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Illustrated Brewing

How I Brew, Part II


The Boil

Controlling The Boil

From this point on, the process is virtually identical to an extract brewing session. Instead of buying dry or liquid malt extract, you made your own. The only real difference is that extract brewers usually make up a concentrated 2 gallon wort, which they then dilute with 3 more gallons of water to give them a 5-gallon batch.

Once you have added all of your wort and turned up the heat, you will start forming a foamy head on your brew. This is proteins from the grain releasing from the liquid. This is good and bad.

On the good side, this foam-head will act as an insulating blanket, and help keep the heat on your wort so the boil will start up more quickly. On the bad side, if not removed, it will add unwanted proteins to your beer, and make it much more difficult to control boil-overs of your brew.

Look closely at the picture again. You will notice on the right-hand side of the foam that there is a little white patch. This is the first "burp" of the boil. It's a signal that the boil is ready to begin.

At this point, I begin skimming off the foam, being careful not to take too much of the precious wort below. The boil is on!

You want a nice, hard rolling boil.

After most of the foam has been removed, I add my first hop addition. I do it at this point because a lot of the hop oils and resins can get caught up in the foam that we've removed. I don't want to throw out all of that goodness.

For the first 15 minutes or so of the boil, I will stand right next to the kettle with a spray bottle filled with water. If a boil over starts to erupt, I spray the top of the wort, and it will knock down the head. I can then slightly lower the temperature of the burner, until I get a nice rolling boil.

For my set-up, having the lid about half on works the best. This way, I get enough evaporation to get to my target volume, while keeping enough of the wort covered so I get a full boil without having to have my burners turned up to the maximum level.

With about 15 minutes left in the boil, I place my Immersion Chiller into the hot wort. This allows the hot wort to totally kill off any nasties that may have gotten onto the chiller.

Be sure you don't stand right in front of the inlet/outlet. After the water inside the tube heats up, it will come steaming out. Not pleasant....

At this point, I also add my Irish Moss (IM) to the brew pot. I add a tablespoon for a 10 gallon batch. IM is ground up seaweed that helps remove additional proteins from your brew.

One thing a lot of new all-grain brewers worry about is the amount of "stuff" floating around in their wort. This is called "hot break". It is proteins that coagulate once the boil has begun. Many people describe it as "chunks of cottage cheese" or something similar.

It is totally normal, and I'll describe how to deal with it in the Post-Boil section. This image shows you what it can look like. Sometimes it's this fine, sometimes it's chunkier.


Hops were originally added to beer to act as a preservative. Beer used to easily spoil in areas where a cool environment was not readily available, or when beer had to be transported long distances.

Now, hops are used primarily to add bitterness, flavor and aroma to the brew. All of these help to offset the residual sweetness of the fermented wort.

For bitterness and flavor to be added to the hops, you need to boil them to release the oils and resins from the hops (this is called isomerizing). Bittering hops are generally added at the very beginning of the boil, right after the foam has been removed.

Flavoring hops are added near the end, and are probably the most difficult to time. If added too soon, much of the delicate flavor components will be boiled away, and only the bitterness will remain. Added too late, and you'll end up with only the aroma of the hops. I generally add them during the last 10-15 minutes of the boil.

Finally, aroma hops are added at the very end. I will generally add them during the last 60 seconds of the boil. The remainder of the aroma is released during the cooling phase of your brewing.

Hops come in 3 basic forms: Whole, pellets and plugs. In the USA, whole and pellet hops are the most common.

Whole hops are simply the hop cones that have been dried and otherwise unprocessed. Pellets are the cones and stems all ground up and made to look like rabbit food pellets. Plugs are whole hops that have been compressed into plugs, generally 1/2 ounce in size.

I personally prefer whole hops, but some of the more exotic varieties are only available in pellet form.

There is a great deal of debate as to whether your hops should be added directly to the pot. I prefer to add them to a muslin hop bag. I find that less "junk" gets transferred to the fermenter this way. If you are using pellet hops, though, it won't really matter, as they mostly dissolve and "melt" through the hop bag.

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