Experimental Brewing – Chapter 1 – The Basics

Authors’ Note: Way back in the Spring of 2013, we were approached to write a book titled Experimental Homebrewing that would “Out Randy” Randy Mosher’s wonderfully crazy Radical Brewing. Quickly, we decided that it was a practical impossibility to achieve that goal. Instead, we pivoted to focus on the word “Experimental” and what it means. Drew was the outlandish one; Denny, the practical digger of how things worked in his brewery and for his tastes. It took us over a year and three editors to pull this book together. (Many thanks to Thom O’Hearn for dragging us across the finish line!)

Experimental Homebrewing is now approaching a decade old and is out of print, we’ve decided to bring the book online over the course of the year in celebration of that crazy decade with annotations! Please note: you can still find used or never sold copies of the book (We’re still partial to having a physical book in hand for practical purposes!)


BEFORE YOU START RUNNING AROUND all wild-eyed, we need to discuss our basics. Everyone brews a little differently. In this chapter, we’ll outline the all-important standards that apply to all the recipes in this book. Also, since we’ve brewed hundreds and hundreds of batches, we’ll share our recommendations for all-grain, extract, and even brew-in-a-bag brew days. (Right down to the music playing while we brew.)

What follows is just a brewing précis, not a complete in-depth tutorial of homebrewing. (For that, we encourage you to check out The Everything Homebrewing Book by Drew Beechum or John Palmer’s How to Brew.) Fortunately for humanity, beer happens. There’s very little that you can do to completely mess up. Malted barley wants to become beer. As long as you get your beer started, it will get itself the rest of the way. Will it be the perfect little gem that you have in your head? Maybe not, but it will be beer!



In this book, we want to give you techniques that will help you decide for yourself what ingredients and processes work for you and how you want to brew. But for our recipes, we have to start with some basic assumptions. Here are the ones we’re going to use as a baseline:

  • Recipes are written for all grain brewing. If you want to brew with extract, we recommend substituting dry malt extract (DME) for the base malt (use an online calculator for adjustments based on what you’re using and the recipe).
  • Most recipes assume a 5.5-gallon batch at 75 percent efficiency. If your batch size or efficiency are different, be sure to adjust grain amounts accordingly.
  • Unless the recipe states otherwise, it assumes you’ll be mashing with a ratio of 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain, batch sparging, and performing a full boil for 60 minutes.
  • Even though we specify whole or pellet hops, feel free to use whichever you have that are good quality.
  • Pellet hops are assumed to get 10 percent better utilization than whole hops. Therefore, use 10 percent fewer hops when substituting pellet hops for whole. If you’re subbing whole for pellets, use 10 percent more.
  • Recipes assume the IBU contributed from first wort hopping is counted as a 20-minute hop addition.
  • For the best utilization of hops, wait until the hot break subsides, then add bittering hops and start your timing.
  • All hop IBU calculations in this book are done using the Tinseth formula.
  • If the alpha acid of the hops you have is different from what we listed, use the alpha acid units (AAU) method to substitute: multiply the alpha acid (AA) of the hops by the amount used. For example: 1 ounce of 5 percent AA hops gives you 5 AAU (1 x 5 = 5). If the hops you have are 4 percent, then you need 1.25 ounces (1.25 x 4 = 5). Use this substitution for any hops that will contribute to bitterness (up to the 15-minute addition). After 15-minutes, you can simply substitute ounce for ounce for similar flavor and aroma contributions.
  • Yeast options are changing rapidly for today’s brewer, but a lot of our recipes are built around familiar strains that we’ve used from Wyeast (WY) and White Labs (WLP) yeast companies. These will be specified with the company’s yeast number and name, such as “WY1056 American Ale.” Feel free to play around and substitute your favorite similar yeast in the recipes, keeping in mind that a different yeast can dramatically alter a recipe.
  • Unless otherwise noted in the experiments, we insist on good yeast health. That means make a starter, rehydrate dry yeast, or use a yeast slurry from a previous batch. Treat your yeast right to get great beer!
  • Many of the experiments in Chapter 10 call for a batch of our California Magnum Blonde (page 27). Feel free to substitute the base malt in the recipe or use a recipe of your choosing as long as the beer itself stays simple.
  • Read through the experiments carefully before you begin. Some of the techniques and experiments in this book may require equipment not in your normal brew-day arsenal.


Some brewers like fancy gear and shiny stainless steel. But sometimes in all that gear lust, brewers overlook the fact that they’re making beer . . . the equipment is just a tool. If you’re the type who enjoys building equipment as much as using it, more power to you! We won’t tell you you’re wrong. However, it’s important to realize that you can make great-tasting, award-winning beers without all that stuff. Both of us use minimal equipment compared to some home brewers. Don’t let the lack of fancy gear keep you from brewing and experimenting.

Starting on page 16, we’ll go into more detail about our individual brew days. However, all the work of brewing is encapsulated in the few steps that follow.

You Will Need

  • Mash tun
  • Pot for heating water (at least 6 gallons for a 5-gallon batch)
  • Pot for boiling wort (can be the same as the one for heating water—at least 8 gallons for a 5-gallon batch)
  • Thermometer
  • Spoon
  • Heat source (propane or natural gas burner or stove)
  • Wort chiller
  • Sanitizer
  • Fermenter
  • Assorted airlocks and tubing
  • Your ingredients, including yeast


  1. Crush your barley and other grain if it’s not already crushed. Crush it enough to crack the kernels without shredding the husk. Crush till you’re scared!
  2. For most beers, mash your grain in 1.25 quarts of 164°F water per pound for 60 minutes. (The temperature will drop to about 152°F once you mix the water with the grain.) 1.25 quarts per pound doesn’t have to be an exact figure. Feel free to round up to an even number.
  3. Recirculate some of the liquid through the grain bed until it runs clear, then run off the liquid into your kettle.
  4. After you run off your mash, measure how much wort you have in your kettle. Subtract that from the amount you want to boil. (You’ll usually need to boil around 6–7 gallons for a 5-gallon batch. It will depend on your own equipment, and you’ll have to determine the exact amount through experience.) The answer you get is how much sparge water to use. Sparge by infusing your grain with that amount of 180°F water. Recirculate and run off like you did for the mash. Go ahead and heat up a little more than you think you’ll use. Extra hot water always comes in handy on brew day.
  5. Boil the combined runnings in your kettle for 60 minutes, adding hops according to the recipe. (Note that some recipes call for adding first wort hops, which would be added in step 3.)
  6. Chill the wort and transfer it to a cleaned and sanitized fermenter. Pitch your yeast and aerate.
  7. Ferment and condition for 2 to 3 weeks. For most yeast strains, keep the temperature in the mid-60°s F.
  8. Rack to a keg or bottling bucket and package. (Keep your bottles at room temperature for a couple of weeks to let them carbonate.) Drink your beer!


Traditional extract recipes have advised brewers to bring their water to a boil, turn off the heat, stir in the extract until dissolved, and bring to a full boil for 60 minutes. This advice is modeled on what all-grain brewers do. Just as we shouldn’t expect professional brewing techniques to apply to homebrewing, we shouldn’t expect that things all-grain brewers do make sense when using extract.

That’s why we recommend that you add a small portion (13) of the extract when your water comes to a boil. This helps change the water’s chemistry for hop utilization. Then when the boil is almost done (10 minutes left), add the remaining extract so that it will dissolve and become sanitized. Why? The extract you’re adding has already been boiled and concentrated once. There’s no sense in boiling it again, caramelizing the sugars, darkening your beer, increasing your wort gravity, and messing up your hop utilization just because that’s how all-grain brewers do it.

And for all the all-grain folks out there, don’t look down your nose at extract brewing. Know why your extract beers sucked? It’s because you were a new brewer who didn’t know what you were doing. For experimentation, extract batches can even be preferable when you want to save time or have increased control over the mashed fermentables.

You Will Need

  • Pot for heating water and boiling (at least 8 gallons for a 5-gallon batch)
  • Measuring cup or pitcher with volume marks
  • Large bowl
  • Colander or strainer
  • Cheesecloth
  • Thermometer
  • Spoon
  • Heat source (propane or natural gas burner or stove)
  • Wort chiller or ice bath
  • Sanitizer
  • Fermenter
  • Assorted airlocks and tubing
  • Your ingredients, including yeast


  1. Heat 3 quarts of water to 170°F. Pour the water over your steeping grains in a large bowl, making sure the grains are fully submerged, and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Pour the grains and water through a colander lined with cheesecloth into your boil kettle.
  3. Rinse the grains with another 3 quarts of 170°F water, letting the water pass through into your boil kettle.
  4. Top off the kettle with filtered water until it is filled with 6 gallons. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  5. Take your pot off the heat and add 13 of your extract. Stir to dissolve.
  6. Bring the liquid back to a boil for 60 minutes, adding hops as you go. When you have 10 minutes left, add the remaining extract. Again, take the pot off the heat and stir to dissolve.
  7. Chill the wort and transfer to a cleaned and sanitized fermenter. Pitch your yeast and aerate.
  8. Ferment and condition for 2 to 3 weeks. For most yeast strains, keep the temperature in the mid-60°sF.
  9. Rack to a keg or bottling bucket and package. (Keep your bottles at room temperature for a couple of weeks to let them carbonate.) Drink your beer!


You will undoubtedly find there are times you want to do an experiment to see what happens, and you don’t want 5 gallons of beer gone wrong if you happen to make the wrong assumptions. Or maybe you want to compare two techniques with side-by-side mashes, but you don’t have the space or equipment to conduct two mashes for 5 gallons each of finished beer.

While 5-gallon batches have long been the most popular size amongst homebrewers, there’s been a bit of a sea change lately. It turns out that even the equipment for a 5-gallon batch can be a bit cumbersome if you’re living in a shared apartment with someone who doesn’t want the whole space dominated by brewing gear. (Why beer equipment isn’t considered a valid decoration option, we’ll never understand!) Thanks to suppliers like Brooklyn Brew Shop, 1-gallon brewing has grown in popularity and now serves as a gentle introduction to brewing for folks tight on space, time, and money. Of course, it’s also great for experimentation!

Drew: Seriously, if you had told me a few years ago that a number of brewers were going to be homebrewing in 1-gallon batches, I would have thought you crazy. It takes close to the same amount of time as a 5-gallon batch, and who wouldn’t want to make fifty bottles of beer instead of ten? But recent history has shown that for a lot of brewers, 1 gallon is a great way to start!

Working all grain at the 1-gallon batch size is similar in some ways to extract brewing: use a small pot, run the grains into the liquid, strain, rinse, and go. That means this is the perfect situation for using the brew in a bag (BIAB) method. While it can be cumbersome for larger batches, BIAB is perfect when you want to brew multiple 1-gallon batches for side-by-side experiments. Not only that, but since you probably started brewing by steeping grains in a bag, you already know how to do it!

You Will Need

  • 3- to 5-gallon stockpot
  • 1 nylon or fabric grain sack
  • 1 thermometer
  • 1 stainless-steel spoon
  • Colander that fits across your pot
  • 1-gallon glass jug
  • Your ingredients, including yeast


  1. Transfer the grains you want to mash into the bag.
  2. Place the bag into 2 gallons of 162°F hot water, open the bag, and mix the grains to ensure even wetting. Hold it at your mash temperature for the desired amount of time. (Normally that would be 60 minutes, but this a great way to experiment with the length of the mash. How easy is that? You can even have a beer while you wait!) Just as with extract, you can hold your temperature in a pot on your stove, in the oven, or in a small cooler.
  3. After your mash time is up, remove the bag from the water, place it in a strainer across your pot or cooler, and allow it to drain. Once you’ve collected approximately 1.5 gallons of wort, you’re ready to go.
  4. Treat this like any other beer during the boil, but remember to make sure you’ve compensated with enough wort to deal with the boil-off. Your boil-off rate is not dependent on the amount of liquid, but on the size of the pot and the vigor of your stove.
  5. Unless you have a pint-size chiller (and making one would be easy), you can cool your wort by immersing the pot in a sink full of cold water and ice. Stir the wort occasionally with a sanitized spoon and wait for the temperature to drop below 70°F. Transfer to your fermenter and pitch and ferment as normal.

Note: Just because you’re dealing with a smaller batch doesn’t mean that you can be footloose with your sanitation practices. Actually, working in a smaller volume with new or repurposed gear makes sanitation even more important. Any small growth will quickly overwhelm the flavor of your wee batch.


Though we live 884 miles apart and didn’t influence each other’s brewing habits in the formative stages, we both settled on remarkably similar processes. A word of warning: neither of us is a huge automation gearhead. We’ll talk about some of the stuff that we’ve been playing with starting on page 53, but for the most part, both of us are old-fashioned, hands-on brewers. We’re just process and recipe geeks. Also, keep in mind that what follows is just the way that we usually brew. It’s not the only way to brew. We’ll even cover other techniques throughout the book—some that we use and some that our IGORs (independent group of researchers) use.


Good brew days start a few nights ahead with the creation of a yeast starter. You can make wort for starters as needed using a standard formula of 0.75 ounces of dry malt extract per 1 cup of water— about 2–3 quarts is a good size for most beers. Cool and empty the wort into a 1-gallon glass jug and set it onto a stir plate for 48–72 hours. The starters then go into the fridge for 1–3 days so that the yeast drops out and the spent wort can be easily poured off.

Drew: To save time, I make wort for starters months in advance and pressure-can it in Mason jars. I keep it on the shelf until I need it, then pop the lid off and proceed as usual. (As a bonus, the pressure cooker becomes a focal point for my nosy neighbors, who are convinced I’m making moonshine or cooking meth.) See page 000 for a how-to.

There are a few other things you may or may not want to do the night before you brew. Making sure your gear is accessible and ready to go is always a good idea. You can weigh out and mill your grains. You can filter or use Campden tablets to purify your water. You can fill your hot liquor tank as well. (See page 159 for more on filtering and treating your water.)


On the morning of brew day, things start with the water. If you didn’t filter it or otherwise treat it the night before, now is the time to do so. Fill up your hot liquor tank and heat the water to 12°F–14°F higher than your target mash temperature. At some point during this whole process, make sure to get comfortable. Turn on some music, light some incense for the brew gods, and so on.

Denny: For me, the mash tun is usually a blue 48-quart cooler with a stainless-steel braid from a toilet supply line inside it and an inexpensive nylon valve and a piece of tubing on the outside. You can learn how to build it on page 60.

I will sometimes use a 70- or 152-quart cooler mash tun for large, high-gravity batches. My soundtrack is anything but the Grateful Dead. (Surprising, I know!)

Drew: For me, the mash tun varies. If it’s a standard-strength brew, it gets mashed in a 72-quart blue cooler. If it’s a bigger beer or a bigger batch, I use a massive 150-quart cooler that doubles as a hot tub. I also use a braid, but it’s a big and beefy thing made of military-grade shielded communication cables found in a scrap yard. Oh . . . and I usually play something bluesy or maybe some Jimmy Buffett.


After the grain sits in hot water for 60–90 minutes, it’s time to draw off the first batch of wort. Start with the valve just barely cracked and run the wort into a pitcher, a pan, or whatever container works for you. When the wort looks fairly free of pieces of grain, direct the runoff to your kettle and gently pour what you’ve collected in your pitcher back over the top of the mash. When all the wort has been run off from your mash tun, pour the sparge water into the tun all at once, stir well, and then vorlauf. (That’s running wort into a pitcher and pouring it back into the tun.) Again, once the wort is free of grain pieces, direct the runoff to your boil kettle. And yes, that’s really all there is to it.

This method is called batch sparging, and it is a radical departure from more traditional methods used in brewing. It’s simpler, and it’s easy to use at homebrewer volumes. Look at traditional fly sparging. You fiddle with flow rates in and out of the mash tun. You aim to keep the rinse water just above the level of the grain bed until that magic moment when you’ve added the precise amount of water to perfectly reach your needed kettle volume. You need to keep track of the pH or specific gravity of your runnings to be sure you don’t get an astringent beer. Any extra water added to the mash tun results in waste or over diluted wort that must be boiled longer to reach your targets.

Drew: This point, I think, reflects a truth about homebrewing. Not everything that professional brewers do is appropriate or necessary at our volumes. Similarly, the resounding cry for many homebrewers turned pro is that it is nothing like homebrewing. In other words, put down your “but that’s not how the pros do it!” argument. Realize that there are many valuable lessons that the homebrewer can take away from the pros, but dogmatic adherence to processes so far outscaled from our needs can be foolhardy.

Denny: Wow, did he say “outscaled?” Whatever . . . Drew is exactly right. Of course there is basic science that affects both homebrewing and commercial brewing, but the vast difference in scale means that the science is sometimes applied differently or may not be applicable at all in one case or the other. Revel in the beauty of being a homebrewer, free from the constraints that commercial brewers labor under. You are free, like a butterfly, like a wild cat, like a beautiful soul floating on the wind . . . okay, too much? Just remember that you don’t have customers to please or a board of directors for whom you need to show a profit. Be a homebrewer! And always keep this mantra in mind: Make the best beer possible with the least effort possible while having the best time possible.

Drew: You’re making fun of me for outscaled and then you become Denny Conn, Beat poet? Dig it, cat!


Once the sparge is complete, it’s time for the boil. The precise means of the boil are not important, but both of us run open-flame boilers outside to prevent kitchen mishaps. Remember your fire safety, folks, and keep a fire extinguisher on hand. If you run an electric brewery, then keep everything grounded and on GFCI circuits.

Both of us do a quick gravity check after the boil starts to determine if we need to adjust hopping rates or boil length to reduce volume or increase gravity. Run a solid boil for 30–90 minutes, depending on your needs. You want some turmoil in the boil, but gushing geysers of wort are a little much. Not only do you run a burn risk, but a boil’s purpose, in part, is to cause the conglomeration of malt proteins into easily removed hot break strands. An overly aggressive boil will form these strands and then break them down!

Drew: I use another mondo braid in my boil kettle and thus avoid having to worry about hot break infiltrating the kettle. Instead, a quick, vigorous whirlpool collects the trub in the center of the kettle, and settling for 20 minutes allows plenty of last-minute “I forgot to clean my fermenter” panic and yields clear wort.

Denny: I use a piece of curved copper tubing for the pickup in the kettle and don’t worry too much about getting hot break in the fermenter. I’m also whirlpool challenged and have never gotten a whirlpool to work. I just run the wort into the fermenter and get on with the cleaning part.

Drew: To chill, I use a two-step chilling rig that runs the wort through a counterflow chiller with tap water cooling before running into an immersion coil sitting in a bucket of ice water.

Denny: On the other hand, I use an immersion chiller with a pump for recirculation. I’m fortunate that the water in my well is a constant 50°F–55°F, so there’s almost never a need for the ice water that Drew needs to use in the southern California climate. The point, regardless of the method, is to rapidly chill and hit a preferred fermentation temperature— say, 65°F. I like to chill to a few degrees below my intended fermentation temperature and let the heat created by fermentation bring it up to fermentation temperature.

Drew: Once the wort cools, it goes into 10-gallon stainless-steel kegs. Then I add about a minute of burbling oxygen from a little portable tank through a sintered stone.

Denny: I use buckets for fermentation and a wine degasser that attaches to a drill to whip air into my wort. I start the fermentation using a blow-off tube, just in case the fermentation gets more vigorous than I expected. After a week or so, I remove the tubing and replace it with an airlock.

From there it’s all fermentation all the time. This is where the biggest lesson of homebrewing is learned: patience. The beer is gonna do what it’s gonna do. All you can do is set up the conditions. But if you do that well, you will be rewarded with high-quality beer in a week or two. If the recipe you use contains a timetable for the beer, look at it as a guideline, not a rule. Learn to commune with your beer and follow its lead. Don’t be afraid to open the fermenter and take a gravity reading, but don’t go crazy doing that, either.

We hope you can see that there’s more than one way to brew at home. Learn what works best for you and what makes your brew day the most enjoyable. How do you do that? Experiment!



    • Sanitation and cleaning:There are times when as a brewer you may feel like a janitor. Get used to it. Keeping your fermentation gear clean and making it sanitary is so important that it cannot be overstressed. Bad sanitation will yield bad beer—maybe not all the time, but often enough to make you sad.
    • Fermentation control: With everything clean and sanitary, you’re free to run wild but, with a few exceptions, you’ll need to worry about the temperatures you’re running at. The difference between beers fermented at proper temperature as opposed to fermented 5°F warmer is astonishing.
    • Yeast: Last in the chain but not least is healthy and happy yeast. For this, a starter or a slug of yeast from a previous batch is absolutely necessary. Some of the world’s best brewers preach the gospel of cell counts and perfect pitches, but that’s a repeatability refinement, not a necessity. I follow a rule of thumb of 1 quart for every 5 gallons of beer below a gravity of 1.070.
    • A note on what’s not in my list: recipe design, mash control, water chemistry, and so on. All of those factors are important for making and remaking your target beer, but beer will still happen without them. And yeah, I’m not huge on repeatability measures; I want more interesting things!


Drew made some good points (maybe he really can brew good beer!) that I’ll briefly echo before I get to my own list:

The guy who introduced me to brewing told me 90 percent of brewing is cleaning. I’ve never measured the exact percentage, but if you don’t want to do the work of cleaning, your beer will tell people that you didn’t do it!

Fermentation temperature control is one of the biggest things you can do to make truly great beer. If you don’t control the fermentation temp, all the delicious ingredients, all the effort you put into designing your equipment, and all the time you spend brewing will be wasted. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a dedicated fridge or freezer. I’ve used the Cheap ’n’ Easy tub of water method (page 65) for hundreds of batches, and it works great.

Pitching the proper amount of healthy yeast is overlooked too often, especially by new brewers. As the old saying goes: Brewers make wort, yeast makes beer. If you want great beer, you need happy yeast.

Now, here are a few other things:

  • Take good notes. Whether things go great or not so great with the beer, it’s important to know and recall what happened so you can do it again—or not! Even if you make recipes digitally, on brew day there’s nothing like a good old spiral notebook and pencil. Take notes on how close you were to hitting temperatures and volumes, what the pH is, and how things look and smell as you brew. When you finally taste it, write down your impressions of the flavor, aroma, and body so that you’ll have a record of how your experiments turned out.
  • Don’t freak out. Inevitably, something won’t go as you planned. Deal with it! Think things through, remember the basics, and figure out how to move on from the screwup. We’ll cover some techniques later to help you correct mistakes. Remember, malted barley wants to become beer.
  • Have fun when you brew. It’s not life or death; it’s beer! Plan your equipment, your schedule, and your techniques so that you have the most enjoyable day you can possibly have when you brew. Whether you’re brewing a small extract batch on the stove or a megabatch on a new stainless rig, make certain that you’re gonna end up standing there on brew day thinking to yourself, “Damn, this has got to be the greatest hobby in the world!” And that’s before you even crack open a beer from a previous batch!

2024 Annotations on The Chapter

Yeast Options Are Changing:
– And boy howdy aren’t they? More dried yeasts, including from some previous liquid only players. The rise of Omega Yeast, Imperial Yeast and Kveik wasn’t even a thing on our radar back then.
– These days, we prefer the “Shaken Not Stirred Starter (SNS)” method outlined here. (Drew still cans wort ahead of time though)
– This is how we brewed back when we wrote the book (and it still works), but since then we’ve both moved to all-in-one systems which really have taken the lessons of BIAB even further. We like the convenience and the automation, but there’s a great many ways of brewing and most can make really good beer! (And Denny still refuses to listen to the Grateful Dead and Drew still listens to Jimmy Buffett *RIP*)
– On the chilling side, both of us have switched to using JaDeD Hydra immersion chillers for their efficiency and ease of use. The other change is we’re both in gylcol chilled conicals now. Dang, we got fancy!