Grain, Malt and Hops! Mmmm!

Ok, so you have all your supplies and have set aside a time to start brewing. Be warned, the first step will take longer than you anticipate. On my first brew day, my roommate and I decided to start after an intramural game, at about 10:00 p.m.. By the time we located a kettle big enough to suit our needs (after giving up on borrowing one and heading to that last resort, Walmart), it was close to midnight. We were up past 5 a.m., and it was only because of a massive late-night ice run that we made it to bed before sunrise. But I digress...

A few hours before you start, place half the water (2.5 gallons) in the fridge or freezer. You will need it as cold as possible to cool the wort at the end of the boil, but don’t let the water freeze.

Steep the Grain

Steeping the grain in the steep bag.

When ready, pour the remaining 2.5 gallons into the brew kettle and bring it to a stable 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Your thermometer is your friend. Once you have achieved a constant temperature, place the grain (and gypsum or water salts, if your recipe calls for it) into the cheesecloth bag and submerge it in the water. Steep the grain for the time specified by your recipe. In my case, it was 30 minutes. Like a fine tea, this process gives the beer its core flavor.

After steeping, bring the liquid to a boil. While waiting for it to heat, place your cans of malt extract into a shallow container of warm water. This will thin out the malt, allowing it to pour easier.

Add the Malt

Once the kettle is boiling, open the cans of malt and have a stirring spoon on hand. The next step, if rushed, will create an unimaginable mess, not to mention a loss of precious product. When you pour the malt into the boil, it will create foam, and if your pour too quickly, a boil over is sure to happen. Also, if you do not adequately mix the malt, it will stick to the bottom of the kettle and burn. So pour the malt slowly and stir constantly until all the malt your recipe calls for is in the kettle. Continue stirring until you cannot feel the thick malt against your stirrer.

Add the Hops

A thick foam swirls as the hops burn off, filling the room with a sweet bitter aroma.

With the malt added, the mixture is now called “wort.” With the wort at a full boil, it’s time to add the hops. Different recipes require the brewer to add hops at specific times. Hops add flavor and balance the malty kick, but their bitterness burns off as they boil. Therefore, the earlier hop additions balance the beer but burn off most of their flavor, while the later hop additions provide the bitter kick the flower is known for.

Again for this step, the wort will foam slightly when you add the hops, so don't dump it all in at once. My recipe called for three separate hop additions, one at the beginning, one at 45 minutes, and one at 5 minutes.

This completes the last step to making the wort, but you aren't done today yet! You still need to add the yeast!