Instead of choosing your beer at the store or local craft brewery, why not make it at home? With a home brewery system, you become the brewmaster: make beer suited to your particular taste, all in the convenience of your own home (or garage). People have been making beer for ages, and craft beers have enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity. We have some advice to help you start brewing your own masterpieces at home.
Let’s Get Started
Beer brewing is not magic, but drinking a good one sure feels like heaven. Beer-making is a week-to month-long process of fermentation using grains or malt extract, hops, yeast, and water. That’s pretty much it. You may add other ingredients in different stages depending on the type and taste of the beer you’re creating, but those four ingredients remain the same.
How invested (both financially and time-wise) you decide to become is up to you. You can start out small by purchasing an all-in-one beer-making kit, or you can buy your own equipment piece by piece and turn your garage or a spare room into your own amazing brewery.
One of the joys of beer-brewing is being able to craft the beer to your own taste, or to the preference of those you spend time with. Due to home brewing’s rise in popularity, you can now easily buy all the equipment and ingredients, and the internet contains many sites for advice and recipes so you can soon have a ready, steady supply of brews at home.
Basic Brewing Process
There are two types of beer-brewing methods: all-grain brewing or extract brewing. Both use the same basic principle: a fermentation process where yeast consumes sugars from malted (partially germinated) grains to create alcohol and CO2.
The all-grain brewing process features milled grains that are steeped in hot water to extract the sugar. This type of brewing takes a bit longer and requires more up-front equipment purchases, but it gives you more brewing variables to tweak as you craft your favorite flavors, colors, and stoutness, opening up a fantastic world of brewing possibilities.
Extract brewing is faster, easier, and more economical up-front because it requires less equipment. Extract brewing cuts out the step of grains-steeping. Instead, brewers use a ready-made malt extract. Many first-time homebrewers start out with this system. The downside to extract brewing is you don’t have as many variables to manipulate, so you can’t be as creative in your brewing craft.
Equipment and Ingredients You’ll Need
Now that you’re sold on the idea of brewing at home, you’ll need to buy the set-up. For all-grain brewing, you’ll need several large vessels and other supplies. You can also buy your set-up in a complete kit that even includes the ingredients. This is a great option for those just starting out.
For all-grain brewing, you can make the malting process easier and less messy by suspending the cooking grains in a reusable, fine-mesh brewing bag. It’s like a huge tea bag, and also means you have one less kettle to buy and clean.
For the fermenting process, purchase either stainless steel or PET plastic fermenting container. If you choose plastic, clean it carefully so it doesn’t become scratched, which can affect the fermenting process.
To ensure an airtight seal on the fermenting vessel, buy a three-piece airlock and a silicone bung that fits well. Keeping an even temperature during fermentation is important, so if your vessel is kept in a cool room, you may need to buy a heater wrap to keep the kettle warm; if your room’s already warm, you may need some kind of cooling system. You’ll also want to buy a hydrometer, which helps you measure when the fermenting process is finished, indicating it’s time to bottle.
Bottling supplies you’ll need include glass bottles and caps, a capper, a bottling wand, and tubing to transfer the beer into bottles. To save money, you can clean and sanitize previously used commercial beer bottles, but make sure the caps and capper you buy fit.
You’ll also need beer ingredients: malt, hops, yeast, and water, along with any other ingredients your recipe may call for, such as cacao, honey, oak, lactose, coconut, or spices.
After gathering your equipment, ingredients, and step-by-step instructions including a recipe, you’re ready to begin. Keep in mind that the beer-brewing process takes anywhere from seven days to about a month.
Make certain you have cleaned and sanitized all of your equipment. Heat water in your kettle to the correct temperature, and then (for all-grain brewing) place the measured specialty grains in your mesh bag and suspend in the kettle’s water. Once the grains have steeped for the proper time, remove the mesh bag, and let it drip over the kettle as you bring the malty, sugary water “wort” to a boil. You’ll boil this mixture for about an hour, following the directions in your recipe. Toward the end, add extra ingredients like finishing hops or spices for taste, color, etc.
After boiling the wort, cool it quickly and then measure its original gravity using the hydrometer. This shows the number of fermentable sugars in the wort. Be sure to write this number down for comparison later. Comparing this to the final gravity reading helps you calculate the alcohol by volume of your finished beer.
After the wort is cooled, add yeast and then seal in your fermenting vessel. Place in a consistent-temperature room, undisturbed, and wait. If you have a see-through fermenting vessel, it’s fun to watch the process. Keep an eye on your beer-in-the-making over the next week or more, waiting for the airlock bubbling to stop. This indicates that the fermenting process is complete.
Once the airlock bubbling ceases, take hydrometer readings two or three days apart. When the readings are the same, it’s time to bottle or keg your creation. If you know you’ll be brewing a lot of beer in the future, you might consider investing in a keg system.
Many home brewers pour their finished beer into a bottling bucket before bottling it. Adding a sugar solution at this stage can help the yeast carbonate your beer before bottling. Or, you can add a cube or teaspoon of sugar to each bottle as you fill.
After you, bottle or keg your beer, keep it in a dark place, at room temperature, for one to two more weeks to condition before you chill it and serve. The taste will be worth the effort.
Additives for Creative Beer-Brewing
Once you have the basics of brewing down with the four essential ingredients, you’ll want to start experimenting with brewing additives.
When you choose the all-grain brewing process, the kinds and flavors of beer you make are seemingly endless. This is one of the joys of making your own beer. You can craft pale ales, stout brews, holiday blends, milkshake IPAs, fruity, sweet or citrusy ales – what’s your favorite? You may even try recreating your favorite craft beers.
Some of the most common beer-brewing additives are coconut (tropical flair), cacao nibs (deep, chocolate flavors), honey (great for light or stronger brews, increasing the alcohol by volume), lactose (great for milkshake IPAs, adding sweetness and creamy body), and oak chips or cubes (for a stout, barrel-aged taste).
You can also experiment with spices like cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, or coriander for a complex taste, or add citrus peels from oranges, lemons, limes or grapefruit for Belgian ales or American wheat beers. Crystallized citrus gives a delightful citrus flavor with less of a bitter taste than peels, perfect for a lemon shandy or grapefruit IPAs. You can find lots of recipes online, so have fun experimenting and finding the perfect taste for your palate.
The Fantastic Four: Hops, Grains (or Malt Extract), Yeast and Water
Each of the four essential beer-brewing ingredients has a specific job in creating your beer.
Hops are Humulus lupulus flower cones and contain alpha acids for bitterness. The acid percentage of hops depends on factors like variety and growing region, so keep careful records as you brew so you can duplicate the beer batches that came out well. You can also add some finishing hops near the end of the boil for aroma, an important aspect of beer-drinking.
Beer-brewers use either grains (crushed, or you can crush your own) for all-grain brewing or already-prepared malt extract for extract brewing. Malt extracts are available either dry (DME) or as liquids (LME). Consult your brewing recipe to make sure you have the correct measurement.
Brewer’s yeast is crucial for fermentation. The single-cell fungus eats the malt sugars, producing alcohol and CO2 in the process. You can use liquid or dry yeast made especially for beer-making. Dry yeast lasts longer, but liquid yeast (while having a shorter shelf life) is available in more varieties.
Beer is mostly water, so use water that’s free of chlorine and other smells and has a good pH. Your brewing water should have low-to-moderate alkalinity and should be moderately hard with minerals. Try your own tap water and adjust as needed, depending on your brewing results.
Keep it Clean
Cleaning and sanitizing your instruments, kettles, and supplies is critical. Taking shortcuts in this crucial step will introduce wild yeast and bacteria that can ruin your entire batch. Clean your equipment with a soft sponge and cleaning agent specially made for brewery equipment or research your own more economical cleaning mixture. Use bottle brushes for your bottles and transfer tubing. Don’t forget to sanitize any surface that the fermenting mix came into contact with.
Just like any new skill, the beer-brewing process offers plenty of opportunities to learn from making mistakes. And that’s okay. Keep notes during each batch’s process and consult beer-crafting websites as you gain experience. There are variables to get right, and variables to get wrong. But one thing’s certain: the more batches you brew, the better you’ll become at crafting the perfect beer.
Sipping Your Homemade Investment
There’s nothing like the satisfaction of popping that cap or pouring that mug of your own creation, relaxing, and sharing with friends and family. Some homebrewers like to brew several different batches and then host beer-tasting get-togethers to unveil the latest varieties. You’ll become the envy of your friends and neighbors, that’s for sure. Enjoy!