Craft Brewmaking FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What is “Single Stage” brewing? “Two Stage”? “Blow-by Method”?

Single Stage: the beer goes through the entire fermentation cycle in one bucket. It should be brewed at room temperature (65-75ºF), take about 5-7 days, and be bottled as soon as it is finished fermenting. As beer brews, a sediment is formed, and if the beer sits on this sediment too long, it will pick up some “off” flavors. This is nothing that will harm or hurt you, but will just taste and/or smell bad. The sediment consists of spent yeast, used hop pellets, and boiling by-products.

Two Stage: the beer starts out in a primary fermenter (usually a bucket). The initial fermentation is very active, and forms a head (like a freshly poured glass of beer). This lasts about 3 days, and then will “fall” and become slower. This happens when the gravity has fallen by about half. At this point, the beer should be siphoned to a secondary fermenter (usually glass). The liquid should come to within an inch or so of the stopper. The beer finishes fermenting in this container. The advantage to Two Stage is that the beer can remain in the fermenter until it is clear and you are ready to bottle. The sediment on the bottom of the Secondary is not as harmful to your beer as the sediment on the bottom of the Primary. Two Stage brewing must be used when lagering beer, as the secondary fermentation is done at a lower temperature.

Blow-By: this is usually done as Single Stage fermentation. A glass carboy (fermenter) is used, and a 3-4 foot hose, 1” in diameter. The beer is put into the carboy, and the hose is fit into the neck of the carboy instead of a stopper and airlock. The other end of the hose goes into a smaller bucket filled with water. This forms a type of airlock. The active fermentation goes out through the hose, and into the bucket. Do not try to save this and add it back into the fermenter. When the head falls, and the fermentation has settled down, remove the hose and attach a stopper and airlock and proceed as for Single Stage.

What is “pitching” the yeast?

Pitching is another word for adding yeast.

What is a yeast starter?

A yeast starter is usually used with liquid yeast, but may also be used with dry yeast. The yeast is added to a small solution of malt and water to allow full activation of the yeast before it is pitched. Yeast cells are dormant prior to being added to a wort, and need to be activated before they can start making beer. A starter is made typically 24 hours before pitching. Fermentation begins faster with fully activated yeast.

How do I make a yeast starter?

There are commercial yeast starters available. For those, just follow the directions on the label. For a homemade one:
Add 2 – 5 tablespoons of dry or liquid malt to two (2) cups of water and bring to a boil. Boil for five (5) minutes; remove from heat and cool to room temperature. When cool, put into a sterilized 22-oz beer or regular wine bottle, add the dry or liquid yeast and shake well. Put a stopper and airlock on the bottle and allow to ferment (or activate) for 24 hours. When the yeast is fully activated, add to cooled wort. Note: liquid yeast supplied in a foil pouch is usually activated first in the pouch, then added to the starter.

How do I know my beer is fermenting?

Fermentation usually begins within 24 hours of pitching the yeast. Liquid yeast, if a yeast starter has not been made, can sometimes take a little longer. You should see vigorous bubbling or foam in the initial stages. About 4-5 days after the initial stages, the fermentation settles down to a “quiet” bubbling. If you are using a plastic bucket with an airlock, the initial fermentation is not always apparent by looking at the fermentation lock, but if you can see the foam, the beer is fermenting. Your hydrometer reading is the most accurate way of determining the progress of fermentation.

What is “Dry Hopping”?

Dry hopping is adding hops, usually loose or plugs, to the wort during or near the end of fermentation. It adds a different flavor and aroma than finishing hops (those added at the end of the boil), as the volatile oils will not be eliminated by the heat. It is used in British and American beers. It should not be used instead of finishing hops, as this will change the style of the beer.

 What is the difference in the grains?

Two different types of grain are available to the brewer, and refer to how the grain looks in the field. 2-row yields a higher extract with less husk material. Microbrewers, European and British brewers use it. It has the widest selection of styles and varieties. 6-row is used primarily by large American breweries as it contains more starch-degrading enzyme, and therefore is better when used in conjunction with corn or rice.

What is mashing?

Mashing is the process by which the malted grain is converted into fermentable wort. Heat and moisture is needed to convert the remaining starch to sugars. Several methods are available, and are detailed in the mashing section of any beer brewing reference book.

What is a Lovibond reading?

Lovibond is a method by which malt and beer color are determined. The lower the number, the lighter the malt/finished beer, and vice versa. It is usually expressed as a range of numbers, and may be abbreviated using the letter “L”.

Can I keg my beer?

The Cornelius keg system is the most common method used to keg beer. It is the same keg used with soft drink systems. The finished beer is siphoned into the keg, and either priming sugar is added, or it can be artificially carbonated using the CO2. Reference books are available that cover this subject in complete detail.

Can I grow my own hops?

Yes, you can grow hops quite easily. In fact, Beer & Wine Hobby sells Hop Rhizomes each spring, just in time for planting! Hops are a vine, and come from a rooting or rhizome not seeds. Hops need fertile soil, in full sun, with plenty of space to grow up (they can reach 18-20 feet tall). They are harvested in the fall, when the cones are light (as opposed to heavy) and you can see the lupulin (the yellow sticky stuff). The cones should be dried before storage (freezing is best). Several books are available and may be consulted for detailed instructions. Growing instructions are included at the time of purchase.

What is the sediment at the bottom of my beer bottles?

It is spent yeast. It is in all naturally carbonated beers and sodas. There will be more sediment with beers brewed single stage as the beer has not cleared completely prior to bottling. It will not hurt you if you drink it. If you want to drink a clear beer, pour the beer carefully into a glass, and avoid disturbing the sediment.

How can I get clear beer?

The beer will clear itself after it has been bottled – this is the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. To get it clear prior to bottling, there are several methods. The simplest is to use the two-stage method of brewing. The beer can stay in secondary until it is clear. Finings (clearing agents) can also be added. These are added 24-48 hours prior to bottling.

Can I filter my beer?

Yes, you can filter beer, however we do not recommend it, due to the high possibility of oxidation. If filtered, beer must be filtered  beer must be filtered with a filter designed specifically for beer. A wine filter can’t be used, as it will oxidize the beer. A coffee filter should never be used. Filtered beer then needs to be artificially carbonated.

How long before my beer is carbonated?

Naturally carbonated beers need about 2 weeks at room temperature to become fully carbonated. After the 2-week period, they can be stored at cooler (not necessarily cold) temperatures.

Help! My beer is over-carbonated!

The cause of over-carbonated beer is usually over-priming (adding too much priming sugar) or not achieving the correct final gravity reading for your particular recipe. Add less priming sugar next time, and be sure not to bottle until your final gravity reading has been reached. To reduce the carbonation, refrigerate the beer before opening. If the beer gushes (keeps foaming and foaming after opening), it has most likely become infected. Use proper sterilization techniques to avoid this in the future.

What’s a good reference book for beer?

Several books are available. Look at as many as you can, talk to other brewers also for advice. Popular titles widely available are:

  • The Complete Joy of Brewing, by Charlie Papazian, the "bible" of homebrewing.
  • Basic Homebrewing - A visual guide of the entire homebrewing process.
  • Extreme Brewing, by Sam Calagione, owner of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.