To smell the malty, sweet aroma of wort in my own kitchen for the very first time was nothing short of life-changing. I’ve visited countless breweries in the past seven years and the smell of warm wort always reminds me of the magic that is unfolding. To have that same aroma permeate my own living quarters for the first time is a memory that will undoubtedly stay with me forever. I’m sure fellow home brewers can relate and remember their very first batch. I’ve spent a few days reflecting on my first brew day. Here is an extension of that reflection, which should capture the joy, blunders, and ecstasy of my inaugural home brew. Enjoy!
Before Brew Day:
- I spent a few months reading as much as I could about home brewing and also watching countless home brewing YouTube videos. I’ve included the videos that were the most helpful in the resources section below. I first read Charlie Papazian’s classic, “The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.” It was easy to follow and definitely made a novice like me feel confident about my first batch. Throughout brew day, I kept repeating Uncle Charlie’s words, “Relax, don’t worry, have a home brew.” More on that later.
- I like to be over-prepared, so I created a step-by-step list that I compiled from various books, videos, and the specific instructions from my ingredients kit. I’ve also included these steps in the resources section. John Palmer’s “How to Brew” and my local home brew shop owner were both instrumental in helping me craft my own brewing instruction guide.
- I ordered the “Gold Complete Beer Equipment Kit (K6)” from Home Brew Ohio via Amazon.com. I am very happy with the kit, although it was far from “complete.” I definitely had to spend at least another $100 on the following to have everything I would need: auto-siphon, hydrometer jar, 7.5 gallon boiling pot, stainless steel stirring spoon, pyrex measuring cup, turkey baster, bottle caps, and thermometer for boil. I purchased my ingredients from the Back Alley Brew Shop in Patchogue.
- I really wanted to do an all-grain first batch. I felt that using extracts was, in a way, cheating. I quickly realized that I was being overly ambitious. Plus, I didn’t have all of the equipment I needed for an all-grain first home brew. I opted for a partial grain and partial malt extract batch. The IPA recipe called for Cascade, Nelson. Sauvin, Galaxy, Amarillo, and Wakatu hops. (New Zealand is represented more than once, so it should have a very interesting hop profile.)
Brew Day Morning:
- I invited my (soon-to-be) brother in law over to help out with the process. He expressed interest in being there for my first ever batch and I knew I would need another set of hands. It was great to share the experience with my brother (and wife when she wasn’t watching our twin daughters and keeping them away from the kitchen.)
- The morning was consumed with getting all of my gear and ingredients in order and sanitizing everything. The important sanitizing step really played well with my OCD.
- I assumed it would take a long time to get 2.5 gallons of water up to 160 degrees, so I started to heat the water before my brother arrived. It didn’t take longer than 30 minutes, to my surprise.
I’m not going to bore everyone with a step-by-step description of my process. I’ll skip to the juicy part, the several rookie mistakes I made.
- My first mistake was picking up a growler of Finch’s Hardcore Chimera, a Double IPA. I was in a celebratory mood and I probably had two glasses before really getting started. Two glasses is certainly not a lot of beer, but it was enough to subvert my ultra anal, follow directions to a T personality. I’ll definitely limit my beer consumption until the main first steps are completed, moving forward.
- I don’t know how I fudged this up, but I poured the Cascade hops right into the boiling kettle. It’s not a big deal if you have a strainer. I didn’t have one and my local restaurant supplier is closed on weekends. After an emergency call to my home brew shop, my fears were assuaged; the siphoning process should filter out most of the hop leaves.
- I was anxious to take my first hydrometer reading, as it’s a pretty crucial step in the brewing process. Experienced brewers will laugh at this one. I pitched my yeast before taking my original hydrometer reading. This is important because the reading gives you a baseline with which to measure the degree your wort has fermented. I had already aerated the wort (shook it up to add oxygen before introducing yeast), so the foamy wort was super difficult to read. I also was worried that I removed a good deal of yeast with my turkey baster.
- The cool down – I decided to cool down the wort with an ice-bath in my bathtub. The only issue was that the boiling pot was floating around the water on the verge of capsizing. I used ice and a dozen frozen water bottles to cool down the water, but the unsteady pot of wort was definitely unnerving. Eventually, we moved the pot to an ice-bath in my kitchen sink. It was a perfect fit and cooled down the wort to below 80 degrees in less than 20 minutes.
I have to be honest. After the third mistake, I felt pretty defeated. I was pretty doubtful I would even have a successful fermentation process. A small voice in my head kept saying, “You’re not cut out for this!” I quickly remembered one of the main themes from a pretty influential book I read last year titled Mindset: the New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. Setbacks and mistakes, for those who operate from a growth mindset, are opportunities for learning and discovery. This was my very first foray into an exciting new world. Once again, I borrow from Dweck: “People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.”
A day later, I opened up my closet to observe the fermentation bucket and was very happy to see the airlock bubbling every few seconds. Whether or not the beer will taste great, at least I will have (fermented) beer in a few weeks. Missteps will continue to occur every now and then, but that’s all part of the journey.
We’ll see how it turns out in roughly a month. I’m already plotting my next batch and can’t wait to again have a kitchen full of grains, hops, and eager yeast. If you are a home brewer or are interested in the craft, please feel free to comment on my self-made instruction manual below.
The Bierwax Guide for a First-Time Home Brewer
This is based on a 5 gallon, partial grain/partial extract malt batch. Instructions will differ based on your recipe.
- Purchase one bag of ice for ice bath (in sink). Have a few more ice trays on standby.
- Have enough top up gallons of water. (Keep one in fridge in case you need to cool wort even more.)
- Double check that I have all equipment.
- Set up everything that I need.
- Prepare sanitizing solution.
- Sanitize everything that will come in contact with the beer (including scissors and yeast packet).
- Take out yeast packet from fridge and prep it. (Needs three hours to sit before being pitched.)
- Start to heat up the water (2.5 gallons of water) Put the burner on high, but bring it down to a lower setting once it gets to approx. 150 degrees.
- Once the water is 150-155°, pour the specialty grains in the mesh bag, tie a knot on the top, and drop it into the kettle. Let the grains steep for 15-30 minutes at 150-155°. Keep the temp steady. (Consider getting a larger mesh bag for the grains.)
- Add each hop addition to a different mesh bag and arrange them according to time introduced into boil.
- Then remove the grain bag and let the wort drip down into the pot. (Don’t squeeze.)
- Take off the heat and add the malt extract. Stir the extract thoroughly to make sure it is all dissolved into the wort. (Move the pot to a cool burner.)
- Once it is dissolved completely, turn the burner back on and bring again to a boil.
- Once the boiling has resumed, set a timer for 60 minutes. Add the Cascade hops – stir and keep stirring every now and then to avoid a boil over. Keep watching it carefully at this point. (Good idea to set separate alarms for each separate hop. It is easy to lose track of time.)
- While waiting for and watching the boil, prep the ice-bath. If your sink is large enough, do it there.
- With 15 minutes left on the hour, add the Nelson Sauvin hops.
- With 10 minutes left, add the Galaxy hops.
- With 5 minutes left, add the Amarillo and Wakatu hops.
- Once the 60 minute boil is up, remove the hops from the boil. Then add the boiling kettle to the ice bath. Make sure it is covered. Replace the ice and add more cold water, if need be. With a sanitized thermometer, take the temperature every 15 minutes. (Total cooling time should ideally be 30 minutes or less.) Carefully stir the wort, if it is not cooling quickly enough. (Make sure not to splash.)
- Once at 80 degrees, pour the wort vigorously into the plastic fermentation bucket.
- Sanitize the top of the water bottle. Add room temperature (top-up) water to the wort to bring the total volume of liquid to the 5 gallon mark on the bucket.
- Stir with a sanitized spoon to mix the wort and the water.
- Check to make sure the fermometer on the side of the bucket reads between 65 and 75 degrees.
- Using a sanitized turkey baster, take a sample of wort and introduce it into the hydrometer jar. Float the hydrometer in the the jar and record the reading. (Should be approx. 1.067 OG)
- Aerate the wort – Cover it with the lid and shake it vigorously for 3 minutes.
- Cut open the yeast packet and add it to the wort. Use the spoon to mix it around. (Based on liquid yeast such as Wyeast.)
- Fasten the lid and airlock.
- Using a sanitized turkey baster, add sanitizing solution to the airlock. Fill it to mark.
- Move the fermenter to a closet or space with no direct sunlight. Should be around 65 degrees.
- In about a week, when fermentation has slowed down, take another hydrometer reading. (Make sure everything is sanitized.) The reading should be in the range of SG 1.010 – 1.015. If it is higher than this, reseal and continue fermenting for a few more days.
- Using the auto-siphon, siphon the beer into a sanitized carboy. (Some people skip the secondary fermentation step.)
- Seal the carboy with the bung and airlock. (Airlock should be filled halfway with sanitizer solution)
- Let the beer ferment for an additional 1-2 weeks in the secondary fermenter.
- Take one final hydrometer reading (Should be close to 1.015)
- Make sure bottles are sanitized
- Gather all necessary materials (bottles, bottle caps, bottle capper, filtered water, smaller saucepan, and priming sugar)
- Make sure bottling bucket is sanitized and the spigot is on the off position.
- Prepare the priming solution: (.53 cup of sucrose) Add the priming sugar to 1 pint (2 cups) of boiling water and stir to dissolve. Boil for 5 minutes. (Let it cool for 20 minutes.)
- Pour the sugar solution into the sanitized bottling bucket.
- Use the auto-siphon to siphon the beer from the carboy into the bottling bucket. Give it a very gentle stir, minimizing bubbles or air getting in. Cover the bottling bucket and let it sit for 20 minutes.
- Use the bottle filler (attached to the spigot of the bottling bucket) to begin sending beer into each bottle. Stop when the beer is one inch from the top of the bottle.
- Cap each bottle with the bottle capper. (A second person can cap while I bottle.)
- Move the capped bottles to a dark, warm spot (preferably 70 degrees). Wait 2 weeks before enjoying.
- Add my special labels and move as many as possible to fridge.
NorthernBrewer TV has a ton of great videos, as well.
There are plenty of home brewing books to choose from. I recommend the two classics…
How to Brew by John Palmer
The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian
A quick Google search will lead you to multiple home brew blogs that can be extremely helpful.