Brewing yeast strains are unicellular fungi that convert simple sugars into approximately equal parts of alcohol and carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. There are two main types of beer yeast varieties: saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is a top fermenting ale yeast, and saccharomyces pastorianusis, a bottom fermenting lager yeast.
A wide selection of home brewing ale and lager yeast can be found here:
Wort is the name given to the sugar rich liquid that is extracted from the mash prior to fermentation. Prior to the boil, when the hops have not yet bittered the wort, it is known as sweet wort. After the boil but prior to fermentation, it is known as bitter wort since the beta acids from the hops have imparted a bitter flavor upon it.
A photo of sweet wort being transferred from the mash tun to the boil kettle after sparging had completed:
Wort (unfermented beer) being transferred after sparging.
Whirlpooling is the process of separating the trub from the wort by utilizing centrifugal force to confine the trub to the center of the kettle so the wort can be drawn off without disturbing the trub cone. Whirlpooling can be achieved by quickly moving the wort in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion until a vortex begins to form in the center of the kettle. Once the vortex has formed, the trub will begin collecting and settling into the center of the kettle, forming a cone as the spinning wort forces the denser particulates towards the center. It is important to allow 15 to 20 minutes for the cone to form before drawing the wort from the kettle. If you are using an immersion chiller, you would want to chill the wort prior to whirlpooling and then draw the wort out slowly as not to disturb to trub cone.
Photo of a 20 gallon boil kettle after the boil had completed and the wort had been whirlpooled and much of the wort had been drawn off.
Vorlauf comes from the German word for mash recirculation. Vorlauf is the process of pulling the wort from the base of the mash tun or lauter tun and recirculating it back on to the top of the grain bed. Vorlauf typically occurs after the end of the mashing process. As the hot wort is recirculated through the grain bed of the mash, the grains act as a particle filter, clearing the wort. As the wort is recirculating, it becomes cleaner and less turbid until finally it is clear and ready to be passed to the boiling vessel. A pump is typically used to recirculate the wort at a steady and controlled pace. In the case where a home brewer does not have a pump available, the wort may be drawn into a container and slowly poured back on top of the grain bed. This process can be repeated until the wort has become clear. Additionally, rice hulls may be added to a mash as a means of boosting the filtration capability of the grain bed.
Wort recirculating in the mash tun prior to being transferred to the boil kettle:
Turbidity is haziness or cloudiness in beer or wort. It is caused by the suspension of particulate matter in the fluid. In order to remove the turbidity of wort in the mash or lauter tun, it is recommended that you recirculate the wort over the grain bed, which will act as a particle filter. Recirculation is a great method of clearing the wort prior to sending it to the boil kettle.
Top fermentation, or top fermenting, describes the tendency of ale yeast cells to conduct the majority of fermentation on the surface of the fermentation vessel as opposed to the bottom, as is common with lager yeast. Top fermenting ale yeast is typically fermented at a temperature range between 65° F and 75° F; the lower the temperature, the slower the fermentation is carried out.
Excessive fermentation temperatures have been known to generate off flavors in beer, and that is why a temperature range of 65° F to 75° F is typically recommended. When a top fermenting ale is most active, a thick head of foam known as a krausen forms on the top of the fermentation vessel and will subside as the fermentation draws to an end. The length of fermentation is dependent on the health of the yeast, the original gravity of the wort, the temperature of the fermentation and the amount of yeast pitched, but typically takes anywhere from one week to three weeks for the majority of fermentation activity to complete. A secondary fermentation is oftentimes conducted so that any remaining fermentable sugars can be converted to alcohol, and the beer can condition and allow the yeast to precipitate to the bottom of the fermenter in preparation for bottling or kegging.
Below is a photo of a top fermenting ale that was recently transferred to a secondary fermentation carboy.
Tannins are organic compounds found in the husks’ grains. Excessive tannins are almost always considered to be a flaw in beers and are interpreted as a harsh astringent bitterness or a mouth drying sensation. Excessive tannins are typically caused by too high of a mash pH or excessive temperatures during mash out or sparging. Tannin extraction is dramatically increased when mashing or sparge water temperatures exceed 170° F. Please also note that as the lautering and sparge process comes to a finish, the pH of a mash is increasing, which compounds the potential for tannin extraction. In addition to the off flavors created by tannins, they can also be significant contributors to chill haze in a beer. Hops release tannins into beer, but the hop tannins are not considered to be significant contributors off flavors or chill haze.
Ways of removing excess tannins from beer including cold crashing, or cold conditioning the beer at approximately 34° F for two or more weeks. That should cause some of the excess tannins and proteins to precipitate out of the beer onto the bottom of the fermenter or conditioning vessel. You may also use a beer a beer fining agent such as gelatin or isinglass to help clear the tannins.
Step infusion is a beer mashing method where differing temperatures and quantities of water are infused in the mash tun from the hot liquor tank at specific intervals or steps in the mash process to control sugar conversion and extraction.
Recirculation is the process of pulling the wort from the base of the mash tun or lauter tun and recirculating it back on to the top of the grain bed. Recirculation typically occurs after the end of the mashing process. As the hot wort is recirculated through the grain bed of the mash, the grains act as a particle filter clearing the wort. As the wort is recirculating, it becomes cleaner and less turbid until finally it is clear and ready to be passed to the boiling vessel.
A pump is typically used to recirculate the wort at a steady and controlled pace. In the case where a home brewer does not have a pump available, the wort may be drawn into a container and slowly poured back on top of the grain bed. The process can be repeated until the wort has become clear. Additionally, rice hulls may be added to a mash as a means of boosting the filtration capability of the grain bed.
A wide selection of home brewing recirculation pumps can be found here:
Sparging is a brewing process that involves passing heated water through the grain bed of a mash to extract sugars from the crushed grains and adjuncts. Sparging is typically conducted at approximately 167° F to 170° F; if the temperature exceeds 170° F, the brewer risks extracting excessive amounts of tannins from the grains. If the temperature is too low, then the sparge will be ineffective at liquefying the remaining converted sugars from the grains. While the sparge water passes from the hot liquor tank to the mash tun, or lauter tun, via a sparge arm, the extracted sugars and water are being drained from the base of the vessel and relocated to the boil kettle in preparation for to upcoming boil.
This mash is being sparged at 168° F, while the beer is being transferred from the false bottom at the base of the mash tun over to the boil kettle.
Sparging in the mash tun, while wort is transferred to the boil kettle.
Beer sediment is the collection of solids that fall out suspension of a fermenting or conditioning beer. Sediment is mostly comprised of yeast, grain solids, hop solids, and adjunct solids. As the beer ferments or conditions, the dense solids fall and settle to the floor of a fermenter, conditioning vessel, or bottle, in the case of a bottle conditioned beer. The sediment is typically discarded, but if the yeast is still healthy, it may be recycled from the sediment to be used to ferment future beers.
Pitching or yeast pitching is the term used for when a brewer adds yeast to the cooled wort to begin the fermentation process. Yeast should be pitched to the wort as quickly as possible to diminish the possibility of wild yeast strains or bacteria taking control of the sweet wort before your selected yeast has the opportunity to. Additionally, your pitched yeast should be as close to the same temperature as the wort that you are adding it to in order to avoid shocking the yeast and to help the yeast acclimate as quickly as possible and lower yeast lag time. It is critical that your wort is in an appropriate temperature range for the yeast to be able to survive and thrive; for most ales that temperature range is between 65° and 80° F for pitching, but you should always consult your yeast’s packing for the specific temperature range of the variety you are using.
Cooled wort being aerated, just prior to having the yeast pitched.
Yeast pitching and aeration just prior to fermentation.