Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Art of Brewing Beer and Wine

One of my favorite hobbies was brewing homemade beer and wine. I felt satisfied sitting in a recliner watching TV and drinking something that I made in my kitchen. My home brews had a more mellow flavor than the store bought beers and wines. One of the best beers I ever drank was brewed at home - a Canadian Draft wheat beer. Therefore, I wrote this blog to depart my knowledge to readers who want to start home brewing.

Please check your local laws and regulations about home brewing. This blogger takes no responsibility for readers violating the law in their jurisdiction.


Water is a critical component in brewing a delicious beer. A brewer would never use foul smelling water because the water departs its taste to the brew. On the other hand, brewers cannot use distilled water or water passed through an osmosis filter. Both methods remove minerals from the water. Yeast needs minerals from the water to thrive and grow. I developed a method to control the quality and consistency. I always make two-gallon batches. I would buy one gallon of quality spring water and one gallon of distilled water. That way, I reduce the variations in the spring water quality and ensure the yeast has plenty of minerals to thrive and grow.


Yeast constitutes another critical component in brewing beer. Yeasts are microorganisms that eat the sugar and convert the sugar into ethanol and carbon dioxide. Thus, we are drinking the yeast’s waste products.

Brewers can use baker’s yeast from any supermarket. However, the yeast imparts flavors to the brew, and the baker’s yeast would give the brew a bread taste. Companies use baker’s yeast to leaven bread while they employ brewer’s yeast to ferment wine and beer.

Brewers can use baker’s yeast to ferment a brew. However, as companies produce a batch of bread, they recycle some of the yeast from the last batch and add it to the next batch. Subsequently, baker’s yeast adapts to bread dough after generations after generations.

I recommend novices buy brewer’s yeast from a home brewing website. Prices range between $1 and $5. Different strains of yeasts depart a variety of flavors to the beer, including nutty, fruity, or buttery flavors that complement a brew’s taste. Thus, we begin the art of brewing. Minute changes in ingredients or environment can affect the flavor of beer or wine.

We first must activate the yeast. Take a clean glass and spoon, and pour boiling water over the glass and spoon to sterilize them. Next, fill the glass with spring water and add a tablespoon of sugar. Then add a pinch of yeast. We just need a little yeast and can seal the yeast package and refrigerate it for other batches. 

Once the yeast hits the water, they start eating the sugar and multiply rapidly. The water’s temperature must lie between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If the water is too cold, we will not activate the yeast. If we add the yeast to hot water, we can kill them.

Then cover the glass with a clean lid, so dirt and dust do not fall into the glass. I show healthy, growing yeast in a glass in the picture below. Carbon dioxide forms bubbles on the water’s surface while the water becomes murky from the active yeast.

Brewing Material

We do not need to buy expensive containers to brew a wine or beer. A person can go to the discount store and buy a gallon or two-gallon pitcher. I bought a two-gallon pitcher from Walmart that I show below. Many online brewery stores over price their merchandise. However, we must select a plastic that will not leech chemicals into our brew. Plastic manufacturers know people will use food containers to store food so those containers should be okay. However, we want to avoid plastic containers in the household aisle that people use to clean or store non-food items.

Looking at the picture, I left roughly two inches of free space at the container’s top. Yeast fermenting vigorously creates foam. Free space helps keep the foam inside the container. The spout is located about half-inch from the bottom. As the yeast die, they settle to the bottom of the container. The spout has enough height to let the yeast settle to the bottom and lets the brewer pour the liquid into containers. Although yeast residues contain vitamin Bs, they have an extremely bitter taste.

Before I use the container, I clean the container thoroughly with dish soap and rinse. I even clean the dispenser. Then I pour in hot water, close the lid tightly, and shake the container violently. The hot water kills the microorganisms. Brewers never use bleach or strong chemicals, because trace chemicals can contaminate the batch. Brewers can buy sanitizer from the online brewing stores.

Your First Brew

Yeast can ferment any juice or wort. For novices, I recommend their first brew should be an apple juice or apple cider wine. Juice and cider differ as companies make apple juice by filtering the pulp and fiber from the apple cider. Apple wine is the easiest to make, and apple juice produces a mellow amber color with a good taste. However, we can make wine from any juice with sugar. Kroger’s have several naturally frozen juices fortified with Vitamin C that works well. I show a picture below. I always buy natural juices and avoid juices with artificial sugars or high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is an artificial sugar made from corn. Corn contains trace amounts of sugar.

Brewers buy their favorite juice or fruit and ferment it into wine. If they use the whole fruit, they remove the seeds and puree the fruit in a blender. They can also use natural grape juice from the store to ferment into wine. Nevertheless, wineries grow special strains of grapes to produce their wine. At best, a homemade wine would taste better than Mad Dog 2020 but has a lower quality than a $10 bottle of wine unless the brewers grow the right strains of grapes on their plantation.

For the first step, we must calculate the alcohol content of the brew. We must also account for the juice’s sugar. As the yeast consumes the sugar, they produce carbon dioxide and ethanol as waste products. I calculated the theoretical ethanol yields from various table sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, and corn sugar in Table 1.

Table 1. Sugar, Ethanol Concentration, and CO2

Sugar TypeSugar
(% sugar)
(1 gallon)
Carbon dioxide
Carbon dioxide
Granulated sugar1 cup201100.03.652.613.9
Granulated sugar2 cups402100.07.2105.227.8
Packed brown sugar1 cup22096.83.8 55.814.7
Packed brown sugar2 cups44096.87.7111.529.5
Honey1 cup33982.05.072.819.2
Honey2 cups68082.010.1146.038.6
Molasses1 cup33774.84.566.017.4
Molasses2 cups67474.89.1131.934.9
Maple syrup1 cup31567.93.956.014.8
Maple syrup2 cups63067.97.7112.029.6
Corn sugar (Dextrose)1 cup120100.
Corn sugar (Dextrose)2 cups240100.04.159.715.8

I calculated the ethanol yield based on a measuring cup because everyone has access to measuring cups in his or her kitchen, but I also provide the sugar measure in grams. If a person has an accurate scale, then always weigh the sugar. Measuring cup is a volume measure, whereas chemical reactions are based on weight measures.

Measuring cups give an approximate measure while weight gives an exact measure. For example, brown sugar clumps and contains air pockets. Depending on how the brewer packs the cup, he or she will have variations in the sugar measure and indirectly the ethanol content.

Examining Table 1, the purity column indicates how much sugar the substance contains. For example, table sugar and corn sugar are 100%, pure sugar, while honey comprises 82% of sugar. I adjusted the ethanol yield to account for sugar purity.

The ethanol column in Table 1 indicates the approximate ethanol content for a one-gallon brew. However, a home brewer can scale these measures. For example, a brewer plans to make a three-gallon batch and adds one cup of table sugar to the brew. That one cup of sugar would contribute roughly 1.2% ethanol by volume, or 3.6 ÷ 3. If he or she adds three cups of molasses to a gallon of brew, then the ethanol yield should be 13.5%, or 4.5 × 3. However, the yeast may die before reaching this alcohol content level.

Subsequently, brewers add sugar to reach the desired alcohol content, but are careful about exceeding 10% alcohol content. For most yeast, as the alcohol content approaches 12% by volume, the ethanol kills the yeasts. Some brewers have yeast that can produce up to 18% ethanol by volume.

If brewers add too much sugar that the yeast does not consume, then they get a sweet brew. If home brewers want a sweet brew, they should add enough sugar to achieve the alcohol content. After the yeast finish fermenting, brewers would add a liquid sugar to suit their taste and refrigerate the brew. Yeast is living organism, but cool temperatures slow them down. They will continue consuming the sugar until the temperature becomes too cold or the ethanol kills them off.

I am big on sterilization. I mix in my natural spring water, the fruit juice, and sugar in a large pot. Then I bring it to a small boil, killing off the microorganisms. Then I let the mixture cool until 100 degrees Fahrenheit and add it to the fermenting container. Then I pour the activated yeast into the container. Some brewers do not heat and boil their brews because it can change the flavor. However, the boiling kills the microorganisms and reduces contamination during the fermentation stage.

Fermentation takes between two and three weeks. Brewers must protect their brew from microorganisms. If bacteria contaminate the brew, they end up with vinegar. Some brewers purchase air locks that allow the carbon dioxide to escape but stops outside air from entering the fermentation container. A brewer does not need that. Did you notice my two-gallon jug has a large green, screw on lid? First, I screw the lid on tight. Then I loosen the lid until pressing on the container’s side, I can hear air being squeezed between the lid’s and container’s threads. If a person tightens the lid so carbon dioxide cannot escape, the pressure will build until the container ruptures and explodes, creating a mess. I show a beer just starting to ferment below.

Referring to Table 1, some brewers also grow plants, so I added the theoretical carbon dioxide yield. Brewers could place their fermenting brew near their plants, and the carbon dioxide would help the plants grow faster. These calculations are based on standard pressure and temperature, which equal 0 degree C and one atmospheric pressure. These numbers seem high, and I showed my calculations at the end of this blog. Thus, two cups of granulated sugar would create about 27.8 gallons of carbon dioxide.

Brewing Beer

Beer’s main ingredient is barley, and brewing beer requires more skill. Furthermore, barley contains little sugar and comprises about 50% of starch. Yeast cannot break down the starch because starch consists of long chains of sugar. Chemists use a hydrolysis reaction to break starch down into simple sugars that yeast can ferment. Chemists use two methods to break down starch – an acid or enzyme. Consequently, one gram of starch yields 1.11 grams of sugar.

I would not recommend using the acid. Chemists can add diluted sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid to the barley while heating the mixture in water. Then the acid breaks down the starch into sugar. However, sulfuric acid adds sulfur compounds to the beer, which can give it a bitter taste. (That is why commercial wine has a little bitterness from the sulfur compounds). Subsequently, hydrochloric acid adds chlorine compounds to the beer, which would not taste good either.

Brewers use the natural enzymes in barley to break down the starch. First, the brewers malt the barley by soaking barley in water. As the seeds germinate and sprout, the brewers remove the water and dry the seeds. Second, they pass the dried seeds through a roller to crack them. Finally, they add the seeds to water again and gradually heat them. Beer makers can add corn, sorghum, rye, or wheat depending on the use. At set intervals, the brewers halt the heating at 113, 144, and 163° F. The heating helps the seeds release the enzymes that break down the starch into maltose - a simple sugar. Once the liquid thickens and cools, we call it a wort that contains about 11% sugar.

Brewing process is more involved. Experienced brew masters add hops to the malt at set times. Hops add a bitterness and aroma to the beer. Beginners should buy a can of malt extract that makes two gallons of beer. After their skills improve, they could make beer from scratch. As we can see, brewing beer is an art. Every country I visited, the beer tastes differently even though beer companies make beer from four traditional ingredients - water, barley, hops, and yeast.

Brewers using a can of wort make beer similarly to wine. I show a picture below. They heat two gallons of natural spring water and add the can of wort. Then gradually bring the mixture to a boil. Brewers can add table sugar or corn sugar to raise the ethanol level. Brew masters claim table sugar departs a grainy ethanol taste to the beer, so they recommend corn sugar.

Some brewers add other ingredients to make designer beers, but it depends on the brewer. German lawmakers adopted the German Beer Purity Law (or Reinheitsgebot in German) in 1487, where breweries only could make beer from water, barley, and hops. During this time, people were not aware of yeast and microorganisms. Some people retain this tradition and refuse to drink beer with other ingredients. I am open-minded and do not mind adding extra ingredients to beer. Brewers can add pureed fruits or pie filling to the boiling wort to add fruity flavors to their beer. As the yeast consumes the sugars, the residues of the fruit will settle to the bottom of the container along with the dead yeast.

Here comes the dangerous part. Home beer makers gently pour their beer into plastic bottles. I strongly recommend buying plastic beer bottles from an online beer company. Then they add a half teaspoon of sugar to the beer and tightly screw on the lid. Afterwards, they store the beer in a tub or cooler for a week. As the yeast ferments the sugar, it creates carbon dioxide and builds up pressure in the bottle. We need this pressure to carbonate the beer naturally. The bottle can rupture and explode if the brewer adds too much sugar. Then refrigerate the beer, and the cooler temperature will help the beer absorb the carbon dioxide.

Something Goes Wrong

Sometimes a home brew does not taste good. One time, I brewed a batch of beer with a sour taste, but I let the beer sit in the refrigerator for months letting it age. After several months, the taste mellowed and transformed into a decent tasting beer. If a brewer creates a foul tasting beer and the taste has not improved after six months in the refrigerator, then he or she may want to toss the brew out because something went awry.

What happens if a beer tastes like vinegar? Unfortunately, bacteria contaminated the beer. Bacteria eat the sugars and convert them into acetic acid (vinegar) and carbon dioxide. Either the brewer did not sanitize the container properly, or something had killed the yeast. If brewers wash, sterilize their equipment, and boil their wort, then they would rarely contaminate their brews. In my case, I only experienced this one time. I added coffee to my beer to make Buzz Beer (Remember the Drew Carey Show). Nevertheless, the coffee had killed the yeasts, allowing the bacteria to thrive. Thus, I became stuck with two gallons of vinegar.

Appendix - The Calculations

I calculated the ethanol yield for sucrose or table sugar using the chemical equation below. One molecule of sucrose yields four molecules of ethanol. Chemical reaction includes the molecules weights in grams. The ratio between ethanol and sucrose yields 0.538. Thus, one gram of sucrose yields 0.538 grams of ethanol.

I included a volume measure, where one cup of sugar weighs 201 grams. Then I multiplied the purity of the sugar times one cup in grams and times 0.538 to calculate the ethanol in grams.

We want the ethanol as a volume measure. We know the density of ethanol equals 789 grams per milliliter. We divide the ethanol in grams by 789 to yield liters. Then I converted liters into gallons. Since I am making a one-gallon batch, then I multiplied by one hundred to calculate the percent ethanol content, which becomes an approximate measure.

Volume measure introduces two problems:
  • Density changes with temperature.
  • Alcohol and water have an affinity for each other. If I add 0.5 liters of pure ethanol to 0.5 liters of pure water, I do not get one liter. The ethanol and water molecules move closer together yielding 0.97 liters.
Dextrose or corn sugar has a different chemical composition than sucrose. Although we calculate the ethanol yield in the same manner, I used a different ratio between ethanol and dextrose, which equals 0.551. Consequently, one gram of dextrose produces 0.551 grams of ethanol.

Calculating the CO2 differs from ethanol yield because CO2 leaves the liquid as a gas. The ratio between carbon dioxide and sucrose equals 0.514 in the chemical formula. Subsequently, I multiply the amount of sugar in the mixture by the purity and times it by 0.514 to yield the carbon dioxide in grams. Hence, one gram of sucrose creates 0.514 grams of carbon dioxide.

I know one mole of gas occupies 22.4 liters while one mole of carbon dioxide weighs 44 grams. I multiply the carbon dioxide in grams by the ratio 22.4 ÷ 44 to yield liters. Then I converted liters into gallons.

We calculate the ethanol yield from dextrose similarly except the ratio between carbon dioxide and dextrose equals 0.489.

Finally, a starch molecule consists of a long molecule similar to sugar, which I show below. N refers to a large number where C6H10O5 forms a block in a long chain. Hydrolysis reaction breaks down the starch into a glucose molecule - a simple sugar. Consequently, one gram of starch yields 1.11 grams of sugar by taking the ratio between C6H12O6 and C6H10O5.


  1. I would also caution readers, that when using commercial fruit juices, make sure they do not contain preservatives or potassium sorbate. Those ingredients will inhibit yeast growth and will produce sub par results.