Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com

A beginners guide for beginners

This is written by a beginner (me) for beginners. I hope this post will save you lots of time. I’m obsessed with learning everything I can about brewing and have lots of questions. I’ve found most of the answers here on this forum, thank you. I’ll edit this post as new info come available. Not so much for you folks but to help me remember what I’ve done – right and wrong.

So here’s the stuff I’ve learned during my first batch (American Wheat using NB’s Deluxe Kit)

EQUIPMENT
I purchased the Northern Brewer Deluxe kit with glass carboys ($160.00 or so). I’m glad I invested in glass but people seem to be perfectly happy with plastic bottle-type see-through carboys. They are much lighter and won’t shatter when dropped which is one of my many fears. If I had to do it all over again, I might have gotten those.

EDIT: I just saw this beauty on NB’s home page. This will be my new carboy after I drop my first one. http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/big- … BLER_Slide

Hell no to plastic buckets. My research says they work fine but if you are going to be brewing for the long haul, you’ll really wish you invested in see-through carboys (glass or plastic). I want to see what’s going on in the carboy.

The deluxe kit does not come with a hygrometer (correction HYDROMETER)! That is a big oversight. Any “deluxe” kit ought to have a hygrometer (hyDrometer). No, it’s not 100% necessary but beer brewing is an exercise in controlling and monitoring everything. I would have gladly paid the extra $15 for a hygrometer/test tube. So if you’re new to brewing and have even a hint of “control freak” (or if you’ve ever enjoyed a chemistry set), purchase a hygrometer/test tube along with your kit.

The Deluxe kits includes two glass carboys. One is five gallons, one is 6. The six gallon is for primary fermentation, the 5 is for secondary. The 6 gallon has much more “headroom” for the Krausen so it won’t spew through the airlock. This is obvious to anyone who has brewed but the instructions for a beginner aren’t clear on which one to use first.

You need a LARGE boil pot. Standard large 2.5 gallon kitchen pots won’t do. Boil-over is a near certainty as I almost found out. I happened to have a large turkey fryer pot that I’ve used for shrimp boils. It worked well. Made of aluminum and $30.00 from Walmart. My research tells me that $150 stainless steel is best but only because it doesn’t ding . . . And it’s prettier. Who cares. Save $100 bucks (that’s two beer recipes!) and buy an aluminum one.

Indoor boiling over an electric range will try one’s patience. It took three forever’s to boil the water, two forever’s to re-boil the wort and the smell permeated the entire house for days. The not-unpleasant smell got stuck in my nose so that I smelled it a week later even while away from home. It’s not a bad smell but it’s still there. Invest in a gas burner and boil outside. The water boils much faster.

My kit included a 1” diameter tube about 2 feet long. Other than stuffin’ it in my pants to impress the chicks, I have no idea what it is for.

FERMENTING
Seeing those yeasties start a’bubblin’ within 2 hours was a real treat. It was like an applause for a job well done.

Anyhoo, I’ve been obsessing over temperature control. It’s (what passes for) winter here in North Alabama and I like sleeping in a cool house. My programmable thermostat goes down to 59 degrees at night and I ain’t paying $500 utility bills to keep my beer warm. So far my carboys have been steadily reading 61 -65F. I think that is on the low side of excellent but I’d like to bump it up to a constant 65-68F. I think I’ve settled on storing my carboys in a large Rubbermaid tub ($20) half filled with water and an aquarium heater. During the summer, I think I’ll use the same setup but will use 1 liter soda bottles full of ice to keep carboys cool and the aquarium heater to level the temp out. Am I obsessing over temperature control too much? Probably but opinions on temps vary widely.

I’m want to perfect my consistency during the process and temp is one thing I . . .Must . . . Control.

SECONDARY FERMENTATION
The consensus on the forum tells me that, except for some specialty brews, it’s hardly ever necessary. I only did it because I needed my primary for another batch. But I’m glad I did it so I’m going to disagree with the consensus. There was a lot of trub in my primary when I transferred it to secondary (I used a grease splatter mesh as a filter as I transferred from primary to secondary).

I hear that “secondarying” will reduce sediment in my final bottled product. From what I filtered from the primary, that just has to be so. I’ll know in two more weeks when I open my first bottle . . .OK probably a week since I can’t wait. My secondary had a very thin bed of pleasant yeast trub in the bottom and it was resistant to being stirred up when I stuck the syphon in for bottling. I bottled all but a quarter of a bottle of liquid.

EDIT: I reverse my disagreement with the consensus and Northern Brewer ought to revize their instruction sheet that suggests secondarying. The following thread on another forum, while not definitive, is certainly very convincing. Bottom line is that it probably doesn’t clarify the beer, either, so there is zero reason to secondary except for specialty brews. There also doesn’t really seem to be much harm in it, either (if you properly sanitize and careful of re-oxygenating the beer during racking). So I’ll secondary only if I have a need to empty my 6 gallon carboy for another batch.

This is quite the heated (but educational) debate: http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f36/seconda … ck-155255/

STERILIZATION
A spray bottle full of StarSan solution is very handy from beginning to end of the brew process. Oh, and I didn’t know you could re-use the stuff until after I poured out 5 gallons of it. People report keeping it stored for a year?

EDIT: A good way to use half the sanitizer is to bottle on the same day that you brew a new batch. That way, you use the stuff twice. Again, way obvious but worth it if you can schedule like that.

Starsan makes a fair amount of “soap bubble” foam after you sterilize the carboy. DON’T FEAR THE FOAM! Just leave it alone. When they say you don’t have to rinse Starsan, they mean it. I worried about all the foam, rinsed my carboy with faucet water to remove all the foam and sweated for 2 weeks worrying that I had introduced bacteria into my 1st batch. I was lucky this time. I think.

There is lots of debate on Oxyclean/TSP versus PBW as a carboy cleaner. Oxyclean is cheaper but not really “food safe.” You have to rinse and rinse well. I’ll stick with PBW. Buy it in bulk and it’s cheap enough and works very well.

BOTTLING
I guess you’d need a bottle tree if you’re brewing in a basement but if you have a dishwasher, it works perfectly as a bottle tree. Just spray Starsan solution on all the “prongs” of your dishwasher rack and use it to dry your bottles before brewing. I have not seen that tip on the forums. Perhaps it’s too obvious? But whatever, I almost purchased a tree until I thought of that.

You need two FULL cases of empty bottles for a 5 gallon batch. My friends told me I would not need the full 48. They were wrong.

Capping the bottles is a bit of a chore. I must work on a system there to make it more efficient.

I don’t see the necessity of the “Vinator” for sterilizing bottles. A couple of squirts from spray bottle with Starsan solution works fine. Alternatively, you have to sterilize the bottling bucket with Starsan. Practice filling your bottles with a squirt of solution into each bottle , shake, pour out then place the bottles in your sterilized dishwasher rack to dry. I also didn’t see this tip in the forums but, again, it’s probably too obvious.

I’ll see after drinking my 1st batch but suspect a bottle jet-washer is not really necessary unless you fail to rinse your bottles after drinking.

Brewing is a labor of love but removing labels from some bottles sucks balls. According to a popular science article I read (and the forums here), a mix of Ammonia and water is best. I used plain water (didn’t have ammonia at bottling time) and it worked but not well. I’ll have ammonia next time.

Instead of Starsan solution, some people suggest baking bottles at THREE HUNDRED FIFTY DEGREES for one hour or more to sterilize? Seriously? That’s crazy. Pretty much any microscopic living thing is killed at 160 degrees in seconds. If you are out of Starsan, don’t bake the hell out of your bottles. It can make them brittle and potential bobble-bombs. But whatever the case, I won’t be sterilizing in the oven. Too many things can go wrong.

I don’t want ANY sediment in my beer. My next obsession will be over deciding on Irish Moss versus gelatin versus other clarifiers. There are even some reusable caps you can purchase that slurp up the sediment. Those are probably expensive but perhaps worth it. I just don’t know but, by Silenus, I will not tolerate sediment in my bottles.

That is all. For now.

I’m new to brewing, too! My first 2 weeks in primary end in a few days and then I’ll be doing my first siphon to secondary. Nice writeup…I’m curious about using the dishwasher to dry bottles. I was going to get a tree or fastrack, but if its safe(for the dishwasher) to starsan the rack and dry them there, I’ll just do that.

Also wanted to mention that the 1" hose in your kit is to be used as a blowoff hose during primary fermentation. But I guess yoiu could put it in your pants and try to pick up some ladies if you want.

‘There was a lot of trub in my primary when I transferred it to secondary (I used a grease splatter mesh as a filter as I transferred from primary to secondary).’
If this is what I think it is, screen that goes over a fry pan, you may have oxidized your beer. After fermentation begins you don’t want to do anything that will introduce oxygen into the wort/beer.

Next go at racking tilt your carboy with a piece of 2x4 to reduce the surface area of beer over trub at the bottom. Start with your siphon high above the yeast/trub layer. Gradually lower it as the level drops. Leave a little beer in the fermentor instead of drawing out some trub.

If you are bottle conditioning (carbonating) you WILL have sediment. Nature of the beast. You need yeast to make CO2. The yeast will fall to the bottom of the bottle. Sediment.

For the record it is a HYDROMETER, not a hygrometer. A HYDROMETER measures the specific gravity of a liquid. A hygrometer meaures humidity, or moisture content in the air.

For the record it is a HYDROMETER, not a hygrometer. A HYDROMETER measures the specific gravity of a liquid. A hygrometer meaures humidity, or moisture content in the air.

I don’t understand why you’re spraying your dishwasher rack with starsan. You’re sanitizing the bottles before you bottle anyway, right?

My process is a little different (and probably more time consuming). I soak all my bottles in PBW two nights before bottling day. I have a giant plastic tub which holds all 48 bottles. This will remove anything caked on stuff in the bottles as well as the labels from commercial brews easily. I scrub them the following day and put them on the bottle tree and let them dry over night. On bottle day I mix up 5 gal of starsan into my bottling bucket, spray down my bottle tree with starsan, then i submerge (About 12 at a time) bottles in the starsan and then put them on the bottle tree. This sanitizes my bottles and my bucket at the same time. Then I transfer the starsan to another container and rack my beer into the bottling bucket. When bottling I just remove bottles from the tree as i need them.

Awesome replies so far. Thanks.

On oxygenating the wort by transferring from primary to secondary. Gee thanks. Now I’ll worry another 2 weeks. In my defense, I siphoned 95% of the wort to secondary so it was a pretty calm process. I only used the grease splatter screen to filter out the little bit of golden juice from the trub.

But I did assume that oxygenating the wort again would be a good thing. It would re-ignite the yeast was my reasoning. So thanks for the correction.

Hygrometer versus hydrometer. Thanks for that. Saved me from sounding stupid(er) at my 1st tasting.

Sediment: I forgot about sediment being a byproduct of the yeast and not necessarily from all the ingredients from the initial boil. So I’m gonna have sediment anyway. I will find a way, dad gummit.

And thanks for the explanation of the big tube used as a blow-off. I’ll sterilize it when I remove it from my pants.

Because paranoia. Good point, though.

How long can you re-use that tub’a stuff?

Here is a link to another forum. The author had the same idea in response to a post from a beginner and bad recipe instructions.

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/beginne ... wto-99139/

I would suggest mixing a new batch every time. The water gets pretty murky from label glue and other stuff in the bottles. PBW is expensive and its exactly why I’m switching over to Oxyclean at least for my bottle cleaning. It takes about 15 gallons of water to completely submerge all the bottles in this tub and enough PBW to be effective in 15 gallons is quite a bit. $13 for 7.2# of Oxyclean vs $40 for 8# of PBW.

I will add my opinion to this as well….

  1. For the boil pot…get the largest you can afford and I suggest a 10 gallon from the get go. I hate having extra old crap laying around and that will happen if you just get a 4 or 8 gallon as sooner of later you will want to do full boils and that takes at least a 10 gallon in my experience.

  2. Get a refractometer and skip the hydrometer if you can afford it. I still don’t have one, but sooner or later I will get one. It’s a shame you did not get one in your kit because when I got my deluxe kit as a gift it came with the hydrometer. Maybe the person who bought it ordered it extra, but it was in the box so I assume it was part of the kit.

  3. IF you are going to use glass carboys find some old milk crates to place them in. Much easier to carry them and for safety if drop it :slight_smile:

  4. IMO…and yes…this is just my opinion….go all grain right away if you can. Yes it will cost you more money, but once I went all grain I made better beer.

  5. If you are using dry yeast you don’t HAVE to aerate your wort, but it won’t hurt if you do. Swirl carboy for 2-5 minutes.

  6. Get one of those wall paper soaking trays for sanitizing. The racking cane fits perfect in there. I also sanitize the bottles in there as well. This was a tip from a guy I bought some brewing things from when I was starting out and it was one OF THE BEST tips ever.

  7. Get or make an immersion chiller.

  8. You can wash your bottles in the dish washer, but make sure you plug the jet dry hole.

Awesome replies. Keep 'em coming.

To the poster who suggested all-grain recipes: That scares the hell out of me at this point but the training wheels will most certainly come off soon enough.

I’m eying a spot in my yard to grow a patch of barley, rye and hops. :wink:

I got to the big long section on bottling and skipped right past it. I HATE bottling. Always have, always will. Move to kegging asap. Soooo much easier, soooo much faster, and you’ll have clear beer too!

Couldn’t agree more about the electric stove top issue. I used my stove top for about a year or so and it was a nightmare. I bought myself a turkey frier setup from Home Depot for like $30. It came with a 7.5gal pot, which I’ve upgraded to a 10gal pot, but it’s still a great deal.

Another tip about brewing with gas. Get yourself an extra propane tank. After you run out mid boil a few times it sinks in. A second tank on hand is needed. When one goes, hook up the second and then get the first filled again at your leisure.

There is endless advice to give, but I’ll end with this… there will always be another piece of equipment, another grain, another hop, glassware, etc that you’ll want. I’ve uttered these words “all I need now is a (blank) and I’m good” so many times. When I say it now, my wife just shakes her head and says “uh-huh”.

[quote=“jimexcelcs”]Awesome replies. Keep 'em coming.

To the poster who suggested all-grain recipes: That scares the hell out of me at this point but the training wheels will most certainly come off soon enough.

I’m eying a spot in my yard to grow a patch of barley, rye and hops. :wink: [/quote]

Don’t be scared of all grain. Brew a partial mash once then jump in. It’s not hard. Once you get past he equipment, it’s cheaper than extract and you have much more control over the final product. And really isn’t it much cooler to brew all grain than extract 8)

[quote=“dobe12”][quote=“jimexcelcs”]Awesome replies. Keep 'em coming.

To the poster who suggested all-grain recipes: That scares the hell out of me at this point but the training wheels will most certainly come off soon enough.

I’m eying a spot in my yard to grow a patch of barley, rye and hops. :wink: [/quote]

Don’t be scared of all grain. Brew a partial mash once then jump in. It’s not hard. Once you get past he equipment, it’s cheaper than extract and you have much more control over the final product. And really isn’t it much cooler to brew all grain than extract 8) [/quote]

There is a lot to learn about brewing before you get into the additional intricacy of working with grains.
Concentrate on sanitation, yeast pitching rates, and temperature control. All grain does not automatically make a better beer. Many award winning beers have been made from an extract kit.

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/extract ... in-443586/

I don’t understand why you’re spraying your dishwasher rack with starsan. You’re sanitizing the bottles before you bottle anyway, right?

My process is a little different (and probably more time consuming). I soak all my bottles in PBW two nights before bottling day. I have a giant plastic tub which holds all 48 bottles. This will remove anything caked on stuff in the bottles as well as the labels from commercial brews easily. I scrub them the following day and put them on the bottle tree and let them dry over night. On bottle day I mix up 5 gal of starsan into my bottling bucket, spray down my bottle tree with starsan, then i submerge (About 12 at a time) bottles in the starsan and then put them on the bottle tree. This sanitizes my bottles and my bucket at the same time. Then I transfer the starsan to another container and rack my beer into the bottling bucket. When bottling I just remove bottles from the tree as i need them.[/quote]

Sounds like he’s sanitizing his dishwasher rack for the same reason that you and I sanitize our bottling tree before putting our sanitized bottles on it. Seems like a good idea to me.

[quote=“flars”][quote=“dobe12”][quote=“jimexcelcs”]Awesome replies. Keep 'em coming.

To the poster who suggested all-grain recipes: That scares the hell out of me at this point but the training wheels will most certainly come off soon enough.

I’m eying a spot in my yard to grow a patch of barley, rye and hops. :wink: [/quote]

Don’t be scared of all grain. Brew a partial mash once then jump in. It’s not hard. Once you get past he equipment, it’s cheaper than extract and you have much more control over the final product. And really isn’t it much cooler to brew all grain than extract 8) [/quote]

There is a lot to learn about brewing before you get into the additional intricacy of working with grains.
Concentrate on sanitation, yeast pitching rates, and temperature control. All grain does not automatically make a better beer. Many award winning beers have been made from an extract kit.

http://www.homebrewtalk.com/f39/extract ... in-443586/[/quote]

Horse hockey!

I know people that never brewed an extract beer. Straight to AG.

It’s simple. Soak grain, rinse grain, boil.

Then you can get as complicated as you want with water adjustments.

[quote=“Nighthawk”]
Horse hockey!

I know people that never brewed an extract beer. Straight to AG.

It’s simple. Soak grain, rinse grain, boil.

Then you can get as complicated as you want with water adjustments.[/quote]
I agree with this. Understanding water and how to tweak it is the most complex part, but not particularly hard and is well worth it. Bru’n Water

really simplifies the water part of AG.

It’s also worth pointing out that AG doesn’t require that much more equipment and you’ll save money on ingredients, so it should be cheaper in the long run as long as you don’t go crazy on hardware.

I read it wrong, my bad. I thought he said he was WASHING them in the dishwasher then sanitizing the bottles AFTER that. I don’t dry mine after sanitizing other than letting them drip dry.

Back to Shopping at NorthernBrewer.com