Monthly Archives: February 2016

Brew Day Part 5 – Wort Chilling and Pitching The Yeast

You’re done with the boil, so all the hard work is done, right?  Not quite.  The final step of making beer is to pitch the yeast and before you pitch the yeast, you need the wort to be chilled to the proper temperature.  If the wort is too hot, you will just kill all the yeast.  If the wort is too cold, the yeast will ferment very slowly.  Most yeasts will require you to chill the wort down to 65-80 degrees before pitching.  So how do you cool 1o gallons of liquid from boiling to 75 degrees?  Let me show you some methods:

Wort Chilling
Chilling the wort is important not only because you want your yeast to stay healthy but the time between the end of the boil and the pitching of the yeast is a time when your beer is at extreme risk for infection.  After you’re done boiling, you’re wort is a giant bucket full of sugar water which will attract all the wrong guests that can ruin your beer.  Prior to and during the boil, you’ve got a security blanket because boiling will sanitize the wort.  After your yeast starts to ferment, it creates alcohol which will also protect the beer from infection.  But that sweet spot between boiling and fermentation is where your beer can run into trouble.  That’s why it’s important to chill your wort as quickly as possible.

There are several methods of wort chilling that home brewers use.  The methods may change based on the type of batches you are brewing and the equipment that you are using.  They all use the same principal in different ways – use cold water and ice to lower the temperature of the wort.  I’ll go over some common methods from basic to complex.

Topping Off The Batch
Topping off the batch is common with extract batches and really any beginner kits.  The wort that you brew is going to be a smaller volume than what your final batch is and it’s going to be much more highly concentrated with sugars.  Then you use ‘top off water’ to bring the batch to the full volume.  This waters down the batch to the full volume and correct concentration of sugars (and eventually alcohol).

The huge advantage of this is that you can cool your wort very quickly by cooling or freezing top off water ahead of time.  The disadvantage is that it’s probably not going to make a good quality of beer.  The top off water can be a significant portion of batch…I significant portion that wasn’t exposed directly to the grains, hops or really anything.  There’s also the risk of infection since your top off water wasn’t boiled.  Hopefully you use a source of water that’s purified.  Again this is something that is only recommended for beginning brewers.

Ice Bath
The next step up in chilling is the ice bath.  It’s very simple, you place either your boil kettle or fermenter into a bath of cold water and ice.  This method is effective but it is very slow.  It can take hours to get that temperature to drop.  This is a method that could be used by any level of homebrewer but obviously as the batches get bigger, it takes longer to chill using this method and it increases your risk of infection.

You’d think that popping your fermenter into your fridge or freezer might be a quick way lower the temperature but it’s not very effective.  It’s probably pretty close to the same time frame as the ice bath, there’s just too much of a temperature drop needed.  The added risk is that your fridge and freezer could be crawling with bacteria due to the food, drinks and moisture in them.

Counter Flow Wort Chiller
2016-02-26 15.42.10.jpgA counter flow wort chiller might be one of the most important pick-ups you can make as a homebrewer.  It’s a series of tubing wrapped in coils with the beginning of the coil attached to tubing with a hose attachment and the other end draining the water.

The coil is placed into the boil kettle during the last 10-15 minutes of the boil to sanitize it.  Once the boil is finished, you attach the hose and start running water though.  This cooler water never comes in contact with the wort but it has a cooling effect on the coils that causes the wort temp to drop.

This method is very efficient and used by even the most advanced homebrewers.  One potential issue, especially in Arizona in summer, is the temperature of the ground water coming out of the tap.  If the tap water is 90 degrees, you’ll never get your wort below that temperature.  The solution some use is to make an ice bath and pond pump to pump ice water into the inlet instead of the hose water.  Others use a second chiller and a pump.  The first chiller gets water from tap that is chilled though an ice bath before being pumped to the second chiller in the brew kettle.

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Plate Chiller

The plate chiller is the Cadillac of wort chilling.  It can work very quickly and very effectively but it requires extra equipment and is more expensive then the other options.

The plate chiller has 4 inputs/outputs.  The hot wort is pumped into one input and out another.  On the other side cold water is pumped into it.  The chilling effect happens in the plates.  Both the hot and the cold liquids are pumped into the plates and cool/warm each other while never touching.  It is similar to the counter flow chiller but it just goes about it differently.

For the extra equipment, you will definitely need at least one pump to pump the wort through.  On the cold side, you can use a hose to attach on, however, if your tap water isn’t cold enough, it will not be effective.  You can also use a second pump to pump cold water from another source.  This is the method that I use.  I use the HLT and fill it with ice and some water.  That ice water is pumped through giving a quick chilling effect.  As you can see in the picture above, I have added a digital thermometer to the outlet of the hot (wort) side.  This tells me the temperature of the wort after leaving the plate chiller.  When that temperature reaches the right pitching temperatures, that’s when you need to start transferring it to the fermenters.

In addition to this being a quick chilling method, you can more flavor and aroma out of your late addition hops by whirlpool.  A whirlpool is created in the brew kettle when the wort is pumped back into the brew kettle after going through the plate chiller.  On the return valve, you want to put a whirlpool arm, which is a bent tube that directs the flow of the returning wort to the side of the kettle.  This causes a whirlpool effect and with the hops still in the boil kettle, more flavor and aroma can be extracted.  All these things will help turn your homebrew from ok to good to great!

Pitching the Yeast
Once you’ve cooled the yeast down to the pitching temperature, you can pitch the yeast.  Pitching the yeast is probably the simplest part of the day.  All you need to do is take the yeast and sprinkle it into the fermenter.  Yeast also needs oxygen to help start the process of fermentation.  There’s many ways to do this but the simplest is just give a good shake and swirl.  Many advanced homebrewers will add oxygen, but that’s not a step I’ve taken yet.

In my next posts, I will talk about the post brew day process, starting with fermentation and temperature control.

Brew Day Part 4 – Boiling

All we’ve done has lead up to this  – the boil.

Why Boil?
The simple answer is to clean the beer and make it safe to drink.  Boiling your wort gets rid of bacteria that would cause your beer to be undrinkable.  In addition to that, it will increase the alcohol content of your beer.  By boiling your beer for 60-90 minutes, some of the total volume of the wort will decrease through evaporation.  That makes the sugars more concentrated and eventually the beer higher in alcohol content.  You could, in theory, skip the boil step and go straight to fermentation but you’d likely have a beer that was very watered down and potentially full of bacteria.

Most beers will have you boil for 60 minutes but in some cases, it is better to do a 90 minute boil.  One of those cases is when your grain bill includes pilsner malt.  Pilsner malt causes a higher frequency of dimethyl sulfide (DMS) which causes one of the most common off-flavors in beer – the creamed corn smell/taste.  The longer you boil, the more DMS you boil off.

This is another (mainly) boring parts of the brew days because it takes so long to bring your wort to a boil.  Imagine how long it take is boil a few quarts of water.  Now increase the size greatly and instead of water, you’re boiling sugar water (wort).  That’s why you increase your burner fire power.  Once you start making 10 gallon batches, it would take forever to reach boil if you are using weak equipment.  Even with a strong burner, it will take awhile for the wort to boil.

That’s when the excitement starts.  The ‘hot break’ happens when the wort first starts to boil.  The hot break causes the water level rise quickly and to the point where it will boil over.  There are ways to fight the hot break but sometimes it is just too much to stop.  Decreasing the heat first option but it’s not always a reliable option as you need to keep the heat at a certain level to maintain the boil for this long.  Some also use something such as the mash paddle to go over the top of the boil kettle to pop the bubbles as they rise.  This again is effective but not always reliable.  Another way is to spash cold water on the bubbles to help bring it down.  I often use a spray bottle with very cold water.  It effectively knocks down the bubbles without adding too much water volume.  I use a combination of all three methods when I brew and still have issues with the hot break a lot of the time.

Once the beer starts to boil, it’s time to think about adding in the extra ingredients to will form the taste and characteristics of the beer.  Mainly it’s time for the hops to be added.

Hops are very important to final taste, smell and bitterness of your beer.  There’s a wide variety of types of hops that have different uses, flavors and aromas.  The style of beer you are making often determines what hops that you use.  There’s so much to say about hops that I won’t go into it all now, just the basics.

Hops are a main component to the bitterness of a beer.  The bitterness is measured in International Bitterness Units or IBUs.  The higher the IBUs the more bitterness from the hops.  Each type of hop has specific characteristics that determines how many IBUs it will contribute to a beer when used.

The longer a hop is in the boil the more IBUs it contributes to the beer but likewise, the longer the hops are boiled, the less flavor and aroma they contribute.  For that reason, hops are split up into three categories – bittering, aroma and both.  Bittering hops are typically added early in the boil, usually around 60 minutes.  These hops contribute a large part of the total IBU count but little of the aroma.  Other hops are added at various times during the boil – sometimes 30, 20 or 15 minutes.  These hop additions will also add significant bitterness but also contribute more to the flavor and aroma of the beer.  Finally hops are added late in the boil at 10, 5, 3 or every 0 minutes.  These hop additions are meant to bring out strong hop flavor and aroma.  These are the hop additions that can really make a beer stand out especially in hop heavy styles like IPAs.

For Siska’s Coconut Porter, hops are not a huge part of the flavor profile of the beer.  However, hops are needed in this beer to help balance the maltiness of the beer.  I added 1.75 oz of Magnum hops for 60 minutes to add 38.5 IBUs.  1 oz of Cascade hops were added at 30 minutes to give more bitterness (7.2 IBU) and some aroma.  Finally 1 oz of Hallertauer hops were added at 5 minutes to provide a lot of flavor and aroma but little bitterness (1.8 IBUs)

Other Additions
Hops aren’t the only thing that you add during the boil.  Other ingredients can be added as well because, as you know, boiling sanitizes everything.  These ingredients can be used to enhance flavors such as the use of peppercorns and coriander in a saison.  Or they could be used to enhance the beer making process.

Two things that I add to all my beers now are irish moss and yeast nutrients.  I add half a teaspoonful of Irish Moss to the boil with 15 minutes left.  Irish Moss is a clarifying agent to help make the beer look clearer.  I add 2 teaspoonfuls of yeast nutrients into the boil at 15 minutes.  Yeast nutrients are food for the yeast and helps the yeast get off to a quick, vigorous start, another trait that helps make your final product better.

Finishing Up The Boil
So you’ve added all your hops, fought off the hot break and boiled for 60-90 minutes.  What’s next?  Turn off your burner, it’s time to cool it down.  You’re first instinct might be to put out all the hops and goodies (if you’re using hop bags), but you should wait to do that.  You might be able to extract some more flavors while you cooling your beer.  Which brings me to my next post – cooling your beer and pitching the yeast.

Brew Day Part 3 – Sparging

Sparging is the missing step between the mash and the boil.  Sparging is the process of washing the grain bed to maximize the amount of sugars extracted from the grain bed.  The success of your sparging helps to determine your brewhouse efficiency – essentially how effective you were in extracting the fermentable sugars from the grain.

You will once again use the hot liquor tun (HLT) to heat a large amount of water to specific temperature that it optimal for the extraction of sugars.  There are a couple different methods that homebrewers use – continuous sparging where the water is gradually added and batch sparging where all the water is added at once.  There are advantages and disadvantages of both.  I’ve only done continuous sparging, so that’s what I will discuss.

Continuous Sparging

Before starting the sparge, you want to recirculate the first few quarts of the wort back onto the top grain bed.  This is called the ‘first runnings’ and it is super sweet because it’s highly concentrated with the sugars that have been extracted.  This is done for a couple of reasons but mainly because this will help with the clarity of the beer.  Small, loose grain hulls will slip past the false bottom and go into the first runnings.  By running the first runnings through the grain bed again, it decreases the likelihood of those husks making it into the boil kettle.

Once your first runnings appear clear, it’s time to start sparging.  Instead of returning the runnings from the valve to the top of the grain bed, you want to starting draining the mash tun into the boil kettle.  You want this to drain slowly to help maximize the amount of sugar extracted.  As the mash tun drains, you want to monitor the water level above the grain bed.  Once the water level is about an inch above the grain level, then you start to sparge.

Sparging should be done slowly and in a way that doesn’t disturb.  Ideally, you want the sparge water to slowly trickle onto the grain bed at the same rate as the mash tun is draining to keep a consistent water level.  The sparging continues until either the wort coming out is 1.008 or you reach your boiling volume, whichever comes first.

Sparging Supplies

2016-02-04 09.21.27.jpgHow do you add the sparge water in slowly without disturbing the grain bed?  Well you can buy a sparge arm which will do the trick.  There are also several DIY projects out there to make your own with copper piping or PVC pipe and that’s exactly what I did for my brewing system.

You can’t see it in the picture but there are several holes on the underside of the copper pipes that allows the water to slowly trickle onto the grain bed.  It’s worked great so far and hooks up directly to the pump system with easy disconnects for easy removal and attachments.

This was a fairly simple DIY project and in a future post, I’ll show you how to make your own.  But if you want a simple solution, you can do your sparge with a few simple kitchen objects you probably already have.  First you’ll need to find something that you use to transfer the sparge water into the mash tun that is heat resistant.  What I’ve found to work well is a glass measuring cup.  Next you will need something that will sprinkle the water onto the mash as you don’t want pour it directly on and disturb the grain bed.  A metal strainer will work but I find that a colander works better.  This is the setup that I used for all my 5 gallon batches.  It may seem a little basic, but it does the trick!  I have noticed an increase in my brewhouse efficiency since I made the switch but it’s too early to tell what has made the difference.

Once you’ve finished sparging, you’re finally ready to boil your wort and make it into delicious beer!

Brew Day Part 2 – Mashing


Mashing is probably the most boring but most important part of the brew day.  Mashing is nothing like it sounds.  It’s the process of extracting the sugar from the grains by soaking them at very specific temperatures.  Those sugars will then be converted to alcohol by the yeast.
How Does It Work?

Water is heated to a predetermined temperature usually calculated by the brewing software, generally 10 degrees higher that the mash temperature.  Mash temperatures are typically between 145 and 158 degrees depending on the type of beer you’re making.

Once you have your water heated to the proper temperature, the water is transferred into the mash tun and mixed with the grain.  Some add the water to the grain and others add the grain gradually to the water.  I have always had good results with adding the water first and then adding the grain, but I don’t think there’s one right way to do it.  Experiment and see what you like.

After you’ve ‘mashed’ the grain, you just wait.  That’s why this step is boring because there isn’t much for you to do, it’s a time to just let the magic of brewing happen.  It’s also a good time to get all your ingredients ready for the boil and get your sparge water ready.

Why Does It Work?

I just called it ‘magic’ but really it’s chemistry at work.  The sugars are extracted from the grain by two enzymes that are present during the mash temperature called alpha and beta amylase.  The enzymes break down the starches from the grain into glucose, maltose, maltriose and dextrins.  The first 3 sugars are fermentable by yeast and will become alcohol while dextrins are not fermentable but do contribute to the body and fullness of the beer.

Temperature is very important to the mash process.  If you do not stay within the proper temperature range, the enzymes won’t be able to work properly.  The enzymes work well together between temps of 145-158 degrees.  The higher side of that range will give you more of a heavy body beer because more dextrins will be formed.  If you go on the lower range of the temperature or use longer mash times, you will produce a lighter body with more alcohol.  This is how your mash temp can greatly change your beer.

What Is A Mash Tun?

A mash tun is simply anything you use for doing the mash.  You need something big enough to hold the grain and mash water.  More importantly, you need something that is good at holding temperatures.  You need to try and hold mash temps consistent for 60 minutes and most cases.  Luckily, there is an extremely simple solution:

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Yes, this blast from your past is the perfect mash tun with a little bit of a modification.  This the 5 gallon mash tun that I used previously with my 5 gallon batches and it worked great.  Once you put that lid on, the temperature is practically locked in.  I’ve rarely had more a degree or two loss over the 60 minute mash.

These water coolers can be bought in many different places.  As you can see I got mine from Home Depot.  You will also nee
d to make a few adjustments to make it a mash tun.  You can buy conversion kits online or likely at your local homebrew shop.2016-02-09 09.00.17

The most important part of the conversion kit is the false bottom.  The false bottom goes on the bottom of the mash tun and attaches to the valve.  When you drain the mash tun, it filters the wort so that very few of the grain particles pass through the valve into the
boil kettle.  I’ve always used a false bottom but others prefer to use a bazooka screen which will do the same job.

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I am now using a converted 15.5 gallon keg as a mash tun.  I’ve had mixed results so far.  I was surprised by how much the temperature dropped when I just used the keg.  I was scared that the batch wouldn’t turn out, however, it was just fine.  In fact, I was closer to my target gravities than I have been in several batches.

To help with the temperature issue, I wrapped the keg in Reflectix, which is pictured to the left.  The temps kept better but still not very good.  Once I complete the system, I will be using temperature controlled burners to keep the mash temps.

Next I will tell you about sparging which is the process when the

Brew Day – Part 1 Prep and Mash Water

Unfortunately I didn’t take the time to take pictures during the actual brew day.  With the new system I’m working with there are still a lot of kinks that I’m getting used to and it just slipped my mind.

This post will take you through the preparation, choices of water and heat source and to the mash.

Water selection is the first step in the brew process.  This water will eventually become your beer.  There’s many train of thoughts about water in the homebrewing world from it being one of the most important parts to it really being insignificant.  One thing that most people will agree on is that your regular tap water is not a good source of water.  So what should you use?  Below are some options that I’ve used or am currently using:

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For my first several batches I used the 1 gallon jugs of spring water (Left) bought from any retailer.  That proved to be very wasteful.  I then moved on to use the water filter on my fridge but that was very time consuming.  Finally I’ve moved onto using a filter (Right) to filter the water straight from the tap.  Another very effective method is using the refillable 5 gallon jugs (center).  There are other options out there and pluses and minuses to all of them but I will go into that some other time.

One thing to remember about the water is that even though you may only be making 5 or 10 gallon batches, you will need much more water than that to finish the entire brewing process.  Water is lost through various times in the brewing process, especially in the mashing process as the grains will absorb a lot of water.  You will need 1.5x to 2x more water than your final batch amount.

So how much water do you need?  Well it depends on a few factors but there are also brewing calculators out there that will do the work for you.  I personally use the Beer Smith 2 app for my phone to do my calculating.  It’s a great tool to have because it helps you keep track of our brewing and can also be used to on brew day as a timer.  For Siska’s Coconut Porter, I used 8.22 gallons water in the mash and 10.37 gallons in the sparge.

Now that we have the water figured out, we can move onto the heating of the water:

Heating Mash Water

Anyone who cooks knows that it takes time to boil water.  Well in brewing we need to heat more water than you do in basic cooking, so you’re gonna need bigger fire power or you’ll be sitting around all day waiting for the temps to rise.  If you’re doing small batches, using your stove burners might be an option but when you start doing 5 or 10 gallon batches, you are going to need something that uses more BTUs to get the water heated quicker.  Here are a few options that I’ve used:

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This is the first burner that I used.  It’s a simple turkey fryer bought from Walmart.  A big plus with this burner was that it also came with a large pot that became my first brew kettle.

It was a cheap, yet effective way of getting the job done, a great starter kit for those just starting to do bigger batches.


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This is my first upgraded burner, the Dark Star 2.  It was much more efficient and heated the water to boil significantly quicker.  This made brew days shorter.

One downside of this burner is that the base is a little bit bigger than the kettles I was using, so it always felt like it could tip over.  Probably not likely but if it did, it would be dangerous.

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The next step up for me was the Bayou Banjo BG14 Burner.  I have three of these in my brewstand.  Unfortunately due to issues with the automation hookups I’m only using the burner on the brew kettle.

These burners are fantastic and almost necessary if you start doing 10 gallon batches.

Once you’ve got your burner, it’s time to heat your water to be used in the mash.  This is typically done in a different vessel than your mash tun (MT), typically called a hot liquor tank (HLT).  The HLT is used exclusively just to heat water that will be transferred to the MT.

Add the water that the brewing software calculated the you will need for the mash into the HLT and heat it up to  the temperature recommended by the software.  Typically the temperature will be around 10 degrees higher that the desired mash temperature.  Why do you want it higher?  Because you will be transferring the liquid into the MT and mix it with the grain to make your mash.  Simply mixing the water with the grain will cause that 10 degree drop in temperature.

For Siska Coconut Porter it called for 8.22 gallons of water heated to 165.9 degrees to give a mash temperature of 154 degrees.  In the next post I will tell you about the mashing and sparge process.

Pre-Brew Cleaning

One of the biggest reasons for low quality beer from homebrewers (and for professional brewers) is inadequate cleaning and sanitation.  Wild yeast and contaminants are everywhere and it takes very little to cause off-flavors in your beer.

How do you prevent it from happening to your brew?  Clean AND sanitize everything that’s going to come in contact with the beer and use the right cleaning products.



You cannot sanitize something that’s not clean, so everything that is going to be sanitized needs to be cleaned first.  You want to avoid chemical cleaning supplies that you would normally find in your cleaning supplies.  The product that is most commonly used is Powder Brewery Wash (PBW).  PBW is a powder that is diluted down with water to create a cleaning solution.  You can use this to soak brewing equipment in the solution or use it as a wash to help scrub those tough areas.

A second popular cleaner and what I personally use is Oxyclean Free.  Oxyclean is an oxygen based cleaner that is safe for to use on brewing equipment.  You use it just like PBW but it is much cheaper to buy.


Some of the cleaning products that you may use say that rinsing is not needed.  I recommend rinsing everything after using a cleaning solution.  Better safe than sorry!  Rinsing is simply just washing off an cleaning solution with clean water.  You can rinse them off with a hose or just place it in a bucket of clean water.

The final step of getting your brew equipment ready is to sanitize it.  The most common product used for sanitizing is Starsan.  This is used to kill anything that survived the cleaning.  Star San is a liquid that is diluted down to make a solution.  Unlike the cleaning process, you do not need to scrub, Star San kills on contact. For this reason, some brewers choose to use a spray bottle to make a solution of Star San a spray down the areas of brewing equipment that will be used.

This is an effective way to make a bottle of Star San go a lot longer because you’re only using enough to fill a spray bottle instead of a 15.5 gallon keg.  It’s also very smart because you only need to sanitize the inside edges of the equipment that will touch the wort when you are brewing not everything in-between.

What Do You Need To Clean?
Everything that touches the wort during the process, especially anything that touches it while it is cooling.  That includes the brewing equipment, fermentation buckets, pumps, thermometers, chillers and anything else that you plan on using.  I suggested while you are brewing to have 3 buckets.  One with cleaning solution, one with clean water and one with sanitizer.  That way if you forget something or something needs to re-sanitized, you have the ability to do it quickly on the fly.

Personally I try to clean everything the night before I brew and then sanitize the morning of.  It can be time consuming and I don’t want to delay my brew day too much.  Sanitizing the night before isn’t a great idea because bacteria could get re-introduced overnight.

Recipe Selection

Most of my blog posts will be about the mechanics of actually making the beer but one of the most important parts of making good beer is picking the right recipe.  Here are a few things to consider:


What style of beer do you want to make?  There are many styles of beers and each has subcategories.  Popular american craft beers fall under a few main styles – IPA, stouts, porters, wheat beers, ambers and lagers but those are far from your only options.

What Do You Like?

This is a beer that you are going to make, at least brew something that you are going to like.  Don’t brew a beer because it’s a popular style.  Don’t brew a beer just because your friends like.  Start by looking at your favorite beers and identify what you like about those beers.  Is it the hop flavors?  The aroma?  The easy drinkability of it?  Also look at the styles of those beers and you may have your answer.

Another way to find your next homebrew is to sample as much as you can.  Going to a local brewery?  Try a flight of their beers.  Buying beer at a liquor store or bottle shop?  Go for the mix and match 6-packs.

What Does Everyone Else Like?

Didn’t a just tell you not to brew a beer just because everyone else likes it?  While that’s true, you also have to realize that you will be brewing a lot of beer and you’re probably not going to drink it all yourself.  If everyone you’re going to share the beer with only drinks domestic light beers, a mega-hoppy IPA isn’t the best choice, at least to start off with.  Beers like wheat beers, ambers and lagers are more likely to be gateway beers for non-craft drinkers.  You can also go with a less aggressive version of the style – an IPA using hops that produce fruit flavors may cut down on the bitterness.  Or if you want to make a dark beer, choose a recipe that’s smoother rather than more robust.

Clone Recipes

Is there a beer that you really love?  Well chances are that there’s a clone recipe out there on the internet to help you try to replicate it.  Many of those recipes have been provided by the brewers themselves.

This is a great way to start a recipe of your own.  And just because it’s a clone recipe, doesn’t mean that you have to stick that recipe.  Most of my recipes have started off as clone recipes that have been modified based on my preferences and ingredient availability.  I usually start with recipes that clone recipes of beers that are classic examples of their style.


There’s a wide variety of recipes out there and they have a wide range of difficulty.  Do you want to do a basic beer that will help you fine tune your brewing abilities or are you ready to take on some more difficult tasks to get a more complex beer?  I always recommend to start small and work your way up.  With the more complex beers, there’s more ways for you to simply ruin a batch.  A ruined batch can be a major setback for anyone.

Finding and Picking a Recipe

OK, so you know what you want to brew, how do you find a recipe for that beer?  There’s many sources from message boards, websites, magazines and homebrew shops.  My personal favorite source is the message boards at  There you will find hundreds of recipes for just about anything that you could want to make.  The members discuss the recipes and give reviews and talk about their successes in homebrew contests with the recipe.  Many of the recipes have been converted into extract and BIAB recipes to help everyone who is interested in brewing their recipe.

In the future I will discuss modifying and creating your own recipes.

Siska’s Coconut Porter

This is the second time I’ll be brewing a form of this recipe.  The first time was a good example of trying to do too much too soon.  I attempted to make a spicy coconut porter.  I knew how to add the coconut but I wasn’t sure when to add the chili spices.  I decided to add them late in the boil process.  That was a poor choice or maybe I just used too much spice but the beer came out way too spicy and overpowered most of the coconut in the beer.

This time I will try to avoid that mistake and make the coconut the focus of the beer.  I may add complimentary spices including peppers but I will be doing it in smaller amounts during the secondary additions at the same time as the toasted coconut.

The recipe itself began as a clone recipe of Deschutes – Black Butte Porter which I modified into a coconut porter recipe.

Yeast Starter – Part 2: How to Make One

In my previous post, I talked about when you make a yeast starter and the benefits of make one.  Now I’ll tell you how to make one.

The most important thing is plan everything out.  You need to have your yeast bought ahead of time and also know how much dry malt extract (DME) you will need.  You also need to give yourself 3-5 days ahead of your brew day to give the yeast enough time to do it’s full job.  Finally know what kind of yeast you are using.  If you’re using a ‘smack pack’, you will need at least a few hours before that will be ready to be pitched into your yeast starter.

Here’s a step-by-step process of how to make a yeast starter:
1. Calculate how much yeast cells you will need for your upcoming beer and the corresponding amount of DME and water.  There are several calculators out there but i use:

2. After calculating the needs, add those ingredients and 1/4 teaspoonful of yeast nutrients to pot, mix and boil for 10-15 minutes.  Boiling sanitizes the wort which is important because it will eventually be added to the wort of your upcoming batch of beer.

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A simple pot on the stove works great

3. Cool the wort to a normal pitching temperature for the yeast, which is usually around room temperature of 70 degrees.  I tried to cool using a freezer but I found that making an ice bath was a much quicker method of chilling.

4. Add the cooled wort to a sanitized container big enough to hold the wort, yeast and allowing for some head space during fermentation.  A beaker is very typical.

5. Add a sanitized stir bar to the wort and place onto a magnetic stir plate.  Others have found that they can get away with just shaking the bottle occasionally to increase the oxygen and promote fermentation.

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This is my very simple stir plate that I will use. In a future post I’ll show you how to make one.

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I use a 2L beaker for my yeast starter.  You will need to add sanitized tin foil or a plug to keep the starter sanitized.











6. Keep around room temperature or the typical pitching temperature for the yeast

Fermentation should be obvious within a few hours and should continue in the days leading up to your brew day.  Remember that this yeast starter is going to be added to your beer after it has cooled and when it is the most susceptible to infection.  Therefore it’s important that you keep this as sanitized as possible to avoid ruining a whole batch of beer.

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After a couple of days you’ll see krausen at the top and yeast at the bottom just like on a full brew.

Yeast Starter

The first step in my new advanced brewing process is to create a yeast starter.  What is a yeast starter?  Well for all practical purposes, it’s a mini batch of beer that’s used to get the yeast started before pitching it into the batch of beer that I will be making a few days.

Why do you make a yeast starter?  There’s a few reasons.  The first reason is that increases the number of yeast cells that you pitch.  Another reason is that it gets the fermentation process going faster when you do pitch the yeast.  And the final main reason is that it saves money.

Why do you need to increase the number of yeast cells before you pitch?  Well if you are brewing 10 gallons of beer, most yeast packages are designed to have enough for a 5 gallon batch.  So you’d need to buy multiple packages to get enough yeast for the full 10 gallons.  You also need more yeast if you brewing higher gravity beers…something that will have a higher alcohol content.  The more sugars that need to be converted to alcohol, the more yeast cells you need.

The next reason to do a yeast starter is because it gets the fermentation started quicker.  When you do a yeast starter, the yeast is already started feasting on the tasty sugars and is ready to eat some more.  This is helpful because it gets your beer started and finished quicker but the less lag time you have, the better.  With beer, you’re always fighting against contamination.  One of the best ways is to get the fermentation going and get those sugars changed to alcohol.  As alcohol levels increase, the likelihood of contamination deceases (in basic fermentation).  The highest risk for contamination is from the end of the boil to start the fermentation.  The quicker you get it started the less you have to worry.

The final reason to do a yeast starter is the save money.  Most yeast starters are done on liquid yeast that are designed for 5 gallon batches.  For 10 gallon batches, you would need to buy two packages of yeast to get enough yeast to finish the job.  That doubles your cost and many of the liquid yeast packages cost around $8-$9 each which represents around 20% of the batch cost.  By doing a yeast starter, you can get away with buying only one package and still being able to ferment twice as much beer with minimal additional cost.

So what exactly is a yeast starter?  Well as I stated earlier, it’s essentially a small batch of beer.  Typically dry malt extract (DME) is mixed with the appropriate amount of water to make a wort of 1.040 gravity.  That mixture is boiled and cooled to the appropriate temperature for fermentation and the yeast is then added.  The gravity of 1.040 gives the yeast enough sugar to get started but not too much that it tires out before the main event in a few days.  A stir plate is typically used to add oxygen and agitate the yeast which will promote the fermentation process.

In my next blog post, I will go through the steps of how to make a yeast starter.

Advanced Homebrew Process

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything on this blog but that doesn’t mean that I’ve quit brewing.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  I’ve built a brew structure which now allow me to brew 10 gallon of beer per session.  And when I’m finished with it, it will be temperature controlled and allow me make better beer.

With the increased size of batches, I’ve decided that now is a good time to improve my brewing process and take on some of the advanced tasks that other homebrewers do to make better beer and also to save significant money on the batches.

My next beer is going to be Siska’s Coconut Porter.  I will walk you through all the steps that I now take and try to explain how and why I do them.  This will take you from making a yeast starter to brew day to kegging and bottling.  And along the way, I will show you the things that I do to save money and also the DIY projects I’ve done.