Home Brewing (or making beer at home for personal consumption) was first legalized in 1978 for the first time since Prohibition made it illegal in 1919. Now it is regulated by individual State governments and many of us hands on type of people couldn’t be happier! Like many, I have fond memories of my dad making a batch of homemade alcohol by letting a jug of grape juice set in a closet for months. Thankfully today there are more resources available to the discerning drinker that make the final product more controllable and more importantly, taste better! In fact these online resources have allowed people like myself to start experimenting with the raw ingredients to craft my perfect brew. In the beginning I would always start with a beer making recipe kit that I would tweak to my liking but as I got more comfortable, I started making my brews from scratch.
What you need to get started
The first thing that everyone asks is what you need to get started. Although this answer varies a bit depending on how serious you want to get with your Beer Making, I would say it is best to start with a beer making equipment kit which can be found through our site. Another option would be to simply look at the equipment list on one of these kits and try to purchase everything separately at your local cooking supply store. You may save a couple dollars this way but it can get quite time consuming trying to find everything needed. As you will see from the list below, there are quite a few items needed.
6.5 Gallon Primary Fermenter with Grommeted Lid
6.5 Gallon Bottling Bucket with Spigot
5 Gallon Carboy
Triple Scale Hydrometer
Siphon Hose and Shut-Off Clamp
Driilled Universal Carboy Bung
Liquid Crystal Thermometer
After that, I would suggest starting with a Beer Ingredient Kit. Once again, you can absolutely purchase all the things you need separately, but it can take a bit of time and if you are only making a small batch it actually ends up being cheaper to just buy the ingredient kit.
Understanding the Basics
It starts with Water
Assuming you’re using extract brewing method (the simplest and probably the most common used), the first step is boiling water. I use a 20 quart stainless steel brew pot and fill it with 2-3 gallons of tap water. When I started I went to Target and bought 5 gallons of distilled water, but after I tried my tap water for a batch, I didn’t notice any difference in resulting taste (which can happen depending on your local water supply). If you bought a kit with grains included, it may call for you to steep them in hot water before bringing the water to a full boil. While you do this, you’ll notice a pleasant smell (almost like hot cereal) fill your kitchen and the water will begin to take some color from the grains.
The Malt Extract
Once the water is at a nice rolling boil, I pour in the malt extract. Malt extract is basically the sugars from grains that are extracted for you already. It comes in either dry or liquid form (DME or LME). The dry usually has a consistency similar of powdered sugar while the liquid is thick and syrupy. I usually run the container of liquid malt extract under hot tap water to make it come out of the canister easier and still it constantly while and after I pour it in to keep it from all sticking to the bottom of my brew pot. While the water returns to a boil, you’ll notice a darker color and sometimes foam will begin to build up so I keep stirring to prevent boiling over.
Once the water (now called “wort”) is boiling again, I begin experimenting. I just recently moved away from the all-inclusive Ingredient Kits (w/precise instructions) and began trying out different hops. Eventually I’ll start experimenting with different malt extracts and maybe even all grain brewing, but 5 gallons of beer seems to last me quite a long time and my wife doesn’t want me to store cases upon cases of beer in our closet.
All hops come with a different Alpha and Beta percentage. The higher the percentage of Alpha, the more bitterness will be transferred to the beer during the boil. The Beta % acts in a similar way, but most of the bitterness is released during fermentation and storage. Since I like IPA’s, I?ve been trying hops with a high percentage of Alpha (like Citra). Once my wort has returned to a boil, I toss in a handful bittering hops into a ‘hop sock‘ and throw it in the brew pot and set a timer for 60 minutes.
Knowing that yeast turns sugar into alcohol, I like to ramp it up a little and add 1lb of fermentable sugar to my wort once the timer has 15 minutes left. I once purchased a kit from a little mom and pop store once that came with a pound of Corn Syrup, but I like the subtle differences I find when I use different Candi Sugars. This is also the time for the last addition of aroma hops. (I’ve been experimenting with hops with a Alpha and Beta % that are nearly the same). This is also the time to experiment with Spice, Herb and Fruit additions to your brew to add subtle tastes that are unique to craft beers.
Once the timer goes off, I turn off the heat and pull out the hops and any other late additions I had boiling. Next I connect a wort-chiller to my sink and drop the copper coils into the brew pot in and let cold water trickle through to bring its temperature down to roughly 70 degrees F.
Don’t Lament!… Ferment!
Once the wort has cooled, simply pour into a food grade 6 gallon fermenting bucket and add yeast. Some yeast packets call for you to add to warm water while others say you can just toss it in on top of the wort. There are different yeasts for different kinds of alcohol you are brewing (like lager yeast which ferments best around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or ale yeasts which ferment best at room temp). Wine yeasts can tolerate higher levels of alcohol before dying off, but usually I use an ale yeast like Lallemand Nottingham or Safale S-04 Dry Ale Yeast. Then I add the additional 2-3 gallons of water and put a lid w/ airlock on top of the bucket. Now the hard part, waiting 4 weeks. You’re supposed to see the airlock bubble within the first 24 hours, but don’t worry if you don’t. Just give the bucket a shake and keep waiting.
After about 4 weeks, I’m ready to bottle. I bring a chair into the kitchen, set the wort on the counter and the bottling bucket on the chair and slowly siphon the beer into the bottling bucket (a 6 gallon bucket with a hole drilled in the bottom for a bottling. What’s left in the fermenting bucket is a slimy muck that I don?t want to transfer into the finished product.
To give my beer bubbles, the dead yeast needs to be reactivated. This can be done by introducing a sudden burst of energy in the form of priming sugar, conditioning tablets, or carbonation drops. Then simply siphon the beer into bottles and cap. Two weeks later, you?ll have a unique beer customized by you. Letting the bottles set for longer, tends to make for a tastier beer so I usually let it set for 3-4 weeks before cracking one open.
How to Make Beer : The Basics of Home Brewing