and finally, part 2!

yes, it’s finally the second part of my homebrewing series. part one is here, for those who came in late.

so, quick review:

beer stuff goes into water and gets boiled. the water is now wort. the wort then goes into a fermenter.


the wort needs to be cooled next. i use a copper cooler:


it’s submerged in the hot wort and cold water gets circulated through to cool the proto-beer. this is overkill for the novice, however. for years i did what many brewers do: i set the fermenter of hot wort in a sink or tub full of ice water. works nicely, really. just not quite as fast or easy as the cooler.

after cooling the wort, one other thing always goes into the fermenter: yeast.

yeast is incredibly important to the beer-making process. different types of yeast require vastly different conditions and create vastly different types of beer. i brew ales exclusively, using top-fermenting ale yeasts. these yeasts like temperatures in the 50 to 75 degree Farenheit range. ale yeasts also tend to create lots of esters, which help define the beer’s flavours.

lager yeasts, however, like cooler temperatures (44 to 60 degrees), fermenting from the bottom of the wort. they also have to be very closely monitored during the brewing process, or a very unappealing butter flavour and texture can develop in the beer.

i like White Labs‘ excellent line of liquid yeasts:


these yeast cultures are ready to “pitch” – the fancy beer making term for adding them to the wort.

that said, there are many fine liquid and dry varieties available. most first-time brewers should probably just buy a starter kit and use the yeast that comes with it, i think.

since the yeast is bringing about a chemical change in the wort, there tend to be gases released. to allow them to escape the fermenter (but keep out nasty things like oxygen and mold), an airlock is used:


a very simple device, it keeps gas flow moving only one-way (out) of the fermenter…

and speaking of fermenters, i should probably comment on the various options available.

i use plastic fermenters. they’re essentially just big food-safe buckets that have a hole in the lid for the airlock. some brewers, however, prefer glass carboys. both have certain advantages and disadvantages. the plastic models are very light and easy to move, empty or full. they are harder to clean and sanitize than carboys, though. carboys are very easy to keep sterile, but heavy and fragile. they can also explode if over pressurized – though this is very, very rare. to break, a carboy would almost have to have some obvious damage or flaw – which the brewer would catch when inspecting it before each use.

so, the wort and yeast go in along with any recipie-specific fermenter additives. my favourite fermenter additive? i’ve read a recipie that called for a plucked chicken in a burlap sack to be added to the wort (after crushing it with a mallet). not anything i’ve ever brewed, mind. but really, ah, interesting to contemplate.

so, the yeast goes to work, and a few days (or weeks, or even longer), you’ve got beer.

flat beer. in a bucket.

so, how do you empty the bucket? you can’t just pour it out – you’d get all the dead yeast mixed in with your beer. ick. so, you use a special tool called a racking cane to “rack” (another fancy brewing word!) the beer into another container. that container can be a secondary fermenter (for specific styles, often high alcohol brews), a bottling bucket (if you’re putting the beer into individual bottles), or a keg (what i use).

a racking cane looks like this:


and, while in use, looks a bit like this:


ooh! beer flow!


so, now that it’s in a bottling bucket or keg, you need to carbonate it, right? because nobody really wants to drink this:


that’s beer right out of the fermenter. tastes just fine, but not at all what most folks want to drink.

the carbonation in beer can come from a couple places. if you’re using bottles, which most novices do (and should, until they really decide they like brewing enough to invest in kegs), you add a small amount of sugar to the beer as it flows into the bottling bucket. this sugar serves to “jump-start” the yeast suspended in the beer. when trapped in a sealed bottle, the gases they create are forced into solution in the beer, creating carbonation.



kegs let you carbonate like the pros – you force the gas into the beer. this has three major benefits over bottle carbonation:

1. kegs don’t explode from over-vigorous yeast. when bottles do (and they do), it’s a huge mess. i know.

2. clear beer with no waste. bottle-fermented beer always has a sediment of deceased yeast at the bottom. you don’t want this in your glass, so you can’t pour the entire bottle. any agitation before a pour can disturb the sediment as well, leading to cloudy beer.

3. you can control just how much or how little gas is in solution in your brew. need lots of fine bubbles? no problem. relatively few, large bubbles? also easy. excellent for replicating different styles.

carbonating with kegs is simplicity itself: look up the amount of gas you want in your beer, set your gas regulator to the indicated pressure, and walk away. in a couple days, beer!

so that’s the process in short. there are a few other things to mention, like hydrometers:


this is a nifty tool that you’ll use a lot as a brewer. it measures the specific gravity of your wort and beer. the change in gravity that comes as the yeast devour sugars in the wort can be measured with this tool and used to calculate the alcohol content of your brews. obviously, this is very nice to know when someone wants a taste – if they’re Bud Light drinkers, maybe they should be warned about that 8% ABV dry stout, you know?

also, there are a lot of resources that have come in handy over the years. probably the foremost are Charlie Papazian’s books. a fantastic resource for novice and old hand alike, his vast knowledge and dry wit make for fascinating and fun reading.

there are also a multitude of websites out there. my favourite is probably – not only do they have a store for mail-order mayhem, but there are lots of informative articles and columns for your enjoyment.

i hope everyone has enjoyed this “series,” and i hope to get back to a regular (sort of) series of updates on what i’m drinking, too.

happy brewing (and drinking)!

quote of the day:

“Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.” – John Ciardi


One Response to “and finally, part 2!”

  1. Lowcountry Blogs » Blog Archive » Morning Coffee Says:

    […] JJ finally gets around to updating his series on home brewing. […]

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