A few folks have asked me for a good recipe for a beginner, and the steps to make one. After thinking for a bit, I have chosen a relatively basic cream ale. Like most of my beers, I took inspiration from the numerous recipes list on Brewer's Friend. You should become familiar with that site. In particular, this cream ale recipe caught my attention, as easy to make, and should be relatively forgiving. It also has all the steps used for more complex beers, but relatively few steps, and in manageable volumes. Plus, everyone likes a cream ale, right?
Below you'll find the recipe, and then step-by-step walk through instructions (the part usually missing from beer recipes). I've chosen this because it uses malt extracts for the majority of fermentables, making the grain handling particularly easy. If you've followed along, you'll probably make a mess of your oven, have messed up a couple steps, but still will have a lovely beer!
I've scaled the recipe down to 1 gallon. If you wish to do something larger, just multiply everything by the appropriate amount. e.g., if you want to do three gallons, multiply everything by 3! Do make note of my comment on yeast in the ingredients list below.
Before starting, make sure you've got all the required equipment. We'll be using the BIAB (brew in a bag) method, so I highly recommend having a grain bag. Also check that you have all the necessary ingredients. When buying the ingredients, make sure to buy a bunch of king beer caps (or what ever cap you need for your bottles). Finally, make sure you have a bag of ice (or two) ready for cooling the wort. It sucks when you're half way through a beer and realize that you missed something!
Note: the instructions below don't cover any advanced techniques like dry-hopping, or fruit additions or anything like that. That will be the topic of a future post. Start simple!
- 0.27 kg Pilsen Dry Malt Extract (DME)
- 0.27 kg Pale Malt 6 Row
- 0.05 kg Munich Malt (10 L)
- 0.15 kg Flaked Corn
- 0.04 kg Flaked Barley (optional but recommended)
- 14 g Northern Brewer (pellet) - 60 minute boil
- 14 g Saaz (pellet) - 30 minute boil
- Wyeast - Kolsch 2565 or equivalent
Don't forget the bags of ice.
Buy from your local homebrew supplier. Get all your grains (the pale and munich malts) ground. They can be mixed together. Hops can be in what ever form the store sells, most commonly in pellet form.
If the home brew supply doesn't have an ingredient, ask for a suitable replacement. This recipe is pretty forgiving of which hops you use, just as long as its close. Trust their opinions. They usually know what they're talking about!
A note about yeast: For 5 gallon batches, yeast often comes in a super convenient smack-pack. These are plastic/foil satchels, containing the yeast culture in a small fragile pouch, and yeast nutrient. Typically, one warms these up to room temperature, squeezes or smacks the pouch to release the yeast into nutrient, and gives it a good shake. After some rest, the yeast gets activated, ready for fermenting. If you're doing a small batch of 2 gallons volume or less, dry yeast packets are fine, and smack packs aren't necessary. If you do have a smack pack, and are doing a small batch (again 2 gallons or less), use only have the yeast slurry, as adding too much yeast can cause funny results.
These steps are written assuming you are doing a 1 gallon batch (as I recommend all beginners to start with). If you're doing a bigger batch, remember to scale the water volumes up accordingly! Before you get moving, if you're using a smack pack, warm it up according to the label instructions - this might take 8 hours. Also, in a kettle, pre-boil a litre or two of rinse water. Let it cool so that it is bearable to the touch.
- Add 5.25 litres of water into your kettle.
Tap water is just fine. If the water tastes good, you'll get good beer. You can use filtered water if you wish, but in my experience, this is totally unnecessary.
- Add the DME (dry malt extracts) to the water, and stir thoroughly.
- Mash: Heat water to 160 degrees F. Submerge grains (in a grain bag if you have it). Occassionally aggitate to cycle water through the bags. Mash for 1 hour.
Submerging the grains will cause the water to cool a little. Your aim is to maintain the water near 152 F. Try not to let it get too high (over 160) or too cool (below 145).
- While mashing, prep some equipment.
If you haven't yet, boil a kettle of rinse water.
Clean and sanitize everything you need! Sanitize your fermentor, transfer hose, airlock and bung. Follow the instructions on the sanitizer label. Sanitize your yeast satchels and scissors too. If you have it, sanitize a kitchen thermometer.
See my comments on sanitizer in my necessary equipment post. If you are using Starsan, try and rinse all the foam away.
- After an hour of mashing, pull out grains and let drain for a minute or two. Give the bag a light squeeze if you wish. You now have wort!
- Bring the wort to a boil.
As the temperature nears boil, the wort will foam. This is especially true because of the DME. STIR STIR STIR. Otherwise you'll get foam over and spillage onto your oven. It won't ruin the beer, but it will make one stick mess.
- Add hops to boiling wort. And boil for 60 minutes. The boil shouldn't be too vigorous, just rolling.
Follow the stages listed in the recipe! The times listed in the recipe correspond to how long each hop is boiled for. In this case, add in the Northern Brewer hops first, wait 30 minutes, and then add the Saaz hops, so the latter gets only 30 minutes of boil, and the former gets the full 60 minute treatment.
Keep the kettle lid cracked to let some steam out. Too much condensation will lead to a lot of water dripping from lid back down to the beer, this can cause some chemistry you don't want (a topic for another day) adding flavours that can make the beer taste homebrew-ish.
Pro-tip: wait for the "hop break" before adding hops! When the boil starts, a thick brown foam will be apparent. That's thick proteans that can alter the flavour of hops in a negative way (one of the sources of that crappy homebrew flavour we all know and hate). Give it a minute! The boil will break those proteans down, and much of that foam will go away. Sometimes this break is sudden, and the foam vanishes over a few seconds. Sometimes it doesn't seem to disperse a whole lot. If you've waited a couple minutes in boil, that's enough.
- After an hour of hop boil, turn off the heat, and cool the wort!
If you have a thermometer, cool to roughly 75 F. If not, cool until the hottest part of the kettle is cool to the touch.
If you're doing a small batch, move the kettle to a sink. Circulate ice-water around the outside of the pot. Put the lid on, and be careful not to splash any ice-water into the beer! Keep cooling until the beer is cool to the touch (but not cold). The idea is to cool fast so that off flavours don't build up (another common way homebrew gets that bad homebrew flavour). This is why a wort chilling coil is useful for larger batches. For 2 gallons or less, the sink works just fine.
You're also trying to get the wort down to room temperature so that when you pitch the yeast (add it to the wort), you don't shock-kill the yeast cells.
- While cooling, if you haven't yet, rinse the sanitizer off your transfer tube, and off the inside of your fermentor.
If using a glass carboy, BE VERY CAREFUL to rinse with pre-boiled water that has cooled back down to room temperature. Otherwise the hot water can cause the carboy to crack, or even violently explode. This is no joke.
- Put the cooled kettle on your counter, and the fermentor on the floor underneath. Use the tube to syphon the beer into the fermentor.
As you syphon the wort, watch the wort in the kettle. As you near the bottom, you'll see some gunk floating around that settled during the chill. You don't really want this stuff in your beer. Once you see chunks sucking up in the tube, stop. It's tempting to include as much liquid as possible (because MOAR BEER), but all you'll end up with is dirty beer at the end.
You can use your mouth to syphon. Just don't spit back into the beer! Also, try and avoid putting your mouth end into the beer in the fermentor. Trust me. It'll be fine.
Pro-tip: put a towel underneath to catch the inevitable spillage.
- Make sure you haven't filled your fermentor(s) up too much. When the beer ferments it will foam a bunch at first! There needs to be some air space above the beer for that foam. Otherwise you'll get blow-out with the foam rising through the airlock and spilling out. It's not a problem really, just an avoidable mess. This is especially true if using demijohns which typically don't have that much headspace left over. Don't fill demijohns above the base of the curved top. Use as many as you need.
For carboys, blowout is not much of an issue, as long as your batches are 5 gallons or less.
- Swirl the wort vigorously to get air in. Give it a good shake!
Open your sanitized yeast satchel and pitch! That is, just poor the yeast onto the wort.
Don't shake it up, let the yeast slowly dissolve or mix into the beer. Remember it needs air to start fermenting.
- Assemble the airlock and bung, add a few tablespoons of water (or sanitizer mix if you ar using Starsan). And push the bung into place.
Don't push the top of the bung below the neck of the fermentor or you'll never get it out.
If you find the bung won't stay in place, it's probably because you still have some slippery sanitizer on it. Rinse that off with some of your pre-boiled rinse water, and it should stay in place. If that still doesn't work, use some tape.
- Put the fermentor in a dark, room temperature place.
I use a bathtub with the shower curtain drawn.
Forget what your Dad told you. Don't ferment in a place that is too hot or too cold. Room temperature is good. Eventually, you'll use the fermentation temperature to help enhance certain flavours. For example, fruity abbey ales benefit from fermenting at slightly hotter (22-24 C) than room temperature to encourage formation of fruity esters (banana, peach flavours), and some pale ales can benefit from slightly cooler (e.g., 18 C) to avoid formation of those same esters. But too hot or too cold, and you'll once again, make that crappy homebrew flavour. Until you know what you're doing just go with room temperature.
- After 12-24 hours, the yeast will get working, and you'll notice bubbles burping out of the airlock, and foam building. You're making beer!
Eventually a thick off-white layer will form at the bottom. This is called trub, and is a layer of yeast and what ever other crud made it through the boil.
- (Optional) After about a week, rack the beer to another fermenter. The idea here is to separate the beer and the trub. This will help with clarity and flavour. It's optional though as you'll avoid much of the trub when bottling.
The timing to rack is when the burping activity has nearly ceased (the airlock burps every couple of minutes). Too early and you'll negatively affect the fermenting process.
When racking, try to minize making foam, or splashing the beer. Adding oxygen at this point will negatively impact the taste of your beer you've worked so hard for.
- After about 2 weeks from yeast pitch, once burping activity has entirely ceased, you're ready to bottle.
Sanitize your bottles, bottle caps, transfer tube, tube clip, and bottle wand (if you are using it). Give everything a good rinse with some pre-boiled rinse water. Also sanitize your kettle again, and a small bowl that can handle a couple cups volume.
- Use the Brewer's Friend priming calculator to estimate your priming sugar volume.
The carbonation of your beer will come from a small amount of fermentation in the bottle. The idea is to add just the right amount of sugar to the mix, to get the right amount of carbonation. Use the calculator to estimate how much sugar you need. Aim for 2.2 volumes of CO2, and assume your beer is at 20 C. You can use white sugar, icing sugar, DME, or corn sugar. The choice won't affect your beer flavour. The only practical difference is price (and a very small cost difference on your overall beer). Use what you happen to have.
- Dissolve the sugar into a cup or two of freshly boiled water. Pour that water into your sanitized kettle.
- Syphon the beer onto the sugar water in the kettle.
While syphoning, try to get the beer pooring into a swirling mixture, and avoid any splashing. At this point, introducing air into the beer is bad. But you still need to mix the sugar evenly into the beer. If doing larger batches (3+ gallons), use a sanitized spoon to gently stir the beer a bit.
- Use your transfer tube to move the beer into bottles. At least use your plastic tube clip, and if you have a bottle wand, use that as well.
Start the syphon (I use my mouth), and halt the flow with the plastic clip. If using a bottling wand, insert that in the end of your tube.
One by one, fill the bottles. Leave some head space as a little air is needed for carbonation. If you're not sure how much to leave, match the head space from a store-bought beer. It's not too critical, but some is needed!
As you go, place sanitized caps on the filled bottles to avoid anything getting in. I like to place the caps, but only squeeze the lids on with a capper once the pouring is complete. Otherwise I find myself juggling too much, and end up spilling something.
Squeeze each cap with your capper, and put aside.
- Be patient and wait at least another week (I usually wait about 10 days). It takes a while for the fermentation to reactivate and for cabonation to form.
- Drink and enjoy! After nearly a month, your beer is ready.
Pro-tip: before you drink, chill your beer for at least 24 hours in fridge. This will force any sediment to settle out at the bottom of the bottle (we call this cold crashing), and really help clarify both the look and taste of the beer.
A Note About Sanitization
It sucks to lose a batch from unwanted bacteria. I find the easiest way to avoid that is be diligent with santization. One way to do this that most homebrewers skip is to sanitize before and after use of youe equipment. For example, after I rack beer from fermentor, or bottle, I first rinse and clean my transfer tube and carboy, using soap and water. Once cleaned and rinsed, I then sanitize before air drying and putting away. This sanitization step might seem unnecessary, but it really really helps in killing off stray yeast and bacteria that form during fermenting. All of my gear gets this treatment. I attribute my very few lost batches (only 2 in hundreds of batches brewed) to this technique. The only parts that don't get this treatment are my kettle and grain bag because they get boiled with every batch.