Yeast + Sugar = Alcohol!

Ok, so you've added malt and hops to your steeped grain tea, completing the wort.


An iodine sanitizing solution, available at any brewing retailer.

From this point on, sanitation must always be a primary concern. Once the wort stops boiling, contact with any unsanitized surface or utensil can cause contamination, resulting in serious off-flavors in your beer. Contamination is a brewer's worst nightmare. Not only does it waste time and money, but your entire batch, a full five gallons of liquid heaven, will be ruined.

Most brewing supply stores carry an industry-approved sanitizer for sale, usually made with iodine. Household bleach can also be used, but with any sanitizing solution, using it in the proper concentration is critical. Before fermenting, you must sanitize the primary fermenter (6.5-gallon plastic food-grade bucket and lid), the hydrometer, the thermometer, the siphon and attached racking cane, and finally, the airlock.

Cool the Wort

A large ice bath with salt will cut hours off your cooling time.

Before adding (or "pitching") the yeast, the wort must cool to under 80 degrees or it will kill the yeast. Here is where the other 2.5 gallons of cooled water comes in handy. Add as much of it to the kettle as will fit and place the rest back in the fridge. Then with the 20 pounds of ice, make an ice bath in the sink with water, ice and salt. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water, keeping the ice bath frigid while increasing the surface area in contact with the kettle. Carefully place the covered kettle into the ice bath, making sure not to submerge it.

The wort may take several hours to cool, so the more ice, the better. During my batch, after using what little ice we had on hand, and after an hour with no significant drop in temperature, me and my brew partner made a 4 a.m. trip to the convenience store, boosting the cooling power of our ice bath significantly.

Take a Gravity Reading

Once the wort reaches around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, pour the rest of the chilled water into the primary fermenter. Then, elevate the kettle and siphon the wort into the bucket, combining it with the chilled water. Ideally, this should result in a mixture between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point we need to use the hydrometer take an original gravity reading, before the yeast is added. The hydrometer weights the density of the solution relative to water, which has a density of 1.000. The higher your gravity, the more sugar in your wort and the higher alcohol content your final beer will have. My imperial stout weighed in with an original gravity of 1.075, allowing for a maximum alcohol content just over 7 percent by volume.

Siphoning from a high position also helps to aerate the wort as it is transferred to your primary fermenter.

Aerate the Wort

Yeast needs oxygen to work properly. Therefore, before we add the yeast, we need to aerate the wort to ensure it is oxygen-rich. After filling the primary fermenter, place the lid on the bucket and vigorously shake it, making sure not to spill. This will properly aerate the wort.

Pitch the Yeast

Some homebrewers recommend re-hydrating dry yeast before you pitch it, but it is not absolutely essential. For a guide on how to re-hydrate dry yeast, visit this site. If you choose not to re-hydrate, simply add the yeast from your packet and gently stir it in with a sanitized stirrer. Once the yeast submerges, clamp the lid on tight, fill the airlock with water to the indicated fill line, and push the airlock into the hole in the lid of the bucket.

Congratulations! The most laborious part is done!

Place your fermenter in a dark, cool place (65 - 75 degrees Farenheit), kick back, relax, and wait for the magic of fermentation!