Talk to any professional brewer these days and ask him or her how they started their journey with beer and I bet nine out of ten will say brewing beer at home. Now more than ever with the uncertainty of the world around us and the new found time some of us have now, it is a great time to begin a new hobby. Why not embrace the hobby that keeps so many people repeatedly happy over so many years.
Brewing beer has been around for a long time. There are four components when it comes to brewing beer; grain, hops, water, and yeast. You do not need to know every little thing about each of these components just yet.
It is helpful to know the basics. Water is important. At this point in your homebrewing experience, do not stress out about this too much. Use filtered water if at all possible. If filtered water is not an option, go to the store and pick up enough bottled water for your brew day. Grains or malt imparts color and flavor to your beer. It also imparts the sugar that is needed by the yeast to produce alcohol.
The hops are to assist in your quest to make sure your beer is not too sweet to drink. Yeast is the component that takes your wort(unfermented beer) and makes it into the beverage that we all long for after a long day of work.
If you are anything like me, you are excited about starting to brew. I understand the excitement. The best advice I can advocate is to read first. Read this guide to brewing your own beer. Usually when homebrewers begin their hobby, they are purchasing pre-made kits that contain every ingredient that is needed to make your own beer. These kits also include instructions to brew that particular beer.
Read and understand these instructions. This is very similar to following a recipe and instructions to cook food. The better you understand the process of brewing, the better off you will be and the better your beer will become.
There are a few different ways to brew beer at home. For the sake of this guide, I will focus on extract brewing.
This will allow for first time homebrewers, like yourself, to understand the full process of brewing. The rest will come in due time. We can skip the big debate on what brewing method is considered ‘actual brewing’ and what is cheating for now. The history of beer tells us that isn’t going to change anytime soon.
Let’s get right into how to brew beer at home without wasting any time or money shall we?
Here’s the equipment you’ll need for Extract Brewing:
- Brewing Kettle
- Homebrew Beer Kit
- Fermentation Vessel, carboy or a bucket
- Airlock and stopper
- Hydrometer Testing Jar
- Long spoon
- Wort Chiller
- Turkey Baster
- Sanitizer Star San
- Muslin Bags
Full list of all Homebrewing Equipment for all types and styles here.
For bottling your beer:
- 48 (12oz) clean bottles
- Bottle caps
- Bottle capper
- Bottling bucket
- Racking Cane or Auto Syphon
- 5 feet of ⅜ inch beverage line
- Sanitizer Iodophor
A Step – by – Step Guide to Extract Beer Brewing
One of the most important parts of brewing beer is cleaning and sanitizing. When you are beginning your brew day, it is critically important that you have clean equipment. Anything that is in contact with the wort prior to boiling needs to be cleaned. If you are using a big spoon to stir in the dry or liquid malt extract, your spoon should be cleaned but does not need to be sanitized.
The boiling wort will take care of anything that the wort comes into contact. Anything that is contact with the wort after the boil and cooling stages must be sanitized. Star San is a very popular sanitizer. When using a thermometer to check your temperature during the cooling stage, you will want to sanitize it. It is extremely helpful to have a bucket of Star San on hand during your brew day.
Heat the Water
You have two choices here when it comes to heating your water. You can use your kitchen stove and place your kettle on one of your burners. Conversely, you can also splurge a little and purchase a burner to brew outside with the use of propane gas or an electric set-up.
Your kettle size comes into play here. This is where you want to be efficient with your brewing process. If you are using a small-ish kettle for your brewing process, then using a kitchen stove is a possibility. I would say a small-ish kettle would be around 4-5 gallons. Typically, an average sized batch of beer is 5 gallons. When using a kettle around 4-5 gallons, you will only be able to do a partial boil. Don’t worry, this is totally normal. You will use 4 gallons to start with and then after boiling and cooling your wort, you will add the additional water to make sure you end up with 5 gallons.
If you are opting to brew outside in your garage, drive-way, or backyard, you will need a burner. A good burner can be purchased for around $100. It is a very good investment in your new addiction… I mean hobby.
You can also purchase a larger kettle that can even be used when you set up your brewing process to go all-grain if you want to. More about all-grain brewing later.
So with your larger kettle and burner, you will be able to start off with a full sized boil. Let’s take a look at this process from the reverse process approach.
You want to end up with 5 gallons of wort. To obtain those 5 gallons of wort, and also contribute to the water burn off that will naturally occur when boiling the wort, you will want to start off with a gallon or so more than your desired end game of 5 gallons.
So for argument sake, I would start with 6 gallons of water. This will allow for a gallon of water to burn off during your boil and still give you your desired 5 gallons at the end.
Add Steeping Grains
When I first started out homebrewing, I used to purchase kits that were already pre-made. They contained the liquid malt extract, hops, yeast, and specialty grains. These grains were always crushed for me. When a grain is crushed, the endosperm of the grain is exposed. This will allow the sugars and starch to leave the grain and become part of your delicious wort.
Simply fill your muslin bag and tie it off at the top. Soak your specialty grains for 30 minutes and stir and stir occasionally. After 30 minutes, lift the bag out with your spoon and allow it to drip. Do not squeeze the bag at this time. This may let tannins to be released from the specialty grains. This is also commonly referred to as BIAB or Brew in a Bag.
Bring Kettle to a Boil
This is really as easy as the subtitle suggests. A word of caution though. You may be tempted to speed up the process by placing the lid back on. You run the risk of prohibiting the DMS from evaporating and that flavor will be captured in your beer. You also run the risk of boil overs. For those who will be starting out as kitchen homebrewers, this will leave your significant other very upset with you.
Add Liquid or Dry Extract
Liquid malt extract (LME) or dry malt extract (DME) is a concentrated unfermented wort that is used in homebrewing. The liquid form is a viscous syrup, while the dry form is an easily clumping powder. Both forms take the place of the base malts that all-grain brewers use in their homebrew recipes. You want to add your LME or DME when your wort is boiling. Some tricks to handle this LME, which can be quite messy. Submerge the bottle of LME in hot water prior to adding it to your wort. This is similar to how bakers would use honey.
As for a way to combat the clumps with DME, pour the bag of DME in a stainless steel bowl. As you add the DME into your wort, dip the bowl into the liquid in your kettle. This will help the DME to join the wort in your kettle and not make a huge mess. If you are using LME or DME, it is important to stir in the contents when adding it to the kettle. Otherwise, you risk scorching the bottom of your kettle when adding LME. Also, stirring helps to incorporate the DME with the wort.
Add Hops, Irish Moss, Yeast Nutrient, and set a timer
Once the wort begins to boil and you add your LME/DME, this is the time for your first hop addition. Almost all beer styles start off with at least one hop addition. Hops are used to counterbalance the sweetness of the wort. The hops that are added at this are called bittering hops. Anytime between 15 – 30 minutes left in the boil is when you add your flavor hops.
The last 15 minutes will be designated for your aroma hops.
Irish Moss is a seaweed derived fining agent used by many brewers to help make beer clearer without the need for a filter. Irish Moss also accelerates protein coagulation during the end of the boil which helps prevent chill haze. One teaspoon is usually added with 15 minutes remaining in the boil.
Yeast Nutrient is a mixture of diammonium phosphate and food-grade urea that nourishes yeast. A half teaspoon is added at the last ten minutes of the boil.
Most recipes will call for a 60 minute boil. After your timer goes off indicating your 60 minutes have passed, now is time to start chilling your wort so you can eventually pitch your yeast. This is also when you really need to start being conscious of sanitizing EVERYTHING that comes in contact with your wort. Your wort will no longer be boiling now and anything that your wort comes into contact with at this time risks infection.
You will chill your wort with a piece of equipment called a wort chiller. Wort chillers are usually copper tubing. This wort chiller will assure you that your wort will be chilled faster than an ice bath. It is safe to use as long as it is sanitized prior to using. Place your wort chiller in the boiling kettle at the last 10 minutes of the boil. This will sanitize your wort chiller. Bring your wort to the temperature your yeast suggests to pitch.
Usually for ales, your pitching temperature is anywhere from 62°F to 68°F. Lagers will require a little more cooling, usually at 50°F.
Take Original Gravity
At this time, you will want to measure the specific gravity. This is the density of your wort in relation to the water. Measuring the specific gravity will let you know the Alcohol by Volume (ABV) level, which is how much alcohol your beer will potentially contain. For measuring specific gravity or original gravity, you can use a hydrometer or a refractometer.
Hydrometers work by displacing liquid based on its density and measuring how much the liquid is displaced. To be able to test for your specific gravity, do the following: Use a turkey baster and take out enough of a sample size of your wort and place it in your Hydrometer Testing Jar. After your sample size has been secured, take your hydrometer and as you are dropping it in your testing jar, ever so gently, and spin the hydrometer.
After the hydrometer stops spinning, record the number on the hydrometer that is crossed by the liquid-air line. Typically the wort’s original gravity(OG) is between 1.035 to 1.070.
This number will be larger with your higher alcohol beers such as Russian Imperial Stouts, Double IPAs, and Barleywines.
After your wort has cooled, you are now able to transfer your wort from your brew kettle to your fermentation vessel. Your fermentation vessel can be a carboy or a food grade bucket. Use an auto siphon to transfer your wort safely into your vessel.
Now that your beer has cooled, transferred to a carboy or bucket, and your OG has been recorded, now it is time to add your yeast. Wort contains an incredible amount of sugar. When yeast is added to a sugar-induced environment, this makes the yeast happy. The sugar is used as fuel to create even more yeast. This is how alcohol is produced when making beer.
You have two choices when it comes to yeast; either liquid or dry. Dry yeast is commonly included in brewing kits and does not require activation. Liquid yeast, on the other hand, is also an option. EIther option is going to give you your desired outcome…beer. Sanitize the pack of yeast and the pair of scissors you use to open the pack of yeast and pitch. With a sanitized airlock and stopper(if using a carboy) will be your next step. Be sure to place some sanitizer solution in your airlock.
After this, just wait to see your bubbles to appear in the airlock. This can be several hours to develop, so don’t stress out if it does not happen immediately. Patience is something that every homebrewer needs to embrace.
Fermenting beer is really an easy process. It comes with a certainty that temperature ranges can be maintained. Every beer style and yeast has certain temperature ranges. Looking at the package of yeast or looking up the yeast online is a helpful way to educate yourself on accurate fermentation temperature ranges. Fermenting at a higher temperature than is recommended typically causes the yeast to create more esters, leading to fruity aromas and flavors that may not be appropriate for the beer style.
Fermenting at a lower temperature than is recommended typically causes the yeast to take longer to do its job. Although there is no detriment to a beer fermented too low, it may cause the yeast to go dormant and not actually ferment the beer. The temperature should stay at an even during the process of fermentation.
Fermentation will vary by beer style. Usually a beer is done fermenting after two weeks.
Take Final Gravity
Once your beer is finished fermenting, it is time to take a final gravity reading. The only true way to know that your beer has completed fermentation, is to take a gravity reading. If your readings are consistent after three checks, then you can assure your beer is ready for packaging. Many will think that the lack of bubbles in your airlock will be an indication of fermentation being completed. This might not always be the case.
The only true way to know if your fermentation is completed is to take a gravity reading. The result of packaging a homebrewed beer that has not finished fermenting can be disastrous. “Bottle bombs” are something you do not want to experience.
Packaging your Homebrewed Beer
Packaging your beer can consist of two options, either kegging or bottling. Since this article has been geared toward new brewers, I will assume a vast majority of new homebrewers will be bottling their first few beers. Here’s a step-by-step guide to bottling your beer:
Step 1: Prepare your bottles
A 5 gallon batch of beer will usually require 48 bottles. Be sure to thoroughly clean the bottles. A dirty bottle can result in a bottle of beer that can later become infected. If there is dirt or mold in the bottles, clean them with a bottle brush. Next up will be to sanitize your bottles. You can use Star San or Iodophor. I usually use Star San during my brew day and Iodophor during bottling day.
Step 2: Sanitize the bottle caps
While you are soaking your bottles, this would be a perfect time to sanitize those bottle caps.
Step 3: Prepare your priming sugar
I usually head over to this Priming Sugar Calculator (opens in new tab) and calculate the proper amount of sugar based on the beer style. This is an important step because too much sugar will lead to over carbonated beer and too little sugar will leave you with an under carbonated beer.
Once you know how much sugar you need, mix it with a cup of water and heat on the stove. I usually will not leave the stove and continuously stir until all sugar is dissolved. If the sugar water becomes too warm, warmer than room temperature, then I usually cool it down in the freezer.
Step 4: Mix Priming Sugar with Beer
Sanitize your bottling bucket and auto siphon prior to transferring your beer from your carboy to the bottle bucket. After your bottling bucket is sanitized, suburge the auto siphon into the carboy and begin to carefully siphon the beer into your bucket.
Be sure to be very careful not to splash your beer. Splashing the beer may result in oxidizing your beer.
Step 5: Bottling your Beer
Carefully fill the bottles with your beer. Place caps on bottles and use your capper to grimp close the cap onto the bottle.
Step 6: Store your Beer
Place your beer in a closet or any place where consistent room temperature can be assured along with no light. If there is occasional light, just be sure to cover the bottles. Light is the enemy when making beer. Leave your bottles here for two weeks. After two weeks, it’s time to check your beer.
Crack open a bottle and pour in a clean beer glass. You will have a small layer of yeast on the bottom of your bottle. This is normal and the reason why I pour my homebrewed beer into a glass. Now enjoy the fruits of your labor. You deserve it. Cheers!
If you’ve enjoyed reading this, then I think you’ll love diving in further to the Homebrewing Mastery: Small-Batch Edition Course. Small batch brewing lets you try making many different types of beer at home, figuring out the process and the beer you and your friends love, and then go with a bigger batch! For a deep dive on all of this and an over-the-shoulder detailed walthough, I strongly recommend going through this course:
It will save you time and money, and keep you from making all the mistakes that could warrant pouring your bitter cidery tasting water right down the drain.
Homebrewing Frequently Asked Questions FAQs
Is homebrewing illegal?
Since 1978 for the first time since Prohibition made it illegal in 1919, it is legal to homebrew. However, alcohol regulations are left to the states. In 2013, Mississippi and Alabama passed legislation permitting beer brewing at home.
Can I sell my home brew beer?
No, you can not legally sell homebrew. Legal regulations prohibit the sale of alcohol without proper federal, state, and local licenses.
Is it cheaper to brew your own beer?
Short answer is yes, it is cheaper to brew your own beer. Not taking into consideration the cost for equipment, the cost for a 5-gallon batch of beer can be around $35-$40. Divide that up by 48 bottles and you can estimate a bottle of beer costing you just under a dollar. So that $6 six pack compared to a $10 – $12 commercial six pack, really is eye opening.
However, as many homebrewers can attest to, purchasing and consuming commercial beers can be seen as research for your next brew day. Also, I enjoy supporting my friends who have opened breweries and taste their exquisite creations.
How much homebrew can I legally make?
Most states permit 100 gallons of homebrewed beer per adult (21 years of age or older) per year and up to a maximum of 200 gallons per household if there are two or more adults in the household.
Is home brewing hard?
No, homebrewing is not hard. It does require attention to details and taking notes on what worked and did not work. After brewing several batches, the process of brewing becomes repetitive and therefore makes it easier to know what exactly to do when brewing your own batch of beer.
Where should I store my homebrew?
Homebrew should be kept in a cold refrigerator if you bottle your homebrew or a chest freezer of some sorts if you keg your homebrew.
How can I make my homebrew sweeter?
In my opinion, a good beer must strike the balance between the bitter hoppiness to the sweet maltiness. There are certain styles these days that will lend itself to those who seek out sweetness in their beers. Lactose is unfermentable and leaves the final product sweeter, fuller, and creamier. Lactose can be found in Milk Stouts, Pastry Stouts, and Lactose IPAs. Finally, in case your mind was wandering in this direction, adding sugar to your beer will make it dry and therefore allow for more bitterness to shine through in your beer.
Should fermenting beer be kept in the dark?
When a beer is fermenting, it is best practice to store said beer in a dark place. If total darkness is not possible, then place a blanket, towel, old hoodie, or anything on top of the vessel to make the environment as dark as possible. Light, specifically UV rays, will skunk your beer and produce off-flavors.