How to Brew All-Grain Beer using Synergy Brewing Systems Pro Pilot System.
5. Let’s Brew!
The Synergy Pro Pilot System is the best complete home brewing system that money can buy. Our bombproof brewing system features the same tried and true sanitary fittings, valves, and gaskets used in commercial breweries. This system is plug and play, easy to clean, and boasts superior efficiency, quality craftsmanship to the finest detail, and industry proven reliability. All of our brewing stands, brewing kettles and components are hand-built by brewers, for brewers.
The pro-pilot system is a single tier configuration brewing platform which uses top of the line stainless steel sanitary components to brew, transfer, and chill the wort.
Each system is equipped with a brewing stand, hot liquor tank, lauter tun/mash tun, boil kettle and all other necessary components. Our complete home brewing system is 100 percent stainless steel, TIG welded and fabricated in America (by Americans!).
In addition the the complete system you will need a place to ferment your freshly boiled wort (unfermented beer). A glass Carboy or our Uni-Fermentor will do the job nicely. Once fermented, it will be time to keg and bottle the beer.
While these guidelines will introduce you to the basics of the necessary equipment and processes of making beer at home, we highly recommend a reputable comprehensive brewing book for further reading and in-depth information. We prefer How To Brew by John Palmer.
There are four basic ingredients in making beer: water, malt, hops, and yeast. All are equally important in the quality of the final product. Chlorine, pH and mineral content of water will all impact the flavor of the finished beer. Quality and freshness of malt and hops are obviously a factor of flavorful beer, though yeast is possibly the most important and overlooked ‘ingredient’ in beer. In reality, yeast makes beer. We as brewers create and maintain an environment for yeast to thrive. In turn, yeast gives us flavorful, delicious beer. Thank you Saccharomyces!
It’s time to get some ingredients. We have included a link to some starter recipes, so click here and choose. Now that you have selected a recipe, it is time to procure ingredients. If there is no local home fermentation shop where you live, you can order ingredients online or direct from a wholesaler. Once you have the grains, use a malt mill to crush the grain so it can be more efficiently converted to sugar in the lauter tun. The hops require no preparations.
Yeast is very important and can be collected in many ways. Advanced brewers save their yeast from batch to batch for re-use. Other options include getting a pitch from a local craft brewery or buying from a local homebrew shop. Don’t forget to take the yeast packet out of the refrigerator at the start of the brew so it can warm to fermentation temperature. Also be sure to pitch the correct amount of yeast required for the volume, gravity, and recipe. Click here for a great link that explains the importance of aerating the wort before pitching the yeast. The link also talks about the different methods of introducing oxygen to the wort and features a handy reference chart.
Finally, cleaning and sanitation are more important to brewing beer than the actual making of the beer itself. Even great wort will taste awful if proper sanitation methods are not strictly adhered to and monitored throughout the process. Honestly, as a brewer, cleaning, sanitizing, and equipment maintenance will take up a greater proportion of time than making wort, transferring, and packaging beer.
Everything that comes in contact with wort after it is cooled must be sanitized. We won’t spend time belaboring this point throughout the guide, but understand that SANITATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE. Equipment must be clean before it can be sanitized, and leaving dirty equipment generally makes it more difficult to clean. Put on the custodian outfit and get cleaning: there are hungry yeast and beer demanding attention . . .
There are six general steps to make beer from grain to glass: 1) Mashing, 2) Lautering, 3) Boiling 4) Chilling/Oxygenation 5) Fermentation, and 6) Racking/Carbonation.
1) Mashing involves converting starches to sugars using naturally occurring enzymes in malted barley. Crushed grains (primarily malted barley) are mixed with water to gelatinize the starches and activate the enzymes to convert starches to sugars. Particular enzymes are activated at specific temperatures to give the brewer great control over the composition of the wort (unfermented beer).
2) Lautering is the process of removing the sugary liquid (wort) from the hydrated grains. Utilizing the husks of malted barley and a false bottom in a mash or lauter tun creates a filter bed with which to separate the grains from liquid. As the wort is removed from the mash, more hot liquor (water) is added to sparge (rinse) the sugary liquid from the grains. After sparging has yielded the desired gravity and volume, it is time to boil.
3) Boiling the wort concentrates the volume and provides the sanitary environment necessary for yeast to have a clean fermentation. Hot and cold break of proteins will help clarify the beer and provide essential nutrients for yeast. It is also when hops, herbs, and other ingredients are added to the beer for bitterness, flavor, and aroma.
4) Next, take the boiling wort and chill it down to fermentation temperatures as quickly as possible. Generally, there is a whirlpool or settling time after boiling to reduce and coagulate hop and protein particulates. Then the wort goes through a heat exchanger to quickly drop temperature. This is the ideal time to introduce dissolved oxygen into the wort as well, either on the way to the fermenter from the heat exchanger, or once in the fermenter. Yeast needs oxygen to multiply during its first stage of life.
5) This is where the magic happens: fermentation. Yeast does all the work, converting sugars into alcohol and CO2. We must simply maintain desired fermentation temperatures for the particular strain of yeast.
6) Racking involves transferring the beer from the yeast slurry and primary fermenter into another vessel. This can be another fermenter or directly to a keg or bottle for carbonation. It is important during this process to minimize oxygen contact and splashing or rough handling of the beer as it will lead to off-flavors.
Fill the hot liquor tank with water and bring your strike water to temperature. We recommend using non-chlorinated water at all times for brewing beer, though it is not necessary for cleaning water depending on the chemicals in use. On larger volume brews it can also be helpful to fill up your boil kettle with extra water and heat it to striking/sparging temperature at the same time as the hot water tank. Once the hot water tank is empty it can be quickly refilled by transferring the heated water in the boil kettle into the top of the hot water tank. Having extra hot water on hand during a brew day is always more helpful than not having enough hot water.
Once the strike water is heated to the desired temperature, (typically 10-15°F above the desired mash rest) transfer 1-1.5 gallons to the mash/lauter tun to preheat it. Connect the length of tubing (36” length for the 15 gallon system and 42” length on the 26 gallon model) between the outlet valve on the hot water tank and the inlet of the pump. Now connect the 6’ length of tubing to the outlet valve of the pump and route it upwards through the handle of the mash tun and into the top of the mash tun.
Open the valve on the hot water tank completely open so that the flow of water is unrestricted to the inlet valve of the pump. Next, slowly open the output valve to fully open and allow the water to pass through to prime the pump and remove any air pockets within the line. Now close only the output valve of the pump. The pump is now primed and may be turned on.
Once the pump is turned on slowly open the output valve on the pump until the desired flow rate is obtained. Always adjust the flow rate of the pumps with the output valve on the pump.
DO NOT RESTRICT THE FLOW TO THE INLET OF THE PUMP or run it dry as you will cause damage to the pump head.
Let the hot water sit in the tun with the lid closed for 5 minutes to heat, and then drain. (Save this water for cleaning later.) This step will help minimize initial heat loss during the mash-in/dough in process. Remember: it is easier to cool down a mash with cold water if it is too hot versus having to heat it up once the grain is added.
Add enough hot strike water to fully submerge the false bottom in the mash tun by at least 2” before beginning the process of mixing the crushed grains in the mash tun. Now slowly pour the crushed grains into the water and mixing the grains with the mash paddle to ensure that the grain is fully hydrated.
Do not add your grains too fast or they will start to cake up and make dough balls which will hurt your efficiency. Keep adding hot water and grains while stirring vigorously, but not violently. This is best accomplished with one person adding the crushed grains and controlling water flow while another person stirs constantly to guarantee a thorough mix.
Once all of the grains are completely saturated, make sure you reach the correct resting temperature by taking thermometer readings from several different depths and locations in the mash with a portable thermometer as well as the front thermometer. Due to the short length of the probe on the front thermometer and the composition of the grist in the mash tun, the front thermometer will not read as accurately as using a portable thermometer (preferably with a 12" probe) to take readings from the center and other areas of the mash.
Remember, there are a multitude of factors influencing the relationship between the temperature of strike water and the resulting mash temperature once all grains have been added and hydrated. The temperature of grist, temperature of mash tun, composition of grist, grist-to-water ratio, ambient air temperature, relative humidity, indoor/outdoor brewing, speed of dough-in, and the amount of stirring can all influence the temperature at which the mash stabilizes. Pay attention to temperatures, volume amounts (of both water and grains), and take good notes during the first couple of brews. You will come to learn the system and adapt techniques and temperature as you brew more.
When you have reached your desired rest temperature, place the lid on the mash tun and wait for starch conversion to complete, which usually takes about 45 minutes.
If this is your first attempt at all-grain brewing, we recommend a single infusion mash. Most commercial breweries mash with a single infusion: it is simple, efficient and will yield great beer every time! Step mashing provides greater control over the nuances of wort composition, such as types of sugars, breakdown of proteins, and control of grain-derived acids. If you are a more advanced brewer and would like even greater control over the mash process and profile, step mashing is the ticket.
This style is sometimes referred to as a single step mash. It is the easiest and best place to start for a new home brewer. The goal is to have the mash temperature stabilize in the middle of the ideal saccharification temperature range of 145° to 160° Fahrenheit, depending on the recipe and style of beer. Generally, a higher rest temperature will yield more unfermentable sugars resulting in a beer with more body that finishes with a higher final gravity. A lower saccharification temperature will result in more fermentable sugars which will result in a lighter bodied beer with a lower final gravity.
It is important to preheat the mash tun with hot water and to add strike water that is the proper temperature for the desired mash temperature. Depending on the grist to water ratio, the strike water is typically 10-25°F above the desired mash temperature. If you want to be more precise and calculate the temperature and amount of strike water to use, it will take some math or a suitable brewing calculator. The strike water comes from the hot liquor tank, so mix the water well and double check the temperature before adding it to the mash tun. It is better to have the strike water too warm rather than too cold: it is easier to cool the mash tun with cold water than to heat it up if you miss your initial rest temperature. The majority of starch to sugar conversion happens within the first 15-20 minutes of hitting saccharification temperatures. Always monitor the mash temp using the included hand held thermometer by placing it through the hole in the sparge plate when the lid is closed or by sticking it directly into the core of the mash with the lid open. The front thermometer will not read accurately once the initial resting temp is hit unless the mash is stirred around the thermometer. Taking a reading from the center of the mash always gives you a more accurate reading.
After 45-60 minutes in the mash tun, it is time to start recirculating the mash which is also referred to as vorlauf. The definition of the term vorlauf originated from Germany and literally means "fore-run". Recirculating the mash allows the small grain particles, husks, and fines that have made their way through the false bottom to be transferred back onto the top of the mash. This process helps develop the filter bed and will help to keep the majority of the grain particles from being transferred into your boil kettle during the sparging process. The amount of time that you will need to recirculate will vary from batch to batch. The best way to tell if recirculation is complete is to continually monitor the clarity and amount of grain particles going back into the mash tun. This can take anywhere from 5-15 minutes. When the runnings start to look clear or at least less cloudy than the beginning of vorlauf, it is time to begin collecting wort. Typically an all barley grist will require less recirculation than beers made with wheat, rye, oats, or other adjuncts. Be sure to recirculate slowly and avoid surging or stopping during this time.
This is accomplished by connecting the supplied tubing (36” length for the 15 gallon system and 42” length on the 26 gallon model) to the output valve on the mash tun to the inlet of the left pump. Take the other 6’ length of tubing and connect one end to the output valve on the pump and route the other end upwards through the kettle handle and into the circular opening on top of the mash tun lid, hitting the sparge plate attached to the kettle lid.
Completely open the valve on the mash tun so that the flow of liquid is unrestricted to the inlet valve of the pump. Next slowly open the output valve on the pump until it is fully open and allow the liquid to pass through the output valve to prime the pump and remove any air pockets within the line. Now close only the output valve of the pump. The pump is now primed and may be turned on.
Turn the pump on, and slowly open the output valve on the pump until the desired flow rate is obtained. An ideal recirculating and sparging speed is 1-2 gallons per minute (GPM). It is best if the recirculation speed matches the sparging rate to avoid disrupting the filter bed that was created during recirculation. Always adjust the flow rate of the pumps with the output valve on the pump. The main purpose of recirculating is to establish a good filter bed while clearing the wort of small particles of grain and husks that make their way through the false bottom This will help to keep most of the grain fines from being transferred into the boil kettle during the lautering process. This can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Once the majority of particles have made their way back into the top of the mash tun and the wort starts to clear up, it is time to start the lauter.
Begin the lautering process by closing the output valve of the left pump and moving the hose from the mash tun lid over to the boil kettle. Place the tubing so that it passes through the boil kettle handle and up into the boil kettle. Place the supplied tubing (36” length for the 15 gallon system and 42” length on the 26 gallon model) on the output valve of the hot liquor tank to the inlet of the right pump. Now take the 6’ length of tubing that is connected to the output valve of the right pump and insert into the opening of the mash tun lid sparge plate so that it is secure. Now that all of the hoses are in place you can begin adding hot water (sparging) to the mash tun. Ideal temperature for sparge water is 170°-175°F, not exceeding 180°F.
Once the pumps are primed and turned on, start by slowly opening the output valve of the left pump so that the wort starts to flow into the boil kettle. Be sure to use the same flow rate of 1-2 GPM for both vessels/pumps. You will need to match the flow rate of incoming sparge water by slowly opening the right pump outlet valve. Periodically lift up the mash tun lid to make sure that the level of liquid in the tun is staying consistent and that you keep at least an inch or two of water over the grain bed (depending on grist composition).
This type of sparging process, when sparge water is added to the mash at the same rate as it is being transferred into the boil kettle, is commonly known as fly sparging. Among homebrewers and particularly on forums, there is another method of sparging known as 'batch sparging'. This is when the mash tun is completely drained of liquid and transferred into the boil kettle without adding hot sparge water simultaneously. After the mash is drained, enough hot water top reach the desired boil volume is added back to the mash and stirred up. A second recirculation follows before collecting the remainder of the wort in the boil kettle.
We have found that fly sparging on the Pro-Pilot system yields the highest efficiency, takes less time, and overall makes better beer. As you are sparging, be sure to monitor the temperature of the mash using both a hand held thermometer and the thermometer on the kettle. The temperature should slowly start to rise in the mash tun encouraging the sugars to rinse easily from the grains. Adjust the sparge water temperature up or down as needed. As soon as the Boil Braid Hop Strainer is submersed, light the boil kettle burner and gently apply heat to the boil kettle while sparging. With proper timing, it should start to come to a boil shortly after hitting the desired pre-boil volume in the boil kettle.
Once you have collected around 50% of your desired volume in the boil kettle using the fly sparging method, close the pump outlet valve of the incoming strike water in to the mash tun and allow the water level to drop. The idea is to collect the desired pre-boil volume in the boil kettle while draining the mash tun of most of its liquid. This not only provides greater efficiency, but will also make getting the mash out of the tun easier.
An advanced technique is to expose the grain bed before the initial sparge, letting the liquid drop 1-2" below the top of the grain bed. Then add sparge water until the liquid is 1-2" above the top of the grain bed, and again wait until the liquid is below the top of grain bed before adding more sparge water. This 'pushes' the more dense wort down through the mash into the boil kettle rather than slowly diluting with sparge water. There is a greater risk of a stuck mash and running the pump dry with this technique, so be careful and pay close attention when following this method.
A good trick for getting the last drop of wort out is by pushing hot water through the lines and into the boil kettle. The same technique can be used to rinse the lines going from the boil kettle, through the heat exchanger and into the fermenters at the end of the brewing session. Once you have the desired volume in the boil kettle be sure to turn off the pumps.
The boil time for most recipes will vary from 60 to 90 minutes depending on style, volume collected during lautering, and other special ingredients. Keep an eye on the kettle as the wort comes up to a boil to prevent and manage boil overs. During the boil, hops are added for bitterness, flavor, and aroma. In general, boil length and hop variety will determine the amount of bitterness, flavor, and aroma contributed by the hops. The longer the boil length, the more bitterness will be achieved, while shorter boil lengths will provide more flavor and aroma. The hop schedule will vary from batch to batch, so be ready at the onset of boil for the first hop addition. Once you have reached a rolling boil start a countdown timer for the desired boil time. Follow the hop schedule and add hops at the required times.
When there is around 10-15 minutes left of the boil, it is time to add kettle coagulants (Irish Moss, Whirlfloc, etc.) and create a whirlpool by stirring consistently in the same direction. This helps to coagulate proteins, hops, grain particles, etc. to the center of the boil kettle and to keep them out of the strainer, heat exchanger, and fermenters. When all of the hops have been added and the boil is complete, turn off the burner and allow the whirlpool to slow (sometimes as much as 10 min). It’s now time to chill the wort using the heat exchanger.
This step is crucially important and drastically improves the quality of beer when done correctly. Be sure that you have cleaned, sanitized, and prepared the heat exchanger and lines thoroughly prior to cooling the wort. Connect the short piece of tubing (16.5” for the 15 gallon model and 19.5” for the 26 gallon model) to the outlet of the right pump and the inlet of the heat exchanger. Use a 6’ piece of tubing connected to the outlet of the heat exchanger to transfer wort to the fermenter.
It is good practice to circulate sanitizer through the tubing and heat exchanger with the pump while boiling the wort so that everything is ready to go at the end of the boil. It is best to leave sanitizer in the lines, pump, and heat exchanger until the last minute. Remove by pushing wort through the pump and lines and discarding the fluid until pure wort starts coming out of the line. Make sure that the heat exchanger is hooked up correctly to the cooling water supply and verify that the cooling water is passing through the heat exchanger and is coming out unrestricted.
Chill it out! Fully open the outlet valve on the boil kettle so that the flow of liquid is unrestricted to the inlet valve of the pump. Next slowly open the output valve of the pump and allow the pump to prime and flow fluid through the lines and then close the valve. Now that the pump is primed you can turn the power to the pump on and slowly start to open the output valve of the pump allowing all of the sanitizer to be pushed through the lines to drain. Once the sanitizer is drained and wort is flowing through the lines, begin filling the fermenter.
Using the hand-held thermometer, constantly monitor the temperature of wort going to the fermenters by running the wort over the thermometer probe. Most ales require a fermentation temperature of 60-70°F. If the temperature is too cold, open the outlet valve of the pump to allow the wort to flow faster. If it is too hot, slowly close the outlet valve of the pump to slow the flow and reduce temperature. To get the last bit of liquid out of the boil kettle, gently tilt the kettle toward the outlet valve so the liquid is able to drain out completely.
Nice work… the hard stuff is done at this point. It’s probably time for another beer. Verify that the overall fermenter temperature is within range and then add the yeast into the fermenter. Close the fermenter and aerate the wort well. This can be accomplished by shaking, agitating, sloshing, rocking, etc. This churns and splashes the wort around inside fermenter infusing it with oxygen which is very important for the yeast. You can also use an aeration pump in combination with a sintered stone to oxygenate as well. Be sure to follow the recipe’s fermentation temperatures, schedule and conditioning procedures.
This is another juncture where art meets science. Sometimes referred to as alchemy or just plain magic, fermentation is the process by which yeast turns wort into beer. Yeast and fermentation tend to be the most overlooked pieces by novice brewers, although, arguably, they are the most important. Remember: Yeast makes beer. We as brewers simply create and (attempt to) control the environment for yeast to ferment successfully and completely. Volumes have been written on yeast and what happens during fermentation. ( by Chris White with Jamil Zainasheff is a really good one.) Rather than trying to fully explain what is a highly variable and complex process, here are a few key components to consider on every batch: yeast choice/pitch rate, wort composition/nutrients, oxygenation, and fermentation temperature.
There are numerous yeast strains available for the home brewer today, all of which will contribute different flavors, aromas, and body to a finished beer. When choosing yeast, take into consideration the desired flavor and sensory profile of the finished beer. Whether it finishes dry or sweet, emphasizes malt or hop character, different flocculation characteristics, attenuation, ester profiles, alcohol tolerance, etc. Yeast selection will have a profound effect on the final beer. A great demonstration of this is to ferment the same base wort with different yeast strains and taste them side by side. For example, make 10 gallons of wort, divide into two carboys, and pitch two different yeast strains. We recommend using Wyeast brand yeast.
The amount of yeast added to the fermenter is also important. There are numerous calculators, recommendations, regimens and instructions available to grow and culture yeast. Whether making a starter or simply buying more packages of liquid or dry yeast, ensure that there are enough yeast to successfully and completely ferment the wort. Pay particular attention to original gravity, yeast strain (some varieties simply need a higher pitch rate), wort composition (highly hopped beers, adjunct beers, herbs, spices, fruits, etc.), and temperature when calculating the proper pitch rate. We like the calculator at www.mrmalty.com. Otherwise, follow the instructions on the package of yeast.
Wort composition will also play a role in yeast selection and fermentation quality. Primarily, this has to do with types and quantities of fermentable sugars. High gravity beers may require a different type of yeast to completely ferment, or it may simply require a greater amount. If using a high proportion of adjuncts or different sugar sources (honey, refined sugars), nutrients may need to be added to maintain yeast health and performance. Nutrients are typically added with a yeast starter or at the end of the boil.
Oxygen level in the wort is incredibly important during the first phase of fermentation: yeast growth. Oxygen is the limiting factor for yeast cell wall synthesis, meaning without enough oxygen, yeast growth will cease and may lead to under attenuation or off flavors in the finished beer. Shaking, splashing, pouring between containers, aquarium pumps or pure oxygen with stainless steel air stones are all ways to aerate the wort. Ideally, only aerate wort that is below 80°F and before pitching yeast.
Temperature is a critical flavor component during fermentation. Beyond the simple ale/lager distinctions of warm versus cool fermentation, and the preferred ranges based on a particular yeast strain, minute variations in temperature can have drastic flavor impacts. For example, an English strain fermented at 60°F will taste much different than the same beer and the same yeast fermented at 68°F. Sometimes a variation of as little as 2°F during active primary fermentation will have drastic flavor effects.
Racking is the process of transferring from one fermentation vessel to another clean and sanitized vessel. Each fermentation is a unique and individual occurrence, so there will never be a right way, right time, or black and white answer to many of the ‘how long’ questions. Much like grilling and smoking meats or cooking rice, it’s easier to describe what completion looks like than falsely claim it will be done in 10 min, 10 days, 10 weeks, etc.
Rack the beer after primary fermentation is complete. Usually this is between 7-10 days for a healthy fermentation, but we recommend waiting to transfer until 14 days after fermentation has begun. Yeast will begin to flocculate (drop out of solution) and reprocess off-flavors produced during fermentation given some extra contact time. The best way to guarantee completion is to take hydrometer readings. In general, if the hydrometer reading is consistent over 3 days, the beer is close to terminal gravity and can be transferred.
Always transfer fermented products gently so as to avoid oxidation. This means: do not splash, gurgle, pour, agitate, or do anything that may introduce air and oxygen to the fermenter or the beer. Use a siphon with long enough tubing to reach to the bottom side of the vessel, or better yet, use the Uni-Fermenter and transfer using pressure. As soon as the yeast is added and fermentation is underway, oxygen becomes the brewer’s enemy by staling flavor, potentially producing off-flavors, decreasing shelf life, and generally deteriorating the overall quality of beer.
Depending on the style and gravity, the beer may need to be transferred multiple times to achieve the desired clarity. Racking can help increase flocculation and provides valuable conditioning time for flavors to meld and develop in high gravity, sour, lager, or experimental beers.
Rack the beer to prepare for the desired package. This can be into a bottling bucket with priming sugar, or directly into a keg. Use the proper amount of priming sugar for the final volume of beer, not the original volume or batch size. If kegging and force carbonating, refer to a carbonation chart to decide what pressure to set the CO2 regulator depending on the temperature of the beer and the desired volumes of carbonation. Click here to learn more about carbonation.
The information, techniques, and processes regarding human interaction and dependency on fermentation are copious to say the least. It’s easy to be daunted and get wide-eyed thinking about all of the options and possibilities. However, like most of the worthwhile endeavors in life, it’s better to dive in and learn by doing than obsess over the perfect . . . well, anything. Understand that mistakes will be made and learn from them. There are many variables to control, and it typically takes a couple of iterations to even learn what those variables are, let alone find a way to control them. Take good notes, don’t overreact, and use ingenuity to make use of what is available to create the most flavorful fermentations. Finally, have fun! This is a hobby right? No need to stress about beer.