Make Your Own Stir Plate

Stir Plate
Image Courtesy Of

Brew Your Own magazine provides a great article on making your own stir plate. Having a stir plate allow you to keep your yeast starter in constant motion, thereby allowing the yeast constant access to it’s food source and oxygen. Your starter will end up being much more active and healthy which is good because it lowers the risk of bacterial infection during primary fermentation.

Another benefit of the stir plate is that you get to feel like a fancy scientist.

The stir plate is super cheap to make and possibly free if you have the parts laying around. If you don’t, mostly everything you need is available at your local hardware or electronics store.


Brewing Your First All Grain Batch

copper valves

All Grain beer tastes better than extract. There I said it.  Together we can get you making better beer but you’ll need some equipment first (see below). Got the equipment? Good let’s put the pieces together and brew some beer. I want to note again that all-grain brewing is not all that difficult. It’s a lot of sitting around and waiting (and drinking).

The Mash

Let me take a quick moment to sum up what will happen. You will be soaking grains in hot water which will convert the starches in the grains to simple sugars for the yeast to eat. This is different from extract brewing in that extract is already converted to sugar and ready to be eaten by yeast.

  1. Fill up your boiling kettle with about 5 gallons of water and then heat it up to 165-168 degrees. Don’t go hotter than 170 degrees, going over that temperature will extract unwanted flavors from the grain husks, possibly kill the good enzymes we want.
  2. Mix your crushed grain and hot water together in your Mash Tun until you have what I would describe as a ‘Wet but not Soupy” consistency. What you want is for all the grain to be steeping in the water but to not have it too diluted. If too much water is in the mash it can prevent the enzymes from converting the starches to simple sugars.
  3. Check that the temperature is between 155 and 160 degrees. If it’s too low you might not get a good starch to sugar conversion
  4. Put the cover on the Mash Tun and walk away.
  5. The mashing process usually takes about 1 to 1.5 hours. Best to wait 1.5 so you know that conversion is complete. If you want to cut down on your time you can do an Iodine Test to see if conversion is complete but it’s not necessary.
  6. During this time you can start heating up another 5 gallons of water to 170 degrees. Find a safe and careful way to pour the hot water into your Hot Liquor Tank and put the lid on for later.

The Sparge

During the sparge we rinse the grain of all the newly created sugars. Do this by opening the valve at the bottom of the Mash Tun while sprinkling water on top of the grain inside. The result is the wort we are going to boil.

  1. First we need to make sure all the little grain chunks at the bottom of the mash tun don’t get into our brewing kettle. Open the valve at the bottom of the mash tun enough that it lets out a slow stream of wort. Collect this in a glass bowl or stein . When the bow fills up a bit close the valve. You’ll see lots of little chunks of grain. We don’t want those in the boil so carefully and slowly pour that back on top of the grain in the Mash Tun. Repeat this several times until you get it as clear as you think it will get.
  2. This next part depends on what is available to you so I can’t give you specifics. You will need to get your Hot Liquor Tank up high so that it sits above your Mash Tun. Your Mash Tun needs to be high enough that it sits above your boil kettle. My first setup had the kettle sitting on the floor, the Mash Tun sitting on a chair, and the Hot Liquor Tank sitting on a chair that was sitting on a table. My second setup used a combination of chairs and front porch steps. The main concern is that you do this in a safe manner because you don’t want 5 gallons of 170 degree water tipping on your head.
  3. Connect your sparge arm to your Hot Liquor Tank valve and set it up over the grain in the Mash Tun. Connect a silicone hose from the Mash Tun valve and put it in your boil kettle. Open the valve on the HLT to start sprinkling water on the grain. Open the valve on the Mash Tun to let out a slow stream of wort into the kettle.
  4. During the sparge I like to keep about an inch of water over the grain. This keeps the grain loose for rinsing and prevents it from being compacted and blocking flow.
  5. At about 3 gallons in the boil kettle you’ll want to start taste testing the wort coming out of the hose with a shot glass. If it still tastes sweet then you’re still getting sugars out and can continue sparging. Start tasting for a ‘tea like’ astringency (drying taste on the tongue). If you get to that point close all the valves and put your kettle on the propane burner. I usually add tap water to my kettle at this point to bring it up to 6 gallons (which will get boiled off in the next hour).

The Boil

Now we’re back in familiar territory. You will boil the wort for at least an hour, adding in hops according to their schedule, chill the wort, put it in your fermenter, and pitch in the yeast. Close it all up with an airlock and wait 3-4 weeks. Bottle and profit.

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The Leap To All Grain Homebrewing

old brewery
You wont need this much. Just some coolers.

Whenever I would read about all-grain homebrewing in the various books, it seemed ridiculously complicated. I couldn’t imagine going from the simplicity of extract/grain recipes to what appeared to be an equipment and space nightmare. Strange terminology such as ‘mash tuns’, ‘lauter tuns’ and ‘sparging’ did not sound like fun to me.

It’s true. Going from extract brewing to all-grain is a leap. Both in procedures as well as equipment. But i assure you the taste of all-grain beer is a million times better than extract.

I’m going to simplify and break down the equipment for you now. This is intended for a brewer that already owns the basics such as a fermenter and wants to know what they need to upgrade to all-grain. I’m going to put them in the order I think you should purchase them. This way you can continue extract brewing with the new equipment until your ready for the final pieces.

  1. Propane Burner – You should buy one of these regardless if you are moving to all-grain. Extract brewing with a propane burner  (rather than on the stove) is just the bees knees. Imaging getting your boil started in 5 minutes rather than 30. Seriously worth every cent.¬† It also sounds cool when you turn it up all the way. Fire = good.
  2. Wort chiller – This is also an item you’ll want with all-grain but can benefit you while you are still doing extract brewing. Instead of sticking your boil kettle in a stupid ice bath for 30 minutes, you can simply chill the wort directly. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get your wort to yeast pitching temperature.
  3. Boiling pot – You will want at least a 7.5 gallon pot for boiling.
  4. Hot Liquor Tank – this is a fancy/old term for a hot water tank. Get a 10 gallon picnic cooler (the kind with a spout at the bottom for serving cups of water) from Home Depot.
  5. Mash Tun – This is just a second 10 gallon cooler from Home Depot. This will hold your crushed grain and hot water (the Mash).
  6. Cooler conversion parts (2) – We need to take the existing spouts off of the coolers and outfit them with fancy metal jobs.
  7. Mash screen – This will go at the bottom of your mash tun to allow your wort to come out and keep the grain where it belongs.
  8. Sparge Arm – This is just a device that sprinkles water on top of your mash. You can buy one or make one.
  9. Grain Mill – You can most like get all your grain crushed at the homebrewing store, but my store made you do it yourself. By hand. So I bought my own.
  10. Iodine – Did you know you have to sign for this at the pharmacy now? Anyway iodine is not totally necessary but it’s used to test your mash.
  11. Silicone tubing – Silicone tubing handles extreme heat and wont flatten on you. It’s expensive but totally necessary.

You can slowly buy all the parts up the brewing kettle and continue brewing extract batches. Everything after that though you might want to splurge and get all at once because you’ll need all of it to start your first all-grain batch. Once you have all the parts, it’s time to brew your first all-grain batch.

Extract with Grain

Grain Her? I Barley Knew Her!

Extract kits are fine and good. They will produce the exact same flavor every time and you’ll never be surprised. Oh wait, that sounds boring to you? Then lets add some grain to your recipe and make it actually taste interesting.

Using grain with your extract recipe is called a partial mash, mini mash, or extract with grain. Basically you will take crushed grain that you bought at the homebrewing store and put it into a special bag (also available at the homebrewing store). Heat your water to 155-165 degrees and let you grain bag steep for about 30 minutes. After that remove the grain bag,  add your extract and continue the recipe as usual.

Partial mashes are a great way to add special character to your recipe and it’s also an easy intro to All-grain homebrewing.

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Brewing System or Brewing Equipment Kit

Slow down there super guy. Let’s get through the intro first!

There are two ways to go when starting to brew your own beer (or if purchasing a gift), brewing systems or brewing equipment kits.

Brewing Systems

Brewing systems are an easy way to try out homebrewing. These usually consist of a small keg-like container that you ferment your beer in.  These are relatively inexpensive and a quick way to start making your own beer right away.

My first homebrew was done in a Mr. Beer and that was fine. I’ve moved on since then but looking now I see a very interesting device called The Beer Machine. I almost wish I were starting out all over again so I could try one of these out. This thing has way more features than what I expected such as a C02 input to carbonate and dispense your beer, gauges on the outside to determine pressure, and a tap handle for direct dispensing.

The nicest part of a brewing system is that it takes up a tiny amount of space compared to brewing kits. If you are living in a small apartment or dorm, this is a good place to start your brewing empire until you are ready to upgrade.

If you looking for a beer gift for someone that has everything. The Beer Machine is a good place to start.

Brewing Equipment Kit

If there is no question in your mind that you are going to brew beer for a long time then it might be wise to start with an equipment kit. Equipment kits generally consist of two large vessels (2 buckets or 1 bucket and 1 glass carboy), cleaning supplies, tubing, measuring equipment, and sometimes an included recipe. These kits are the first steps toward brewing greatness. This is what you want to get if you expect to get anything serious done in the future.

Brewing equipment kits do require more space and time than brewing systems but you do get an increase in beer quality and quantity (5 gallons!)

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Finding Hombrew Recipes

When you first start out in homebrewing (assuming you start out using extract kits), recipes are very easy. The kits you purchase have everything you need. You want to make a stout? Purchase the stout kit. You’d rather a pale ale? Get the can of pale ale mix.

Once you become familiar with the brewing process and have gotten bored of just mixing extracts with water you may want to start trying out custom recipes. But where does one start?

Radical Brewing


I’ve found that the real recipes to pay attention to are the ones available in homebrewing books. Some of the greatest recipes I’ve made have come from ‘Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher. This book not only tells the story of beer in an interesting way, but provides many fantastic recipes you can try yourself.


There are many fine online resources out there. Just Google ‘Homebrew Recipes’ and you’ll see there many sites dedicated to this. I will however provide you with the ones I’m familiar with:

Brewtoad, formerly Hopville is a modern and clean way to create your recipes and view others. Creating your own recipe or making a variant of another brewer’s is easy and beautiful. It also features several advanced tools for calculating alcohol, color and mash water needs.

Brewprint, also allows you to clone others recipes and make your own tweaks to it. I used to like its interface more than Hopville but have now jumped ship. A feature I really like with Brewprint is that after you’ve created your recipe, you can automatically order the ingredients. Very nice for the lazy such as myself.

Old-schoolers may appreciate the nod towards The Beer Recipator ( this is a longstanding archive of user submitted recipes. You can choose from almost any style and brewing method (extract, all-grain, extract w/grain).

I used this site a lot when I was starting out. The tough part about it is that all the recipes seem to blend together and it’s not easy to pick one to try. A lot of the brewers use strange and overly complex methods (at least for a noob) and they almost never describe the final TASTE of their recipe. So basically you are picking out recipes based on:

  1. How easy they for you to read and do on your own
  2. The name of the recipe. (I guess ‘Bob’s Awesome Cream Ale’ sounds good)

Overall though this site is a great resource and has a wonderful recipe builder that is especially helpful towards all-grain brewers.

Your Heart

It’s all fine and dandy to copy a recipe, brew it and enjoy it. But I find the real joy of homebrewing is in developing your own recipe. It’s OK to start with someone else’s recipe and then start to tweak it to your hearts content. How do you think Chef Boyardee got so popular? He based the recipe for Spaghetti-O’s off of a popular brand of cat foot in Italy!

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Brewing with malt extract

vintage malt extract
Use something newer than this in your beer!

Using malt extract is a quick an easy way to get started with homebrewing. Malt extract can come in dry powder form or in cans. Both smell just wonderful and both can make an unbelievable mess if you’re not careful. Malt extract is basically sugar that you will boil with water and then add yeast to. The yeast will eat the sugar and output alcohol and carbon dioxide. You will in turn eat the alcohol and carbon dioxide and become THE GREATEST PERSON WHO EVER LIVED.

The canned variety of malt extract will usually be geared towards whatever style of beer you are making. Want to make a pale ale? There’s a can for that. Want to make a stout? You guessed it, there’s a can for that too.

Dry malt extract typically comes in sealed plastic bags and more closely matches particular grain styles. For example there are pale ale malts and munich malts and so on which allow you to customize your recipe a bit more than the canned recipes. Dry malt is unbelievably dry in that it will suck water out of the air, stick to your skin and basically get over everything if you’re not careful. Do yourself a favor and DON’T OPEN THE BAG UNTIL RIGHT BEFORE YOU DUMP IT IN THE POT!

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Beer Brewing Basics

Brewing beer is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  Let’s start with cheap and simple. I’ll help you learn what basic home brewing equipment you need to get started.

  1. Purchase a beer brewing kit and recipe kit (see below).
  2. Get a large pot for boiling your beer. You might already have one lying around the house. It doesn’t matter if it’s stainless steel or aluminum or one of those weird crab pots. It just needs to be large enough to hold your boil.
  3. Start boiling your water and add in your malt extract.
  4. Boil for an hour and enjoy the sweet sweet aroma that fills your kitchen.
  5. Cool your ‘wort’ (what you just boiled, pronounced ‘wert’) in your sink by setting the pot in an ice bath.
  6. Once your wort has cooled to about 80 degrees (metric users, go figure it out) dump it into your bucket and add water up to the 5 gallon mark.
  7. Dump in your yeast and mix it all up with a sanitized spoon.
  8. Put the cover on the bucket with its airlock, stick the bucket somewhere cozy around 70 degrees. I recommend a laundry tub if possible.
  9. Giggle fiendishly as the fermentation begins around 6 hours later and continues for several days.
  10. Let the beer sit and ferment for 3-4 weeks and then bottle it.
  11. About 1.5 weeks later drink said beer. If you wake up the next day in a dumpster wearing nothing but a tool-belt, hard-hat, and one sock you probably made too powerful of a beer and need to scale it back next time.

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