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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?

5 Things You Should Know About Sour Beer

Every few years a different style of beer becomes the new darling of home brewers and takes over the discussion of the craft beer world.

For a while it was the IPA, and there was a time that everybody was talking about and brewing Russian Imperial Stouts. There was even a period of Belgian beers.

Lately the trend has been sour beers.

Sour beer historically has been difficult to find and expensive to buy in the United States, so many craft beer lovers are unfamiliar with it.

1. What Is Sour Beer?

Sour beer is specifically brewed and fermented to have a sour taste, which can range from the slightly tart to the very sour. Some varieties even described as having qualities similar to the face-puckering candy “Warheads”.

These beers have a high acidity and improve with age over the course of several years.

2. What Are the Characteristics of Sour Beers?

The color of sour beers ranges from a pale golden color to brown. The hop flavor in these beers is usually subdued, coming in at only 20-40 IBUs. The carbonation is usually very noticeable, and the mouthfeel of the beer is light to medium.

There is a large range of alcohol contents between sour beers, but they usually fall between four and nine percent alcohol by volume. The beer styles most often associated with sour beers are the Flanders red ale and the Belgian lambic.

3. How Are Sour Beers Made?

There is a heftier price tag for sour beers because they are very difficult to make well, almost impossible to reproduce consistently, and take a long time to brew and ferment.

Sour beers are brewed like a normal beer but they are typically aged in a wood barrel, often a wine barrel. A strain of yeast called Brettanomyces is most often used to give the beer a unique flavor, and a couple of specific strains of bacteria are added to help the beer acquire the sour flavor.

Some brewers will even expose their beer to the outdoors to allow wild strains of yeast to work on the beer. The beer takes a long time to ferment and pick up the sour taste – at least six months, but more often between one and three years. The brewmaster will taste the beer periodically during that time and can make adjustments to the flavor by adding different strains of bacteria.

4. Why Are Wood Barrels Used to Make Sour Beers?

The wood barrels are important to the sour beer making process. The barrels contain bacteria from the wine that they had previously held, and this bacteria aids in the aging and souring of the beer.

The wood allows some air to permeate and diffuse into the barrel, which feeds the Brettanomyces yeast and helps it to do its work on the beer.

5. Why is There Inconsistency In Sour Beers from One Batch to the Next?

There are so many variables at play in sour beers – the beer ingredients, the bacteria that are added, and the bacteria in the barrels, among others – that it is tough to reproduce a sour beer consistently. Even within the same batch different fermenting barrels will produce different flavors.

The brewmaster can make adjustments with bacteria, but even then some barrels from every batch have to be dumped because they simply do not turn out well. This is what drives up the price of sour beers and makes them discouraging for breweries to produce.

Even with all of the difficulties in producing sour beers, and the long wait from brew date to enjoyment date, we are seeing and increasing demand for this style and an increased supply from breweries as a result.

Have you tried a sour beer? Which is your favorite?

Enhancing Yeast Starters

A great way to improve the overall quality of your beer and to ensure a great fermentation is to use a yeast starter.

This post builds on our previous posts, an introduction to Yeast Starters and 7 Questions and Answers About Yeast Starters.

If you would like to improve the process even further it is possible to enhance the yeast starter using one of a few different methods.


As simple as it sounds, swirling a yeast starter every couple of hours will actually help you to grow more yeast. As the yeast starter sits still everything begins to settle to the bottom. When yeast piles up at the bottom of the flask it can not consume the sugars in the wort effectively, thus it can not multiply and strengthen. When you swirl the solution the yeast returns to suspension and can work more efficiently.

Constant Swirling

The only thing better than swirling your yeast starter regularly is swirling it constantly. This can be done with a stir plate. You can pick up a stir plate at just about any home brewing supply store. It is simply a platform that magnetically spins a little bar, which you place inside the flask with the yeast starter. As the bar spins it creates a vortex which constantly swirls the entire yeast starter. Stir plates can seem expensive for having a limited task, but the service they provide improves the output of your yeast greatly.


A great way to help yeast proliferate is to add oxygen to the yeast starter. This can be done by shaking the flask fairly vigorously or even by setting up a diffusion stone to disperse oxygen into the beer. This setup can be tricky to pull off in a controlled yeast starter environment, and it brings other challenges. When oxygen is vigorously introduced into fermenting beer it produces diacetyl, which causes an off-flavor in the beer.

If you use this method of enhancing your yeast starter it will be necessary to refrigerate the starter for several hours to encourage the yeast to settle out. The liquid is then decanted off of the settled yeast, leaving only enough liquid to use in suspending the yeast so that it can be poured out. Since swirling the yeast starter using a stir plate introduces some oxygen to the wort anyway, you might find it easier to just use that method instead.


This one is simple: no matter what type of yeast you are using, let the yeast starter incubate at temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F to encourage yeast growth. Yes, this temperature works even if you are using a lager yeast that is generally kept at lower temperatures.

Yeast Nutrients

These days there is some debate about whether it is necessary to add yeast nutrients to a starter. Since liquid yeasts are produced to be quite robust and are packaged with nutrients already, it is possible that adding extra nutrients will not in fact be used by the already-satisfied yeast, but will instead be used by other organisms which will then grow and possibly cause off-flavors in the beer. Even so, many brewers still encourage the use of just a pinch of yeast nutrient for yeast starters. Often, the recommended quantity is just 1/8 of a teaspoon per pint of yeast starter. This enhances the viability of the yeast and speeds up fermentation.

Great Yeast Starter Information

An excellent video about yeast starters by Northern Brewer:

Have you tried any other methods of enhancing your yeast starters? What has worked well for you?

7 Questions and Answers About Yeast Starters

Taking your home brew to the next level requires some upgrades in your brewing process, and one of the most essential upgrades needs to be your yeast.

If you are brewing a strong beer, or would simply like to ensure that there is enough yeast to ferment your brew, the cheapest and most effective way to do so is with a yeast starter.

1. What is a Yeast Starter?

A yeast starter is a mini-batch of wort that is prepared to help yeast activate and multiply before being added to an actual batch of wort. A small batch of light dry malt extract is boiled and cooled, then a packet of yeast is added and allowed to grow for a day or so.

You can read an Introduction to Yeast Starters Here.

2. What Are the Benefits of a Yeast Starter?

There are at least five huge benefits to using a yeast starter:

1. A yeast starter will help yeast multiply so that there is a sufficient number of yeast cells to perform the fermentation, especially when brewing a stronger beer or a higher-volume batch.

2. Have you ever checked the manufacture date of your yeast? The older it is, the less viable the yeast cells are. If yeast is getting old and is less healthy (less viable) than usual, a yeast starter will bring it back up to strength.

3. Yeast will take action faster when added to the wort, limiting the chances for other microbes to take over and infect the beer.

4. While the same effect of raising yeast cell count can be achieved by buying two packages of yeast, the yeast starter will give the yeast a little bit of a kick-start and reduce the “shock” of being pitched into the environment of a strong batch of wort.

5. The boosted yeast cell count and the kick-started yeast will accelerate the fermentation process.

3.  When Should I Use a Yeast Starter?

There is rarely a time a yeast starter will not serve a brew well. A yeast starter is not always necessary when brewing lower-gravity (less alcoholic) beers, but it still brings benefits that will improve the beer.

In many cases a yeast starter is crucial. Brews with an expected original specific gravity of 1.060 or higher require a yeast starter to provide sufficient yeast for fermentation of such a strong brew.

Many brewers actually swear by yeast starters on any beer with a starting gravity as low as 1.040. Some home brewing stores say that all of their employees use a yeast starter for every single batch that they brew.

4. When Should I Not Use a Yeast Starter?

It is safe to pass on a yeast starter for an especially small batch of beer or one that has a low starting gravity. In these cases, adding too much yeast might cause the formation of some off-flavors.

When dry yeast is used for fermentation (as opposed to packets or vials of yeast in a solution) it is actually cheaper to just buy more packets of dry yeast than to buy the necessary ingredients for a yeast starter. Dry yeast does need to be activated in water before pitching it into the wort, but this is different than making a yeast starter for it.

5. What Volume Should My Yeast Starter Be?

The volume necessary for your yeast starter depends on multiple factors including the batch size and starting gravity of your beer and the age of the yeast you are using. In general the liquid yeast that you buy from the local home brewing supply store can be sufficient for a five gallon batch up to a starting gravity of 1.060 if the yeast is relatively young.

It is important to remember that the viability of the yeast (essentially, its health) decreases rapidly. If your yeast package was produced a month ago it is only 75-80% viable, meaning it has lost 20-25% of that original fermentation power.

There are formulas that will help determine the proper starter size after taking these factors into consideration, but we recommend using the handy MrMalty.com Calculator to make this process a lot easier.

Most home brewing supply stores sell yeast starter kits in both a One Liter size and a Two Liter size. Some supply shops even sell yeast starter kits in a Five Liter size. We have found a two liter yeast starter kit to work well for most everything that we brew.

6. What Specific Gravity is Ideal for a Yeast Starter?

Even if brewing a beer with a very high starting gravity a strong starter wort is not ideal. Create a starter wort with a gravity of between 1.030 and 1.040. Wyeast Labs, one of the two big producers of brewers yeast, recommends a gravity of 1.040 for yeast starters.

The idea is to create a starter that makes it easy for the yeast to activate and start multiplying. Creating a starter that is too strong might actually overwhelm the yeast and prevent it from becoming stronger.

7. How Do I Make a Yeast Starter?

If you are unsure about the details of making a yeast starter check out our post about that (with video) Here.

Want to learn how to enhance your yeast starter? Read more Here.

Want to learn more about yeast in general? Check out this book.

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!

What Is “Partial Mash” Home Brewing?

There are a few different methods to home brewing beer.

The simplest is called “extract brewing,” which means that you add extract from malted barley in a liquid or powder form to water to create wort. The sugars from the malted barley are extracted ahead of time and sold to you in a condensed form.

All the equipment you need to create this beer is a large kettle for boiling the water and the malt extract together.

Most home brewers start out with extract brewing.

The most complicated method of brewing beer is called “all-grain” brewing, which gives you more control over the flavor of the beer by allowing you to control the sugars that are extracted from the malt.

Extra equipment is needed for this style of brewing, requiring you to at least buy a couple of insulated coolers to perform the “mashing” and “sparging” processes. A quick primer on what “mashing” and “Sparging” are can be found here.

There is a lesser-known home brewing method that lies somewhere in the middle called “partial mash” brewing. This is not as complicated and does not require as much equipment as all-grain brewing, but it gives you more control over the beer than extract brewing.

How to Brew Partial Mash

Partial Mash Brewing Equipment

Partial mash brewing barely requires more equipment than extract brewing.

Alarge kettle, one that can hold at least four gallons, to serve as your mash tun and boil kettle, is needed.

In addition a second pot that can hold at least two gallons of water, a thermometer, and either a larger strainer or a nylon mesh bag for straining the grain during the sparging process are all required.

How Partial Mash Works

In partial mash brewing a mashing process is essentially performed in the brew kettle, not in an insulated mash tun. The process works like this:

  • Measure out a quart of water for every pound of grain that you will be using.
  • Heat the water to ten degrees F higher than the first specified mashing temperature in the recipe.
  • Add the grains to the water and make sure that the mixture stabilizes at the desired temperature. The grains should be crushed, meaning they are cracked open but not ground into powder.
  • Maintain the desired temperature for the specified time.
  • Use low heat to raise the mash to the second designated mash temperature in the recipe and then hold this temperature for the specified time.
  • In the second (smaller) kettle heat up an equal amount of water to what you started the mash with (a quart per pound of grain) to 170 degrees F. This will be your sparging water.
  • Raise the temperature of the mash to 168 degrees F (referred to as “mash-out”).
  • Use the strainer or mesh bag to separate the grain from the water (saving the water, which has now become your wort).
  • “Sparge” by slowly pouring the sparging water through the grain to rinse out the sugars. Add this water to the wort.
  • Add water if necessary to reach your normal boil volume.
  • Proceed as usual with the boil, adding malt extracts at this point.

You might be surprised at how simple this process is. Instead of solely pouring in malt extract, just heat water and grains to specific temperatures for a specific amount of time to alter the overall flavor of the beer and then add the extracts afterward.

This really lets you control the specifics of the beer’s flavor without the extra  expenditures of all-grain brewing.

Have you tried partial mash brewing? How has it worked for you?

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?