Homebrewing for Beginners, Part 2: Cooking the Wort

Reader Contribution by Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt

Now that you have your equipment, recipe, and ingredients (Homebrewing for Beginners, Part I: Equipment, Recipe, and Ingredients), it is time to cook the wort (pronounced wert), the liquid that will become your brew. At this stage, grab a notepad and take down every detail. Each recipe differs with how much hops that you add and when, as well as other nuances that dictate the outcome of your brew. Even though you are following a recipe, your notes are of extreme value for future use!

Equipment List

1 3-4 gallon pot (an enameled or stainless canning pot is best)
1 5-gallon or 6 ½- gallon glass carboy –OR- 1 5-10 gallon new plastic bucket
1 plastic hose clamp to fit 3/8” hose
1 fermentation lock
1 rubber stopper with hole to fit fermentation lock
1 3-foot length of 1 ¼” outside diameter, 1” inside diameter, clear plastic hose
1 large plastic funnel
1 thermometer
1 beer hydrometer
1 bottle Star Stan (for sanitization


If you are using Wyeast liquid packets, make sure that you activate (smack the package) at least 3 hours in advance. Older packets may need up to 1 day to incubate and swell. Plan ahead. 

Please hear this: SANITIZATION IS KEY TO SUCCESSFUL BREWING.  Anything that will be in contact with the wort MUST be sanitized (we use Star San), otherwise the risk of bacteria entering is extremely high. The first step in cooking the wort is sanitizing all equipment: cooking pot, spatula, strainer, funnel, carboy (or brewing bucket), plastic hoses, rubber stopper (or airlock cap), and hydrometer.  A hydrometer is an instrument that measures the density of liquids relative to the density of water.

Cooking and Transferring the Wort

The procedure for preparing the concentrated wort is simple; you combine malt extract with two gallons of water, and add any cracked grains, sugar, or hops from your recipe, and boil for about an hour.

First Note: there is a distinction between your boiling hops and finishing hops.  As mentioned in the last article, the aroma of the hops will cook off in a matter of minutes, so make sure that your finishing hops are added in the last 1-2 minutes of cooking.  Your recipe will specify the details.

Second Note: be extremely mindful when bringing the wort to a boil; the foam grows exponentially in a matter of seconds!

The aroma evacuating from the boiling wort is irresistible.  Believe me, if you aren’t already excited about brewing, you will be now. When the wort is nearing the end of the cooking cycle, add 2 gallons of extremely cold (no ice) water to the carboy.  Then, remove the hops and grains by passing the worth through a sanitized strainer into the carboy with the water.  Add enough water to reach 5 gallons.  At this point, wait for the mixture to cool below 75 degrees F.  Take the original gravity reading with the hydrometer by collecting a sample of the cooled wort in the hydrometer flask. Do NOT return this to the carboy; discard.  The specific gravity read by the hydrometer is an indication of the prospective alcohol content. Dave’s Dreaded Brewing provides an abv calculator to predict the alcohol by volume. The last steps are aerating the carboy vigorously and pitching (adding) the yeast.

Preparing for Fermentation

When the yeast has been pitched, the carboy should be closed off with an airlock cap for a 6-gallon carboy or blow-off hose for a 5-gallon carboy (unless you are using open fermentation for fast-maturing, quickly bottled ales). Life sometimes gets in the way of time, so we opt for closed fermentation as the safest means. If you are using a 6-gallon carboy, make sure to fill the airlock cap halfway with water, and to close the lid. The airlock allows gases to escape from the brew without contaminants entering.  When you use a 5-gallon carboy, the kraesen (foamy head) needs to escape.

Fit the carboy with a rubber stopper and attach the hose. The hose connects the carboy to a sanitized bucket of water where the kraesen will escape.

If you are brewing ale, then ferment for 8-14 days, or until the yeast has become inactive and settled to the bottom. This is called primary fermentation.  If you are unsure, take hydrometer readings for 2-3 consecutive days. The brew is ready for bottling when readings are consistent.  If for any reason, the recipe calls for longer fermenting, you will need to rack the brew to a second carboy (sanitized of course) and secure with an airlock top for secondary fermentation.  If you are brewing lager, please see John Palmer’s website How to Brew. Lager is quite difficult for the beginner brewer (as I am discovering first hand with my Cascade Spring Snow Golden Lager).

Racking and Bottling

1 beer hydrometer
1 bottle washer (optional but recommended)
1 6-foot length of 3/8” inside-diameter clear plastic hose
1 5-10 Gallon bucket
Lots of bottlecaps
1 bottlecapper
60 12-oz beer bottles (anything other than screwtop bottles will do)
1 bottle Star Stan (for sanitization)

Sanitization is of utmost importance! Sanitize everything in the equipment list.  Then, boil ¾ cup of corn sugar or 11/4 cup of plain dried malt extract in 1 pint of water for 5 minutes to create a primer to condition (carbonate) the beer in the bottles. Add primer to the sanitized bucket.

In a few easy steps, your beer will be on the way. Place the carboy on a table or counter and remove the fermentation lock.  Place the bucket under the carboy, and use a gravity flow with the plastic tube to transfer beer from carboy to bucket. Be careful to avoid splashing the beer and to avoid siphoning the last ½ inch of sediment into the bucket. Take a hydrometer reading and record the final gravity in your recipe journal for future reference.

Now, place the primed beer on a surface higher than the bottles.  We set the beer on a table and counter, and the bottles on the floor.  As before, this helps with the gravity flow. Siphon the beer into each bottle, leaving about an inch of air space.  Recruit at least one other person for this!  Place sanitized caps on the bottles and crimp closed with the bottle capper.  Label, then store the bottles upright in a dark area between 65-75 degrees F.

Wait for it…..in about 10-14 days your beer will be ready to drink!  Now, it can be stored at a cooler temperature or you can continue to experiment with aging a few bottles. Before you turn up your first brew, beware of yeast sediment on the bottom of each bottle. Uncap a freshly chilled brew and pour it slowly in an ice-cold glass.

And, in the words of Charlie Papazian, “Relax, have a homebrew.”  You’ve earned it.

For an excellent visual that demonstrates the process of homebrewing, check out The Beginner’s Guide to Making Home Brew by Food Farmer Earth.