…experiences brewing beer…
(confused? Try here first)
A Basic Overview
Let’s go over what home brewing is. Home brewing is brewing beer at home. Simple? Sure.
Beer is a handful of ingredients boiled together, which yeast is pitched into which then ferments. This fermentation results in alcohol and CO2 which is why beer is carbonated and gets you drunk. You need a variety of equipment to perform this as well as ingredients to actually make the beer. I’ll briefly go over everything in this post but expect more detailed posts into each topic to come later.
- Malted barley grain which is grain that has been “malted”, which I won’t go into but essentially converts the starch in the grain into simpler sugars that will be consumed by yeast later. The majority of ‘beer’ is this grain, first mashed to release more sugars, then boiled. Different grains produce different body, colors and tastes of beer.
- Hops are flowers of a hop plant that are put into the beer at various times throughout the brewing phases to give aroma, flavor, and bitterness to the beer. You generally add hops when you boil the malted grains, early in the boil to add bitterness, closer to the end of the boil to add flavor and aroma. There are many different hops, all with different characteristics.
- Water is essential as beer is mostly water. Using tap water is generally fine for most home brewing though there are ways to change it if need be.
- Yeast is also important. Can’t make beer without yeast. The yeast consume the sugars and release CO2 and alcohol into the wort, which is how the wort becomes beer. Different yeasts produce different flavors and characteristics in the beer. There are many strains of yeast out there, for many different styles of beer.
- Other ingredients can be added for different effects for different styles of beer. Spices like ginger and cinnamon for a Spiced Winter Ale, Orange Peel for an Orange Wheat, or even just something like Irish Moss to help clarify the beer so it’s not so hazy when you look at it through a glass. You don’t need any other ingredients than the first four, however, and many fantastic beers are made with just those.
How do you get malted grain? Well, there’s two ways you can go about it (three, if you malt your own grain, but that’s getting a bit too involved for our purposes). First, grain at the home brew store is already malted. Second, the home brew store also contains Malt Extract in Liquid and Dry form. This is malted grain that has already been Mashed, which saves a step in the brewing process and is the biggest distinction between two major home brewing methods: All-Grain or Extract.
All-Grain simply means you buy multiple pounds of grain and Mash it at home which requires more equipment and effort as you have to keep the grain in water at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time to get the grain to release the sugars. All-Grain is more intensive and more complicated. It also gives you more control over fine details in the beer.
Extract means you purchase already Mashed Malt, which saves time and effort. Back in the day, extract beers were simpler and blander than All-grain but these days you can easily steep a pound or two of specialty grains, use malt extract and get a beer that rivals an all-grain beer.
Equipment needs change depending on whether you’re brewing all-grain or extract.
- 3-5 gallon brew pot (for boiling)
- Fermenter (holds beer after boiling)
- Measuring cups
- Something to stir with
- Bottling Bucket
- Bottle capper
- Bottle caps
- Bottle brush
- Siphon(for transferring beer from fermenter to bottling bucket)
- Racking Cane(used with siphon to take liquid and leave behind sediment)
- Optional: Hydrometer (for taking Original/Final Gravity), Wine thief (helps with taking Gravity readings from narrow-necked car boys)
- Bigger brew pot (6 gallons or more)
- All of the above
- Mash Tun (holds grain and water for Mashing process, my friend uses a 10-gallon igloo cooler)
- Lauter tun (can be the Mash tun with a false bottom, holds grain while you Sparge( Sparging is pouring hot water over the grain after Mashing…I’ll get into it later))
- Clean/sanitize everything (Infection is #1 cause of bad funky beer)
- If All-Grain: Mash/sparge grain. This gets you your wort.
- If Extract: Steep specialty grain at 155 for 15 minutes before removing.
- Now you have Wort. Bring it to a boil.
- If Extract, take off boil, stir in your malt extract, bring back to boil.
- This is the start of your 60 minute boil. Throughout the 60 minutes, you put in hops, early for bittering, towards the end for flavor/aroma.
- After 60 minutes, you end the boil and now you need to cool it down. Beginners use an ice bath in the sink/bathtub, others use a Wort Chiller, still others use both! An ice bath works fine though.
- Once wort cools down, you transfer it to the fermenter. If you did a partial boil of 3 or so gallons, you would now add room temp. water to increase the volume to 5 gallons. Once you have 5 gallons, now is when you would take an Original Gravity reading.
- You pitch the yeast! Hoorah! Depending on the yeast, you can just pour it in.
- Put the cap on the fermenter, fasten an airlock or blowoff system to it, and put it in the place where it’s going to sit for awhile, hopefully at a temperature that is good for the yeast.
- After a few days, the airlock/siphon should show signs of activity, CO2 bubbling up. Also, a strange foamy head will form at the top of the liquid in the fermenter. This is good.
- After a couple weeks or so, the fermentation should be complete and the beer ready to be bottled. This is when you would take a Final Gravity which would tell you if the yeast finished consuming all the available sugars in the wort.
- Then, you bottle. This generally consists of boiling some priming sugar, siphoning to a bottling bucket, then filling bottles, then capping them. The priming sugar gives the yeast a bit more work to do so they produce CO2 which carbonates the beer. In a couple more weeks, WA-LAH! Beer!
I know this is the simplest overview of what can be an incredibly complex process. I promise to go more in-depth in future posts but I wanted to start with the basics. Here’s a simple overview of what it takes and what the process is.
Resources for more information: