Brewing 101 Part 5: Beer

Class notes from a class I taught in the Fall of 2008.


There are three primary ingredients in a beer:  malted grain, hops, and water.  Yeast is used to ferment the beverage and carbonate it.  Ale (widely used in period) is beer without hops:  malted grain, water, yeast.  You have three general ways to make beer:

Extract beer – replaces the malted grains with pre-made liquid or dry malt extract.

Partial mash – replaces the malted grain with pre-made liquid or dry malt extract, and uses specialty grains

All-Grain – no extracts or liquids, just the grain.  (GO TAKE Misha Novgorodets’ class on All-Grain Brewing at2:30 PM)


In addition to the equipment listed for both beer and meads, you will also need dark glass beer bottles, caps, and a bottle capper if you want to bottle your beer.


John Palmer’s How To Brew (, or in paper at your local  brewing store) summarizes the beer brewing process like this:

  1. Malted  barley is soaked in hot water to release the malt sugars
  2. The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops for seasoning
  3. The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
  4. The yeast ferments the sugars, releasing CO2 and ethyl alcohol
  5. When the main fermentation is complete, the beer is bottled with a little bit      of added sugar to provide the carbonation.

You’ll need a bit more detail…here are rough steps for a 5 gallon batch.

1.  Choose a recipe.  It will probably specify how many ounces of hops to boil, and for how long; how much malted grain to use, stuff like that.

2.  Make a yeast starter.  Seriously.

3.  Bring 2 gallons of water to a boil

 Extract brewing:

4-5.  Add your extracts, dry or liquid, and combine them completely as the water heats.

For all grain brewing, take Misha Novgorodets’ class at 2:30 – here is a very brief synopsis:

4.  Mashing:  Place grain/liquid/dry malt in water.  Let it “mash”, or steep, for an hour

5.  Pour off the liquid ”wort” into your pot.

6.  The Boil:  Heat it up to a rolling boil.  This usually goes on for 1-1/5 hours.

Add hops as specified (For example, 2 oz for 60 minutes, 1 oz at 30 mins, 1 oz for 5 minutes)

7.  Cool the wort to 70-80 degrees F, or baby bath temperature (slightly warm to the wrist)

8.  Aerate the wort.  Get O2 into it as much as possible.  This is the ONLY time you intentionally introduce air to your beer.

9.  Put the wort into your sanitized carboy; add water to five gallons.

10.  Pitch the yeast into the wort.  I recommend making a yeast starter (above).

11.  Fill the airlock, cork the carboy/bucket and put the airlock in the cork.

This should bubble vigorously for a week or more.  Put it someplace you can keep an eye on it.  Make sure the airlock maintains sufficient water.  Make sure light cannot enter the vessel – if it’s a glass carboy, cover it.  This is a great use for extra fabric you happen to have lying around.  Sunlight can give off flavors and colors.

Keep the vessel at about 72 degrees F.

12.  When the bubbling slows significantly, you’ll see a layer of sediment (“lees”, dead yeast) on the bottom if you have a glass vessel. The sediment can give off-flavors.  You can leave your brew in this primary fermenter for two weeks, or even as long as four to six weeks, to give the yeast time to completely metabolize any off-flavors they’ve produced (byproducts such as diacetyl and acetaldehyde).  It’s time to move the wort off this sediment.

13.  Rack (siphon) the beer off the sediment to another vessel – your “secondary” fermenter.  This should also be a food-grade plastic bucket with locking lid or glass carboy.  Your brew can be in this as long as you’d like, as long as your sanitation is good.  In some cases (lagers), longer is better.

14.  Allow the beer to continue to ferment – another week or two will probably be enough.

15.  You are now ready to bottle your beer.  Dissolve the priming sugar (about a half cup of corn sugar) in a container of warm water.  This is going to reactivate your yeast and provide carbonation.  (Some folks rack the beer one more time, adding the corn sugar water to the beer in the process.  However you do it, you want it completely mixed.)

16.  Siphon/rack the beer (using a siphon, racking cane, bottling cane, or just plain hose) to your container – dark glass beer bottles figure here.  Your final container should avoid container (why beer bottles are green or dark amber glass).  A 5 gallon batch will typically result in two cases of beer.

17.  Cap the bottles and allow the beer to carbonate in a dark place.

How long before you can drink it depends entirely on the beer – most improve with age, but most beers are reasonably ready to drink within 3-6 weeks of starting fermentation.

 Period recipe sources:

There are LOTS or sources ABOUT beer, far fewer actual primary sources.  Check Atlantia’s A&S bibliography, for starters:

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened, published by his son in 1669.

The Description of England, by William Harrison, 1577.

The English Huswife, by Gervase Markham, 1615.

Delightes for Ladies, by Sir Hugh Plat, 1609.

Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, ed. Karen Hess.  In her possession from 1749, many of the recipes date back much further, as this was a family manuscript

A Sip Through Time, by Cindy Renfrow, 1997.  Secondary but very useful.


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