Steeped Grain Homebrewing


The simplest way to brew beer is by the method known as extract brewing, which is detailed on the extract brewing page. The most complicated way to brew beer is by eliminating extracts and brewing beer directly from grains. In steeped grain brewing, elements of extract brewing and all-grain brewing are combined to produce a more complex beer than you could otherwise achieve by simply using extracts alone. As the name suggests, the use of grains (albeit limited under these circumstances), rather than just extracts, is the very technique that distinguishes steeped grain brewing from pure extract brewing. Steeped grain brewing is almost as easy as pure extract brewing. (Truth be told, my very first batch of beer was brewed with steeped grains, so this is not very difficult and gives you a rudimentary introduction into all-grain brewing.)

The instructions on this page assume a working knowledge of homebrewing and will not "baby-step" you through every piece of equipment, every ingredient, every term and every process along the way as if this were your first batch of beer. Therefore, only the new ingredients, equipment and techniques will be explained. Please keep in mind that there are as many different ways to brew great beer as there are brewers. The basic process is the same, but every brewer does something slightly different that works for him. What I'm providing to you is simply what works for me.

For more in-depth coverage of entry-level brewing, see the extract brewing page. For all-grain homebrewing, check out the all-grain brewing page. If any of the terms used on this page are not familiar to you, please refer to the glossary, equipment or ingredients pages.


American Pale Ale
Equipment:

The equipment necessary for steeped grain brewing is, basically, the exact same equipment you used for your first extract-only batches of beer. However, if you are serious about continuing to homebrew, you should be investing in better equipment, such as using glass carboys for primary and secondary fermenters, replacing plastic with stainless steel wherever possible and buying a wort chiller. Anything you are missing could be purchased from your local homebrew supply shop or online. A thorough list and explanation of brewing equipment can be found on the equipment page.

  1. One (1) brew kettle

  2. Three (3) nylon hop bags

  3. One (1) 6.5-gallon glass carboy

  4. One (1) 5-gallon glass carboy

  5. One (1) airlock

  6. One (1) thermometer

  7. One (1) hydrometer

  8. One (1) long-handled stainless steel spoon

  9. One (1) measuring cup

  10. One (1) 5-gallon bottling bucket with spigot

  11. Siphon hose with racking stem and tip

  12. Wort chiller

  13. Bottles

  14. Bottle caps

  15. Bottle capper

  16. Bottle-filler

Ingredients:

  1. Eight (8) ounces of US 60L crystal malt (specialty grains)

  2. Four (4) ounces of malto-dextrin

  3. Six (6) pounds of light DME

  4. One (1) ounce of Nugget hops (bittering)

  5. One-half (1/2) ounce of Perle hops (flavoring)

  6. One and one-half (1-1/2) ounces of Cascade hops (aroma)

  7. One (1) teaspoon gypsum

  8. One (1) teaspoon of Irish moss

  9. Wyeast 1056 or White Labs WLP001 liquid yeast

  10. One and one-quarter (1-1/4) cup of extra light DME

Steeped Grain Brewing:

  1. Approximately three (3) days before brewing, prepare a 1-liter yeast starter.

    At this point in your brewing career, you should know that yeast is the most important ingredient of your beer and that one of the keys to brewing a good beer is a strong, healthy fermentation. Commercial brewers aim for a pitching rate of at least 200 billion yeast cells for every 5 gallons of wort. By contrast, the pitchable liquid yeast used by homebrewers provides roughly 30-60 billion yeast cells. Homebrewers who regularly prepare yeast starters swear by them as being one of the keys to better beer. See the yeast starters page for further information and instructions on how to prepare a yeast starter.

  2. On brew day, crush the specialty grains and steep them in one-half (1/2) gallon of 150 water for at least thirty (30) minutes.

    Many homebrew shops will sell specialty grains pre-crushed. If your specialty grains do not come pre-crushed, simply place them in a plastic bag of some sort and roll them with a rolling pin so as to just crack the outer hull and crush the inner grain. If you want a better crush, invest in a roller-type grain mill - it's worth the investment and a required piece of equipment for all-grain brewing. No matter how you crush your grains, do not pulverize the grains into flour!

    As for steeping the grains, many experts will recommend conducting the steep with the grains floating free in the water. An extra large nylon hop bag allows the same freedom to the grains but this method keeps the wort clean and free from husk particles that could impart astringent flavors in the boil. An alternative is to find a stainless steel colander, place it in the bottom of the pot and steep the grains in the colander.

    For efficiency, I conduct the steep in a pot separate from by brew kettle. As I'm steeping the specialty grains, I'm bringing three gallons of liquor up to temperature in my brew kettle.

  3. Once the steep is complete, sparge the grains with one-half (1/2) gallon of 170 water with the wort and water running off into your brew kettle.

    "Sparging" is brewing terminology for rinsing. The purpose of the sparge is to allow the remaining sugars in the grains to be washed out into your brew kettle rather than being left behind in the grains. With the nylon hop bag method, I simply pick the bag up with sanitized tongs and pour the sparge water evenly over top of the grains allowing the wort to drain into the kettle. This is not the way all-grain sparges are conducted, but it works well enough for steeped grain brewing.

  4. Add enough liquor to the brew kettle to bring at least 3 gallons of wort to a boil.

    The more of your total batch size (5 gallons) you can boil the better. This creates a better finished product but requires a larger brew kettle and more sophisticated and efficient wort-cooling techniques. There are trade-offs everywhere, so you decide how much you want to boil, but it should be at least 3 gallons. Remember that boiling water will evaporate at the rate of one-half (1/2) gallon every hour, so if you're boiling 3 gallons, you'll probably need to add an additional 2-1/2 gallons in the primary fermenter to ensure that your final batch size is as close as possible to your target batch size of five (5) gallons.

  5. Once the liquor reaches a boil, remove the brew kettle from the heat source then stir in the DME, the malto-dextrin and the gypsum.

  6. Once the DME and malto-dextrin are thoroughly dissolved into the liquor, return the brew kettle to the heat and resume a boil.

    Boiling may caramelize the extract to some extent and darken the color of the final beer. With certain styles of beer, a lighter color is appropriate or desired. You can obtain a somewhat lighter color in your extract beer several different ways. One of the more popular methods is to add the majority of the extract at the end of the boil. For example, you might boil half of the extract for the full 60 minutes and add the rest with 15 minutes to go in the boil. Be careful with this method as it will increase hop utilization making for a hoppier beer (the lower the gravity of the wort, the higher the hop utilization - and vice-versa). I've personally used this method with some success. A second method is to dissolve the extract in the water before bringing it to a boil, but the extract is still boiled for the full amount of time, so I don't know how effective this is. Finally, using a gentle boil instead of a vigorous one will reduce the risk of caramelization and, therefore, help to ensure a lighter color.

    See the Extract Chart for information on various brands of malt extract. This chart was published in the September 2006 issue of Brew Your Own magazine. In my opinion, the most important piece of information here is the color of the extract in degrees Lovibond. Extract brewers are frequently unable to get the very light colors necessary to accurately replicate a witbier or a lager. While that may still be true, using this chart will help you locate the lightest extract if you've got several choices available to you.

  7. Once the wort is boiling, add the Nugget hops for bittering and continue boiling.

    If you are using hop leafs or plugs, a 90 minute boil is necessary to acheive optimum hop bitterness utilization. If you're using hop pellets, only a 60 minute boil is necessary. Again, using a nylon hop bag is probably a good idea.

  8. Add 1 teaspoon of Irish moss and the Perle hops for flavoring 15 minutes before the end of the boil.

    The addition of Irish moss is optional but recommended. Actually a dried seaweed, Irish moss is a clarifying agent that works by coagulating loose particles during the final stage of the boil. These particles precipitate out of the beer and are left behind when you siphon the cooled wort from the brew kettle to the primary fermenter, making your beer cleaner and clearer.

  9. With 5 minutes left to go in the boil, add 1 ounce of the Cascade hops for aroma.

  10. Once the boil is complete, remove the brew kettle from the heat source and drop the temperature of the wort as quickly as possible.

    This is where the wort chiller comes in. Little more than a coil of copper tubing, a wort chiller works by drawing the heat from the wort through the copper - a thermal conductor - into the water - another thermal conductor - passing through the chiller. There are two types. The more basic type is called an immersion wort chiller. You simply place an immersion wort chiller in the wort and run water through the chiller. A counter-flow wort chiller is copper tubing covered by a plastic garden hose. This chiller works by allowing the wort to pass through the copper tubing while the cold water runs over the copper in the opposite direction (thus, counter-flow). The counter-flow wort chiller is more expensive but much more effective. An immersion chiller should chill your wort to pitching temperatures in about 15 minutes. A counter-flow chiller will chill the wort in as little as 5 minutes.

  11. Once the wort has cooled to approximately 75 F, siphon the wort into the 6.5-gallon glass carboy primary fermenter, add enough cool water to create at least 5 gallons and take an original gravity reading. Remember to adjust the reading if the temperature of the wort is not 60 F. (See the Hydrometer Temperature Correction chart on the measurements and conversions page.)

  12. Once the wort is at the desired fermentation temperature and a gravity reading has been taken, aerate the wort.

    Aerating the wort is one of the keys to ensuring a strong, healthy fermentation. Shaking the carboy is a relatively ineffective way to accomplish aeration, but it's good enough for the novice brewer with enough on his mind. For more experienced brewers, it is recommended that you purchase some special aeration equipment to achieve this task. For example, I use an aquarium pump with an in-line filter and an aeration stone. I aerate the wort for at least 15 minutes and my fermentations start faster and are more complete. Other brewers oxygenate their beer with a shot of pure oxygen. You need a special tank for oxygenation, but it's quicker and (allegedly) more effective than aeration.

Fermentation:

  1. Once the beer has been aerated (or oxygenated), pitch the yeast prepared in the yeast starter (if you've done so).

    You can either pitch the entire yeast starter or gently decant the spent wort and pitch only the yeast slurry. There's no real difference between the methods, but keep in mind that if you're going to pitch the entire starter, it will increase the volume of beer in your primary fermenter accordingly.

  2. After approximately 1 week in the primary fermenter, rack the beer into the 5-gallon glass carboy secondary fermenter and add the remaining one-half (1/2) ounce of Cascade hops.

    The addition of hops to the secondary fermenter is a technique called "dry-hopping" and will add further hop aroma to your finished beer. It is not absolutely necessary to place these hops in a hop bag as they should be left behind in the secondary fermenter when the beer is racked to the bottling bucket.

  3. Allow the beer to finish fermentation in the secondary fermenter for an additional 14 days. Take a final gravity reading to confirm that fermentation is complete.

Bottling:

  1. Once fermentation is complete, the beer is ready to be bottled.

  2. Sanitize all bottles, bottle caps and bottling equipment in preparation for bottling.

  3. When you are ready to bottle, rack the beer very gently from the secondary fermenter into the bottling bucket.

  4. Once all of the beer has been siphoned into the bottling bucket, stir in the DME very gently to make sure it is evenly distributed.

    You may substitute DME instead of corn sugar for priming. To prepare the DME for priming, dissolve it in a pint of water, then boil it for 15 minutes before adding it to your beer. Some homebrewers suggest that you get better conditioning and head retention with the DME instead of the corn sugar but it may impart a very slightly malty flavor to your beer that you don't want. If you're not comfortable using the DME or don't have any extra lying around, feel free to continue using the corn sugar. Personally, I've never had any luck getting good carbonation with DME, so I've stuck with corn sugar.

  5. After the DME (or priming sugar) has been evenly distributed, fill each bottle to within no more than 1-1/2 inches from the top of the bottle, cap the bottle and wipe of any excess spillage.

  6. Once all the beer is bottled, move the bottles back to whatever spot you used for fermentation to allow the beer to condition for at least two weeks.

    Transferring the beer to a refrigerator for another two (2) weeks or so before drinking it will improve the smoothness and clarity of your beer.


As you can tell, steeped grain brewing is not much more complicated that extract brewing, but you should start to upgrade your equipment and employ more advanced brewing techniques at this point in your homebrewing development to create a better beer. Unfamiliar terms are defined on the glossary, ingredients or equipment pages. If you want to read more about homebrewing, I highly recommend Stephen Snyder's "The Brew-Master's Bible" and Charlie Papazian's "The New Joy of Homebrewing." I found both of these books indispensible when learning about homebrewing. If you have any questions about this process, feel free to e-mail me by clicking on the link in the navigation frame on the left. Enjoy!  

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