Introduction To Homebrewing
Home brewing is a fascinating hobby that anybody can take up with a very small investment and minimal effort. People choose to make their own beer for many different reasons, the main one is being able to make tailor-made recipes to suit their own personal taste. Another big consideration is cost, as homemade beer is generally at least 5 times cheaper than a store bought equivalent.
Whatever the reason once you enter the world of home brewing a whole new world of fun and social interaction await you. There are many homebrew clubs and competitions to take part in and there’s a real sense of community between brewers.
All of this however is optional, you may just want a cheap source of beer, which is good too! What I am going to be covering in this article is a brief overview of the brewing process show you how easy is to start making your very own beer.
One of reasons home brewing is so popular is because of the amazing amount of possibility’s there are when it comes to flavouring beer. The combinations are almost endless and can sometimes become overwhelming. Luckily you are never alone when it comes to deciding on the taste for your next beer. There are many resources designed to help with these important decisions, such as forums, websites and even phone apps, which lay out everything you need to brew the most popular recipes. Check the resources at the bottom for more information. So weather your preference is pales, ales or pilsners you’re sure to find the ideal taste tailor-made to your palate.
There is a vast variety of brewing kits available on the market today ranging from beginner to more advanced set-ups and difficulties. The one you choose varies greatly on experience and also the amount of money you are willing to spend. Once you become an expert in making your own beer, many people don’t need to use a kit at all. Because this is more of an overview and the sheer amount of kits available ill just explain the difference between the two most popular types.
Malt Extract Kits
Malt extract based kits are usually more beginner friendly and require a lot less effort to prepare for fermentation. This type of kit comes with a pre-made mix where the malt has already been extracted and mixed with the hops. It usually comes as evavr a dried powder or liquid syrup. This is then processed to create a beer with a pre-designed flavour, saving you the work of doing it yourself.
Grain based kits are generally for intermediate to advanced home brewers and take more time and effort to prepare the ingredients prior to brewing. This includes boiling the grain yourself to extract the sugars and furfure boiling to add the hops. This requires a lot more equipment that wouldn’t be included in more standardised kits and raises the initial set-up cost. This way of doing things can be very time consuming and is a lot easier to make mistakes. Despite this, many brewers prefer this method because it allows for complete customization of the brew and makes it possible to achieve the exact flavour their looking for.
Home Brewing Equipment
There are lots of different combinations of equipment available to the home brewer, and you can basically make your set-up as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. While it is possible to start making beer with standard kitchen items and things found around the house, this is not recommended as without the right sanitization and conditioning the quality of beer produced will be low. Below is a quick run though of the standard equipment used by most people, but additional items would possibly be added by more advanced brewers.
Fermenting bucket & Lid
This is basically large bucket with a lid used to store the brew mixture as it is fermenting. These come in a lot of different shapes and sizes. Most are plastic and the most popular size is normally 5 gallons, although they are available in both smaller and larger form. Over time brewers generally move on to glass carboys which come in a variety of sizes and are easier to sanitize.
This is fitted to the fermenting bucket to allow the carbon dioxide produced by the fermenting process to escape without letting in any air or outside contaminants. This works by filling the air lock with water which forms a seal over the beer. When the pressure inside the container gets to great the gas forces its way up through the water as air bubbles allowing it to get to the outside air.
Brew kettle or pot
The brew pot is used to mash to grain (turning starch into sugars) ready to start preparing wort. A good size is about 5 gallons, but they can go as large as 55 gallons. What’s important is to make sure that there is plenty of head room in the pot when boiling, otherwise you’ll end up with a nasty mess to clean up due to over boil.
A boiling pot is used to boil your wort (malt, hops and water) before you reach the fermentation stage. This pot needs to be as big as you can find, preferably over 5 gallons, but at least 3 gallons to fit in all the liquid.
You need a thermometer to measure the temperature of the wort while boiling. The best option is a dial thermometer which can clip to the side of your pot while remaining submersed in the wort. Other options include a floating thermometer or digital thermometer. It is possible to use cooking thermometers during this process, but they may not be as accurate.
Sanitizer is used before every new brew batch and is vital that each and every piece of brewing equipment is sterilised. This eliminates bacteria and prevents infections from getting into the batch and ruining the taste of the beer. Sanitizer comes in a lot of different shapes and forms, but the easiest way is to buy some brew-safe sachets that don’t require you to rinse with water after use, allowing you to get started brewing straight away.
Bottles, caps and accessories
With the brewing process complete you’ll need somewhere to store the newly made beer. Luckily there are a lot of options available when it comes to bottles. Some kits come with bottles included, although they will most likely be plastic. This doesn’t really make that much of a difference, apart from the overall look and feel when you’re holding it. If you’re the sort that must have glass bottles, they can be found easily in most brew shops, websites or even amazon. If you don’t want to pay for new bottles you could always collect empties from friends and family members. As with bottles you can pretty much find the caps anywhere that homebrew supplies are sold and relatively cheaply.
Once you have your bottles and caps you will need a bottle capper to secure the caps firmly to the bottle top to prevent loss of carbonation. You can buy expensive cappers to help you do this, but for the purposes of what you need, a simple hand capper will suffice.
Bucket with a spigot
This is a second bucket with a tap fitted slightly above the sediment line to allow for easy bottling without getting any of the sediment left over from the fermenting process in your bottles. There are more complicated ways to fill bottles (such as siphoning using tubes), but this requires a much steadier hand and can easily go wrong.
The Beer Brewing Process
Depending on the method you are using and your experience level the process of making homebrewed beer can vary greatly. If you are a beginner you will most likely be using some form of malt extract kit to help make things easier and speed things along. Using this method you can bypass the first stage of mashing grain and move straight on to boiling the malt extract with the hops.
The more advanced brewer will using the all-grain method. This includes creating your own wort instead of using an extract kit. This is done by boiling the grain with water (otherwise known as mashing) at a certain temperature. This process turns the starches in the grain to the sugars needed for fermentation. Typically malted barley is the most popular grain for this, although there are many other types (wheat, oats or rye) that can prove equally as good.
The resulting wort is then boiled with different kinds of hops to create unique flavourings within the beer. This process in general takes around 60 – 90 minutes and the hops are added at different times throughout the boil to affect attributes such as, bitterness, flavour and aroma. The hops added at the beginning (usually within 15 minutes) contribute to the bitterness of the beer. The Flavouring hops are added between 40 – 20 minutes before the end of the boil and depending on the variety used, can create lots of distinct tastes to the beer. The Finishing hops that create aromas in the beer are added about 15 minutes before the end of the boil.
Once the primary stages are complete, it’s time to move on to fermentation stage. This involves adding your wort to a large plastic fermenting bucket or glass carboy and adding yeast. Yeast can either be bought, made naturally or harvested from a previously fermented batch. It is important to ensure that the fermenter is air tight to prevent bacteria and wild yeasts from infecting the batch. This is done by making sure you use a good quality airlock that is properly sanitised.
During this stage optimum temperatures must be followed to allow for smooth fermentation. This can vary depending on the type of beer being brewed. The typical temperature for ales is around 18 – 24°c, and for lagers around 10°c. Once the conditions are correct, fermentation usually begins around the 12 hour mark and continues for up to 7 days, but in some circumstances can go on for longer. During this period the yeast eats the sugars and processes them into ethanol and carbon dioxide. As time goes on a thick sediment is produced at the bottom of the fermenter. This contains the used up yeast, as well as other unusable components such as fats and proteins.
After the beer has finished fermenting, it needs to be carbonated before it’s ready to drink. There are different methods to achieving this, but for the average home brewer the easiest way to do this is to add priming sugar or carbonation tablets to the beer at the time of bottling. Another method is called forced carbonation which includes controlling the exact level of carbonation using a pressurized keg, but this is best left to the more advanced brewer. Once your beer has been bottled it is advisable to let it sit in the fridge for around 7 days. This improves the overall conditioning and gives more accurate results when it comes to tasting.
There are many different laws when it comes to home brewing depending on what country you live in. In most countries, now including all 50 states in the U.S, it is legal to brew (in various quantities) for your own personal consumption. It’s not legal however to sell your home made brew for profit.
It is your responsibility to thoroughly check the law where you live, we take no responsibility for any resulting legal action. For a full list of countries and there laws on brewing check here.
Hopefully after reading this simple overview, you can see how easy it can be to get into home brewing. As soon as you’ve successfully made your first beer, you’ll never want to buy store bought beer again. Thanks for reading my home brew guide, I hope you enjoyed it, as much I do writing about it.