I have been brewing for the better part of five years, to the tune of one beer per week. In that time, I have made many mistakes. Often those mistakes were basic. I’m talking about simple things like forgetting to mash out. Or setting the boil to 60 minutes when it should have been 90 minutes (a huge difference when you’re using a Pilsner base malt). Or forgetting to take a specific gravity reading before tossing in the yeast. Small, simple things that can put you in a cranky mood by the end of your brew day.
The biggest variable we have as home brewers is consistency. Working with the small volumes we do, small factors here and there can make a huge difference in the final product. There is little we can do about some of those factors. But the one thing we can do is develop a consistent, repeatable brewing process. By being consistent with each brew day, we can improve each batch, and tinker with the ingredients to get that perfect beer.
To get that perfect batch, we need to eliminate as much human error as possible. And the best way to do that is with a checklist.
We can learn a thing or two from pilots. They sit there in the cockpit and go through an exhaustive and detailed checklist before taking off. No matter how much experience they have, no matter how many hours logged in the sky, they have to follow the checklist. Sure, they could probably do it in their sleep, but the don’t. Because it takes one missed step and the flight is in peril. Brewing may not be nearly as dangerous or complex as flying, but a similar discipline can help remove some of the stress of brew day.
No matter how skilled or experienced you are, you’re never too good to follow a checklist. So, dear brewer, I present my No-Stress Brew Day Checklist. This detailed checklist (we’re talking about 55 checkboxes!) will ensure you knock it out of the park every single brew day. Print this off, and methodically check off each step as you work your way through brew day. It will give you peace of mind and help you focus on the important things: fine-tuning your recipe and having a tasty beer at the end of it. I’ve included the full checklist below, but you might find it easier to download my free PDF version. It prints easily and beautifully.
The No-Stress Brew Day Checklist
1. Get All Your Gear Out
- Brewery-safe cleaner like PBW or Oxiclean
- Sanitizer, preferable Star San or Iodophor
- Boil Kettle or large stock pot, 3 gallons (12 l), with lid
- Large metal or plastic spoon
- Nylon mesh bag to hold the grain during the mash
- Scissors to cut open packets of hops and yeast
- Hydrometer or refractometer to measure gravity readings
- Airlock and stopper
2. Get All your Ingredients Out
- Milled grains
- Hops, whole or pellets
- Yeast, or yeast starter if your prepared one. If using liquid yeast, give it a good shake
- Water, if not using tap water
3. Sanitize Your Gear
- Fermentation bucket and lid
- The lid to your brew pot
- Scissors (for liquid or dry yeast pouches)
- Hydrometer or refractometer
- Airlock or blow-off tube
NOTE: Once you gain experience (2-3 brew days), you can sanitize during the boil, to save you time.
4. Mash Your Grains
- Fill your boil kettle with water, per recipe’s instructions
- Heat water to desired mash temperature, per recipe’s instructions
- Add the grains to the nylon mesh bag
- When kettle reaches desired temperature add grains and remove from heat. Give everything a good stir until the whole thing looks a bit like oatmeal.
- Cover with lid and let stand for steep (mash) time, per recipe’s instructions, at mash temperature. If you need to, re-heat the kettle to bring the mash temperature up.
- “Mash out” by heating wort to a temperature of 168ºF, stirring for 7 minutes
- Remove the grains, holding the nylon bag above the kettle to let drain, 2-3 minutes. DO NOT press out the liquid. Set grains aside and start the boil.
5. The Boil
- Turn the heat to high and bring to the boil, being careful to watch for boil-over. To manage the foam up, keep stirring the foam to one side of the pot, or lower the heat until the foam dissipates (and then returning heat to high). You could also use a spray bottle of water to spray the foam away.
- Add hops and/or spices, per the recipe’s instructions
- Boil for as long as the recipe calls for – don’t assume the boil is 60 minutes. Keep your hand on the burner and be prepared to control a potential boil-over (usually within the first 10 minutes of the boil)
6. Prepare the Ice and Water Bath
- When there are 5 minute remaining to the boil, prepare ice/water bath in your kitchen sink or a large bucket that can hold your kettle and a mix of water and ice.
7. Cool Hot Wort to Fermentation Temperature
- When the boil is over, turn off the heat and immediately place the pot into the ice bath.
- Cover with a sanitized lid to keep wild bacteria and spoilers from crawling into your precious beer
- Periodically stir the cold water and ice bath around the kettle and rotate the brew pot in the opposite direction to encourage heat transfer.
- Add more ice, as the first batch melts, if you have it
- Aim to get the wort to fermentation temperature in 20 minutes or less. Your recipe should specify fermentation temperature.
8. Transfer Chilled Wort to Sanitized Carboy (Fermentor)
- Using a sanitized colander, pour cooled wort into sanitized fermenter over a funnel. While some brewers will tell you to siphon your beer from the kettle to the fermenter, using a colander helps aerate the wort, which is a crucial step to a healthy fermentation. Splashing is a good thing in this step—the only time you want to add oxygen to your wort.
- Take a specific gravity reading with hydrometer or refractometer.
9. Add Yeast
- If using liquid yeast, cut open the top of the now-swollen pack (Wyeast) or the PurePitch pouch (White Labs) with sanitized scissors and add it to to the wort. If using White Labs vials, slowly twist open the top to release pressure and retighten. Give it a good shake and and slowly reopen to add the yeast to the wort.
- If using dry yeast, follow packet instructions. Some manufacturers will tell you to sprinkle the dry yeast on top of the wort; others will recommend hydrating the yeast first.
10. Cover with Airlock and Store
- Insert the sanitized stopper or screw top into the carboy and cover with blow-off hose or airlock.
- Store the carboy in a cool, dark location. If you don’t have anywhere dark, wrap the carboy with towels to keep the wort shaded, as light can ruin your beer.
11. Clean Up
- Use brewery-safe cleaner to clean kettle. Let nylon bag soak in cleaner solution and then rinse. Let dry.