Home Brewing 101: A Beginner's Guide to Home Brewing Beer
Spoiler alert: This is the easiest, most satisfying (literally and figuratively) DIY home project I've ever done (and requires little more than a half day of work). Do I sound like Lil' Suzy Homemaker or what? Okay, so maybe I'm a little biased. Perhaps it's the easiest and most fun and satisfying DIY project if you have a love for good food and drinks like I do. Also, I feel like the sex appeal of home brewing is up there with bartending. Am I right?
However, the thought of making your own beer that comes out good can be daunting. So today I'm walking you through the step-by-step home brewing process that I recently learned. Making my own batch of beer has been on "The List" as long as I've been drinking beer, which is a long time, but not as long as you may think. Even still, I didn't want to just pick up your run-of-the-mill home brewing kit, but really put some research and time into making a beer I'd not only be happy drinking, but also happy giving to others to try.
After a lot of research and asking around, I settled on Northern Brewer, whom I found out to be one of the more well-regarded home brew supply shops in the U.S.. My beer of choice: Honey brown ale. Now how good does that sound? But enough small talk. Onto the beer making.
What You'll Need
- Large kettle to boil beer
- Large jug for fermentation
- Fermentation airlock
- Bottles and bottle caps
- Battle capper
- Fizz tablets (or priming sugar)
- Beer ingredients (Malt, hops, yeast, water and any other additional flavors and ingredients, which in this case included honey and priming sugar, which came with my kit from Northern Brewer)
You'll need a few other items, but many of these will be in your kitchen, such as a large spoon, thermometer, ice, and other ingredients and tools, depending on the type of beer and how much beer you're making. However, the above ingredients are the essentials, and what I needed to make my first batch of home brewed beer.
Clean and Sanitize
This is the single most important part of making beer. Let me repeat, there is nothing more important then cleaning and sanitizing, because if you don't properly clean and sanitize, then you can do everything else immaculately but your home brewed beer will turn out skanky. Yes, skanky, and no one likes skanky beer. You'll need to clean every single item that comes into contact with the beer and then sanitize it, which is as easy soaking all of the equipment in water with liquid sanitizer or sanitizer tablets. In my case, sanitizer tablets came with my kit. Did I mention that this is the most important thing you'll do?
Brew Your Beer
Alright, now it's time to make your beer. Did I mention it's really easy? Brewing beer is about as easy as brewing tea or making homemade mashed potatoes, it just takes longer to do. All you're doing is heating up water and following instructions on adding ingredients. In my case, I was making a gallon of beer, so I began by heating 1.25 gallons of water in a large kettle (just like riding a bike, or perhaps brewing tea). However, I actually used spring water, since Los Angeles has some of the worse water quality (high in chemicals) of the major U.S. metros. I added the crushed grain bag to the water and let it steep for 10 minutes as the water reached boiling temperature (and then discarded the grain bag).
After the water is boiling, what you have now is called wort, which is the term for unfermented beer. Next, go to the refrigerator and open a beer for yourself. What fun is making beer if you're not drinking some during the process? You'll then boil your wort for 45 minutes, but all the while adding ingredients at different times during this process. Typically, at the beginning when your wort has just begun to boil, you'll add the malt extract syrup and bittering hops. Toward the end of the 45 minutes, you'll then add the flavoring and finishing hops. In my case, with the honey brown ale, I added the malt extract syrup and bittering hops at the beginning, then the finishing hops after 30 minutes, and once the 45 minutes of boiling had been reached, removed from heat and added two ounces of honey.
Lastly, you'll need to cool your wort (could someone not have come up with a better word than "wort"?) to 60-70° F, essentially when the kettle is cool to the touch. I did this by simply placing the kettle in my sink and filling the sink with ice.
And that's how you brew beer. Did you hear me mention that it's easy? Now reward yourself with a cold beer.
Ferment Your Beer
Is it time to try the beer? I wish! Now is when the magic happens. But did you remember to clean and sanitize your jug, siphon, air lock, cap, and packet of yeast? One day you'll thank me for being obsessive about this.
You'll now take the cooled wort and siphon a gallon from the kettle to the jug. Place the cap on top and rock back and forth for a couple minutes. Add in your yeast (in this case it's half the packet from Northern Brewer) and place the fermentation airlock on top of the jug. Place the jug in a cool, dark space and then crack open a beer, because your work is done for the day. How easy was that?
The coming days will probably see some bubbles in the airlock and a frothy foam atop the beer. This is good. Fermentation can vary depending on the beer and the temperature of the room it's fermenting in, but I let it sit for two weeks. It should be finished when the yeast has settled at the bottom.
Bottle Your Beer
Now to my favorite part of the home brewing process, bottling, which means you're on the home stretch. You can buy a bottle capper for about $10 from Amazon, which is what I used to put caps on the bottles. Once again, make sure you've sanitized every single item, including the siphon, beer bottles, caps, and anything the beer will touch. You'll then siphon the beer from the jug to each bottle until you've siphoned out all of the beer. Before you cap it, however, you'll add a fizzing tablet (or priming sugar) and then place the caps on top. The fizzing tablets carbonate what's otherwise flat beer. Store the bottles at room temperature for a minimum of a couple weeks (depending on the beer) and then refrigerate.
Now is it time to drink? No, you still have to wait, potentially as long as a few weeks for it to prime. It was recommended that I wait a couple of weeks after bottling. However, after popping open a bottle 14 days later, it still wasn't ready. The beer tasted a little flat. But after another week it was ready, and it was delicious, and friends drank it and affirmed that my first shot at brewing beer was a success! Now how hard was that?
Home Brewing Beginner Tips
- Clean AND sanitize. I can't reinforce this enough. It was the biggest tip I got from brewers, but also people who have tried making their own beer and didn't succeed.
- Go to a local home brewing supply store. In Los Angeles, we're lucky enough to have a few home brewing shops, including Eagle Rock Home Brewing Supply, which also does beginner classes. The beer industry is one of the most hospitable industries I've encountered, and they'll give you expert and insider tips that are unique for you.
- Choose a beer you'll actually drink. In other words, don't just pick up a home brewing kit from your local retail shop that isn't a beer you typically drink. Take your time to research and find the right kit or ingredients that you'll actually like.
- Buy a small kettle/kit to begin with. While many may recommend getting a 7.5 gallon kettle for your first time brewing, I didn't want to be stuck with tons of crappy beer on my first run. You likely already have a kettle large enough for making a gallon of beer, so if it's a success and you want to become a regular home brewer, then buy bigger equipment.
What's your favorite beer of all time?