Learn to homebrew day – 5th November


The American Homebrew Association (of which I am a member) has declared the 5th of November as “Learn to homebrew day” formerly known as “teach a friend to homebrew day” so in the spirit of things, let me tell you about a fabulous first homebrew session we had with the Harpers.

Kirsty and Dan’s Christmas Beer

Kirsty and Dan (Dan is the one with the beard incase you hadn’t realised) are hosting their family christmas event this year and thought it would be a nice treat to have a homemade beer to serve. They are both beer fans as is Dan’s dad, so the idea for a bit of a brew with the Hodgeheg girls there for support seemed like a no brainer.

step oneStep 1: Planning and formulating

The very first step in the whole process for the guys was to plan out what type of beer they wanted to serve at Christmas. Not all that difficult to decide as Dan is a complete hop head, meaning he likes very hoppy beers of the pale variety. Poor Kirsty didn’t really get a look in. However on the plus side, this did mean that they had to sample lots of different beers so that they were able to discuss hop varieties and malt profiles.

This beer making malarky really is such hard work!

So yes, there was a lot of  discussion about malt profiles, hop varieties, bitterness, balance, aroma  etc etc. They tried a range of beers suggested by local Edinburgh beer geek and owner of the world’s best bottle shop Peter Sherry from The Beerhive in Edinburgh and from this they came down to two beers that they liked, although each of them chose a different beer – ooh controversial.

The one thing both beers had in common was that they were of the american pale ale style, so at least that was a starting point, we now knew what style of beer the guys fancied brewing up. Also coming from this was a choice of hops, the guys decided they liked the fruity hops in the american style beers they tried so decided to go with Simcoe and Citra as their hop variety.



warningNow I feel it’s my duty to talk about being sensible when you are drinking and not overdoing things and drinking too much, therefore this photo is to show you what can happen if you drink too much good quality, craft beer.

You run the entirely possible risk of being very happy!


 Step 2:  Recipe writing

So beers picked out, style chosen, hops chosen, now it was time to put together a recipe. That’s where a little bit of help from myself came in.

If we were sticking to style for an American Ale, it would have very little in the way of malt. Pretty much it would just have plain malt and the hops would be the showpiece of the beer. However the beers that Kirsty and Dan chose were both British versions of American beers so they were both beers which had a good malt backbone as well as lots of hop profile. This mean that I worried a plain old American beer might be a little bit disappointing. Therefore I put together a recipe which had all the standards of an American pale ale but added a tiny bit of crystal malt for colour and a teeny bit of munch for a little “something” in the background of the malt. To keep things nice and simple for a first time brew, we went with an extract recipe, that is to say that we used pale malt extract to make up the majority of the fermentables and added just a little bit of malt to boost the flavour and colour.

Unfortunately the local homebrew shop didn’t have any of the Citra hops so Dan and Kirsty went crazy and substituted Citra with a relative newcomer called “Ella”. Those two are just crazy I tell you.

Step 3: Brew Day

The big day arrived and we had great fun.

We drank beers (but not too many) and brewed with Kirsty and Dan doing all the actual brewing and me mostly drinking beer and ordering them around – oops I mean offering helpful advice and support.

IMAG2511There were a few small mishaps that we didn’t foresee, like:

  • the scales the guys had couldn’t measure low enough for our hop additions – fix – we eyeballed it (not very scientific but the day was about learning the process of how you make beer not getting bogged down
  • the boiler the guys owned died – luckily I brought mine
  • Dan’s tablet ran out of charge  so we had to use smartphones to follow the recipe
  • the guys had no tap and hose to connect a wort chiller to so we had to leave the beer in the back garden overnight to cool

We McGuyvered our way out of everything except one mishap – Dan poured a couple of litres of beer onto the floor – fix – Kirsty cleaned up!

All in all it was a fun evening and a great introduction to brewing your own beer. So much so that the guys went out and bought some new scales –  so watch out as I suspect there will be another beer on the horizon.

How to brew the Harper’s “Beer for baby Jesus” American Pale Ale

This brew will make around 18 litres of beer (if you don’t pour any on the floor).


  • 3kg Pale Liquid Male
  • 170g Crystal Malt 40L
  • 60g Munich malt
  • 100g Simcoe hops
  • 100g  Ella Hops
  • Safale US-05 yeast

Equipment For this specific recipe

  • A pot large enough to boil 25 litres of water
  • Thermometer
  • Muslin bags X 3
  • Hydrometer
  • Long handled Spoon
  • Large vessel to ferment in – around 25 litres
  • Sanitising solution


This beer is brewed using a method called “Extract Brewing”, it is a quicker, simpler method which requires less equipment.

To get going, heat 20 litres of water to 68 celsius then add the a muslin bag holding your grains. Make sure the grains all get soaked and then leave in the water to steep for 30 minutes. Dan had great fun doing this, he was in charge of the spoon for prodding the bag, nuff said. Leave the bag soaking in the water for 30 mins so that all the colour and flavour will come out of the grains into your water. Don’t panic at this point if it now looks like you are heating a pot of muddy water. Trust me the colour in the pot is nothing like the colour when the beer goes into the glass.

After your 30 mins are up, squeeze the bag a little to get all the good stuff out then discard.

Top up the water to 24 litres and set  to boil. This is where the fun begins, you are now about to turn the water in your pot into something brewers call wort. Wort is the sticky sweet liquid that is the basis for beer. When it’s ready, you’ll “pitch” the yeast and the yeast will turn this sticky sweet liquid into beer. Brewers have a saying,

“Brewers make wort and yeast make beer.”

Once your water or liquor as brewers call it is almost boiling, drain 8 litres and mix the liquid malt extract in. Make sure you really give it a good mix so that everything dissolves nicely  before returning to the pot.

Congratulations now you have wort! You are now officially making beer.

The next thing we are going to do is to add some flavourings to the wort to make it more recognisable to the taste of beer we recognise. We are going to do this by adding hops to the liquid as it boils. The hops also have a further purpose, the are slightly antiseptic and help to preserve the beer.

Adding your hops or Hop additions in brewer’s speak

There are three stages to this,

Bittering – the first hops to go in are to add a bittering element, this is to say that we are extracting the oils from the hops that counteract the sweetness of the wort in it’s current state.

To do this, we add hops right at the beginning of the 60 minute boil period and we leave them there for the full boil. This extracts oils from the hop flowers and does sneaky science stuff to slightly change their make up which gives the beer it’s bitterness.

So once the liquid is boiling add  5 g of Ella and set a timer for 45 minutes.

Flavour – near the end of the boil, we add more hops and because they are in the boiling liquid for a much shorter time the oils don’t go through the same change and instead of adding lots of bitterness, they add flavour. When your 45 minute timer goes, you are going to begin adding your flavour hops.

At 45 minutes, add 5g of Simcoe and 5g of Ella. Set a timer for 5 minutes

On the next alert, add 10g of Simcoe and 10g of Ella, again set a timer for 5 minutes

On the next alert add 15g of Simcoe and 15g of Ella and set a timer for 5 minutes.

Switch the heat off and  add 15g of Simcoe and 15g of Ella

Now you want to cool your beer down as fast as you can to around 18-20 celsius. You can do this buy sitting the pot in a bath of ice water

When wort is cooled transfer your beer into a sanitised fermenting vessel straining out any of the hops or debris in the wort. This is when you should use your hydrometer to take your original gravity reading (OG). Note it down as you’ll need it later to work out how alcoholic your beer is.

Add the yeast, cover and leave the fermenting beer somewhere which has a relatively stable temperature and out of the light.

Aroma – we add hops to the fermenting beer in the very late stages to add aroma. This will give your beer that fantastic smell when you open the bottle. The fact that the hops are going into the fermenting beer which is relatively cool in comparison to the boil and the fact it now has alcohol in it strips some more f the oils from the hop flowers and these oil make the beer smell lovely. It’s called a dry hop.

Dry Hop

  1. After the beer has been in the fermentor for 10 days, place all of the remaining hops into a sanitised muslin bag and tie a loose knot.
  2. Use a sanitised spoon to poke this bag down into the beer and get it soaked – good and proper.
  3. Leave for four days before removing, taking anothe rreading with your hydrometer called your final gravity reading (FG) and bottle your lovely brew.

How to work out your alcohol

% Alcohol = ((1.05 x (OG – FG)) / FG) / 0.79

So, given a few numbers suggested above:

OG = 1.045
FG = 1.008

The equation would look like this:

.0487 = ((1.05 x (1.045 – 1.008))/1.008) / 0.79

So, this beer would be about 4.9% alcohol.

You have made your first beer. Enjoy it sensibly with friends and family.

 Useful Videos

How to use a hydrometer

Watch an extract brewing session

If you fancy having a look at some of the pictures from their brewday, click on an image below for a larger version.

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