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rec.crafts.brewing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Archive-name: brewing-faq
Last-modified: 1998/01/19 (yyyy/mm/dd)
Version: 2.12
Frequency: bi-weekly

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
[V2M12: send comments/corrections to ksw(@)]

Copyright  1992-1998, Kurt Swanson.  All rights reserved.  Permission
is hereby granted to disseminate copies free of charge (inclusive of
media costs), provided this message is contained throughout.

Frequently Asked Questions in Rec.Crafts.Brewing:

1. How is beer made?
2. How do I start?  What equipment do I need?
3. What is the HomeBrewDigest (HBD)?
4. Where can I access the archives?
5. Where can I get a copy of "The Cat's Meow" (recipe book)?
6. What is a good text on brewing?
7. Where can I get mail order supplies?
8. What are the "lambic-list", "beerjudge-list", "cider-list", and
        "mead-lovers" lists?
9. What is the A.H.A./Zymurgy?
10. I'm going to (city), what brewpubs are there?
11. My terminal gravity seems high, should I worry?
12. Why hasn't my yeast done anything yet?
13. Are there any homebrew clubs in (city)?
14. What's the word on Bottle Fillers?
15. What is CAMRA?
16. What is a hydrometer?  How is it used?  What is "specific gravity"?
17. What is a wort chiller?  How/why is it used?
18. What is hot break?  What is cold break?
19. How are all-grain recipes converted to extract?
20. Regarding hops, what are alpha acids?  What is HBU?  What is IBU?
21. What is "dry hopping"?  How should I dry hop?
22. What are 20L, 40L, etc. crystal malts?  What is Lovibond?
23. What is "Wyeast" (liquid yeast)?  How is "Wyeast" pronounced?
24. How do I make a yeast starter?
25. How do I convert from PPM to mg/l and vice-versa?
26. What net links exists for brewing?
27. What about distilling?  Marijuana in beer?
28. Should I avoid aluminum brewpots?
29. How do I convert from US to UK measures, and vice-versa?
+30. Why should I avoid glucose, table sugar, honey, apple juice,
        etc. in making yeast starters?

! = change during last modification
+ = added during last modification

1. How is beer made?

   Beer is made from extracting sugar from the starch in malted grain.  This is
   boiled with sufficient water & hops to make a "wort."  When this has cooled,
   brewing yeast is added to ferment the wort to create this finished product,
   which is suitable for bottling or kegging, and maturation.  Some people mash
   their own grain, while others buy canned malt extract.  Either method is
   suitable for creating an award-winning brew, though mashing does allow
   greater control over the finished product, and "mash'ers" claim better beer
   is made.  For more complete information get the compressed file beginners.gz
   from the Stanford server
   as well as similiar files from other net sources (see question 26).

2. How do I start?  What equipment do I need?

   There are specialty shops all over the country that sell ingredients
   and equipment for making beer and wine at home.  Check your yellow
   pages under "Beer" or "Wine" for homebrewing or home winemaking
   shops.  If you can't find a shop locally, many shops do mail order
   (more on mail order later).  Basic equipment includes a kettle for
   boiling the wort, a fermentation vessel of some kind -- glass
   carboys (5 gallon bottled water bottles) and food-grade plastic
   buckets are popular -- siphon hose for bottling, bottles, and a bottle
   capper and caps.  Most shops sell "starter kits", which include
   essential equipment (and sometimes some not-so-essential equipment),
   ingredients for your first batch, and a book.  Prices vary, $60-70
   U.S. is common.  Otherwise, try contacting local clubs and books,
   see questions 6 and 13.

3. What is the HomeBrewDigest (HBD)?

   The Digest is another forum for discussing homebrewing. It is not
   associated in any manner with this newsgroup, or Usenet in general,
   except that a high percentage of people contribute to both forums. The
   Digest is a list-group which is sent out via e-mail daily (except
   Sunday), containing all postings collected prior to that issue. It is
   also available on the web at  The HBD generally
   handles a more advanced discussion of brewing issues, but all are
   welcome.  Flames are frowned upon. Currently the HBD is being posted
   to this newsgroup as a courtesy. Beware that some newsreaders will
   split the Digest into its component articles, and that follow-up posts
   will not be seen by the original poster, nor other HBD
   subscribers. Direct replies should work - but make sure the address is
   correct. To subscribe to the e-mail edition of the Digest, send email
   to containing the word "subscribe" in the
   body of the message. Note that you cannot subscribe an account other
   than the one from which you send the request. No subscription is
   required to view the HTML (web) version.

4. Where can I access the archives?

   Currently no one that I know of archives rec.crafts.brewing (beyond
   the usual sites that archive all of USENET), but the archives to
   the HBD are available.  They can be obtained via anonymous ftp from in the /pub/hbd/digests directory.  Digests are stored in
   subdirectories by year.  The digest are also available via the web,

5. Where can I get a copy of "The Cat's Meow" (recipe book)?

   This is available on the archives, in the recipe-book subdirectory.
   See #4 for information on accessing the archives.  Also The Cat's Meow
   III is available at "The Brewery" web site:

6. What is a good text on brewing?

   It is generally agreed that "The Complete Joy of Home Brewing," by
   Charlie Papazian is an excellent beginners text.  Other find David
   Miller's "The Complete Handbook of Homebrewing" just as good for the
   beginner, as well as containing more information suited for
   intermediate/advanced brewers.  I use both.  Other texts include "The
   Big Book of Brewing," by Dave Line, which is a British text (with
   British & metric measurements), and "Brewing Lager Beer" by Greg
   Noonan.  Mr. Line has also written a recipe book which does contain
   basic instructions, called "Brewing Beer Like Those You Buy."  A more
   modern recipe book is ""Brewing the World's Great Beers" also by Dave
   Miller.  Also you might try "Brewing Quality Beers," by Byron Burch,
   which has been described as "short enough to read for the extremely
   impatient, yet has lots of good information."  Lastly, CAMRA (see
   below), publishes "Home Brewing: The CAMRA Guide," by Graham Wheeler,
   1990.  Write to CAMRA directly, at the address given below.

7. Where can I get mail order supplies?

   The wang archive server contains the file "suppliers" which is a good place
   to start, or try the classifieds in any copy of Zymurgy.  Also, try the
   yellow pages under "Beer making supplies" and "Wine Making."
   Lastly, the original copy of "the Cat's Meow" (see #5), contains a list
   of mail order shops.

8. What are the "lambic-list", "beerjudge-list", "cider-list", and
        "mead" lists?

   These are four special topic mailing lists, unassociated with Usenet.
   Subscribers send mail to the list and then copies are immediately
   mailed out to every other subscriber, or assembled into "digests"
   which are mailed out regularly.  The lambic-list covers information on
   brewing a special type of Belgian brew called lambic (ask for it at
   your liquor store).  The beerjudge-list covers topics related to
   judging beer in competitions, as well as administration of the judge
   test.  The cider digest concerns the making of "hard" cider (fermented
   apple juice) and perry (fermented pear juice).  The mead digest
   concerns the making of mead (fermented honey/water--i.e., "honey
   wine"). To subscribe, send mail to,,, and Include
   your name, email address, and in the case of the judge-list, your
   judging rank ("apprentice" for non-judges).

9. What is the A.H.A./Zymurgy?

   Zymurgy is a quarterly publication, plus one special topics issue, put out
   by the American Homebrewers Association (AHA).  Zymurgy contains many
   article on brewing as well as information & ads regarding clubs and
   supplies.  Contact the AHA by phone or US mail to:

   American Homebrewers Association, Inc.
   P.O. Box 1679
   Boulder, CO 80306-1679
   (303) 447-0816

10. I'm going to (city), what brewpubs are there?

   The Wang archive server contains a file listing brewpubs.  The file is call
   brewpub-list.  See question #4 on how to access the server.

11. My terminal gravity seems high, should I worry?

   Worry?  No.  There are several possibilities.  First, depending on your
   recipe, an acceptable terminal gravity may be high.  For example, a Barley
   Wine with an initial gravity of 1.120, might completely ferment out at
   1.040.  On the other hand, a lite lager, with an initial gravity of 1.025
   might ferment all the way down to 1.002.  Thus you should check with your
   recipe, or a similar recipe of that style, to determine what might be
   proper.  If you still believe it is high, and this is a frequent occurrence,
   you may have a "stuck fermentation."  This occurs for a variety of reasons.
   The wort might not have been sufficiently aerated to start with, you might
   slosh it around in the fermenter.  Or, fermentation temperature might have
   dropped to the point where the yeast may go dormant.  Also, the yeast might
   not have enough nutrients in the wort to work with.  This often occurs in
   extract brewing.  In these latter two cases,  you might try adding a yeast
   nutrient, according to the instruction that come with it.  Lastly, give it
   time, as fermentation may slow, then suddenly accelerate at a later date.

12. Why hasn't my yeast done anything yet?

   Some yeasts take longer to start than others.  Make sure your fermentation
   temperature is in the right range (lower temps slow yeast activity).  Also,
   high temperatures are bad for yeast.  Besides problems of mutation, yeast
   may be killed if pitched before the wort has sufficiently cooled.  You might
   try aerating the wort by sloshing it around in the fermenter.  Lastly, the
   pitching rate affects startup time.  If you pitch too little yeast, not only
   will the lag time be greater, but you also risk infection.  Many people
   either use 2 packets of dry yeast (Whitbread excepted), or make a starter
   culture from one packet, or from liquid yeast.

13. Are there any homebrew clubs in (city)?

   Scott Murphy maintains an on-line list of homebrew clubs.  You can
   contact him by sending mail to:

14. What's the word on Bottle Fillers?

   The following was graciously submitted by Paul Chisholm regarding a recent
   discussion on bottle fillers in this newsgroup... Thanks, Paul...

   Some people Worry (for shame!-) that a bottle filler causes more
   oxidation (because of spraying through the smaller opening, rather than
   through the whole opening at the end of the siphon tube, I guess).  The
   solution is to tilt the bottle at the beginning, and stick the end of
   the bottling wand into the bottom "corner" of the bottle.  The wand's
   end is soon covered with beer, and no amount of spraying will cause any
   extra air to be mixed in with the beer.  Also, if the end of the wand
   (or siphon tube, or whatever) isn't much lower than the end of the
   siphon tube in the priming carboy (or whatever), the beer will be
   siphoned slowly, at low pressure, reducing spraying.  (This works for
   any bottle filling procedure.)

   Another problem is the bottle filler has beer in it.  When you lift the
   filler from the bottle, that beer doesn't go into the bottle, and the
   headspace is greatly increased.  Even if you fill the bottle almost
   full, the resulting headspace is larger than some people consider
   optimal.  You can fill the bottle, move the filler to the top of the
   bottle, and press the tip of the filler to drizzle enough beer down the
   side of the bottle to reduce the head space.

   There are two kinds of fillers.  One kind has a spring.  The other has
   a stopper that's held down by the weight of the beer.  The latter is
   slower.  Does that mean oxidation is less of a problem?  I expect it's
   easier to finish filling (using the side-of-the-bottle trick) with a
   springless filler.

   (There's also something called Phil's Philler, which has a hole at the
   top as well as at the bottom.  You can remove the filler without
   removing the beer in it, thus eliminating the headspace problem.)

   My take on all this is that there are ways to use a bottle filler to
   reduce problems (and reduce Worry).  I didn't find enough evidence of
   problems to bottle my beer without a bottle filler.

15. What is CAMRA?

   CAMRA stands for "the CAMpaign for Real Ale," a British consumers'
   group that is concerned with changes, primarily in the quality of
   British beers.  For membership details write:
        Campaign for Real Ale, Ltd
        230 Hatfield Road
        St. Albans
        Herts AL1 4LW
        United Kingdom

16. What is a hydrometer?  How is it used?  What is "specific gravity"?

   A hydrometer measures the weight of a liquid relative to the same
   volume of water (i.e., relative densities).  In brewing, much of
   this excess weight is expected to be from fermentable and unfermentable
   malt sugars.  Most hydrometers measure Specific Gravity (SG), which
   tells how many times heavier than water the liquid of interest is;
   for example, a 1.050 SG wort is 1.05 times heavier than an equal volume
   of water at 60 F.  SG measurements are temperature dependent, and SG
   should be measured at 60 F., as water is SG 1.0 at 60 F.

   Hydrometers often come with a temperature conversion chart, but
   hydrometers often are not accurately calibrated, so that water at
   60F will not read 1.0.  An easy way to take SG readings with a
   hydrometer is to measure at room temperature, and then measure water
   at room temperature and take the difference.

   Some abbreviations commonly used in homebrewing relating to specific
   gravity:  OG, Original (wort specific) Gravity; FG or TG, Final or
   Terminal Gravity (when the beer is finished fermenting).

17. What is a wort chiller?  How/why is it used?

   A wort chiller is a device used to quickly cool boiling wort to
   yeast pitching temperatures.  Two common constructions are the
   immersion chiller and the counterflow chiller.  The immersion
   chiller consists of a coil of copper tubing that is immersed in
   the wort, and cold water is run through the tubing.  Counterflow
   designs usually consist of copper tubing inside of a larger diameter
   plastic tubing; cold water runs through the plastic tubing in one
   direction, cooling wort runs through the copper tubing in the other

   Using a chiller to quickly cool wort has several advantages over
   slow air cooling.  You get your yeast pitched quickly, reducing
   the risk of infection; the time the wort spends at DMS* producing
   temperatures is reduced; and a quick chill promotes good cold break.

   * DMS is Dimethyl Sulfide, a malt by-product with an aroma
   described as similar to cooked corn.

18. What is hot break?  What is cold break?

   Hot and cold break are terms used by homebrewers to describe the
   flocculation of proteins and other materials during the boil (the
   hot break) and cooling (the cold break).  This material tends to
   settle to the bottom of your kettle or fermenter, where it becomes
   part of the "trub".  Sometimes the terms "hot break" and "cold break"
   will be used to refer to the activity ("I had a great cold break
   when I pumped ice water through my wort chiller"), while at other
   times the brewer may be referring to the actual matter ("The cold
   break settled to the bottom of my carboy"); if you're worried that
   you may not be understood, you can always specify whether you're
   talking about the occurrence or the stuff.  Usually it is understood
   from context.

19. How are all-grain recipes converted to extract?

   All fermentables (malt extract syrup, dry malt extract, grain malt,
   sugar, honey, etc.) cause an increase in the specific gravity of the
   solution when added to water.  A common way to measure how much the
   specific gravity increases is the number of SG points of increase
   when a pound of the ingredient is added to one gallon of water.
   Most fermentables used for beer are in the range of 25-45 points
   per pound per gallon.  Values for many of these ingredients may be
   found in the references mentioned in the Bibliography section.  When
   substituting one fermentable for another, use the ratio of the
   specific gravity contributions of each ingredient to scale the one
   you will use to the amount that will provide the desired SG contribution.

   Example:  You have an all-grain recipe that calls for 8# of Malted
   Barley, and you want to replace it with extract syrup.  One of my
   references lists the SG contributions of these ingredients as
   approximately 30 points for the grain and 36 points for the syrup
   per pound of ingredient per gallon of water.  You multiply the
   8# of grain in the recipe by 30/36 to get 6 2/3 pounds of malt
   extract syrup.

20. Regarding hops, what are alpha acids?  What is HBU?  What is IBU?

   Alpha acids are bittering compounds found in hops that are extracted
   when hops are boiled with wort.  The alpha acid "rating" on hops
   describes how much of the weight of the hop is made up of alpha acids.
   Hops with a higher alpha acid content will contribute more bitterness
   than a low alpha hop when using the same amount of hop.

   HBU stands for "Homebrew Bitterness Unit", which is a recipe unit
   for hops.  It takes into account the alpha acid content of the hop,
   so that a recipe will call for a certain amount of HBU's rather than
   an amount specified in ounces.  HBU is computed by multiplying the
   weight of hops in oz. by the alpha acid percentage of the hops; sum
   for all hop additions.  For example, 1 oz of 7% alpha hops will have
   a HBU of 7.  Note that volume is ignored in the HBU, therefore it
   is important to include the volume of the recipe, or express the
   hop additions in HBU per gallon (or HBU per 5 gallons) rather than
   just strictly HBU.

   IBU stands for "International Bittering Unit", and is a measure of
   the amount of bittering compounds in a particular volume of beer,
   rather than a recipe unit.  However, the "Hops and Beer" special
   issue of Zymurgy (see Bibliography) presents a formula for estimating
   IBU, considering several variables -- alpha acid content, wort volume,
   wort gravity, and time in the boil.

   Another way to think of this is that HBU represents the "potential"
   for bittering beer (the bittering strength of the hops), while IBU
   represents "actual" bittering, and is a measure of the beer, not
   the hops.

21. What is "dry hopping"?  How should I dry hop?

   Dry hopping is the practice of adding dry hops to beer at some
   time after the boil.  The technique is used to increase hop aroma
   in the finished beer, as aromatic hop compounds are quickly lost
   when hops are boiled.  Common practice is to add the hops to a
   secondary fermenter, or if kegging, to the keg from which the
   beer will be served.  Dry hops added to a fermenter should be
   left in contact with the beer for at least a week or two.  The
   consensus seems to be that the amount of alcohol present by the
   time fermenting beer is in secondary fermentation is sufficient
   to prevent bacteria and/or wild yeasts from "riding in" on the
   hops and contaminating the beer, so sanitizing of the dry hops
   is not deemed necessary.  Either whole hops, plugs, or pellets
   may be used for dry hopping.

22. What are 20L, 40L, etc. crystal malts?  What is Lovibond?

   For brewers, the Lovibond degree is a unit used to measure the color
   of malted barley and beer.  Darker grains have a higher Lovibond measure,
   and contribute more color to brewed beer.  Darker crystal malts (such
   as 60L, 80L, 120L, etc.) will provide more sweet flavor and more color
   than similar amounts of lighter (20L, 40L) crystal malt.  Dave Miller's
   book (see Bibliography) provides a formula for very roughly predicting
   the color of finished beer in degrees L based on the grain that goes
   into making the beer.

23. What is "Wyeast" (liquid yeast)?  How is "Wyeast" pronounced?

   "Wyeast" is a nickname for the Brewer's Choice line of liquid brewing
   yeasts from Logsdon's Wyeast Laboratories.  There are more than a dozen
   varieties of ale and lager yeasts available from Wyeast.  Many brewers
   that use Wyeast consider it to be of high quality, uncontaminated by
   bacteria.  For a report on contaminants in liquid and dry yeasts
   available to homebrewers, see the "Yeast" special issue of Zymurgy.
   Good results can be obtained from either dry or liquid yeasts,
   especially for brewers that are willing to carefully home culture
   yeasts that they know to be pure and provide good results.

   The name Wyeast is pronounced like "Why-yeast", not "double-u yeast",
   and is the name that the local Native Americans had given to Mt. Hood
   in Oregon, which stands near the site of the Wyeast lab.

24. How do I make a yeast starter?

   The Wyeast package recommends making a 1.020 SG wort and pitching
   the active contents of the package into a sanitized bottle with
   an airlock to allow the quantity of active yeast cells to build
   up before pitching into a typical 5 gallon batch of wort.  This
   "starter" wort is usually made from dry malt extract boiled with
   water at the rate of 2 tablespoons per 8 oz. cup of water.  Some
   brewers like to throw in a couple of hop cones or pellets for their
   antiseptic qualities.  When the starter is at high krauesen (the
   term is used loosely here, you often won't get a foamy head on your
   starter, look for visible, strong fermentation) it's ready to pitch.
   Typical time for a starter is 24 hours.  This technique is recommended
   for both dry and liquid yeasts.

25. How do I convert from PPM to mg/l and vice-versa?

   You multiply (or divide) by 1.  PPM (parts per million) is
   *defined* as mg/l (milligrams per liter).

26. What net links exist for brewing?

   This FAQ can always be reached in its most up-to-date form via WWW.
   The link is <>.
   Other specific FAQs (yeast, hops) can be found at
   <>.  Spencer Thomas' beer
   page is <http:/>.  The humble
   author's home page is <>.

27. What about distilling?  Marijuana in beer?

   Private distillation is beyond the scope of rec.crafts.brewing, and
   illegal in most countries (try asking a Balkan newsgroup, where
   private distillation is legal).

   While marijuana (cannabis) is mildly related to hops, using it in your
   beer will most likely ruin your beer and your dope.  I'm told.

28. Should I avoid aluminum brewpots?

   There has been a good deal of "discussion" as to whether or not the
   use of aluminum in brewing contributes to Alzheimer's disease.  Thanks
   to Oliver Weatherbee for providing to following:

   Aluminum has NOT been linked to Alzheimer's disease. The following is
   taken from "Frequently Asked Questions About Neurological Problems" at
   The Department of Neurological Surgery of The Cleveland Clinic
   Foundation (

   "There is little support for the theory that aluminum causes
   Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia in the United
   States. The exact cause of this disease is unknown, although the risk
   of Alzheimer's is higher when there is a family history of this

                   [two paragraphs removed]

   Workers exposed to high levels of aluminum in industrial environments
   have no increased incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore,
   careful studies to date have not shown an increased aluminum
   concentration in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients.

   Since there is no convincing evidence linking aluminum toxicity with
   Alzheimer's disease, you need not worry about exposure to aluminum in
   cooking utensils."

   Furthermore, Brewing Techniques (Jan/Feb '95) had an article on a
   parallel brew experiment using an aluminum brewpot and a stainless.
   Laboratory analysis showed that there was no significant difference in
   trace aluminum levels between batches. They also pointed out that most
   of the Al you digest is from your food and water. And for that matter,
   many medical people consider copper a bigger health risk.

   As for off flavors, IF this happens (hearsay IMO), it is probably the
   result of the brewer scrubbing the oxidation layer of the pot during
   cleaning. Don't scrub, use a soft cloth or sponge and non-abrasive
   cleaner. This is one of the reasons Al is not used much commercially,
   its not caustic cleaner friendly.

29. How do I convert from US to UK measures, and vice-versa?

   There are two inherent differences between US and Imperial (British)
   liquid measure:

     1: ounce - US = 29.573 ml,   Imperial = 28.412 ml
     2: gill  - US = 4 US ounces, Imperial = 5 UK ounces

   For both systems there are 4 gills in a pint, 2 pints in a quart,
   and 4 quarts in a gallon.  Thus

     (UK gallon)        28.412 * 5
                        ---------- = 1.2009     (ratio UK->US gallon)
     (US gallon)        29.573 * 4

   That is to say, for all units above the ounce, the Imperial or British
   variant is almost exactly 20% larger than the corresponding US unit.

+30. Why should I avoid glucose, table sugar, honey, apple juice,
        etc. in making yeast starters?

   Brewer's yeast has been selected for its ability to grow well in
   malt-based wort and produce pleasant by-products.  In particular,
   yeast prefer to ferment maltose because it is the largest fermentable
   constituent in wort.  Growing your yeast up in a non-malt environment
   can affect the health and you can get a disordered fermentation and
   possible off flavors in your beer.  Growing up in a high glucose
   environment, for example, can result in selection in favor of
   respiratory mutants that cannot properly ferment maltose.  As an
   analogy, consider how unhealthy you and your decendents would be if
   you were asked to live (and reproduce!) on a diet of nothing but
   soda pop.

 2000 Kurt Swanson AB (

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