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4 Questions and Answers About First Wort Hops

A slightly advanced technique that you might come across if you begin brewing using “partial mash” or “all grain” techniques is called “first wort hopping.” This is a technique that caught me off guard when I bought my first partial mash kit – good thing I actually read the instructions for that brew!

What Are First Wort Hops?

“First Wort Hopping” refers to adding hops to the boil kettle and then running the wort in on top of them as you sparge. This all takes place before the boil, where you would normally add the hops. This is actually an old technique that was re-discovered in the last twenty years.

Why Use First Wort Hopping?

There are two big advantages to first wort hopping: it increases the overall bitterness of the beer by about ten percent without adding extra hops, and it produces a more uniform bitterness rather than a “sharp” flavor. Both of these changes take place because the hops are added when the wort is hot but not yet boiling. This causes some processes to occur within the wort to increase hop utilization and prevent some of the more aromatic oils in the hops from boiling off.

What Hops Are Best For First Wort Hopping?

Hops that are low in alpha acid work best as first wort hops because they do not cause a sharp increase in bitterness. Instead, they enhance bitterness while producing a smoother flavor and smell.

Most sources recommend using about 30 percent of your hop schedule as first wort hops. Some say to simply move your first hop additions from the beginning of the boil to the first wort hopping phase, but most (including John Palmer) recommend taking the hops from your late (“aromatic”) hop additions. The later hop additions are typically lower in alpha acid and work better as first wort hops.

What Beer Styles Should Utilize First Wort Hops?

The best styles for using first wort hops are those that emphasize the hop profile of the beer. Typically this includes pale ales, IPAs, ESBs, and some pilsners, but experimentation can be done with other styles. I have even heard of first wort hops working well in Belgian tripels and wit beers.

Do you have any experience with first wort hopping? How has it worked for you?

8 Things You Should Know About “Cold Crashing” Beer

Beer clarity is essential for many beer styles, and can make or break a beer in a competition. There are many ways to help clarify your beer, and some are easier than others.

A semi-advanced home brewing technique used to improve clarity is a process called “cold crashing.” Just hearing the term may bring to your imagination a much different process than what is actually involved in cold crashing.

If done correctly, cold crashing will give your beer a clean, crisp appearance.

1. What is Cold Crashing?

Cold crashing is a process used to clarify home brewed beer by cooling it to near-freezing temperatures before bottling. Cooling the beer actually encourages yeast and other sediment suspended in the beer to flocculate (group together) and sink to the bottom.

This allows you to transfer the beer out of the fermentor for bottling while leaving behind much of the sediment that would cause a haze in the finished beer.

2. How is Cold Crashing Done?

To cold crash a beer you simply need to place it in a temperature-controlled environment. A lagering fridge that is outfitted with a temperature controller (this controller is most often recommended) is ideal. Regular refrigerators actually fluctuate in temperature which causes problems with the beer, while a fridge with a controller is held at a constant temperature.

The cold crashing temperature that is recommended varies from 33 degrees F to 40 degrees F, with 38 degrees F being the most common.

The recommended duration of cold crashing also varies. Some brewers say that only a day or two is needed, but it is most common to cold crash for one week.

3. Can Both Lagers and Ales Be Cold Crashed?

Although cold fermentation is only done for lagers, cold crashing can be done on both ales and lagers.

4. When Should I Cold Crash?

Cold crashing should not be done until fermentation has finished. This is usually determined by using a well-sanitized hydrometer or a refractometer to measure the specific gravity of the beer. When the specific gravity is steady for three days in a row fermentation can be considered complete (if gravity is decreasing from one day to the next, fermentation is still taking place).

Cold crashing can be done in either the primary fermentor or the secondary fermentor, although it is probably most common to see it done after secondary fermentation to encourage an even clearer beer.

5. When Should I Dry Hop if I Plan to Cold Crash?

This is a common question that comes up with cold crashing: should the dry hopping process should be done differently.

“Dry hopping” is the practice of adding hops directly to the fermentor for the last few days of fermentation to impart some hoppy aroma to the beer. The question is whether the dry hopping should be done during the last few days of the cold crashing process rather than the last few days of the fermentation, before cold crashing.

There is concern that the hop acids which give the beer its hoppy aroma will dissipate over time, and adding them before the additional cold crashing time will reduce the overall hop aroma of the beer. While this might happen to a limited extent, it is generally advised that the dry hops be added at the regular point at the end fermentation. The cold temperatures of the crashing should prevent much of the aroma being lost.

6. Will Bottle Carbonation Take Longer if I Cold Crash My Beer?

Yes. Since cold crashing will remove some (but not all) of the yeast from the beer it will take longer to carbonate the beer in the bottle.

Bottle carbonation is done by yeast consuming the priming sugar that is added to the beer while bottling. The yeast gives off alcohol and carbon dioxide as a result, carbonating the beer. With fewer yeast cells it will take longer for this process to occur. Instead of setting aside the regular two weeks for carbonation you might be waiting three or four weeks, or sometimes even six weeks depending on the beer style.

7. Are There Other Methods of Clarifying Beer After Fermentation?

There are several different clarifying agents (or “fining agents”) that can be added to the beer after fermentation to promote clarity. Some examples are gelatin, Isinglass, Super Kleer KC, and Biofine Clear. A good example of how fining agents are used to clarify beer is shown in this video by Don Osborn:

8. Are There Methods of Clarifying Beer During The Brewing Process?

Yes, many of the proteins that cause hazing in beer can be precipitated out by cooling the wort rapidly after boiling using a wort chiller like this one:

Other additives can be used during the boil to help clarify beer as well. These include Irish Moss and Whirlfloc Tablets.

What methods have you found effective in clarifying your home brewed beer?

Batch Sparging, Fly Sparging, and Continuous Sparging

We recently talked about the processes of mashing and sparging while home brewing beer and what they involved. We only lightly touched on the process of sparging, which is also called “lautering.” There are actually a couple different types of sparging.

Batch Sparging

Batch sparging is the most simple form of sparging. After mashing you completely drain the liquid from the mash tun. More water is added to the mash tun, stirred, and then left to sit for at least half an hour before it too is drained. The two drained batches are typically combined to create the wort.


While batch sparging has historically been seen as less efficient than other methods, modern grains prepared specifically for brewing beer have allowed the efficiency of this process to become equal to other sparging methods. Batch sparging is desirable because it is a much faster process than other sparging methods.

Batch Sparging: Parti-Gyle Brewing

It is possible to create multiple different beers with the batches emptied from the batch sparging process because each successive batch will have a lower specific gravity than the previous and will create a lower-alcohol beer. Brewing in this fashion is called “Parti-Gyle Brewing.”

Usually in Parti-Gyle brewing the first batch that is sparged, called the “first runnings,” is used to create a strong beer, maybe a stout or IPA or a strong Scottish ale. The second runnings are used to create a middle-of-the-road beer,  such as a lower-strength Scottish ale. Any further runnings would be used to create a very light, low-alcohol “session” beer.

Fly Sparging

Fly sparging, also called “continuous sparging,” is a process that was created to maximize the efficiency of the brewing process by getting as much of the sugar out of the mash as possible. A “sparging arm” is used to slowly sprinkle water into the mash tun and the liquid in the mash tun is allowed to drain out at the same flow rate as the liquid is entering the container.

Equalizing the input and output flow rates allows the liquid containing the sugars from the mash to be drained from the mash tun equally, rather than allowing a “channel” to develop which allows water to flow out of the container while bypassing most of the grains and sugars. Channeling reduces the efficiency of the process.

Fly sparging is much more hands-on than batch sparging because it requires the brewer to monitor the input and output flow rates to keep them balanced, as well as monitoring the specific gravity of the water mixture in the mash tun. Usually when the specific gravity has dropped between 1.008 and 1.010 the sparging is stopped to prevent tannins and other undesirable material from entering the wort.

Have you tried either type of sparging? Which do you prefer and why?

What is “Mashout” in All Grain Brewing?

In our recent series about all-grain home brewing we have talked a lot about the mashing and sparging processes. If you read any all-grain recipes you will hopefully be able to understand what these processes consist of at this point. One term comes up regularly that you might find confusing, though. At the end of the mashing process, just before sparging, it is pretty common to see “mashout.” What does this mean?

The Definition of Mashout

Mashout is actually pretty simple. It means to bring the temperature of the mash up to 170 degrees F. This might be done by adding hot water to the mash, or by applying external heat to the vessel. Mashout can be usually be skipped without major consequences, but there are a couple of good reasons to perform this procedure.

Why Perform Mashout?

Raising the temperature of the mash to 170 degrees F stops any enzyme action that is going on in the mash. It essentially “freezes” the profile of sugars that will be in your wort. It is important to note that the tannins in grains will become more soluble above 170 degrees and will contribute off-flavors to the beer, so holding the temperature right at 170 degrees is important.

A second reason to mashout is that raising the temperature of the mash to 170 degrees also decreases the viscosity of the mixture by making the sugars a little more fluid. This will increase the flow of the liquid and decrease the time needed for sparging.

Have you utilized the mashout process in your brewing? What were your results?

What is “Malted” Barley?

We all use malted barley to make beer. It is the staple ingredient. What does “malted” mean, and why does barley have to be malted for brewing beer?

What is Malted Barley?

Malted barley is essentially barley which is sprouted and ready to grow into a plant. The maltster takes the grains of barley and soaks them. They are then laid out and brought to a set temperature in an aerated room where they are encouraged to grow. The barley is rotated regularly to encourage sprouting without setting down roots and to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.

The barley sprouts, and over the course of several days a small leaf called an acrospire grows within the grain (you actually have to split a grain open to see it). When the acrospire has grown to between 80% and 100% of the length of the grain the process is considered done (to the point that brewers would like).

Once the sprouting is complete the barley is dried at a constant temperature around 120 degrees F. This stops the growing process and traps the starches in the barley in a state that is ideal for brewing beer. The leafy stems that grow out of the barley during malting are removed from the grains, and they are ready for use. The barley is often roasted at this point to give malt different flavors that are used to changed the characteristics of beer.

Why is Barley Malted for Brewing Beer?

The starches and sugars that we need  during the brewing process are locked up in a “matrix” in unmalted barley. The malting process unlocks these starches and sugars, and creates enzymes needed to break them down into the sugars that are eventually used by yeast to ferment the beer.

Check this book out for more information!

Home Brewing: What are “Mashing,” “Sparging,” & “Lautering?”

Most home brewers start out with basic extract brewing equipment and then over time, if desired, improve their gear and move into all-grain home brewing.

All grain brewing gives the brewer more control over their beer, but it is more complicated and requires extra equipment.

Extract brewing means creating the beer with malt extract, a liquid or powder that contains the sugars from malted barley in a condensed form.

In all-grain brewing you create these sugars yourself through a process called “mashing.”

What is Mashing?

In the mashing process malted barley is heated in water to a certain temperature and kept it at a certain pH level to convert complex starches in the barley into simple sugars that can be used by yeast to create beer.

When barley is malted (before you buy it) the enzymes are created that are needed to break down the starches that are already present in the barley. Those enzymes are utilized in mashing to get the sugars that are needed to ferment beer.

The enzymes are active at certain temperatures and pH levels, so great care must be taken to control these variables during the mashing process.

A table explaining the temperature and pH levels needed to activate certain enzymes is provided in the classic home brewing book How to Brew by John Palmer.


“How to Brew” is a great resource for every brewer to have at the ready when they brew, but you can also find it online at www.HowToBrew.com and the table referenced above can be found Here.

What Brewing Equipment is Needed for Mashing?

Mashing, at least for home brewers in the early stages of their brewing, usually requires the use of insulated coolers with a false bottom and a ball valve.

The vessel in which the mashing takes place is called the “mash tun.” Such setups are sold at any home brewing store and look like this:

These coolers come in different sizes, typically varying from five to ten gallons. The size needed depends upon the batch size and type of beer being brewed.

Stop in to your local home brewing store and talk to one of their experts to determine the exact setup that will meet your desired standards.

You may also need to add an instrumentation for monitoring temperature and pH to your home brewing arsenal to ensure a high-quality mash.

What is Sparging or Lautering?

Sparging and lautering are two words that refer to the same thing.

After the mashing process the sugars that were converted from the barley are in suspension in the water in the container. Hot water (usually at a specific temperature) is added to the mash tun to run through the grain and pull all of the sugars along with it as it runs through the false bottom (which allows the water out while holding the grain back) and out through the valve in the container.

This creates the wort that is then boiled and hopped to make the beer.

Are you planning on making the jump to all-grain brewing soon?

What is Secondary Fermentation? And Glass vs Plastic Carboys

Sometimes when you pick up a beer ingredient kit at the local home brewing store it recommends a secondary fermentation. What does that mean?

Why Use Secondary Fermentation?

Secondary fermentation is the practice of transferring your beer out of its original fermenting vessel into a different vessel. Somewhat ironically, this should only be done after the actual fermentation of the beer is mostly complete.

Transferring the beer to a secondary fermentor gets it off of the trub that is sitting in the bottom of the primary fermentor and allows any residue, such as hops that were not filtered out, to settle out of the beer. It makes for a more clear and cleaner tasting finished product.

Secondary fermentation also allows you to make adjustments to the flavor of the beer. It gets the beer off of the dead yeast from the primary fermentation to prevent that flavor from overtaking the beer, and it allows you to add spices, fruits, or dry hops to the beer to get the flavor where you want it to go.

The Secondary Fermentation Vessel

Most home beer brewers use glass carboys like this one for their secondary fermentor. Glass is generally seen as best for secondary fermentation because it keeps excess oxygen out. If beer becomes overly oxygenated it can pick up some off flavors.

The size of the secondary fermentor comes in to play also. In general you do not want much head space at the top of the secondary fermentor. Fermentation in the primary fermentor fills the head space with carbon dioxide, but usually there is not much fermentation in the secondary vessel so this space will be filled with oxygen. Once again, too much oxygen will cause problems with the beer.

If you are adding anything with fermentable sugar to the beer, though, such as dried fruits or some type of syrup, you will want some space at the top of the vessel to accommodate any fermentation that might take place as a result.

Have you tried using secondary fermentation? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments below!

What is a Stout?

Do you know the difference between a stout and a porter? It may surprise you to know that there actually isn’t a difference. Stouts are one type of porter, meaning all stouts are porters but not all porters are stouts.

Porters have been brewed since the early 1700’s. They became very popular in England and their popularity led to many varieties of porter being created. At the time the word “stout” was used to describe strong (very alcoholic) beers, even in other beer styles such as pale ales. The first “stout porters” then were just stronger versions of porters.

In the beginning both porters and stouts were probably brown in color, as it wasn’t until 1817 that a device was invented to roast malt and barley. This allowed for darker roasts of malt and barley and thus darker beers.

If you research where the style of “stout” seems to diverge from “porter” many sources will lead you to Guiness. In 1820 they re-named one of their porters “Guiness Extra Stout Porter” and then eventually dropped “Porter” from the name. Given that dark roasted malts were becoming more readily available at this time, it would seem that it was becoming easier to make a distinction between the two styles.

Within the category of stouts there are many different varieties:

Dry Stout (also called Irish Stout): dry, low alcohol content, roasted and coffee tastes. Examples: Guiness, Murphy’s, Beamish

Imperial Stout: very strong stout with high alcohol content (most say >9% abv). These were originally brewed for the court of Catherine II of Russia. The beer had to be made strong the last the journey from England to Russia.
Examples: North Coast “Old Rasputin,” Bells “Expedition Stout,” Samuel Smith’s “Imperial Stout,” Surly “Darkness”

Sweet Stout (or Milk Stout): Brewed with lactose sugar which is not fermented by brewer’s yeast. The sugar adds a sweetness to the beer.
Examples: Left Hand “Milk Stout,” Tallgrass “Buffalo Sweat,” Brau Brothers “Moo Joos”

Oatmeal Stout (also Breakfast Stout): brewed with oats to give the beer a smoother feel and add fullness to the body. I have seen this classified as a type of sweet stout in some places.
Examples: Samuel Smith’s “Oatmeal Stout,” Summit “Oatmeal Stout”

Chocolate Stout (not an official category of stout, these are usually sweet stouts): Brewed with chocolate malts, which are just dark roasted malts. Some varieties are brewed with actual chocolate, though.
Examples: Young’s “Double Chocolate Stout,” Odell “Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout”

Coffee Stout (not an official category of stout, usually a different style of stout brewed with coffee): Brewed with the darkest roasted grains, which tend to have flavors and aromas similar to coffee. Some varieties are brewed with actual coffee grains added.
Examples: Bells “Java Stout,” Founders “Breakfast Stout”

What is your favorite type of stout?

Is Your Home Brew Beer Fully Fermented?

A classic problem with home brewed beer is “under-attenuation,” which means that a beer did not fully ferment.

Under-attenuation may be caused by an issue with your yeast, but it may also be due to rushing the process. Sometimes the recommended fermentation time on a brewing recipe kit, for example, is not long enough given the fermentation conditions in your house.

First, Here’s a simple description of attenuation:

Attenuation is how much of the sugar in the wort (un-fermented beer) is fermented away by the yeast.

The yeast that you add to the wort at the end of the brewing process basically “eat” the sugars that you provide by adding malt. The yeast then give off CO2 and alcohol as by-products of “digesting” the sugars.

Under-attenuation means that the yeast was not able to “eat” enough sugar to bring the beer down to normal sugar levels (and up to the expected alcohol level). The excess sugar left over results in an overly sweet taste to the beer.

Here’s a slightly more detailed description of attenuation and how it can be determined:

1. How “heavy” is the beer to begin with?
It turns out that attenuation refers to the conversion of sugars in the beer into alcohol and carbon dioxide. When we brew beer we use malted barley, which contributes sugars to the beer. The amount of sugar in the beer can be measured by taking a measurement of the specific gravity, which tells you the “weight” of the beer at the start of fermentation (referred to as “original gravity”) compared to the “weight” of pure water.

The specific gravity can be taken using a hydrometer, which requires a larger volume of the liquid for the measurement, or a nifty but affordable little device like this one which can take the measurement with only a few drops of liquid and give an even more accurate reading than a hydrometer.

2. How “heavy” is the beer after fermentation?
When the beer is finished fermenting you can measure the specific gravity of the beer again and find out how much of the sugar was eaten (this number is referred to as the “final gravity”). This is how most home brewers determine the alcohol content of their beer, as there is a direct relationship between how much sugar is eaten by the yeast and how much alcohol is given off.

3. Is the difference in these “weights” enough?
The percentage of the sugars that were converted is the attenuation. Under-attenuation means that not enough of the sugar was converted and the beer will taste very sweet. It may require that more yeast be added to the beer to finish the job. Over-attenuation can occur, but that’s a whole different beast.

What are Typical Attenuation Levels?

The style of beer is largely going to determine the numbers you should expect, so there can be a lot of variability here.

This is painting with a very broad brush, but in general a standard ale will come in with an original gravity between 1.040 and 1.060. You might expect the final gravity to end up between 1.010 and 1.015.

Very rarely will you see a final gravity much below 1.010. This can lead to other issues anyway, so you do not want that.

A stronger beer that starts with an original gravity of 1.060 or higher may only finish between 1.020 and 1.030. This may be ok for some beer styles, but for other styles you may have to make adjustments to your yeast.

Is the Beer Fully Fermented?

The best practice in determining whether your beer is full fermented/attenuated is to take a measurement of the specific gravity each day once fermentation slows down. The specific gravity will decrease from day to day if the beer is still fermenting.

When the reading is steady for three consecutive days you can be reasonably confident that the yeast has finished doing its work.

From there you can determine whether the beer is ready to be moved along to secondary fermentation or bottled, or whether it is under-attenuated and something must be done to promote more fermentation.

Have you brewed or come across under-attenuated beers? What did it taste like to you?

What is Hop-Bursting?

Are you tired of run-of-the-mill home brewed beer, but not sure how to kick your brews up a notch without an investment in equipment?

There is a great way to change the character of your home brewed beer without a large investment in time and equipment. In fact, just a few extra dollars and a slight tweak to your schedule on brew day can produce a beer with robust flavor that will stand out from the home brews that your friends make.

The process in question is called “hop bursting.”

It turns out that hop-bursting, which is sometimes called “late hopping,” refers to adding a “burst” of hops during the last part of the boil.

Typically when you are brewing beer you bring the mixture of water and malt to a boil and then add hops for at least an hour. This is because it takes at least 60 minutes of boiling to release all of the “alpha” acids in hops that add bitterness to the beer.

It is common to also add hops at the very end of the boil, which contributes to the hop aroma of the beer. The aroma is caused by a separate oil in the hops, called “beta” acid, which evaporates out if boiled for too long.

What brewers have found is that a great deal of hop taste and aroma can be added to the beer without contributing much bitterness if you avoid adding hops at the beginning of the boil and instead add a large burst of hops in the last 20 to 30 minutes of the boil. This can dramatically increase the hops that you need to brew with, but it makes for a more robust and “smoother” flavored beer.

Boiling the hops for 20-30 minutes is not enough to release much of the bitter alpha acid, but it is long enough to evaporate off some of the aromatic beta acid. This balances out to provide a little bit of unique flavor. This is why it is important to add a large burst of the hops at this time to get the enhanced flavor of the beer.

How large a burst of hops is needed? If all of our hops are added in the last 30 minutes of the boil, as opposed to mostly at the beginning of the boil, you would need to add between two and three times as many hops to achieve an equivalent bitterness. This number does depend on the hop varieties being used in the recipe.

Note: it is very important to cool the wort quickly at the end of the boil. The longer the wort sits at a high temperature, the more bitterness will be released into the beer.

You may be wondering whether the same results can be achieved with “dry hopping” the beer by adding hops during fermentation, but in fact this process results in a much different flavor to the beer. Dry hopping generally gives a more “grassy” character to the beer, while hop bursting will provide a more “floral” character.

The generally recommended hop selection for hop bursting is hops with low- to mid-range alpha acid content that have a pleasing aroma. Two of the more popular varieties include Cascade and Centennial. Using pellet hops (as opposed to whole-leaf or cones) is ideal for hop bursting because the pellets break up quickly and allow the acids in the hops to be released and utilized efficiently in a short time, maximizing the flavor imparted to the beer.

Have you ever tried hop-bursting while brewing beer? What were your results?