Craft beer enthusiasts visit multiple breweries a year to taste and sample brews of all types. When these devotees are ready for a new challenge, they might decide it’s time to give homebrewing a shot.
Homebrewing might seem complicated, but it’s a simple process. Anyone that can follow steps and a recipe can make a homebrewed beer.
4 Essential Ingredients to Brew Your Own Beer
Four elements are all that are necessary to brew beer. All of these ingredients are easily accessible to homebrewers, making it simple to get started brewing beer.
Like any beverage, water makes up the majority of the beer. Over 95% of the final brew is water. Since much of the beer is water, it is essential to pay attention to the quality of water used. Tap water might be accessible, but it could result in a final brew that tastes a bit off. Purer water will result in a better final brew.
Yeast is the secret to turning a brew into beer. It is a living microorganism that will metabolize the sugars from the grains and creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. The process of yeast metabolization is what will turn wort – the liquid extracted from the mashing process – into beer. Different types of yeast will determine whether the beer is considered a lager or an ale. This step in brewing is fermentation.
Grains are what cause the yeast to ferment the brew. Barley is the most common grain used in brewing, but some craft brewers will use other grains like corn, wheat, or rice.
Many brews will specifically use malted barley. Malted barley is barley that has soaked in water and allowed to germinate. Once the barley has germinated, it dries in a kiln. The various roasting times of malted barley will help determine the different strengths and flavors of the beer.
Some brewers have begun to produce gluten-free beer by using sorghum as the grain ingredient. Sorghum will create a gluten-free brew for people who have issues with gluten.
Hops are the main ingredient that can impact the flavor and smell of homebrew. It will add a bitterness to beer that can balance out the sweetness that is remaining from the fermentation process. Hops also have an antibacterial effect on the yeast that allows the microorganisms to thrive.
Many different kinds of hops are available and will give homebrewed beer different flavors. While there are some types of beer without hops, the overwhelming majority of beers are made with hops and new brewers should stick to hops for their first batch of beer.
Equipment Needed for Homebrewing
Homebrewers will need to pick up brewery equipment before starting to brew their own beer. Here are the essential pieces needed to brew your own beer at home:
A fermenter is a container that the wort is in during the fermentation process. A quality conical fermenter will help ensure that the final taste and aroma of the beer are at their best quality. There are many different fermenters available based on what the result is for the brewer.
An airlock is a plug at the top of the fermenter. The carbonation build-up during the fermentation process needs to be released. An airlock will allow carbon dioxide to be released while not allowing air to enter the fermenter. Using an airlock will help prevent oxidation.
3. Brew Kettle
A brew kettle is where the boiling happens, and the wort will begin the transformation from wort to beer. Brew kettles vary in size, but most beginners will be ok with a 1.5-gallon kettle.
Burners are the heat sources to bring the brew to a boil. The burner will need to have the ability to bring however many gallons of brew to a boil in a reasonable time. A stovetop burner will suffice for small batches, but larger brews will need a dedicated burner.
5. Siphon / Tubing
A siphon moves beer from one container to another. Siphoning beer, instead of pouring it, will transfer the liquid without adding much oxygen to the system. Siphoning will also keep from moving much sediment, and it is a much cleaner process.
A cleaner helps to guarantee that all of the brewing equipment is bacteria-free. Dirty tools can cause bacteria growth and contaminate the brewing process. However, it is best to bypass using scented cleaners.
Sanitizers will take cleaning to the next level. While a cleaner will remove the top-level bacteria, a sanitizer will kill any organisms that can ruin the brew. Sanitizing equipment is a vital part of the brewing operation.
A hydrometer will allow a brew to see the sugar density of their wort. Using a hydrometer can help a brewer calculate the alcohol content that is in their final beer and tell them how well the yeast has performed during the fermentation process. A hydrometer isn’t necessary for brewing, but it will give a brewer better control over the fermentation procedure.
Brewing beer can be a bit of science at times. The brew will need to be at certain temperatures during the brewing process. A thermometer will help a brewer be confident that their beer is ready for the next step.
10. Wort Chiller
Wort chillers cool down the wort at the end of boiling. Letting the wort naturally cool down can cause byproducts to produce in the wort. These byproducts will cause unwanted flavors in the finished beer. A wort chiller will cool down the wort rapidly before oxidation and contamination happen.
When the brewing process finishes, the beer needs placing in containers. Some brewers will keg their beers, but many prefer a small vessel. The bottling equipment and beer bottle labeling process for canning are too expensive for most homebrewers, so they rely on bottles. Bottles can be purchased new, or they can be acquired honestly by drinking a beer and reusing it for homebrew.
How to Make Beer at Home in 13 Simple Steps
Finally, we’re ready to get started making the beer. Below are the 13 steps to brewing your first beer. Let’s get started:
1. Gather all Ingredients and Equipment
After gathering all of the equipment and ingredients, the brewing process is ready to begin. Each piece of the brewing equipment can be purchased separately – some parts have varieties with more functions than others – or they are available as a homebrewing kit. Many first-time brewers will opt for a kit.
2. Sanitize All of the Equipment
How successful the brew is will depend upon how clean the equipment is. The boiling process will kill some bacteria, but anything that the beer touches after that has the potential to transmit bacteria.
3. Steep Grains
Steeping the grains will body, color, and flavor to the beer. Steeping is a fancy way to say, soaking the grains in the water.
A 5-gallon brew kettle is fillable with 2.5 gallons of water. As the brew kettle heats, the grains inside of the kettle will steep. The grains might be in a bag to make them easier to remove.
After 20 minutes or when the water reaches 170 degrees, the grains are removed from the kettle. The water from the grain bag can drip into the kettle, but squeezing the bag will give the beer an unwanted finished flavor.
4. Bring the Kettle to a Boil
After the kettle is boiling, the malt extracts are added to the pot. Adding the malt will occur in intervals depending on what the recipe instructs. The boiling water and malt extract mix is wort – unfermented beer.
5. Add the Hops
Once the wort is boiling, the hops are added to the pot in a bag. The hops will stay in the wort for about 90 minutes.
Some brewers may add a Whirfloc Tablet at this point. A Whirfloc Tablet will cause some of the sediments to fall to the bottom of the kettle resulting in a more clear brew.
6. Chill the Wort
After 90 minutes, the burn is turned off, and the wort is allowed to cool. A wort chiller is optimal for this as it speeds up the chilling process.
7. Transfer the Wort
When the wort is cooled, it is transferred to the fermenter. The fermenter capacity is larger than the batch size to allow room to ferment and foam.
It is possible to pour the wort into the fermenter, but it is highly recommended to use a siphon for a cleaner, more efficient transfer.
8. Measure the Initial Gravity
The initial gravity of the brew can be measured using a hydrometer. Measuring the initial gravity of the brew will let the brewer know how the process of fermentation is going based on the amount of sugar present in the beer.
Measuring the gravity of the beer will also help to estimate the potential ABV level.
9. Pitching the Yeast
“Pitching the yeast” is a brewing language for adding yeast to the wort. Adding yeast to the wort will begin the fermentation process. Depending on the type of yeast, it may need to be activated.
- Dry yeast is included in most brewing kits and does not need activation.
- Liquid yeast requires activation. Liquid yeast is activated by shaking the container eagerly.
10. Ferment the Beer
The airlock is placed on top of the fermenter, and the brew will ferment for two weeks. The fermenter needs to be stored in a room at a steady temperature. Temperature swings can mess up the fermentation process.
During the fermentation, the airlock will allow CO2 to escape without bacteria getting into the fermenter.
11. The Final Gravity Reading
The hydrometer will measure the final gravity of the beer. Knowing the final gravity will allow the brewer to calculate the alcohol content.
Brews with a low gravity will have a dry flavor, and a high gravity will cause a beer to have a sweet taste.
The beer is now complete, but it’s still missing the carbonation. To carbonate the beer, it needs carbonating sugars added. After adding carbonated sugars, the brew will sit for another week.
Carbonating sugars are a mixture of 3-4 ounces of corn sugar and 1 or 2 cups of water. The mixture is poured into the brew kettle, and the beer is siphoned back into the kettle.
13. Bottle Your Beer
Bottling beer is time-consuming, but it is much more cost-efficient than kegging.
The beer is siphoned into the bottles up to an inch from the top. A capper seats the cap on the bottle, and the bottles will sit for 2 to 3 weeks at room temperature. After that time, the beer is carbonated and can be chilled.
You’re Done! Time to Drink Your Beer
After all the hard work, it’s time to kick back, pop off a top, and enjoy an ice-cold homebrewed beer.
Many homebrewers eventually perfect their beer recipes and look at monetizing them. The path to taking a beer to market is a difficult one – but not impossible.