Brewing Beer at Home: The Wort and First Fermentation

Beer Sessions

This past weekend, we got out all our shiny new beer brewing equipment and went to work. In this first phase, we boiled the wort, added the yeast, and got our very first batch of beer fermenting happily. Our evening of brewing definitely had a few bumps, however!

1. Warm Up the Extract - These are cans of pre-hopped malt extract - basically, super-concentrated beer! We need to mix the extract with hot water to get the right concentration. To help extract flow and mix a little better, we warmed the cans in a hot water bath.

2. Add the Malt Extract to the Water - Once the extract is warmed, you can mix into the water. Here, we had about 6 pounds of extract and we mixed it into 1.5 gallons of water. We found out later that we maybe should have only used half the amount of extract for the amount of beer we were brewing. Oh well! We will have extra-rich tasting beer!

Boil the mixture for 45 - 60 minutes. With this kind of extract, you don't technically need to boil it at all, but several of the beer resources we've been consulting recommended doing so anyway. The boil ensures that there's no unwanted bacteria and it also supposedly improves the flavor.

3. Sanitize the Fermentation Equipment - While the beer mix (called the wort) is boiling, you can sanitize the fermentation equipment. For this first stage, we need the fermentation bucket, lid, and air lock. We also sanitized some measuring spoons and spatulas in case we needed them later.

4. Watch Out for Boil-Over! - While our backs were turned, the wort foamed up and boiled over (this is my fiance cleaning up the mess). Learn from our mistake and keep an eye on your wort! As it was, the boil-over looked a lot worse than it was, and we think we only lost a few ounces of liquid.

5. Cool the Wort and Add It To the Fermenter - Once the wort is done boiling, you need to cool it down to around 75° before adding the yeast. If it's too hot, you could accidentally kill the yeast! We simply filled our sink with ice and cold water and set the pot with the hot wort inside. As the water got warm, we drained it and added more ice. Ideally, you want to cool the wort down in a half hour or less to avoid any accidental bacterial contamination.

Once it's cool, you pour the wort into the fermenter and add more cool water until you have a total of 5 - 5.5 gallons.

6. Add the Yeast, Put the Lid On, and Secure the Air Lock - This is when you add the yeast to the wort. The yeast will eat the sugars in the extract, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. The tight lid prevents too much evaporation and keeps any wild yeast or unwanted bacteria from getting into the beer as it ferments. There is an air lock in the lid so that the carbon dioxide can be released.

What's Ahead?

We'll let the beer ferment in this bucket for about a week before transferring it to a glass car boy for secondary fermentation (more about that later). In the first few days, we saw a lot of fermentation, as evidenced by frequent bubbles coming out of the air lock! As the yeast gradually consumes all the sugars, this activity will slow.

When there's no more activity at all, that's when we'll bottle the beer. Wondering how the beer will get carbonated? Reading ahead in our instructions, we see that we'll add a little more sugar to the beer as we're bottling - just enough to make it fizzy!

Are any of you brewing beer right now? How's it going?

Related: Beer Guide: All About Malts

(Images: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)

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