Schwedhelm's Unite!
Home | Blog | Rants | Diversions | Family | Illustrated Brewing

Illustrated Brewing

How I Brew, Part I


What follows is how I do my all grain brewing. There must be 1,000 ways to brew beer, and every one of them will most likely turn out good beer.

There are some steps and processes that are common to all beers: mash the grains, drain the liquid, boil the liquid, add hops, cool the liquid, aerate the liquid, add yeast, ferment and consume.

Pretty easy, huh?

I break the brewing of beer into 3 distinct sections: Pre-boil, the boil, and post-boil. Each of these sections can be as simple or complex as you wish to make them. It's all up to you.

A quick word about sanitation: While you don't want to be foolish, sanitation is not as important during the first two sections. The boil itself will pretty much kill anything bad that has entered your beer.

You want to pay very close attention to cleanliness and sanitation during the post-boil section. This is when your liquid (wort, pronounced "wert") is most susceptible to infection, and you could end up dumping your whole batch.

I use Oxyclean or Powdered Brewery Wash and hot water to clean my gear. Hot water and an ounce of cleaner per gallon, and just let is soak and then rinse thoroughly.

I use BTF Iodophor (an iodine-based sanitizer) at no-rinse concentrations. This is 12.5 parts per million. If you take 5 gallons of water and 1 tablespoon of iodophor and let your gear soak for 10 minutes, you will be fine. You can then drain the iodophor and use the equipment immediately without rinsing (or leaving ANY taste or smell of iodine). If you want to obsess over this, check out this very detailed article by Jim Liddil and John Palmer.

If you are only interested in a single section, click one of the links below to jump to the section. With all of the images, if you click them, a new window will pop-up with a larger, more detailed image.


  • Preparations
  • Mashing
  • Lautering

The Boil

  • Controlling The Boil
  • Hops


  • Chilling Your Wort
  • Aeration/Pitching Yeast
  • Fermentation
  • Consumption



Do you ever watch those cooking shows on PBS or The Cooking Channel? These chefs get up there and throw this awesome dish together is 20 minutes. Looks very easy.

You go to your kitchen, and it takes you 3 hours. What's up with that?

A large part of it is a technique called "mis en place". Essentially, it is doing as much of your prep work up front as is possible, so when you you are ready start your mash, things will go smoothly.

  • If you're using liquid yeast, make your starter a couple days in advance.
  • The night before you brew, weigh your hops and break them down into your Bittering, Flavor and Aroma piles. Mill your grains if your Local Home Brew Shop (LHBS) has not done this for you. I like milling my own grains, as I have more control over the resulting grist.

Whether you mill your own grains, or have it done by your LHBS, it should look very similar to this next image. Notice that the husks are largely intact, and the grain is in very small pieces (some almost into flour). Under-crushed grain is one of the major reasons brewers get low efficiencies from their systems. If the mash water can't get to the grains, how can you expect to extract the sweet sugars needed for fermentation?

  • Pre-heat your mash tun (MT). I generally fill mine up with hot tap water because it's quicker than boiling water. You need to pre-heat the MT to reduce/eliminate the effects of it's thermal mass. Basically, if you don't do this, when you add your grains and mash water to the MT, it will suck too much of the heat from your mash, and you will have difficulties hitting your mash temperatures.
  • Start heating your mash water (this is called your Strike Water). I do 10 gallon batches which usually use about 20 lbs. of grain. I typically use 1.1 to 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain. I err on the high side, because any water not used for the mash can be used later in the sparge. So I usually need a little over 6.25 gallons brought up to 170 F or so.
  • Lastly, I'll fill my clean fermenters (plastic buckets or glass carboys - buckets are better, easier and safer...) with a sanitizing solution and let them sit. I'll also fill a bucket that I keep right near my work area. I drop in my airlocks and stoppers, plus anything I'll be using that will touch the wort after it's been cooled (like the aerator).


Here's where most new all-grain brewers freak out. They hear all of this stuff about water profiles, pH levels, enzyme conversion, rest temperatures, and decoction mashing. They figure this is way too much grief, and stick with brewing with extract.

Let me simplify it: Mashing is nothing more than adding hot water to crushed grain and letting it sit for an hour or so. Real scary, huh?

Unless you've got real, real hard, or real, real soft water, don't worry about profiles and pH levels. If you can drink it, you can brew with it. Otherwise, go buy some bottled spring or "drinking" water (NOT distilled water).

Virtually all malted grains sold today are what is known as "highly modified". This means you don't need to worry about multiple temperatures rests to get adequate enzyme conversions.

Decoction mashing is a VERY advanced and time-consuming technique used for only a handful of styles. Don't even begin worrying about this until you've got a bunch of batches under your belt.

So what happens in the mash? The starches in the grains interact with the enzymes which are naturally present in the grains, and they convert the starch into sugars that are fermentable by the yeast.

You've really only got two temperature ranges you need to consider. For lighter bodied, more alcoholic beers, you want your mash temps in the 148-153 F range. For heavier bodied, less alcoholic beers, you mash in the 154-158 F range.

How do you do this mash-thing? Most home brewers use some sort of a modified cooler as their Mash Tun. The reason for this is that once the hot mash water has been added, the insulation enables you to maintain the mash temps for the whole hour.

I use a Gott cooler that has been modified with a ball valve, thermometer and a false bottom. Many brewers use the rectangular ice chests that have been modified. There are a number of sites on the internet that have tips on how to do this modification.

As you can see on the inside, I've added a perforated stainless steel screen (called a "false bottom"). This is used in the lauter step of the process. Many brewers will used two separate vessels - one for the mash and one for the lauter. I find it easier to use the same vessel to perform both functions.

After my strike water is up to the correct temp - generally 15 F over the temp at which I want to mash (remember: the grains will suck some of the heat out of the strike water. Use a program like Pro Mash or Strangebrew to help you calculate your temperature), I add it all to the MT. I then add a little grain at a time - a pound or two - to the water, and I stir very well, making sure I have no dough balls in the mash. Repeat this process until all of your grain is in the MT.

You will end up with a porridge-like mass that looks something like this:

Here's another image:

Too thin of a mash (too much water), and the enzymes will literally be too far away from the starch molecules to convert enough of them into sugars. Too thick (not enough water) and the enzymes don't have the ability to do their work to enough of the starch.

If you keep your mash between 1.1 and 1.25 quarts per pound of grain, you'll end up with an excellent mash, and a fine beer. Let this sit, covered, for 60 minutes. I will generally give it a stir every 20 minutes to make sure the heat and water are evenly distributed.

While your grains are mashing, start heating up your sparge water. You will want this water to be 170 F when it hits the grains, so I heat mine to 180 F to account for heat loss.


After you have finished the mash, you need to get the sweet liquid from the grains. This is called Lautering. You rinse the grains with Sparge water. To set the grain bed so you get clear run-off, you first Vorlauf.

Forget it! I'm going back to extract brewing! Hold on! Here's a simple explanation: Sparging is the act of adding hot water to your mash. Vorlaufing is the act of running a small amount of the liquid from your grains to set the grain bed to give you clear beer. Lautering is the act of draining the sparge water from the grains to carry away the sweet liquid (the wort).

I use a technique called Batch Sparging. I find it easier and more effective than a technique called Fly Sparging. Fly Sparging involves slowly adding water to the top of your tun and slowly draining it from the bottom. It usually takes about 5 minutes per gallon to do this process (around an hour for a 12 gallon batch).

With Batch Sparging, you add as much of the sparge water to your tun as it will hold, then stir up the grains very well. Wait 8-10 minutes. Vorlauf, then drain, AS FAST AS YOUR TUN WILL ALLOW, into your brew kettle.

Here's the lauter tun filled to the top after the sparge water has been added:

When doing the vorlauf, I run about a gallon off until I see that no more chunks of grains are making it through the false bottom and the grain filter bed (this is why it is important not to destroy your grain husks during the milling operation).

When you fill your vorlauf pitcher with wort, you need to pour it back onto the top of your tun VERY slowly. If you just dump it back in, you can disturb the grain bed, and you'll never get clear runnings. I simply take my brewing spoon and pour it onto the back side. This allows the wort to trickle back into the tun without disturbing anything.

I now hook up my pump from the mash/lauter tun to my brew kettle, and let 'er rip!

This process can be done many, many ways. Besides using a pump (which REALLY simplifies the design of your brewery) you can do a tiered system that uses gravity to feed the wort from the lauter tun into the brew kettle. Or you could simply use a pitcher to pour from the lauter tun into the brew kettle. This latter method really wouldn't take that long, since you are filling the pitcher up with the ball valve wide open.

After you've emptied the tun, check the volume of wort in your kettle. I've taken a wooden yard stick and marked it up in 1-gallon increments (on the right side of the stick). Simple and effective.

You now repeat this batch sparge technique (add water, stir, wait, vorlauf, drain) as many times as is necessary until you have the correct volume of wort for your brew. Here, I'm transferring hot water from my Hot Liquor Tank (HLT) on the right, into the mash/lauter tun. You'll notice I'm using my Water Wand so the water goes onto the top of the grains. Whenever I've tried adding the water using the quick disconnect on the mash/lauter tun, I end up knocking off the hose on the false bottom. This results in me not being able to drain the tun. I then have to empty the entire tun into another vessel, fix the hose, and then drain the wort. Not fun.

In my case, I need about 13.5 gallons of wort for a 10 gallon batch. This takes into consideration evaporation during the boil (15% of volume), and wort that is "lost" in dead space in the brew pot (below my spigot).

Click here to go to Part II

Click here to go to Part III


Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Bored? Click Here and speak your mind...

Home | Blog | Rants | Diversions | Family | Illustrated Brewing