Preparing the Ingredients

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The Beer Brewing Process
1. Preparing the Ingredients
2. Cleaning and Sanitation
3. Making the Wort
4. Boiling the Wort
5. Cooling, Racking, and Aerating
6. Pitching the Yeast
7. Primary Fermentation
8. Conditioning the Beer
9. Packaging and Carbonation
10. Dispensing and Serving

Before you begin brewing, you will need to make sure that your ingredients are ready. Some ingredients must be prepared ahead of time, so read this section carefully. For more information on any particular ingredient, see the Beer Ingredients page.

Preparing the Ingredients for the Beginning Homebrewer

Most people brew their first batch of beer from a prepackaged beer ingredient kit. This means that the ingredients will be chosen for you, and most pre-treatment steps will already have been done for you; for example, any specialty grains included with your recipe will already have been milled.

However, there are two ingredients you still need to pay special attention to: water and yeast.

  • If your tap water comes from a city supply or you have a water conditioner, you may want to take special steps to keep salt, chlorine or chloramine out of your beer. The simplest solution is, if you are unsure about your water, to buy six or seven gallons of bottled spring water (not distilled water) for brewing your first batch.
  • If your kit came with a smack pack of Wyeast liquid yeast, you should activate it by breaking the inner package a few hours to a few days before you brew.
  • If your kit came with dry yeast, you should consider proofing it sometime on your brewing day. A better option is to buy a pack of dry yeast from a busy, reputable home brew supply store. These packs cost only a few dollars and are more reliable than the included yeast pack that came with your beer kit.

Choosing the Ingredients

Most home brewers begin brewing from ingredient kits put together by home brewing stores or companies. Once you understand a little about the ingredients used in brewing and how they interact, you can easily create your own delightful and unique home brew recipes. Many people use one of the many hundreds of published recipes for great tasting beers that can easily be found on internet web sites, in brewing forums, and in books and magazines devoted to home brewing. One of the best resources online for beer recipes is the Homebrewtalk Recipe Database

Another tool utilized by many modern brewers is brewing software. Programs such as ProMash, Qbrew, Brewsmith and Beertools allow users to formulate recipes with instant IBU/SRM/OG/etc. feedback, perform all the necessary calculations, and keep track of their ingredient inventory. Advanced homebrewers interested in formulating their own recipes will find these programs invaluable.

Preparing the Yeast

There are two types of yeast used by home brewers: dry and liquid. Dry yeast is easier to work with so it is often recommended that new brewers use dry yeast for their first few brews. The downside to dry yeast is that there are fewer strains available and many beer styles require special yeast that are only available in liquid form. Many brewers use liquid yeast but keep a few packets of dry yeast on hand in case it is needed on brew day.

To prepare dry yeast: 1) sanitize a small glass vessel, 2) warm some water to 95-105 degrees F, 3) add warm water to the sanitized glass vessel, 4) add contents of the yeast packet to the water and cover with aluminum foil. After 15 minutes you should notice that the yeast have begun to swell and should smell like rising bread. Once the beer is in the fermenter, the contents of the vessel (yeast and water) can be pitched.

To prepare liquid yeast it is advisable to make a starter, but not absolutely necessary.

Preparing the Water

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Water preparation is critical for all grain brewers as the mineral content of the water will affect the mash pH thus affecting the fermentability and flavor of the beer. Water is not as critical for extract brewers as the extract manufacturer has already completed the starch conversion that occurs in the mash.

Most older brewing references say simply that if your water tastes good coming out of the tap it will make acceptable beer in extract brewing. However, the increased use of chloramines by municipal water supplies is changing this situation. Unlike chlorines, many of which evaporate when the water is boiled, chloramines are not affected by boiling and water with high levels of chloramines will leave a strong, distinctive taste in the finished beer. If your water supply uses chloramine, you should filter your water before using it. Some other types of water treatment, especially water softeners, can also affect the taste of the finished beer. If you have one of these problems, or are otherwise uncertain about the quality of your tap water, spring water is an acceptable alternative; do not use distilled water, as it is almost completely lacking in dissolved minerals and this will affect the flavor of the finished beer.

Many brewers choose to boil their tap water to sterilize it if it will be used to top-off a partial boil wort (a common technique in extract brewing). Many brewers that top-off with spring water choose not to boil it in advance.

Preparing the Grain

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Milling the grain

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In order to make the starches, which are contained in the grains, accessible for conversion and extraction in the mashing process the malt and adjuncts (if necessary) need to be milled. The goal is exposure of the starch while keeping the husks intact as much as possible. Keeping the husks intact is necessary since the husks are used to form a filter bed during lautering. Excessive shedding of the husks can also lead to increased husk tannin extraction during mashing and lautering.

Preparing the Hops

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For most beer styles, your hops do not need much in the way of preparation. There are a few special cases where the hops may benefit from pre-treatment.

Aged Hops

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Some Belgian beers are brewed with hops that are aged to drive away any fresh hop aroma or flavor, leaving only the hops' preservative qualities. These hops are rarely available to homebrewers, but see Aged hops for information on simulating this effect with fresh hops by using an oven to drive off the essential oils.

Preparing Other Ingredients

It is possible to toast or "kiln" your own grains, but this is not very practical given the wide range of quality grains available and their relatively low cost. Other ingredients can be prepared later for adding flavor after initial fermentation is done, typically in the "secondary" fermentation vessel.

Growing and Making your Own Ingredients

Some home brewers take the next step and grow the ingredients for their own beer. Hop cultivation is probably the most common way to use homegrown ingredients; hops are easy to grow and a brewer can grow enough for multiple batches on a relatively small plot of land. However, some brewers do also practice home grain cultivation, or purchase raw grain for home malting. Some brewers even use open fermentation to collect and cultivate their local wild yeasts.

What do I do next?

Once your ingredients are ready, move on to the next important preparation step in the beer brewing process: Cleaning and Sanitation.