Brew With Us: Here are questions The Seattle Times has received about starting to homebrew, and the answers to those questions.

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Many of our readers started brewing at home this past weekend and their beers are now fermenting. We’ll have another post coming later this week explaining what is happening during fermentation.

In the meantime, we thought we’d share some of the answers to the questions we’ve received about brewing the American pale ale recipe we created. We’ve rounded up our responses below.

Let us know if you have any additional questions and we’ll add them to this post. Email questions to or comment on this post.

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What we’ll accomplish in the weeks ahead Share your beer: Let us know how your brewing project goes and share photos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #brewwithus. We'll feature your stories and photos.


Does the 5-gallon boiling pot need to be sanitized before using?

Nope. Since the wort is boiled, and thus sterilized, you don’t need to worry about sanitizing the pot beforehand. You only need to sanitize equipment that comes into contact with the wort after it has been boiled. Below 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk of infection from unwanted bacteria rises.

What’s the difference between cleaner and sanitizer?

Cleaners are used for anything visible, such as crud stuck on the inside of a carboy after fermenting. Sanitizer is for eliminating invisible microorganisms on equipment surfaces. These microorganisms can harm beer. Most starter brew kits only come with sanitizers. If you continue brewing, we recommend purchasing an environmentally friendly cleaner, such as PBW, in addition to a no-rinse sanitizer, such as Star San.

How is beer made?

Water + malt + hops + yeast. Learn what goes into beer and the processes in brewing.

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Can I use bleach or soap to sanitize?

No, we don’t recommend it. Bleach kills yeast, and dish soap can leave behind residue that may ruin your beer. It’s best to stick to environmentally friendly cleaners and sanitizers intended for brewing.


When adding water to the fermenting bucket, do we use distilled water? Drinking water? Boiled and then cooled water?

Tap water is fine! You can use distilled or boiled water if you want to be extra safe, but keep in mind that it lacks some of the minerals that can encourage yeast growth. Advanced brewers will usually own a pot that can hold the full 5 gallons — usually a 30-quart pot — during the boil to disinfect all of the water in one go. Our beginner recipe assumes you don’t own such a large pot.

I got a higher original gravity reading than what we were shooting for. Is this bad?

We were shooting for a gravity reading of 1.045. A higher reading means your wort contains more fermentable sugars, which will likely yield a stronger beer. We’ve heard that a couple readers got a reading of 1.065, which translates to a potential ABV of around 6.5 percent.

There’s nothing wrong with having a stronger beer. If you want to dilute the beer to a gravity in line with what we’re shooting for, add 12 cups to the fermenting bucket for every 0.010 points of gravity over 1.045. You can take additional gravity readings as you adjust, just make sure you discard your wort samples — don’t return it to the bucket. And resist the urge to add water after the beer has started fermenting.


I noticed you used a plastic bucket as the fermenter vehicle.  Why isn’t the carboy used?

The 5-gallon carboy is too small. You need to leave some extra room at the top of the fermenting bucket to accommodate the foamy “krausen” that forms on top of the beer during fermentation. If your fermenting bucket is too small, your beer might overflow.

Since our recipe produced 4 to 5 gallons of beer, we needed to use a 6-gallon plastic bucket instead of a 5-gallon fermenting vessel in order to leave enough space. If you have a 6-gallon carboy, feel free to use it!

Should we minimize the transfer of the sediment at the bottom of the boil pot to the primary fermentation bucket?

It’s OK if some sediment gets into the fermenting bucket. It will just settle to the bottom during fermentation. Most racking canes come with a plastic cap to prevent larger bits of sediment from clogging the cane and siphon. It’s also a good idea to place the end of the racking cane above the sediment in the boil pot to avoid clogging.

When adding the yeast, should it be stirred or poured in?

Yeast should be poured into the fermenting bucket. No need to stir — it will dissipate over time.