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Home Brew Beer And How To Make It.



If you have had enough of shouting yourself  hoarse over the airwaves and your throat is dry after calling 'CQ' in a 48 hour contest, or indeed your fingers are sore from pounding away at the computer keyboard working the world on PSK31,  pull up a chair in the brewery here in Tutshill, and enjoy a quiet pint.


 In keeping with the rest of my pages, this is in no way intended to be a definitive guide to brewing, but rather a 'taster.' Many websites and books exist which cover the subject in great depth - see the links at the bottom of this page for a few. I hope you enjoy, and join me in raising a glass (or two) in celebrating the marriage of malt barley with hops, and the gentle art of Home Brewed Beer.

Beer. Well, as my good lady wife, or to use a bit of Ham Radio jargon, 'XYL', Station Manager, and Assistant Brewer (title still under dispute)  never tires of telling me, beer was first brewed in this country by women.  I should never have shown her that book on the history of brewing... Anyway, commonly known as 'Brewsters,' they brewed and sold their ales from their own homes throughout medieval times. In the late 1700's / 1800's we (mere) men, recognising a 'business opportunity' promptly collared the concept, refined it, made it better, formed Companies and made a pile of money from it. In the process, and through ensuing centuries, beer became taxed to the hilt, weaker, more and more expensive, and to my mind a lot less drinkable. Having said that, in my opinion, a good beer does not have to be overly strong. There is no fun in drinking one pint which knocks you flat on your back. My point is balance, taste, body, and above all - enjoyment! I want to achieve a better product than the big brewery accountants could afford to do, and in the process, rediscover a 'lost' craft. We, as home brewers, don't need to shave a penny off the production cost of a pint - our 'bottom line' is quality. 

Put twenty home brewers in a room together, and you will get twenty different versions of the 'best' way to brew!

I started home brewing, on and off, about thirty-five years ago (where has the time gone...) and, like most folk, I started with 'kits.' It's a good way to get started. You don't need a lot of equipment, and you will, with not a lot of effort, make a 'drinkable' beer. Kits like most things in life vary according to price. You do get what you pay for. The best kits don't need the addition of sugar. White sugar will tend to 'thin' your beer and give you more alcohol, but will also give you a nasty headache the following morning. Not good. 

As I and my taste buds grew up I wanted more. I wanted a beer that rivalled, if not bettered, commercial brews. I discovered 'all grain' brewing, which answered my dreams. You are in charge of the ingredients, and therefore the taste, texture, and style of your beer. Whatever you want to make, Mild, Bitter, Stout or Lager, all styles are possible. 

This is my way of brewing 23 litres of my 'house ale.' This type of beer was traditionally provided to the kitchen staff  / servants in Victorian England.

First off, you need to put together a brewery.

The above photo shows my set up. Three electric 5 gallon boilers. The first (top) one would be in commercial brewer speak a Hot Liquor Tun. Next down is the Mash Tun, then finally the Boiler. The Mash Tun has a perforated false bottom which sits above the tap. When the wort is drained, the grain stays put in the Mash Tun and can be emptied from there. The Boiler is fitted with a hop strainer. This small perforated copper tube connects to the rear of the tap fitting, and stops the hops from clogging up the tap. The hops themselves also act as a filter further on in the process. In this photo I'm 'Sparging.' More on that later. The idea is to make a 'three tier' brewery. The top bucket sits on the kitchen work top on a small stool to get the right height. The second tier is built on to an old bedside cabinet, that has a cut out top which makes a snug fit to the profile of the boiler. The third tier is a 'home brew' table that I knocked up in my garden shed to the correct height for the boiler. The idea is that the whole system is gravity fed. No lifting involved. At the end of the brewing process, the boiler drains into the fermenting bin which is not shown in this photo. If you are going to make this sort of thing, make it substantial because of the weights involved.

There are other bits of kit required, but they are covered further down the page. 

Ok, so I have put together three five gallon electric buckets and done some woodwork - lets get brewing!!


3.50 Kilos Pale Malt Barley (crushed)
1.25 Kilos Amber Malt Barley (crushed)
150 Grams Chocolate Malt
40 Grams Goldings Hops
1 Packet Safale SO-4 Dried Yeast
1 Teaspoon Citric Acid (see text)
2 Teaspoon Irish Moss (see text)


Yup - that's all there is to it!


The basic ingredient of beer is malted barley. This comes in many types, which I won't go into here, but follow the links at the bottom of the page for further information. The bulk of any beer is made up from 'pale' malt, which as the name implies, hasn't been roasted, and is therefore pale in colour. If you made a beer from this alone, it would be a light straw colour.  In this recipe I also use 'Amber' and 'Chocolate' malt.

The 'Amber' malt adds a rich toasted flavour, and the 'Chocolate' provides a deep ruby colour. The 'Chocolate' also  gives a roundness to the finished taste, which will balance the bitterness of the hops. 

The first stage in brewing is to 'convert' the starches contained within the malted barley into sugars which can then be fermented by yeast. This conversion is achieved by steeping the grain in hot water for about 90 minutes. The water temperature is important, and needs to be 66 degrees C. 

It is at this temperature (the Strike Temperature) that the chemical reaction takes place which converts the starch to sugar. This process is known as 'The Mash.' Over the years and by experimenting I have found that the easiest (and best) results are obtained by mashing overnight.  You are quite safe leaving the grain in the Mash Tun, as once the conversion has been made, the mixture sits patiently awaiting the next stage. The first thing I do is to weigh out the grains and mix them in a small plastic bucket.

The water to grain ratio in the Mash Tun is also important, and I am looking for about 3  litres of water to a kilo of grain. I find that 14 litres of water gives a nice mash consistency in my set up, as too little makes for a 'set mash,' where I can't run the liquid off, and too much doesn't give a good conversion. So, I put 14 litres of water in the Mash Tun and heat it up to 72 degrees C. The reason for the extra few degrees at the beginning, is that the grain will lower the temperature when I add it, so at these figures the whole will settle out at the important 66 degrees C. I add 1 teaspoon of Citric Acid at this stage, as the brewing water should be slightly acidic to help the enzymes in the grain convert to sugars. Water has a different chemical makeup in different parts of the country, and to get the best results you should obtain a 'Water Analysis' from your local water authority. You can use this analysis to adjust the brewing water to suit the beer style you are making. 

When the water in the Mash Tun has stabilized at 72 degrees C, I carefully mix in the grain. It should at this stage resemble a thickish porridge.

I Fill the Hot Liquor Tun with water, and put it on a timer so it starts to heat up at whatever time I want  the following morning. I find it takes 90 minutes to heat 23 liters to 72 degrees C. I need the HLT water slightly hotter than the mash temperature - all will be revealed in the morning! 

Go to bed. Don't worry. Sleep well...


Good morning! Its time for the next step on the road to a perfect beer.

Hopefully I have had a good conversion, and the grains and water should by now be full of sugars that the yeast can get to work on. But, before I can get to that part I need to 'drop' the liquid which is now known as 'wort' into the boiler. I put  40 grams of dried hops into the boiler and open the Mash Tun tap. As you may have noticed from the first photo, I use a sieve to run the wort through. This stops any stray fine grains from finding their way into the boiler through the tap, which could make the finished beer cloudy. I want a nice bright pint. Another bit of kit that I need here is a 'Sparging Arm.' Sparging is the method used to rinse all of the sugars out of the 'cooked' grain. As the water is run off from the Mash Tun into the boiler, a fine spray of water from the Hot Liquor Tun flows through the Sparging Arm over the grain bed in the Mash Tun.  This is done, again carefully, not only to preserve the clarity of the finished beer, but also to collect every last bit of sugar, so my beer ferments properly and remains in balance. The arm rotates due to the flow of water, ensuring the whole bed is covered. There are several ways of doing this, but this is my preferred method. It is important that the grain bed is not broken or disturbed, as it acts as a filter and keeps the wort clear. So, I open the tap on the HLT,  the Sparging Arm rotates, the grain bed is sprayed, and the clear wort drops onto the hops waiting in the boiler below.


The Sparging process takes about half an hour. When the boiler element is covered with the wort, the boiler can be turned on whilst Sparging continues. Once I  have collected the wort in the boiler, I run off about 3 litres more than I need. As the wort boils, it will evaporate, and therefore needs topping up during the boil to maintain the correct volume. Now, when I say boil, I mean boil! A namby-pamby, wishy-washy, half hearted simmer just wont do the trick. What I want here is a man sized, full on, boil the guts out of it, industrial strength type boil. I think this is one of the most important stage in the brewing process, and is often overlooked. It's this bit that makes a clear, clean tasting, refreshing pint. I put a lid on the boiler at this stage which helps get things going in style. Some folk disagree with a 'closed boil,' but it works for me.

I now take the Mash Tun and empty the spent grain, and give it a good clean out, ready for the next brew session. I put my spent grain in a composter, as it makes an excellent 'mulch' for the garden. Another valuable by product. The HLT set up can also be dismantled now, dried, and put away. 

I boil the heck out of it for one hour, topping up every 15 minutes or so with my 'spare' 3 litres, and just 15 minutes from the end I add the 'Irish Moss.' No - it's not Irish, and no it's not Moss. It's just called that. It is in fact 'Carrageen,' a seaweed. This helps with the coagulation of the proteins in the wort. It's those proteins (amongst other things) that make for a haze in the finished beer. This protein separation process is known as 'the hot break.' The flavour of the hops is infused into the brew during the boil. The wort should be clear and bright at the end of this stage.


This picture shows the accumulated crud left behind in the boiler at the end of a good boil. I don't want to be drinking that!! You can see the green hops on the base of the boiler below the grey break material. The hops have settled, and have acted as a filter.


Cleanliness is next to Godliness!

The above process needs clean equipment. The next steps need sterile equipment. One trace of bacteria from now on and my beer may (probably will) become infected. All that hard work goes down the drain. Various chemical sterilizers are available on the market and it is vital you do make use of one. Follow the manufacturers instructions. Everything that comes into contact with the beer from now on must be sterile - not just clean!!

I place my sterilized fermenting bin under the tap of the boiler. The wort, which is just below boiling point needs to be cooled. I need to cool it fast. By cooling the wort quickly, another protein 'break' takes place - the 'cold break.' In the next photo you can see a copper cooling coil (also sterilized) which is connected to the cold water outlet on the kitchen sink. This arrangement  circulates cold water through the coil, which acts as a heat exchanger. The wort will go cloudy again as it cools - don't worry! Its all perfectly normal, this is the cold break.

I measure the 'Original Gravity' of my beer at this stage using a hydrometer. With the ingredients listed above, and given a reasonable conversion rate, the 'OG' should be in the order of a respectable 1054. This figure is an indication of the amount of sugars in the beer, which will be converted by the action of the yeast into alcohol. However, without delving into brewing chemistry, not all of the sugar will ferment. Some sugar types are not fermentable, and will remain as residual sweetness, adding 'body' and 'mouth feel' to the finished brew.

I need a bit of patience now for about half an hour or so, and the wort will cool to about 20 degrees C. Once the wort is cooled I can 'pitch' the yeast. Again, there are several types available, but I use Safale SO4 dried yeast. It ferments fast, and it settles out well, leaving the finished brew crystal clear with the minimum of fuss. Many brewers advocate the use of a 'yeast starter.' This is where the yeast is 'activated' by putting it into a sugar / water solution usually the day before brewing. It 'hits the ground running' and the lag time between pitching and the start of fermentation is reduced. Once the yeast gets going, it puts a protective head over the brew, which inhibits the growth of micro organisms that could spoil the finished beer. I have never had a problem though, so I simply sprinkle the dried yeast onto the surface of the wort. I then fit a lid to the brewing bucket and that is that. Clean up the kitchen to keep 'The Boss' happy - she is usually rinsing out the boiler by now. Put all the brewing stuff away and get on with the rest of the day.

Four or five days later the action of the yeast will have converted much of the fermentable sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The beer is ready to be bottled or kegged when the 'Specific Gravity' reaches 1012 on the hydrometer. If I am bottling, I give a couple of days in a secondary fermenting bucket, but as I mainly use Cornelius Kegs, I can do without this step and soldier on straight to the 'kegging' stage. 


The fermenter is carefully lifted onto the modified 'bedside cabinet.' I try not to swirl the liquid, as the yeast will have settled on the bottom, and I don't want to disturb this 'cake' if possible. Note the profile cut-out for the boiler, the keg also fits nicely in there, and is positioned under the outlet tap of the bucket. The keg has been sterilized, along with a length of clear plastic tube which fits over the end of the fermenter tap. The tube is the same length as the height of the keg. This idea means that when the tap is opened the keg fills from the bottom up with a minimum of splashing. I don't want to get oxygen into the finished beer at this stage, as it will oxidize and spoil over time. The kegs hold 19 litres, and as you may recall, I have made 23 litres. Well, there is always a bit of 'dead' space above the taps in the boiler and fermenter, so if I have some wastage during the process then no need to worry. If I have a bit left over, I can always bottle some...

I place the cap on the keg. I then fit a small pressure gauge to the outlet post and put in 5psi of gas to pressurize and seal the cap. See below for the gas equipment. The keg will sit now at room temperature for three or four days while I keep an eye on the pressure gauge. Despite the apparent clarity of the beer, there is still some yeast in suspension, and a gentle fermentation will continue. Remember, fermentation by products are alcohol and carbon dioxide. Well, it's the carbon dioxide that I want now, as this adds the sparkle, or condition, to the beer. The CO2 has nowhere to go, and consequently dissolves into the beer. If the pressure rises above 20psi, I can bleed some off by releasing the safety valve on the cap. I can also see if there are any gas leaks. This will be obvious if the keg doesn't come up to pressure. Doing things this way means I don't have to add extra (priming) sugar to get the pressure going in the keg.

After four days, the keg goes into a cool cupboard to mature for about four weeks. Don't rush it - it's worth the wait. Just keep an eye on the pressure.

Job Done!!

A Google search, or a trip to one of the supplier websites below will tell you all you wanted to know about Cornelius kegs but were afraid to ask. 


The Moment of Truth

Well, its been a long four weeks, and now I'm ready to dispense my first pint. 

The picture above shows the Cornelius keg with a Widget World gas dispense system attached. The Station Manager allowed me to put a 'larder' type fridge in her kitchen, and the whole assembly in the picture above sits nicely inside that. Result - cold beer! You can use an inline beer chiller if you can get your hands one. As the beer is drawn off, the gas pressure reduces, and therefore, every now and again  I need to put some 'head' pressure into the keg to continue dispensing the beer. The Widget cylinder has a control handle which allows me to give the keg a quick 'squirt' of gas. 

Permission was also granted to drill a hole in the kitchen worktop. I fitted a single beer font and drip tray. These again come in different styles, and you can obtain them with clamp fittings if you don't want to drill holes. The font connects via a standard beer line which runs through the side of the fridge to the outlet post on the keg. It is an easy matter to change kegs when this one is empty, as the connectors to both beer and gas lines are a simple push fit.

   When I pull the first pint, I find that some sediment has settled out on the base of the keg and is drawn off the via the dip tube inside. I ditch the first pint therefore, and the next pint out is nice and clear in the glass. As I have kept everything sterile, it also tastes fantastic! 


Find a nice sunny day, fire up the barby, and enjoy!!

Alex - GW7ERI





Brewing Books:

'Home Brewing' by Graham Wheeler. Available from CAMRA. How to guide with recipes.

'Brew Your Own British Real Ale At Home' by Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz. Available from CAMRA. How to guide with recipes.

'Old British Beers And How to Make Them' by The Durden Park Beer Circle. Available from their website below. History, beer types, and how to guide.



CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale)


Durden Park Beer Circle


Home Brew Shop Keynsham, Bristol. (A well stocked local shop offering a fast and friendly service)


Stonehelm Home Brew (supply Widget Gas  online, plus Home Brew equipment)


The Home Brew Shop (A good mail order catalogue)


Hop And Grape (Excellent site based in the North East)


UK Home Brew Forum and loads more...


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