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Beginners' Getting Started Guide

  I hope that the following guide can help  some  beginners  with  their

first batches. I obviously can't cover every little detail of homebrewing here, but I have tried to give an easily followed outline of the process, along with most of the common pitfalls faced by beginners. I would welcome any comments or criticism on this section, as it will probably appear again, in hopefully better form.

[1] The first thing I recommend to the new brewer is to find a source

  of  brewing  supplies.  It  may  be  a local brew shop or a mail order
  store.  Check out books on homebrew either at a library or  bookstore.
  The  book  I  recommend getting is Charlie Papazian's "Complete Joy of
  Homebrewing." This is easily one of the best homebrewing books around,
  and  it  is  very  useful  for both beginners and experienced brewers.
  There are lots of other good books around, so don't worry if you can't
  find  this one.  One caveat: stay away from books published in the UK,
  as these can be confusing and/or misleading  for  the  beginner.  They
  specify  ingredients  that  aren't found in the US, and generally give
  poor advice, like adding lots of sugar.

[2] The next thing to do is buy a kit. Most brew stores sell kits

  that contain everything you need to make your first batch, except  for
  bottles.  They'll  cost  anywhere  from $35-$60 depending on how fancy
  they are.  I'd recommend getting a kit that includes a 5 gallon  glass
  carboy  as  well  as  a plastic pail.  Other useful items that the kit
  might not include are  thermometer  and  hydrometer.  The  kit  should
  include:  10  gallon  plastic  pail,  siphon equipment, bottle filler,
  bottle brush, bottle caps, bottle capper, fermentation lock,  chlorine
  cleaner,  and  perhaps  ingredients.  If the kit includes a carboy, it
  should also include a short length of plastic hose for the  "blow-by,"
  and a funnel.  There might be some other odd items, such as a stirring
  spoon.  The major difference between one kit and another will  be  the
  presence  of a glass carboy, so in this article I will indicate when a
  difference in technique is called for.  If the kit  does  not  include
  ingredients, there are usually several kinds of malt extract to choose
  from.  Try to pick something not too heavy for the first time; a light
  or  amber  ale  is  a very good choice.  Also try to get a hopped malt
  extract the first time to keep it simple.  If none is available,  then
  get  2  ounces of fresh hops if available.  Failing that, get 2 ounces
  of hop pellets.

[3] Relax, don't worry, and have a homebrew. Now you are about ready

  to  start brewing.  If possible, it is extraordinarily helpful at this
  point to find somebody who's done it before, and have them  help  you.
  Doing  this  will  greatly  improve  your chances of success the first
  time, but don't worry if you can't swing it, your  chances  are  still
  pretty good.  Remember to tell yourself, "Relax, don't worry, and have
  a homebrew." The first time, ordinary beer will have to do, but do try
  to  drink  homebrew whenever you brew - it will help you to not worry.
  (Worrying can ruin the taste of your homebrew.)

[4] To begin, you'll need a large pot to boil the malt extract in.

  The  pot  should be large enough to hold at least 2 gallons of water -
  the bigger the better.  Fill the pot up about half way (whatever  that
  happens  to  be)  with water and boil it.  The idea is to boil as much
  water as possible, but to have room in the pot for foam that  will  be
  produced  by boiling.  While the water is heating up, remove the label
  from the can(s) of malt extract, and put the can(s) in some hot  water
  to  soften  the extract.  When the water boils, put in the extract and
  let it boil again, stirring frequently so the  extract  doesn't  burn.
  When  it  comes to a second boil, watch out - it has a strong tendency
  to foam up and make a legendary mess on  your  stove.  When  the  foam
  rises,  remove  the pot from the fire and let it settle down a minute.
  When you put it back, it will have (slightly) less  tendency  to  boil
  over, but it needs watching.

[5] If you have hops or hop pellets, add them now, and boil the wort

  (wort  ==  unfermented  beer)  for  at  least  a half hour (an hour is
  better.) If you're not using hops, but instead, hopped  malt  extract,
  then it is not necessary to boil very long - 15 minutes is sufficient.

[6] While the wort is boiling, you should sanitize everything that

  will  come  in  contact with the beer.  This includes the fermentation
  container, fermentation lock if any, utensils, everything.  Sanitizing
  is  done by soaking in a solution of water and the sanitizing chemical
  that came with your kit.  A few teaspoons of  household  bleach  in  a
  gallon  of  water  is  quite effective also.  I generally fill a large
  bowl with bleach solution and throw in  everything  to  be  sanitized.
  After  sanitizing,  rinse  well  with  clean  water  at least 3 times.
  Notice I keep saying "sanitize" and not "sterilize." Well, it would be
  nice  if  you  could  sterilize, but you can't.  Sterilization is very
  difficult, i.e., boiling under pressure for an hour, so sanitizing  is
  the  best  we  can  do.  Needless to say, be careful not to breath the
  fumes or get any sanitizing solution in your  eyes.  Sanitizing  might
  sound  like  a  pain,  but  that's  only because it is.  However, it's
  absolutely the most important thing you can do to  make  your  beer  a
  success.  You  can  screw  up  a  dozen  other things, but if you keep
  everything clean, you'll still liable to brew  a  good  beer.  But  if
  you're  not sanitary, the finest ingredients and techniques won't help
  - you'll brew quite undrinkable beer.

[7] Now put about 2 gallons of cold water into your fermenter, and add

  the boiled wort.  A funnel is handy at this point if you are  using  a
  carboy.   If  your  boiling  pot  is  very  large,  use  less  than  2
  gallons-remember, we're eventually making 5 gallons. (Do not pour  the
  hot  wort  directly into a carboy with no water in it - you are likely
  to crack the glass!) If you added hops, you'll want to use a  strainer
  to  remove  them, but don't worry if you don't get them all.  Now fill
  your fermenter up to 5 gallons with cold water.  If you're  using  the
  plastic  pail,  it  helps  if you've previously marked where 5 gallons
  occurs - a magic marker works well.  If you're using a carboy, fill it
  up  to  several  inches from the top.  Depending on how much water you
  boiled, the temperature of the wort might  be  too  high  to  add  the
  yeast.  If so, let it cool until it is below 90 degrees F.

[8] Now the packet of yeast may be added to the wort. If you like,

  you  can  "start"  the yeast.  I usually do this to give it a "running
  start" and also simply to be sure that the yeast  is  good.  To  start
  the yeast, sanitize a bottle, and mix 2 teaspoons of corn sugar with a
  half cup of 80 degree water, and add the yeast.  Stick a  fermentation
  lock on top and let it sit while the wort cools.  By the time the wort
  is cooled, the yeast starter should be busy fermenting, and you should
  see  bubbles percolating through the fermentation lock.  Now just dump
  the yeast mixture into the wort.  If you're using a carboy, be careful
  when filling it with water to leave room in it for the yeast mixture.

[9] After the yeast is added, put the lid on the plastic fermenter and

  attach  the  fermentation lock.  Don't forget to put some water in the
  lock.  If you're using a carboy, force  the  short  piece  of  plastic
  tubing  through  the  stopper  a little bit, and put it on the carboy.
  Place the other end of the tube in a bucket of  water.  This  type  of
  fermentation  lock  is  known as a "blow-by," and is necessary because
  the fermentation will produce lots of foam and sludge, and it  has  no
  place  to  go  except  out.  If  you  used  an ordinary lock, it would
  quickly fill up with garbage.  In a plastic pail, there is  plenty  of
  space for the foam to grow.

[10] Now put the whole thing into a cool, dark, place to let it

  ferment.  Dark  is  important  because  sunlight  can damage the beer.
  Cool is important because beer-fouling organisms don't thrive as  well
  at  lower  temperatures.  Room  temperature is usually fine - about 70
  degrees F.  If you can get it to 65  or  60,  that  would  be  better.
  Don't  make  it  colder than 60, however, because then the yeast won't
  work very well. (Most beginners will be using  top  fermenting  yeast,
  which  works  best  at  60 degrees and above.  Bottom fermenting yeast
  works fine all the way  down  to  freezing.)  If  you  can't  get  the
  temperature  below 80, then you should look for a better place to keep
  your beer.  If you are using the carboy method, check the bucket daily
  for  overflow.  Signs of fermentation should appear within a couple of
  hours, and by the next morning, it should be fermenting madly.

[11] After a few days, it will start to slow down, and will finish

  sometime  between 4 and 10 days after you began.  If you are using the
  carboy and blow-by, replace the blow-by with a fermentation lock  when
  it  stops  blowing  out  garbage and starts blowing only bubbles.  How
  will you know when it's done fermenting?  If you like,  you  can  take
  hydrometer  readings,  and wait until it stabilizes (same reading on 3
  consecutive days.) However, I've  found  it  works  just  as  well  to
  observe  the  frequency of the bubbles in the airlock.  When you watch
  it, but don't see any bubbles for a few minutes, it's quite  ready  to
  be  bottled.  When it finishes fermenting, you don't have to bottle it
  immediately, but it's best to bottle it within 3-4 weeks of beginning.

[12] The first step in bottling is to acquire bottles. Go to a liquor

  store  or  bar  and pay $2.50 for 2 cases of empty deposit bottles. Do
  not use the throwaway kind with the screw-off tops, as these  are  not
  strong enough.  Chances are the bottles will be pretty scummy, so pour
  an inch or two of strong bleach solution into each, and let  them  sit
  for  an  hour.  Then  rinse  them  well,  using  your  bottle brush if
  necessary, and your bottle washer if you have one (see issue #1.)

[13] If you fermented your beer in a carboy, siphon(*) the beer into

  the  sanitized plastic pail, and add a boiled solution of 3/4 cup corn
  sugar and water.  If you used the  pail  to  ferment,  then  you  must
  "prime"  the bottles with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar each.  This added
  sugar is what produces the carbonation in  the  bottles.  Do  not  use
  more  than  1  cup per 5 gallons or 1 teaspoon per bottle, or you risk
  the danger (and social embarrassment) of exploding bottles.

[14] Now fill the bottles with the siphon and bottle filler, and cap

  them.  Store at room temperature for at least a week, then try to move
  the beer someplace a little cooler. (I keep mine underneath a window.)
  The  beer  should  be  drinkable  3 weeks after bottling, depending on
  ingredients.  You might want to try a bottle every week after bottling
  just to taste the changes that occur.

* siphoning: don't suck on the tube to start it, that will introduce lots

 of  bacteria  into  the  beer.  A good trick is to fill the siphon with
 water to start it.  Remember that the level of  liquid  in  the  source
 container must be higher off the ground than the top of the destination
 container in order for the siphon to work.
  Now don't rush to brew the second batch quite yet.  Why not wait a few

weeks and see how the first turned out? That way, if you really did something wrong, you have a chance to find out what, and avoid the problem in the second batch. Good luck!

Rob Gardner Somewhere in HP

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