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How to... Brew Your 1st AG | Print |

For those of you who are going to take the plunge into all grain brewing, here is a simple 'how to guide' courtesy of BrewStew and http://www.thehomebrewforum.co.uk, its full of great info so please take your time to check it out!!!

So, you've got your kit together, whether it be your self built gear complete with your own blood sweat and tears, or you've purchased kit from you local reseller, and you want to brew your first AG beer!

From my experiences in studying AG brewing, I jumped in and actually did one, I was quite overwhelmed by all the techy/sciency stuff that is commonly thrown around and I wished that someone had written a simple 'how to' just to get the first brew out of the way. Over complicating things from the outset can sometimes confuse and ruin an otherwise pretty simple brewday, so for all you kit brewers out there that are thinking of going AG, here comes "Your First AG Brew - A Guide Tour"!

This guide will give you 5 gallons (or 23L) of beer. I'll try to keep it as simple as possible, but I will assume that you've done a few kits before, know how to read a hydrometer, and are comfortable with your sanitsing routing etc. If you've never done any brewing at all, then you could of course give this a go too, but getting a couple of kits out of the way will definitely help This first brew will not teach you everything in one go, such as sanitising, mash ph, liquor treatments etc, this is merely a guide to get your first brew out of the way to get you comfortable with the initial process and to teach you some of the lingo used in the trade.

For this brew I'll be using my very own Rauchbier recipe (in my opinion and those of my friends this is the best beer I've made do date and hopefully you'll think so too). You can of course use another as the principles are very much the same but I chose this recipe because it's a little heavier on the malt just in case you get a poor extraction. It also has a couple of hop stages to get you used to adding hops at different intervals. This will be made using what's called a "fly sparge" in a 3 tier set up that uses gravity instead of expensive pumps. if you don't know what that is, all will be explained later.

Right, here's what you'll be needing:

Boiler with a hop strainer and tap
Mashtun with a manifold and tap
Immersion Chiller (you can of course use another type of chiller, but an immersion chiller is what I'll be describing within this guide)
Fermenting bucket and lid
Thermometer (I find a digital one is best, but you can use the mercury style ones if you wish)
Trial Jar (optional, but makes life a WHOLE lot easier)
Plastic/metal long handled spoon (Do NOT use a wooden spoon. They harbour bacteria and can ruin your beer!)
Campden Tablets
Measuring Jug
Tin foil

Now for the ingredients:

4.50kg Maris Otter
1.00kg Rauch Malt
0.10kg Roasted Barley
130gm Hallertauer Hops
5g Irish Moss
Safale 04 yeast

Before you brew

As this is your first ever brew with your brand new equipment, you will need to take a couple of measurements and write them down. This will only need to be done once, but should be done again every time you change or add new mash tuns, boilers etc.

Firstly you need to measure the dead space in the bottom of your mash tun and boiler. This is the amount of liquid that will be left behind due to the placement of your tap.

Get your measuring jug and boiler out. Make sure the hop strainer is fitted and the tap on your boiler is closed (silly to mention but you wont believe how many brewers leave their taps open hehe). Add five litres of water to the boiler. Now, using the measuring jug, open the tap and collect the water counting how many litres you collect until the it stops running. With a simple bit of math, subtract the amount of water collected from the 5 litres you put in. For example, if you collect 3.5 litres then 1.5Litres will remain in the boiler. This 1.5L is what you need to record as your loss to the deadspace and hop strainer. repeat this process for your mash tun and dont forget to write them both down!!!

Now it's time to check your hydrometer calibration. Hydrometers can vary; some measure 1.000 at 20'c and some measure 1.000 at other temperatures... even worse some don't have what they're calibrated to written on them, so it's worth double checking this before you brew, as it is fairly crucial you're getting the correct reading. Heat (or chill if your lucky enough to live in a warm climate) up some water to 20'c and pour it into your trial jar. plop your hydrometer in and give it a spin to stop it clinging to the sides and to knock off any bubbles that might give you a miss reading. If it's reading 1.000 then you're sorted, if not, try and find the temperature that does read 1.000 and write it down. You'll have to remember this when you do temperature correction later.

How much Liquor?

You need to do one final bit of math to get you on your way.

You'll be wanting a final batch volume of 23L (5 gallons). To reach this you need to know how much water (or liquor as it's called) that you need to start with. I find it easiest to work it out backwards. Some of the losses you'll already know and these wont change unless you change your equipment. So in reverse order of the beer brewing process, your losses will be as follows:

loss to boiler dead space (which you worked out earlier)
loss to hops (as they soak up some of your wort)
loss to boil off (as the wort will evaporate during the boil)
loss to the mash tun dead space (worked out earlier)
loss to grain (grain will soak some up too)
loss to your liquor tank (which is your boiler again as you're using it twice for this guide)

That's a lot of losses, but you need to figure them out before you start otherwise you might end up short of a few pints of valuable beer!

Loss to hops at these volumes is usually negligible, there are calculators around the net (I cant find any while writing this though) that will work out how much absorption per grams of hops used. But it wont be more than half a litre at this volume.

Loss to boil off is dependant on the conditions of the air your brewing in (humidity and temperature) and also how vigorous your boil is. but to keep it simple, a loss of 9% per hour is a fair guestimate most commonly used. this recipe will need a one hour boil, so that'll be around 2L of loss

Loss to grain is dependant on the condition the grain is in, it's current moisture content etc... but again, you're keeping it simple. An average loss of 1L of water per kilo of grain is a common estimate.

You've now got 3 consistent losses (to your equipment) and 3 recipe losses (to grain, hops and boil time).

For this recipe on my equipment, my losses sheet would look something like this:

boiler - 1.5L (my dead space)
hops - ~0.5L (for 100gm of hops - a conservative guestimate)
boil off- ~2L (this recipe calls for a one hour boil)
mash tun- 1.5L (my mash tun and manifold dead space)
grain - 5.60L (as you're using 5.60kg of grain for this recipe)
liquor tank - 1.5L (my dead space again)


TOTAL 12.60L of losses

You now have to add that to our desired final volume of 23L. 23+12.60=35.60 obviously you'll need to change this to suit your kit.

Typically for a fly sparge, which is what you'll be doing in this guide, volumes aren't so critical as you're dictated by the efficiency of your sparge. You actually may find you'll have a lot of liquor left in your boiler once you've finished sparging. but it's good to have a guideline. It's better to finish with liquor left over, than run out and not have extracted all the sugars. When I brew, and I only brew by fly sparging, I fill my boiler / liquor tank nalmost to the brim. You wont be boiling the liquor so going within a centimetre of the brim wont be as risky. At this stage though, you have no idea what your efficiency is, so it's highly recommended that you record all your volumes along the way so that you know how much liquor you started with, how much malted liquor you collected, how much is left in the liquor tank and how much ended up as your final volume. It all helps for knowing your kit.


Get your equipment set up in a spot that gives you plenty of space, and make sure no wires are trawling over the floor. I only say this because I had a VERY close call where I tripped over the wire to the boiler while it was mid-boil. By sheer luck I didn't drag the boiler off the table top. This should be a fun brewday, not a trip down A&E with 2nd degree burns... stay safe .

For this brewday you'll want to have your boiler on your worktop, your mash tun on a smaller table that sits underneath the boiler's tap to the side, and your fermenter will go on the floor... something like this:

This is your 3 tier set up.

Hook up your chiller to your hose, and leave that close by. You can use the outlet of the chiller to fill your boiler in a few moments.

Once you've got the process sorted, you'll find you've got ample time to weigh out your grain while waiting for the liquor to reach temperature. You'll also have time to weigh out your hops while waiting for the malted liquor to boil... but as you're keeping this simple and don't want to rush or get in a panic, go ahead and weigh it all out now.

Start with the grain:

4.50kg Maris Otter
1.00kg Rauch Malt
0.10kg Roasted Barley

Once weighed, stick it all in your fermenter bucket and give it a good mixing.

Now for the hops. Split 130g of hallertauer into two batches, one of 100g, and one of 30g. Get yourself a post-it note and stick a note of "start of boil" on the 100g batch, and "30 mins" on the 30g batch. I know it seems stupid but it's so easy to stick the wrong batch in at the wrong time, especially when the batch sizes are similar.

Now for the irish moss. Fill a sanitised glass with a little warm water and add 5g of Irish moss... this will then be perfectly rehydrated ready for use during the boil later.

Preparing and heating your liquor

Right, you're all set! (yippee i hear you cry! haha)

If you've got a chiller, then using the outlet to fill your liquor tank / boiler with water is much easier than jugging and lifting heavy loads of water, so go ahead and fill your liquor tank to your calculated volume, or your could just wing it and fill it nearly to the brim (as mentioned previously, it's worth recording all volumes, so taking the time to jug it in litre by litre is a good idea this time around).

Brewstew's tip of the day: if your on a combi boiler or a hot water system that doesn't have a storage tank in the attic, there's no harm in using your hot tap to fill your liquor tank... it'll shave off a good 30 mins of your brewday because your boiler needs to do less work to bring the water to temperature.

Grab yourself a campden tablet, crush it with a spoon, and add that to your liquor. If your asthmatic, for the love of god dont smell the campden!!! It sets off every asthmatic I know (including myself), plus it's not a pleasant smell... trust me it's just not worth it!

Campden gets rid of Chloromines, which can add a TCP like taste to your brews. Chloromines, unlike Chlorine, wont get boiled off during the brewing process without the use of campden.

Now you need to heat your liquor to "strike temperature". In a nutshell, when you add your grain to the liquor you'll lose some temperature. You need your mash/grain temperature to be 68'c hence the need to account for the loss. Most brewers, myself included, just add 10degC to the target mash temperature. So if you want your mash temperature to be 68degC, then your strike temperature should be 78'c. so go ahead and set your thermostat to 78'c.

Kick back and put your feet up.

Oh and don't rely on the thermostat for temperature, use your thermometer to read the liquor temperature instead.

Doughing in

Once your liquor has reached temperature, your almost ready to "dough in", the term given to mixing the liquor with the grain. First though you should pre heat your mash tun otherwise you'll lose temperature when the hot liquor hits the cold walls of your mash tun. Boil a kettle full of water, and pour it into your mash tun, stick the lid on and give it a good swill around, then dump the water down the drain.


For this brew you are looking for a water to grain ratio of 2.5:1 or 2.5L of water per kilo of grain, which will make a slightly thinner than normal mash, but should get you a really good extraction. As you're using 5.65kg of grain, you'll want 14.125 Litres of Liquor (5.65kg x 2.5), so go ahead and run that amount into your mash tun. It's now time to add the grain. Add it bit by bit, stirring as much as possible to weed out any doh balls and to spread the temperature as evenly as possible around your mash tun. Take a temperature reading of the mash, and it should be around 68'c.. if it's too hot or cold, you can add hot water from a freshly boiled kettle or cold tap water to suit to get it to 68'c. If your a degree or so too high, then you know for next time that you only need to add 9'c for strike temperature with this ratio of water to grain... it's all guesswork on the first go, so dont worry if you dont hit it first time. Half a degree either way shouldn't matter though so dont get too anal with adjustments otherwise you'll thin the mash/water ratio too much.

When you've hit your temperature, stick the lid on your mash tun and wait for 90 mins.

In the meantime give your fermenter that held the grain a good rinse as you'll be using it again in the next step.

Grab yourself a beer


Depending on the power of your boiler / liquor tank element you'll want to turn it on again before the end of the mash. Set it to 85degC about 30 mins before the end of the 90 minute mash. This should give it ample time to get back up to temperature. The reason for setting the temperature higher for mashout is to stop the enzyme action (which preserves your fermentable sugars) and makes the grainbed more managable, lessening the chances of a stuck sparge. By setting the liquor temperature to 85degC, when you start sparging, your mash temperature should rise to about 76degC which is the ideal temperature for this process to take place.


Here comes the part that will need your constant attention for a good 45 mins to an hour, so boot the dog out, stick your phone on divert, put the kids in front of the telly, and give the Mrs something to do other than nag you for hogging and messing up the kitchen.

Pop the lid off your mash tun, and take a temperature reading... this is just for your records to see how much temperature you've lost over the 90 mins. You can't do anything about it now, but if you've lost more than a degree you may have to consider wrapping an old blanket or duvet around your mash tun to help it hold temperature next time.

Lay a piece of tin foil across the top of the grain, completely covering it and pierce random small holes all over the foil with a pencil or fork. Make sure you've got your hydrometer and trial jar within easy reach of your set up and your mash tun is underneath your boiler tap as you'll be adding more liquor shortly. It's also an idea to grab something to sit on as this will take a while.

Get your measuring jug and slowly open the mash tun tap to collect the "first runnings". You want just a small trickle of about 1L per minute. It'll appear really murky, and may have bits in it, this is all normal. Keep collecting until what's trickling from the tap (not what's in your jug) is free of debris and is clear.Return what you've collected in your jug back to the mash tun by carefully pouring it onto the foil. It may take anything up to 4 or 5 litres to run clear.

Once you've got clear runnings, you're ready to sparge!

Stick your fermenter under the mash tun tap and start collecting the runnings at the same rate of 1L per minute. At the same time you need to maintain about an inch of liquor above the grain bed in your mash tun by periodically topping it up with water from your boiler / liquor tank.

## stuck sparges ## - if your unlucky enough to suffer from a stuck sparge, which is when your mash tun tap stops flowing even when fully open, dont panic. Move your fermenter with the collected runnings out the way (as you dont want to collect what's about to come out of the mash tun when you get it going again) and keep your jug handy. Blow up the mash tun tap until you hear it bubbling. You'll then need to collect the runnings in the jug and return them back to the mash tun until clear again as before with the first runnings. You can now continue sparging into the fermenter bucket once your runnings are clear.Try not to let the collected runnings splash around. I find tilting the fermenter so it pours onto the walls helps to reduce splashing. this is to help avoid "hot side airation" which can add an off flavour to your beer.

Make sure you keep your mash covered with an inch or so of liquor... too many times have I forgotten to turn the tap back on after turning it off because it's getting too full and found myself with a dry malt bed which gets disturbed when you turn the tap back on.

Tthroughout the sparging process (though less so for the first 10-15L of collected runnings) you'll need to keep checking the gravity of the runnings. Simply fill your trial jar from the runnings flowing from the mash tun tap, drop your hydrometer in, give the hydrometer a spin and repeat. Keep collecting until your hydrometer reads 0.990 then stop sparging.

There's a reason why you should stop sparging at 0.990 which is actually a temperature corrected reading of 1.008. Below 1.008 you could start extracting tannins which could make your beer taste funny. Some brewers however have claimed to have gone lower than that without any noticeable side effects.

By now you should have collected around the amount you require for the boil, which is your final desired volume + loss to boiler + loss to hops + loss to boil off, which in my case is 27L. Don't worry if your short, it's your first brew, so you wont know your efficiency. If you record exactly how many litres you've collected when your readings hit 0.990, and also measure the gravity of the runnings in the fermenter bucket (give it a stir first to mix it up a bit though) then you can work it out for next time.

Throw your spent grain on the compost heap or in the bin, and empty your boiler of any remaining liquor.

The boil

Jug your collected runnings (now called wort) from your fermenter into your (now empty) boiler until your fermenter is light enough to lift and pour. You dont want to overfill your boiler though. Keep the level a couple of inches below the brim. any remaining malt liquor can be slowly added later during the boil as it boils off.

Turn your thermostat up to full boil, put your feet up and have another beer.

You can put the lid on your boiler while it's heating up as this should help it reach boiling point a little faster. When it's reached boiling point, you should take the lid off for the whole boil otherwise you may get what's called DMS (Dimethyl Sulfides) which give a cooked vegetable flavour

As your wort starts to reach boiling, a foam will begin to form on the surface like this:

This foam is caused by the enzymes in the wort breaking down. Let it subside and continue to a rolling boil. If you think you might be close to a boil over your can slowly add left over wort to calm it down a little.

Once the foam has subsided, take temperature readings. When it reaches 98degC (which is as good as it gets to a boil if you're using one element) its time to add the first 100g batch of hops and make a note of the time. Start a stopwatch or timer as 30 mins from now you'll be onto the next step.

After 30 mins add the second batch of hops, wait another 15 mins which is 15 mins from the end of the boil and add the irish moss (which should be a nice sludge /gel type consistency by now). Give it a good stir... then add your chiller. Dont turn the chiller on, just put it in. This last 15 mins of the boil will sanitise your chiller.

At the end of your 60 min boil, turn the heat off and start your chiller. You want a flow rate that's slow enough not to waste water, but fast enough that the water coming out is a few degrees colder than the wort that's in the boiler. you may need to adjust the flow rate as the wort cools so as not to waste water.

While your wort is cooling, it is time to sanitise your fermenter, thermometer, spoon, trial jar and hydrometer.

You'll want your wort to be between 18 and 22degC for the ferment, but you can stop chilling when you get under 28degC as you will find that you lose the last few degrees when the wort falls through the air and into the fermenter and when you aerate. It also saves a few more litres of water if you're on a water meter like me.

...and finally

Once you have sanitised your fermenter, spoon, trial jar, hydrometer and your wort is down to temperature, it's time to start collecting. Now is the time to splash and slosh it as much as possible. More air into the wort helps the yeast to multiply and gives it a better chance at fermenting all those sugars, therefore less chance of a stuck fermentation. Whilst you're running off, grab a sample in your trial jar and take a hydrometer reading. Make sure you take a temperature reading too as it'll still be a little hotter than the hydrometer is calibrated for. Write it down and you can work this out later.

Once you've aerated your wort and foam is overflowing all over your floor, you're ready to sprinkle in your safale 04 dried yeast and stir.

Now you're done.... go clean up before your mrs goes mental!!!!

mmmmm beer

7 days later you should have something that's quite palatable, but i've found this Rauchbier is at it's best after two weeks conditioning in a secondary fermenter or a keg / bottle.