference between the two shows how much sugar the yeast ate and turned into alcohol.  A simple formula will tell you how much alcohol is in each of your homebrew bottles.


So there you have it, the steps needed to make your own beer.  Now get out there and start brewing!