Well basically I like to start me brew day by doing some preparation two days before. I do this by making a yeast starter if needed and by sterilising some containers to make ice blocks in and make the ice blocks. I'll explain these things later on.
On the brew day I start by rinsing out my pot/pots. Depending on what I plan to brew dictates how many pots I need. Its never more than two though. I bought a four pack of cheapo pots a few years back. The smallest is a 10 litre and is fantastic for caramellising sorghum syrup or sugar and also mashing small amounts of grain. The largest is a 17 litre pot and I use this for the 1 hour boil phase.
So for a basic beer (no caramellisation or mashing) I add at least 8 litres of filtered tap water. Although filtering of the tap water isn't 100% necessary I do it to remove the chlorine and other impurities from the water. I notice the difference in flavour, albeit it subtle, but the choice is up to you. I will also add the mineral spring water if the recipe calls for it.
Once this is brought up to a vigorous boil (as vigorous as possible) I'll add some of my fermentables (ensure any wort made from mashing is added now). The reason I don't add all the fermentables is that I don't want the wort too thick. The thickness of the wort makes a difference to the ability of the alpha acids in the hops to be released into the wort. The thicker the wort the less bitterness, flavour & aroma compounds are released. I want the greatest efficiency from my ingredients so I keep the wort as thin as possible. At this time I also add my bittering hops. I then bring the wort up to a vigorous boil again and let boil until the next addition, keeping an eye on the wort so that it won't spill over.
The next step is usually around 45 minutes later where I add some flavouring hops and my Irish Moss for beer clarification. Keep the vigorous boil on the wort.
The next step can be anywhere from the 45 minute mark until finished and this is where I add my aroma hops and the rest of my fermentables. I add these fermentables at the end only to sterilise them to protect the fermentation process from rogue bacteria's, etc. Once the fermentables are added the boil will stop. Stir everything well so it mixes together and allow for the boil to recommence vigorously. Finish the amount of time needed to make a 60 minute boil and turn off the heat. Ensure the last of the fermentables added are boiling for at least 5 minutes to kill of any potential bacteria they might have.
During the first 45 minutes of boiling I use this time to thoroughly clean and sterilise my fermenting barrel and its lid, airlock and tap. I use the 'no rinse' type sanitiser and it only takes 10 minutes of surface contact to work. Now I rinse off the sanitiser as most contain peroxide and colloidal silver. Both can have health effects and I try to avoid ingesting them as much as possible so I rinse the barrel with tap water then rinse the barrel with water just boiled from the kettle. During this time I also soak a grain bag (all home brew shops have these and they are used in 'brew in a bag' type all grain brewing) in boiling water from the kettle. I use this large bag as a strainer to strain out all the trub, grains and hop pellets as I pour the beer into the fermenter.
Into the fermenter I place my large ice cubes I made two days earlier. This is used to cool the hot beer rapidly. I place my grain bag inside the fermenter with the edges overhanging the lip of the fermenter. I hold it in place with elastic bands wrapped around the lip. You could also use pegs. I pour the hot beer from my boil pot into the fermenter. Be careful because everything is hot. I then lift out the grain bag and let the hot beer strain through. Most of the time I have to move the bag around to allow the liquid to strain through easily as the grain bag does catch alot of trub. At the same time I'm pouring cold filtered tap water through the bag to allow it not only to cool but remove any sugars and flavour compounds from the trub.
I then fill the fermenter with enough water to make what I need. Just remember to allow enough room for your yeast starter if using one.
At this stage the beer will be above 40 c and it needs to be cooled down and aerated before adding the yeast. With two ice blocks in and some vigorous stirring for 5 minutes or so the temperature will lower to about 28 c by the time the ice blocks melt in summer. In the dead of winter the tap water is quite cold where I live so it will hit about 20 c. In summer 3 ice blocks will bring the beer temperature down to 18 c after aerating. To ensure you've aerated your beer enough there should be a slight frothy head on the beer in the fermenter. I now take a gravity reading.
Now I pitch (add) the yeast. Put the lid on. Fix in the air lock filled with boiling water and place the fermenter in a cool dark place that will keep a constant temperature.
Once all this is done. I clean the kitchen and my equipment and pack it away for the next brew day.
Basically the yeast you will get in a packet (I use Safale dry yeasts as they are G/F) isn't quite enough to get the wort fermenting quickly enough to stop any nasties getting in and ruining your beers flavours. The best way to overcome this is to hydrate your yeast and to get it already working before you add it to your wort. I take an empty 3 litre juice bottle to start my yeast in and I sterilise it with a bottle steriliser. As an example, for my pale ale recipe I take the brown sugar (1 cup) and put it in a saucepan with 1 cup of water and boil for 10 minutes. This is ample time to kill any bacteria in the sugar/water mixture. I then add about half a litre of cold filtered water to the sterilised bottle and add in my boiled sugar/water mixture. Then I top it up to make 2 litres all up. I put the lid on it and place it in the fridge to cool to about 20-23 c. During winter the tap water should be cold enough to not have to put the sugar/water mix in the fridge. Once it's at the required temperature I add the packeted yeast, put the lid back on and rigorously shake the bottle. I then leave the yeast starter on the kitchen bench until I see the bottle starting to expand. Once this has happened the yeast has been activated and is starting to ferment. Twist open the lid slowly until you here a long slow sshhhh type noise (the same as opening any carbonated drink). Leave the lid at this position and place the starter into a dark cupboard or pantry. Check on it every 8 to 12 hours to make sure the gas is escaping slowly. After 2 days this yeast starter is ready to use.
For my Classic American Pilsner it's 1 cup of honey for the yeast starter and for my Treacle & Honey porter it's 1 cup of treacle for the yeast starter.
Your average ale with an alcohol content of 5% or below usually wont need such a large yeast starter as the sugar content isn't that high. The fermentation temperatures are also quite high so you will get away with just hydrating your yeast in a sterile cup of water or add it to your beer dry.
But with high alcohol beers such as IPA's, double IPA's, strong ales, etc and also lagers and pilsners a yeast starter is a must. In the case of the ales it's due to the sugar content. In the case of the pilsners and lagers it is due to the cold fermentation temperatures taking longer.
These are those ice blocks I was telling you about before. As I don't like to spend money on things that I feel are unnecessary and I also don't have the room to store an immersion chiller I use large ice blocks to chill my wort. When I make my yeast starter I sterliise two or three old 2 litre ice cream containers and their lids. Just with my no rinse sanitiser. I then rinse the containers to wash the sanitiser away and fill the containers with filtered tap water. I then freeze these containers to be used on brew day. These are the quickest, cheapest and easiest way to chill your wort. By the time you have filled the fermenter up to the amount required and aerated your wort the temperature will have dropped dramatically and you should be in the correct temperature range to pitch your yeast.
But sometimes I don't have room in the freezer for 2 or 3 ice cream containers so I buy a bag of party ice and place it in the laundry sink around my boil pot (ensure nothing gets into the boil pot). I then add enough water to allow it to almost come up to the rim of the boil pot. I stir the wort vigorously, then I put on the lid and let it sit for 30 minutes. This will also reduce the temperature quite quickly. I then pour this liquid through my grain bag and add enough cold filtered water to make up the required amount.
FERMENTATION TEMPERATURES: This is critical in getting a nice consistent flavour in your beers. In most cases the higher the brewing temperature the fruitier the esters are that are produced by the yeasts. In a Lager or Pilsner style beer these aren't wanted but in a Pale Ale or Belgium Ale these esters are wanted. So here's what I do. When I'm fermenting out my Classic American Pilsner I make it in winter and leave the fermenting barrel in my shed on the concrete floor, covered in a towel. I have a small digital thermometer that tells me the temperature of the floor. It's constantly 11 degrees C. Perfect for Lagers & Pilsners. In summer the floor temperature raises to about 17 degrees C so it's not so good for making these styles of beer. If you wish to brew these styles of beer in summer I would suggest leaving your fermentation barrel in a larger container or laundry sink (if the misses will let you), add water and ice cubes and place an old towel over the barrel. Let the towel sit in the water as well. Check the temperature everyday and add ice as necessary.
For warmer temperature fermenting such as ales, a cool dark place in the house such as a laundry bench is perfect. I place my barrel on the laundry bench with a towel wrapped around it. My laundry isn't heated and is away from direct sunlight so over winter the barrel will stay a constant 18 degrees C. In summer I will ferment my ales in the shed on the concrete floor as per the Pilsner in winter.
In summer where I live we also have these long heat waves were a number of days hit above 38 c and my shed although insulated can reach temperatures too high to brew at. To overcome this I bring the fermenter inside the house and in a dark corner, preferably on a concrete or tiled floor (I place it behind my bar on the tiled floor) I sit the fermenter. I use a two towel cooling system that keeps the fermenter between 20 and 22 c.
I take two old towels that cover the fermenter thoroughly and I wet them then place them in my beer fridge (set at about 4 C) when one is cold enough I then wrap this towel around my fermenter. I change the towels over every few hours or so in the beginning. Once the temperature of the fermenter has settled out I usually only need to change the towel every 8 hours or so. Make sure the towels are damp at all times otherwise this two towel system won't work.