Brewing FAQ

Kurt Swanson
Copyright © 1992-1995, Kurt Swanson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to disseminate copies free of charge (including media costs), provided this message is contained throughout.


1. How is beer made?

Beer is made from extracting sugar from the starch in malted grain. This is boiled with sufficient water & hops to make a "wort." When this has cooled, brewing yeast is added to ferment the wort to create this finished product, which is suitable for bottling or kegging, and maturation. Some people mash their own grain, while others buy canned malt extract. Either method is suitable for creating an award-winning brew, though mashing does allow greater control over the finished product, and "mash'ers" claim better beer is made. For more complete information get the compressed file beginners.Z from the Stanford server (see #4).

2. How do I start? What equipment do I need?

There are specialty shops all over the country that sell ingredients and equipment for making beer and wine at home. Check your yellow pages under "Beer" or "Wine" for homebrewing or home winemaking shops. If you can't find a shop locally, many shops do mail order (more on mail order later). Basic equipment includes a kettle for boiling the wort, a fermentation vessel of some kind -- glass carboys (5 gallon bottled water bottles) and food-grade plastic buckets are popular -- siphon hose for bottling, bottles, and a bottle capper and caps. Most shops sell "starter kits", which include essential equipment (and sometimes some not-so-essential equipment), ingredients for your first batch, and a book. Prices vary, $60-70 U.S. is common. Otherwise, try contacting local clubs and books, see questions 6 and 13.

3. What is the HomeBrewDigest (HBD)?

The Digest is an alternate forum for discussing homebrewing. It is not associated in any manner with this newsgroup, or Usenet in general, except that a high percentage of people contribute to both forums. The digest is a list-group which is sent out daily, containing all postings from the previous 24-hours. The HBD generally handles a more advanced discussion of brewing issues. Flames are not permitted. Currently the HBD is being posted to this newsgroup as a courtesy. Beware that some newsreaders will split the digest into its component articles, and that follow-up posts will not be seen by the original poster, nor other HBD subscribers. Direct replies should work - but make sure the address is correct. To subscribe to the digest, send a message containing "subscribe" to

4. Where can I access the archives?

Currently no one that I know of archives rec.crafts.brewing, but the archives to the HBD are available. They can be obtained via anonymous ftp from in the pub/clubs/homebrew directory. Get the file called index for a complete description of what is available. Many other "goodies" reside in this directory. Please limit access to non-business hours.

Another server exists for those who do not have ftp access, send a mail message containing only the word "HELP" to for more information.

5. Where can I get a copy of "The Cat's Meow" (recipe book)?

This is available on the archives, in the recipe-book subdirectory. See #4 for information on accessing the archives. Also The Cat's Meow III is available at

6. What is a good text on brewing?

It is generally agreed that "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing," by Charlie Papazian is an excellent beginners text. Other find David Miller's "The Complete Handbook of Homebrewing" just as good for the beginner, as well as containing more information suited for intermediate/advanced brewers. I use both. Other texts include "The Big Book of Brewing," by Dave Line, which is a British text (with British & metric measurements), and "Brewing Lager Beer" by Greg Noonan. Mr. Line has also written a recipe book which does contain basic instructions, called "Brewing Beer Like Those You Buy." A more modern recipe book is ""Brewing the World's Great Beers" also by Dave Miller. Also you might try "Brewing Quality Beers," by Byron Burch, which has been described as "short enough to read for the extremely impatient, yet has lots of good information." Lastly, CAMRA (see below), publishes "Home Brewing: The CAMRA Guide," by Graham Wheeler, 1990. Write to CAMRA directly, at the address given below.

7. Where can I get mail order supplies?

The wang archive server contains the file "suppliers" which is a good place to start, or try the classifieds in any copy of Zymurgy. Also, try the yellow pages under "Beer making supplies" and "Wine Making." Lastly, the original copy of "the Cat's Meow" (see #5), contains a list of mail order shops.

8. What are the "lambic-list", "beerjudge-list", "cider-list", and "mead" lists?

These are four special topic mailing lists, unassociated with Usenet. Subscribers send mail to the list and then copies are immediately mailed out to every other subscriber. The lambic-list covers information on brewing a special type of Belgian brew called lambic (ask for it at your liquor store). The beerjudge-list covers topics related to judging beer in competitions, as well as administration of the judge test. The cider-list involves the brewing of cider. The mead list involves the making of mead (honey-wine). To subscribe, send mail to,,, and Include your name, email address, and in the case of the judge-list, your judging rank ("apprentice" for non-judges).

9. What is the A.H.A./Zymurgy?

Zymurgy is a quarterly publication, plus one special topics issue, put out by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA). Zymurgy contains many article on brewing as well as information & ads regarding clubs and supplies. Contact the AHA by phone or US mail to:

American Homebrewers Association, Inc. P.O. Box 1679 Boulder, CO 80306-1679 (303) 447-0816

10. I'm going to (city), what brewpubs are there?

The Wang archive server contains a file listing brewpubs. The file is call brewpub-list. See question #4 on how to access the server.

11. My terminal gravity seems high, should I worry?

Worry? No. There are several possibilities. First, depending on your recipe, an acceptable terminal gravity may be high. For example, a Barley Wine with an initial gravity of 1.120, might completely ferment out at 1.040. On the other hand, a lite lager, with an initial gravity of 1.025 might ferment all the way down to 1.002. Thus you should check with your recipe, or a similar recipe of that style, to determine what might be proper. If you still believe it is high, and this is a frequent occurrence, you may have a "stuck fermentation." This occurs for a variety of reasons. The wort might not have been sufficiently aerated to start with, you might slosh it around in the fermenter. Or, fermentation temperature might have dropped to the point where the yeast may go dormant. Also, the yeast might not have enough nutrients in the wort to work with. This often occurs in extract brewing. In these latter two cases, you might try adding a yeast nutrient, according to the instruction that come with it. Lastly, give it time, as fermentation may slow, then suddenly accelerate at a later date.

12. Why hasn't my yeast done anything yet?

Some yeasts take longer to start than others. Make sure your fermentation temperature is in the right range (lower temps slow yeast activity). Also, high temperatures are bad for yeast. Besides problems of mutation, yeast may be killed if pitched before the wort has sufficiently cooled. You might try aerating the wort by sloshing it around in the fermenter. Lastly, the pitching rate affects startup time. If you pitch too little yeast, not only will the lag time be greater, but you also risk infection. Many people either use 2 packets of dry yeast (Whitbread excepted), or make a starter culture from one packet, or from liquid yeast.

13. Are there any homebrew clubs in (city)?

Scott Murphy maintains an on-line list of homebrew clubs. You can contact him by sending mail to:

14. What's the word on Bottle Fillers?

The following was graciously submitted by Paul Chisholm regarding a recent discussion on bottle fillers in this newsgroup... Thanks, Paul...

Some people Worry (for shame!-) that a bottle filler causes more oxidation (because of spraying through the smaller opening, rather than through the whole opening at the end of the siphon tube, I guess). The solution is to tilt the bottle at the beginning, and stick the end of the bottling wand into the bottom "corner" of the bottle. The wand's end is soon covered with beer, and no amount of spraying will cause any extra air to be mixed in with the beer. Also, if the end of the wand (or siphon tube, or whatever) isn't much lower than the end of the siphon tube in the priming carboy (or whatever), the beer will be siphoned slowly, at low pressure, reducing spraying. (This works for any bottle filling procedure.)

Another problem is the bottle filler has beer in it. When you lift the filler from the bottle, that beer doesn't go into the bottle, and the headspace is greatly increased. Even if you fill the bottle almost full, the resulting headspace is larger than some people consider optimal. You can fill the bottle, move the filler to the top of the bottle, and press the tip of the filler to drizzle enough beer down the side of the bottle to reduce the head space.

There are two kinds of fillers. One kind has a spring. The other has a stopper that's held down by the weight of the beer. The latter is slower. Does that mean oxidation is less of a problem? I expect it's easier to finish filling (using the side-of-the-bottle trick) with a springless filler.

(There's also something called Phil's Philler, which has a hole at the top as well as at the bottom. You can remove the filler without removing the beer in it, thus eliminating the headspace problem.)

My take on all this is that there are ways to use a bottle filler to reduce problems (and reduce Worry). I didn't find enough evidence of problems to bottle my beer without a bottle filler.

15. What is CAMRA?

CAMRA stands for "the CAMpaign for Real Ale," a British consumers' group that is concerned with changes, primarily in the quality of British beers. For membership details write: Campaign for Real Ale, Ltd 34 Alma Road St. Albans Herts AL1 3BR United Kingdom

16. What is a hydrometer? How is it used? What is "specific gravity"?

A hydrometer measures the weight of a liquid relative to the same volume of water (i.e., relative densities). In brewing, much of this excess weight is expected to be from fermentable and unfermentable malt sugars. Most hydrometers measure Specific Gravity (SG), which tells how many times heavier than water the liquid of interest is; for example, a 1.050 SG wort is 1.05 times heavier than an equal volume of water at 60 F. SG measurements are temperature dependent, and SG should be measured at 60 F., as water is SG 1.0 at 60 F.

Hydrometers often come with a temperature conversion chart, but hydrometers often are not accurately calibrated, so that water at 60F will not read 1.0. An easy way to take SG readings with a hydrometer is to measure at room temperature, and then measure water at room temperature and take the difference.

Some abbreviations commonly used in homebrewing relating to specific gravity: OG, Original (wort specific) Gravity; FG or TG, Final or Terminal Gravity (when the beer is finished fermenting).

17. What is a wort chiller? How/why is it used?

A wort chiller is a device used to quickly cool boiling wort to yeast pitching temperatures. Two common constructions are the immersion chiller and the counterflow chiller. The immersion chiller consists of a coil of copper tubing that is immersed in the wort, and cold water is run through the tubing. Counterflow designs usually consist of copper tubing inside of a larger diameter plastic tubing; cold water runs through the plastic tubing in one direction, cooling wort runs through the copper tubing in the other direction.

Using a chiller to quickly cool wort has several advantages over slow air cooling. You get your yeast pitched quickly, reducing the risk of infection; the time the wort spends at DMS* producing temperatures is reduced; and a quick chill promotes good cold break.

* DMS is Dimethyl Sulfide, a malt by-product with an aroma described as similar to cooked corn.

18. What is hot break? What is cold break?

Hot and cold break are terms used by homebrewers to describe the flocculation of proteins and other materials during the boil (the hot break) and cooling (the cold break). This material tends to settle to the bottom of your kettle or fermenter, where it becomes part of the "trub". Sometimes the terms "hot break" and "cold break" will be used to refer to the activity ("I had a great cold break when I pumped ice water through my wort chiller"), while at other times the brewer may be referring to the actual matter ("The cold break settled to the bottom of my carboy"); if you're worried that you may not be understood, you can always specify whether you're talking about the occurrence or the stuff. Usually it is understood from context.

19. How are all-grain recipes converted to extract?

All fermentables (malt extract syrup, dry malt extract, grain malt, sugar, honey, etc.) cause an increase in the specific gravity of the solution when added to water. A common way to measure how much the specific gravity increases is the number of SG points of increase when a pound of the ingredient is added to one gallon of water. Most fermentables used for beer are in the range of 25-45 points per pound per gallon. Values for many of these ingredients may be found in the references mentioned in the Bibliography section. When substituting one fermentable for another, use the ratio of the specific gravity contributions of each ingredient to scale the one you will use to the amount that will provide the desired SG contribution.

Example: You have an all-grain recipe that calls for 8# of Malted Barley, and you want to replace it with extract syrup. One of my references lists the SG contributions of these ingredients as approximately 30 points for the grain and 36 points for the syrup per pound of ingredient per gallon of water. You multiply the 8# of grain in the recipe by 30/36 to get 6 2/3 pounds of malt extract syrup.

20. Regarding hops, what are alpha acids? What is HBU? What is IBU?

Alpha acids are bittering compounds found in hops that are extracted when hops are boiled with wort. The alpha acid "rating" on hops describes how much of the weight of the hop is made up of alpha acids. Hops with a higher alpha acid content will contribute more bitterness than a low alpha hop when using the same amount of hop.

HBU stands for "Homebrew Bitterness Unit", which is a recipe unit for hops. It takes into account the alpha acid content of the hop, so that a recipe will call for a certain amount of HBU's rather than an amount specified in ounces. HBU is computed by multiplying the weight of hops in oz. by the alpha acid percentage of the hops; sum for all hop additions. For example, 1 oz of 7% alpha hops will have a HBU of 7. Note that volume is ignored in the HBU, therefore it is important to include the volume of the recipe, or express the hop additions in HBU per gallon (or HBU per 5 gallons) rather than just strictly HBU.

IBU stands for "International Bittering Unit", and is a measure of the amount of bittering compounds in a particular volume of beer, rather than a recipe unit. However, the "Hops and Beer" special issue of Zymurgy (see Bibliography) presents a formula for estimating IBU, considering several variables -- alpha acid content, wort volume, wort gravity, and time in the boil.

Another way to think of this is that HBU represents the "potential" for bittering beer (the bittering strength of the hops), while IBU represents "actual" bittering, and is a measure of the beer, not the hops.

21. What is "dry hopping"? How should I dry hop?

Dry hopping is the practice of adding dry hops to beer at some time after the boil. The technique is used to increase hop aroma in the finished beer, as aromatic hop compounds are quickly lost when hops are boiled. Common practice is to add the hops to a secondary fermenter, or if kegging, to the keg from which the beer will be served. Dry hops added to a fermenter should be left in contact with the beer for at least a week or two. The consensus seems to be that the amount of alcohol present by the time fermenting beer is in secondary fermentation is sufficient to prevent bacteria and/or wild yeasts from "riding in" on the hops and contaminating the beer, so sanitizing of the dry hops is not deemed necessary. Either whole hops, plugs, or pellets may be used for dry hopping.

22. What are 20L, 40L, etc. crystal malts? What is Lovibond?

For brewers, the Lovibond degree is a unit used to measure the color of malted barley and beer. Darker grains have a higher Lovibond measure, and contribute more color to brewed beer. Darker crystal malts (such as 60L, 80L, 120L, etc.) will provide more sweet flavor and more color than similar amounts of lighter (20L, 40L) crystal malt. Dave Miller's book (see Bibliography) provides a formula for very roughly predicting the color of finished beer in degrees L based on the grain that goes into making the beer.

23. What is "Wyeast" (liquid yeast)? How is "Wyeast" pronounced?

"Wyeast" is a nickname for the Brewer's Choice line of liquid brewing yeasts from Logsdon's Wyeast Laboratories. There are more than a dozen varieties of ale and lager yeasts available from Wyeast. Many brewers that use Wyeast consider it to be of high quality, uncontaminated by bacteria. For a report on contaminants in liquid and dry yeasts available to homebrewers, see the "Yeast" special issue of Zymurgy. Good results can be obtained from either dry or liquid yeasts, especially for brewers that are willing to carefully home culture yeasts that they know to be pure and provide good results.

The name Wyeast is pronounced like "Why-yeast", not "double-u yeast", and is the name that the local Native Americans had given to Mt. Hood in Oregon, which stands near the site of the Wyeast lab.

24. How do I make a yeast starter?

The Wyeast package recommends making a 1.020 SG wort and pitching the active contents of the package into a sanitized bottle with an airlock to allow the quantity of active yeast cells to build up before pitching into a typical 5 gallon batch of wort. This "starter" wort is usually made from dry malt extract boiled with water at the rate of 2 tablespoons per 8 oz. cup of water. Some brewers like to throw in a couple of hop cones or pellets for their antiseptic qualities. When the starter is at high krauesen (the term is used loosely here, you often won't get a foamy head on your starter, look for visible, strong fermentation) it's ready to pitch. Typical time for a starter is 24 hours. This technique is recommended for both dry and liquid yeasts.

25. How do I convert from PPM to mg/l and vice-versa?

You multiply (or divide) by 1. PPM (parts per million) is *defined* as mg/l (milligrams per liter).