Brewing Iron Springs IPA, Part One: What goes into a batch of home brew?

If you are an enthusiast of drinking Craft beers, I thought you might want get an insight into what goes into making a batch of home brew.  I decided to make a batch of India Pale Ale.  This IPA is a cross between some of my favorites, Stone Brewing Ruination and Lagunitas Hop Stoopid. I named it Iron Springs IPA, after a historic road that ran parallel to a Santa Fe and Rio Grande Railroad line from the early 1900s until about 1950 in Prescott, Arizona.

Day 1

Before you do anything you must decide what you are going to brew and select a recipe. Next make a list of supplies and equipment that you will need.  How much will it cost for supplies and ingredients?  This will depend on the recipe and the quantity and the equipment if any that you have.  I had to journey to Phoenix to find a good home brew supply store.  Supplies for my 5 gallon batch added up to $45. If you have never brewed then a small kit (like these from Brooklyn Beer Company) may be just what you need to get started.  One gallon kits generally do not include a brew kettle.  A large stainless steel stock pot, pasta pot, or porcelain canning pot can be used if you already have one in the kitchen.  I started with a canning pot I have used for years. I've found that multi-gallon batches tended to boil over in this pot, so I recommend only use a canning pot for one gallon batches.

I had most of the brewing supplies already on hand, so I just needed to inventory and inspect all of my equipment.  Pay close attention to the condition of rubber seals and transfer tubing as they tend to deteriorate over time.  The middle of the brew process is never a good time to discover an equipment failure.   At the Brew Supply Store, I spoke with the brewing supply consultant to see if there were any new and improved equipment developed specifically for brewers that will make brewing steps easier, as I hadn't brewed in awhile. Siphoning, for example, need not be done by creating a suction by mouth. A pneumatic siphon makes transferring much easier and reduces contamination by mouth germs and bacteria. There are newer and better designed burners that don’t blacken the bottom of the brewing kettle which makes cleanup much easier. 

Day 2

Brewing started on a Monday by organizing and cleaning equipment to mash the grains and boil the wort.

I may have just introduced two brewing terms that need defining.  Beer, ale, and some distilled spirits that are made from grains begin with ground grains and water. This is called a mash and the purpose is convert the dry grains to a liquid and extract the sugars from that grain. This must be done at a specific temperature so that enzymes convert the sugar chain into smaller links that the yeast will more efficiently break down to produce alcohol.  Mash your grains at 149 F for 60 minutes.  

At this time, before the boil, the amount of sugar in the wort needs to be determined in order to determine the potential alcohol content.  This step is referred to as "determining the original gravity."  Original gravity determines the potential alcohol production.  The higher the original gravity, the higher the amount of sugar that will produce a higher potential alcohol. This is done by removing a small amount of liquid from the wort and testing it with a hydrometer.  A hydrometer is a floating glass device that floats higher with increasing sugar and lower as higher amounts of alcohol are produced.  If you are working from a tried and true recipe possessing a hydrometer and performing this step is not required, but I always take these measurements. I measured 1.022, about 5% potential alcohol.

I may have made a mistake here. I should have taken this reading just before adding yeast.  The temperature was also 10 degrees too high for the hydrometer. Luckily, there is a formula to correct for this, found here. The Original Gravity after the boil would have read higher due to concentration from water vapor loss.  I try to target for no higher than 1.077 to keep the alcohol of the finished product to an alcohol by volume to less than 7 or 8 percent. Alcohol above this percentage will produce an alcohol burn on your tongue.  Beer and ales above this percentage are usually referred to as a malt liquor or imperial and could go as high as approximately 14 percent.

The second term is wort. A wort is a sweet solution of malt sugar that needs to boil to slightly concentrate and to infuse the hops to counteract any residual sweetness.  Boiling usually takes about 90 minutes in most typical brews. Exact timing is not critical. For boiling I used a 7 ½ gallon stainless steel pot with a lid.  I boil outside on a burner so that I will not boil over on the kitchen stove.

The longest brewing step is waiting for the wort to cool down so that the yeast can be added.  In this case the boil was completed at 4:30PM and was not cool enough until 10:30PM. The temperature for adding the yeast is 72°F. Years ago I found a way to speed this process up by inserting a copper coil inside the kettle and attaching to a garden hose and running water through the coil. This works well but presents a cleaning problem so I did not use it.

I dumped the yeast in the solution at 10:30PM and went to bed. The next morning I lifted the lid on the kettle, but I did not see any indication that the fermentation had started.  This is sometimes a nervous period for a beer brewer the same as it is for bakers of dough when the dough does not rise or proof.  By afternoon thick foam was starting to form on top of the wort--what a relief!  In the past, I removed some of the wort prior to the boil to use as a starter and that way know for sure that the yeast is working before pouring into the fermentation vessel.

Day 4

Three and a half days later and I’m contemplating transferring my IPA to a secondary fermentation vessel, a 6 gallon glass carboy. This will be done slowly by siphon methods that avoid transferring too much sediment.  This starts the second round of equipment preparation and sterilization of all vessels, tubing, air locks and such needed for the the remainder of the brewing process with exception of the bottling process which will require an additional sterilization and cleaning step.

Once in the fermentation vessel the ale will ferment for another 2 ½ to 3 weeks or until the CO2 stops bubbling in the air lock.  Air lock is a small plastic device inserted in a rubber stopper and installed in the top of the glass carboy that allows CO2 to escape through a small amount of water and not allow air back into the vessel.

Iron Springs IPA Recipe

2-row malt, 14.6 lb/6.6 kg

Briess crystal malt, 15 ºL, 1 .0 lb/0.45 kg

AAU Magnum hops, 12.40% alpha acids, 36 ?? or 3 oz 

Warrior hops, 15.8% alpha acids, 1.0 oz

White Labs English Ale WLP002 yeast, for 2 qt to 2 L starter, 1 tube

Citra, for dry hopping, 2 oz

Corn sugar, for priming, 7/8 cup 


Mash all of your grains (14.6 lbs. 2 row malt + 1.0 lbs of crystal malt) at 149 ºF for one hour. 

Collect enough wort to boil for 90 minutes and have a 5.0-gallon (19-L) yield. Ferment at 68 °F (20 °C).

Collect 1-2 quarts or liters in a flask that can hold a stopper and airlock. This a starter that will be added after the brew is boiled and cooled.

Add 5 gallons of wort to brew kettle along with the 3 oz. of magnum hops and bring to a boil.  if there is not 5 gallons, add enough water to total of at least 5 gallons.  Boil for 90 minutes.

Add 1 oz. of Warrior hops and steep for for at least 5 minutes.

Allow brew to cool to 72ºF then add flask of yeast and transfer to a fermentation vessel.  Some plastic tubing that fits tightly in the neck of the fermentation bottle or carboy should be attached and routed into a pitcher or vessel to act as air lock.  This is necessary because after a few days-fermentation becomes so violent that foam will fouls the normal airlock.  When foaming and bubbling settles down- a standard airlock can be installed.

Check out Part 2, where I will detail transferring out of the boiling kettle, secondary fermentation and conditions during secondary fermentation.  

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast.  When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat. 

(Image Credits: ilovebutter/CC 2.0/M, Photography/Nicole St. Germain & Jim St. Germain) 

Jim St. Germain

Jim St. Germain is president of St. Germain Cellars and the resident hops enthusiast. When he isn't evangelizing IPAs (75+ IBUs!), he enjoys a nice glass of pinot noir or good whiskey, neat.