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N-Guid-Brewng-art - 12/27/10


"Yet Another Newbie Guide to Brewing" by HL Rory McGowen.


NOTE: See also the files: brewing-msg, Bottle-Labels-art, fruit-wines-msg, wine-msg, bev-labels-art, barley-water-msg, small-beer-msg, ale-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



You can find more articles by this author elsewhere in the Florilegium and on the Medieval Brewers Home Page at http://forgottensea.org/medievalbrewers/



Yet Another Newbie Guide to Brewing

by HL Rory McGowen


This article, unlike countless others that I have seen, is truly designed for the FIRST TIME brewer. If this isn't you, you might find it a bit fundamental, over-simplified and over- generalized. But I decided to write this after reading my 100th article for novices that wouldn't have produced anything drinkable. If you are a first time brewer, and you follow this guide, I guarantee that by the end of this article, you will have a very drinkable and enjoyable beverage.


There are two broad categories of beverage that the brewer deals with: Beers & Wines. There are actually several others categories and tons of sub-classes, but like I said, this is a novice guide, and we'll keep it high level for now. Beers come from fermented grains (starch), and wines come from fermented fruits (sugars). Fermentation comes about from a chemical change of sugars becoming alcohol. So despite how many times your mother complained about your socks fermenting, I assure you, it wasn't fermentation. . . unless you sweat sugar.


The brewer doesn't actually create alcohol. We provide a loving home for yeasts, and they do all the work for us. Yeasts are single-celled, living creatures that feed on sugar. When it eats sugar, it produces Carbon Dioxide and alcohol. Carbon Dioxide (or CO2) is the bubbles in beer and soda and champagne. Alcohol is the stuff that makes you invincible at parties. The loving home we create is called the "must." The Must is nothing more than all our ingredients mixed together.


Of the two types mentioned above, beer and wine, wine is the easier of the two to make; so that is where we will begin. We need to get your feet wet, and get you familiar with the terms and the equipment. This is a novice guide after all.


So lets look at the equipment that we are going to need before we do anything. You will need a pot to cook everything in to create the must. Aluminum will work, but a better choice is glass or stainless steel. The pot should be just bigger than the batch you intend to make. My average batch is 5 gallons, so I went to WalMart and bought a 6 gallon Stainless Steel Pot. But for the purpose of this very first batch, lets work with a gallon. Each gallon will give you about 5 standard wine bottles (750ml each). A gallon is also 4 quarts, so get a 5 quart pot. You will need something to stir the pot with; a spoon or a whisk. Measuring cups are handy. These are easy items to come across.


We will also need a few "brewing" supplies. While it is possible to make your first batch using equipment other than I am about to describe, I recommend that you use the "right" equipment. If we are to get you up and brewing, and confident in doing so, you want to spend as little time as possible having to make your tools.


First, you will need a Primary Fermenter, or sometimes called a "carboy". Really, all this is, is a plastic, food grade bucket with a lid with a hole in it. Some of them have spouts about an inch from the bottom. Some are 5 gallon, some are 6 gallon. For the money, I would recommend a Primary Fermenter that is 6 gallons, has a spout, and a screw on lid (instead of a snap on). These are very common at brewing supply stores (my phone book lists brewing supplies under the header "Wine Makers Supplies"). If you get a carboy without a spout, make sure you get a wine siphon. This is really not much more than a hose attached to a stiff plastic straw; with one exception: A wine siphon has a little piece on the end that helps avoid sediment (which we'll get to in a little bit) from getting out of the carboy. For ease of use, a spout is worth its weight in wine.

I just mentioned the carboy, and the fact that the lid has a hole in it. This hole will be filled with what we call a Fermentation Lock. This is a device invented by Louis Pasteur,  that keeps bad things out of the carboy, while allowing the carboy to vent gasses to the outside. Remember, yeast produce CO2 and that gas has to vent somewhere. Most the time, this will come with the carboy, but because every store is different, make sure you leave with one that fits your new carboy. The Fermentation Lock should have a rubber stopper that fits the hole in your lid. This stopper will have a hole in it that just fits the lock. The lock itself might be a single tube with several vertical bends in it, or it might be a three piece contraption that consists of a bowl, the "float" and a lid. Any lock will work. Just make sure you have one.


Now while you are here at the brew supply store, you will need to get some yeast. There are 100's to choose from. And worse, every company calls their varieties by different names. This one aspect of brewing can take years to understand, so to make it simple for your first time, a nice middle of the road yeast with a neutral flavor and average alcohol tolerance would be Red Star Montrachet. Every brewing supply store in America will carry this. (And if they don't, you aren't in a real brewing supply store.)


Now I just mentioned the phrase "alcohol tolerance" when talking about yeast. You might be wondering what I mean by that. At a high level, its simple: Just as people have an alcohol tolerance, so does yeast; they are living creatures, remember? Let's say that you can drink a 12- pack of beer before you pass out. What does that raise your Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) to? Well different people pass out anywhere between 0.2 - 0.4% BAL. It's a defense mechanism of the body, and is completely involuntary. But the same is true for yeast, only their "BAL" tolerance is anywhere from 3.5 - 21.0%, depending on the yeast, because like people, the BAL needed to pass out is different for the different types of yeast. It isn't really their BAL, either, because if you remember, they produce alcohol, which means that the alcohol is outside their bodies in your wine, but the idea is the same. Once yeasts reach their alcohol tolerance, they stop producing alcohol. If they didn't, they might create an environment that was deadly to even themselves. The yeast that I recommended above, Red Star Montrachet, can withstand about 14%.


Also while at the brewing supply store, pick up a hydrometer. This is a cool device that measures the "specific gravity" of a fluid. All that means, is how "thick" a fluid is in relationship to water. I'll explain its use later, when we start making the wine. But for now, I'll describe it for you, so you know what you are looking for. It is a glass tube, with one bulbous end, with lots of numbers and lines on it, that comes in a plastic tube. Hopefully they will include a set of instructions in the tube with the hydrometer. I'll explain its use, but you'll want the instructions for later when you outgrow this guide, and want to strike out on more advanced adventures. By the way, the plastic tube is a part of the hydrometer, so don't separate them. Also, the hydrometer is glass, and does break really easy. I've done it by setting it down too hard. So you might watch that.


There are a few last things that we need while at the brewing supply store. Real quick, they are: Yeast Nutrient - a combination of nutrients that help create a good environment for the yeast to live and grow in. It isn't necessary, but it will help ensure that we make a nice wine. Besides, it's cheap. A case of wine bottles. A small bag of corks. And a wine corker, to put the corks in with.


Now we need the ingredients! What follows will become your wine. This is your first wine, so let's keep it simple. In the frozen food section of your grocery store find the fruit juices. Now find the grape juice. Now comes your first choice on taste. Are we making a red wine, or a white wine? This is entirely your taste. I prefer white wines for causal drinking. Either way, we DON'T just want any ole fruit juice. See, most fruit juices have preservatives in them to stop yeasts and bacteria from forming in the juice. So you must carefully sort through the juices until you find a brand that contains NO PRESERVATIVES. I have used Great Value brand from WalMart in the past for quick and dirty wines. Do not compromise on this NO PRESERVATIVES thing, either; because your yeasts will not grow if you do. Grab two cans. You will also need a five pound bag of pure cane sugar. And I recommend that you buy two gallons of bottled spring water. I don't know about where you live, but the chlorine and rust and iron that are in my tap water taste terrible and I don't want those flavors in my wine! Oh, and get one lemon. . .


I have been compiling a shopping list for you as we went through the stuff we need. I have also put in the approximate price you might end up paying for all this. Of course, that will vary for everyone, but it gives you a general idea.



Shopping   Lists




WalMart   or KMart




5 quart Pot   (glass or stainless steel)




Mixing Spoon   or Whisk




Measuring   cups




Grocery   Store




2 cans of   frozen grape juice - NO PRESERVATIVES




5 pounds   cane sugar




2 gallons of   spring water




1 lemon




Brewing   Supply Store




Primary   Fermenter - 6 gal, w/ lid, w/ spout, w/airlock




Yeast - Red   Star Montrachet








Yeast   Nutrient




1 case of   green 750 ml wine bottles




1 small bag   of corks (at least 12)




wine corker













I am going to assume that you have gone to the stores and bought the above items. If not, what are you waiting for? Go! This wine isn't going to make itself.


Okay, this is going to sound strange, but empty out an ice cube tray or two from the freezer, and refill them using some of the spring water, and put them back in the freezer.


We need to wash everything that you bought. I use "Anti-Bacterial Dawn Dishwashing Liquid." But as long as you use plenty of hot water and rinse everything really well, any dish soap should be fine. About this time you are probably wondering how to wash a 6 gallon carboy in your kitchen sink. I don't. I use the bathtub. As a brewer, you'll get pretty inventive. Okay, have you washed your Pot, Mixing Spoon or Whisk, Measuring cups, lemon, Primary Fermenter, lid, airlock, and Hydrometer? Good.


Grab a glass from the cupboard. Fill it about half way up with spring water. Add 1/8 teaspoon of sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of yeast nutrient and the entire package of yeast. DO NOT STIR. Just cover it with a towel or something and set it aside for now.


Put the pot on the stove and add both cans of juice. Turn on your stove to just below medium heat. Rinse the juice cans with the spring water, to get all the juice and add that to the pot. You should add about a half a gallon of the spring water total to the pot. Mix that up with the whisk. This is the start of your must.


When mixed, you are going to learn how to use your hydrometer. 

1. Make sure your must is thoroughly mixed before testing.


2. Leaving the hydrometer in the tube, bulbous end down, scoop out a sample of the must using a ladle or coffee cup, and pour in enough to pretty much reach the top of the tube.


3. Make sure the Hydrometer and sample are at rest and free of air bubbles. Spin the hydrometer to free air bubbles that may be clinging to the sides of it.


4. Now look at all the numbers on the side of the hydrometer. But don't freak out. They aren't nearly as intimidating as they might appear at first. Most hydrometers have several "scales" on them. We want to look at the Specific Gravity (SG) scale. That's the one that starts at .990 at the top and then 1.000 and runs down to 1.200 near the bottom (bulb). Take your reading at the point where the surface of the liquid crosses the Hydrometer. 


5. That is all there is to it. You have just mastered the hardest part. Write down the reading, and put the sample back into the pot, and stir. Turn your heat down to about 1/4.


Now I suppose you want to know what that all was and why you did that. Remember earlier when I said that SG measured the relative weight of a liquid against that of water? Well water's SG is 1.000, the same number that is near the top of the scale. So why does the scale go below 1.000? Good question. Because alcohol is not as "dense" as water. So actually, 100% alcohol would weigh in just under water (0.990). But 100% alcohol would also evaporate really quickly leaving us with nothing. Even "Pure Grain Alcohol" isn't pure. Its about 98%.


So why does the measurement that you just took read somewhere near 1.050? Because the sugars in the fruit juice make the must "heavier" than water. So the hydrometer, which weighs the same as water, starts to float. (Actually it is more a weight to displacement ratio, but you're a new brewer and probably don't really care about that right now.)


So now the next big question is: WHY do you care how much your must weighs? Because I am going to teach you a really cool trick! Let's say that you start with a must that has a weight near what yours is; we'll use 1.050 for now. We'll take that first number, often called the "Original Gravity" (OG), and we'll subtract our "Final Gravity" (FG) reading that we take at the end, and we'll be able to tell how much alcohol we have in your wine. So for instance, let's say we went with what we have right now: we are at 1.050 OG minus let's say 0.990 FG would equal 0.060. Move the decimal place two places to the right to get a percentage and we see that you made a wine with 6% alcohol. Neat trick, huh?


But that is only half the trick. If we can find out how much alcohol we have at the end, then we should be able to predict, using the hydrometer, how much alcohol and how sweet our wine is going to be in the end, right now.


Earlier, I told you that Red Star Montrachet should make 14% alcohol. So to get that 14% alcohol, we need to add enough sugar to make that possible. So we take our 14.0%, and move the decimal to the left two places giving us 0.140 and add that to the base 0.990, and we get 1.130 as our base target number for our OG reading. Now this isn't 100% on the money, because of a lot of reasons, and gets further off the higher the sugar level because it's a curve and not a straight conversion; but for now we're going to run with it.


Now for the last piece of the SG Novice Puzzle. . . If you only put in 14% worth of sugar, you would get a "dry" wine, or one that isn't very sweet. And since your wine yeast will only make up to 14% alcohol, any sugar you put in above the 1.130 mark will become what we call residual sweetness; in other words, it will be the sweetness you taste while drinking the wine. So the second choice you need to make, how sweet do you want your finished wine?


Remember, the method I just described isn't 100%, so here is a little advice. If you chose a white grape juice, then we should aim for a SG of 1.130 to 1.135. If you chose a red grape juice, we should aim for 1.135 to 1.140. The higher the number, the sweeter the wine. I'll let you decide. But don't feel that this is THE decision. We can actually adjust the flavor during and after the fermentation process. As long as we are close right now, we can adjust later.


So let's start adding sugar. Open the bag of sugar, and place it within reach of where you are cooking. Start to stir your must, and slowly stir in about a cup of sugar. Stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Now, if you check your SG, it should read somewhere near 1.085, I am guessing. We need to add about two more cups of sugar. But no matter how much sugar you need to add, we are trying to get the must within the 1.130 - 1.140 range, again, depending on your taste. Once you have your SG where you want it, and all the sugar is dissolved, and you are still stirring, you should add into the must a teaspoon of yeast nutrient, and stir that all up.


One of the greatest debates in brewing, sort of along the lines of religion, is whether to boil the must or not. The two sides line up with the people that feel that boiling the must destroys natural enzymes and flavor on one side, and the people that believe that their "opposition" are full of it and can't taste the difference and want 100% assurance that everything that may be bad in their must is dead. I am going to lead you down the path of boiling the must for your first batch, and in a more advanced article that I am writing, I will explain why this is not necessary and why people that boil their must will never make Premium wine.


Theologies aside, the moment your must boils, you will want to turn off the heat. But don't stop stirring. You don't want the bottom to burn.


Set up your carboy near you. Make sure that the spout is in the OFF or CLOSED position. More than once I have made a terrible mess forgetting this simple step. Remember the spring water ice cubes I had you make earlier? Get those and empty the trays into the carboy. Hopefully they are frozen. Now add your must to the carboy and stir. The idea is to get the temperature down as quickly as possible. Yeasts are alive, remember? They hate heat, it kills them; that is part of the reason that you just boiled your must, to destroy any wild yeasts and bacteria that you didn't want. But now you need to reduce the temperature quickly so you can introduce your yeasts to the must before any wild yeasts in your house get a foothold on your must. The temperature range that yeast generally like is 50 - 75 degrees F. But we can introduce the yeasts to the must when the temperature is lukewarm to the touch, below 90 degrees. If it is still really hot after the ice cubes, you can add more ice. It isn't crucial that the ice be made from spring water, as a few ice cubes of regular water isn't going to spoil anything.


Once you have the temperature down to an acceptable level, grab that lemon I had you get. Cut that into quarters and throw one quarter into the must, peel and all. Put one slice in your ice tea, and put the other two slices in the garbage disposal. . . it will make it smell fresh.


Now get that cup of yeasts you started earlier. It should be all foamy and everything, right? Without stirring the must, gently dump the yeasts into the must. Add a little water to your cup to get the left over yeast and add that to your must, as well. Remember, if the must is too hot, your yeasts will die. Get a clean bath towel and drape it over the carboy's open top, covering it completely. And leave it alone for 24 hours.


24 hours later, take the towel off your carboy, and put the lid on. Now we need to assemble your fermentation lock. If you got one of the simple ones, that is just a tube with several vertical bends in it, assembly is really easy because it is only one piece. Put water in the lock. There should be a line on the lock showing you how full the bottom bend needs to be. If not, fill it so that the water goes halfway up either side of the bottom bend. Put the lock into the rubber stopper and put the stopper tightly into the lid. If you got the three piece lock, it isn't hard. You put the "bowl" piece into the stopper, fill the bowl about halfway with water, put the stopper and bowl into the lid, and then drop in the "float" and put the lid on. Simple. Within 24 hours, your lock should start bubbling, showing that the yeasts are doing their job. If within 72 hours you still have seen no bubbles, then something went wrong.


If you have seen no bubbles, are you sure that your juice had no preservatives? If so, are you sure that the must was cool enough when you added the yeasts? If so, are you sure that the carboy is sealed? If so, then maybe the yeast packet was old. Go back to the brewing supply store, buy another packet of yeasts, take the lid off your carboy and sprinkle this new packet of yeast across the top of the must without stirring. Re-apply the lid, make sure the lock has water, and wait 72 hours.


But if you have done everything right, your lock should be bubbling within 24-48 hours of putting the lid on. From the first bubble, we are going to leave the carboy alone for 21 days! Let the yeasts do their work. Try not to disturb the carboy. Do not open the carboy. Do not sample the wine, leave the spout closed, and the lock in place. Take up needle-point if it helps. (Needle- point is not covered in this guide.)


DAY 21 - Don't get ahead of me here. Do not disturb, stir, or tilt the carboy in any way. There is going to be sediment on the bottom of the carboy that we don't want to disturb. What is sediment and how did it get there? The sediment is all the non-fermentable solids that may have been in the juice, and all the little yeasties that have died or gone dormant. When they aren't active, they sink to the bottom. Those and whatever else may have settled out of your wine, including that lemon wedge, will be sitting quietly on the bottom of the carboy, and we don't want to disturb them!


Now we need to "rack" your wine. Basically, that means we are going to drain it off and get it ready for the next phase. Make sure that your pot is clean, we're going to need it. Make sure that you have room under the spout on your carboy to put your pot. . . But not too much room that the wine splashes a lot and aerates causing oxidation - a condition that can introduce disease and off-flavors to your wine. Open the spout and let the carboy empty into the pot. Do not disturb, stir, or tilt the carboy in any way. Whatever is below the level of the spout is in the "sediment zone" which is why the spout is placed about an inch from the bottom. We are just going to dump this sediment out. But I'll get there in a minute. When your spout has stopped, close it and cover your pot.


If you got a carboy without a spout, and got the wine siphon, then this paragraph is for you. Your wine siphon is a long hose and a hard plastic "straw" with a bend in it and this little thing on the long end of it, right? Attached the hose to the short end of the straw. What is this "thing" on the other end of the straw anyway? It is a cap of sorts that basically stops the siphon from sucking up the sediment on the bottom of the carboy. Put the long end into the carboy. Do not disturb, stir, or tilt the carboy in any way. You will notice that the bend of the siphon fits pretty well right over the lip of the carboy. Your carboy has to be high enough for this to work, like on the stove, or a counter-top, or a table. If you must move it, move it ever so carefully so as not to disturb, stir, or tilt the carboy in any way. Set the pot on the floor, and start the siphon by sucking on the end of the hose. If you get some in your mouth, don't worry, its only your wine. When your siphon has stopped , pull it out and cover your pot.


Now take your carboy and swish it around to loosen up the sediment. Dump it out. Down the sink, in the toilet, down the tub drain, in a compost pile, it doesn't matter, just get rid of it. Now you need to wash your carboy really well, because we need to use it again. Wash it, rinse it with HOT water, maybe add a smidgen of bleach to the rinse. (If you do that, rinse it twice to get the bleach out.) Don't forget to wash the lid and the lock and run lots of water through the spout.


Set the carboy back up, and put your wine back into it carefully so as not to aerate it. You need to taste it, now. Is it what you want? Is it sweet enough? Or is it too sweet? If it is too sweet, you can add some more of that spring water until it is just right for your tastes. If it isn't sweet enough, wash your pot, put some of the spring water in the pot, and heat the water. Once the water is hot, add sugar to the water. Make sure you stir it or it will burn. Add enough sugar to make the water really, really sweet. Then slowly add this sugar water to your wine until your wine is the sweetness that you want. If the wine taste like it needs "body" then you can add a small box of raisins to the wine. If the wine tastes "flat" then you can throw in a new slice of lemon. These techniques will be explained in the more advanced guide. Just take my word on it for now. But I don't think it should be necessary if you have followed the directions.


Put the lid back on the carboy, re-apply the lock, and let it sit for 21 more days. Yes, I said it, 21 more days. Time to pull out that needle-point again.


21 days further down the road, we need to rack again. Before you touch the wine, you should wash out at least 5 wine bottles. I also highly recommend practicing using the corker you bought. Above I told you to buy at least a dozen corks, but we are only going to use 5 or 6. So take a couple of corks out and practice putting them into a bottle using the corker. You should put some water into the bottle to simulate the real thing.


Once you are a pro at "putting a cork in it," you need to drain off the wine again into your pot using the same directions as above. Wash out the carboy again. And put the wine back into the carboy. But this time, we aren't going to close it up. Taste your wine. Is it what you want? Should taste pretty good by now.


This is another place that having a spout on your carboy is a very useful thing. Because we need to fill the bottles. If you have a spout, it is as simple as placing a bottle under the spout and opening it up, filling the bottle just up to the neck of the bottle, maybe a little past. But you have to leave room for the cork and the compressed air. Compressed air? Well, yeah. When you put the cork in the bottle, it seals the bottle, and the air that used to take up the space the cork now occupies is compressed below the cork. So you have to leave a little room for that. Once each bottle is filled with wine, insert a cork into the bottle.


It used to be that people boiled their corks before using them, but with modern corks, you use them straight out of the bag.


If you don't have a spout, you'll have to use a ladle and funnel or some other contraption. I told you, get a spout, they are worth their weight in wine.


Once you have filled as many bottles as you had wine for, leave the bottles upright for a couple of days, and then store them on their sides in a dark, cool place. Or refrigerate one and drink it right away.


If you have a computer and printer, you might go to the store and get some Avery labels and make up some labels using a paint program or word processor. Print out your labels and put them on your wine. Things to include on the label would be your name, the type of wine, and when it was bottled. You might also include that it "contains no sulfites." Some people are allergic to sulfites, and the wine you have just made is safe for even these people to drink.


Congratulations on your very first homebrew. Good job. Do this a few more times and you'll be ready for the intermediate guide. You might try applying what you have learned here to a larger batch of wine. Or you can replace the juice and the sugar with honey, and make a mead. Or try other fruit juices. Now that you have your first success, experiment. Just keep the basics the same each time, and you can't fail. Good luck. 



Copyright 2001 by Paul Fry. <rory at forgottensea.org>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited.  Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org