Have you ever wanted to make beer at home? Home brewing for the first time? We’ve decided to start the new year with a three part guide that takes you through your first batch of beer including the equipment needed, how to brew the beer and how to ferment, bottle and age it.
Editor’s Note: #1 selling author John Palmer and I have put together a How to Brew with Malt Extract video/DVD which is beautifully filmed and can teach you the basics of brewing beer with malt extract.. It will get you up to speed in less than an hour and you can purchase/rent it digitally or on DVD here.
Brewing is a great hobby. In these difficult economic times, many people are turning to hobbies that can be done inexpensively at home in a reasonable amount of time. Brewing fits this bill, as it does not require a huge investment in capital or time, and is a great hobby to enjoy with friends.
You don’t need a large set of fancy and expensive equipment to brew your first batch of beer. Many brewing supply stores sell starter kits for $75 or less. If you are interested in pursuing the hobby long term, a deluxe brewing kit can be found for less than $150. A number of online stores will even ship the equipment and ingredients directly to your door. It can cost even less if you borrow some or all the equipment from a friend. Here’s a quick summary of what is needed:
- A Large Pot – at least 3 gallons in size, though a larger one will generally result in fewer spills
- Tubing & Clamp – to siphon and bottle the beer- A 6 foot section of 3/8″ ID food grade plastic tubing will work. Clamps are available at your brew store
- An Airtight Fermenting Bucket – a 5 gal plastic bucket with lid, or a glass carboy. If you can afford it, purchase a glass carboy as they are easier to keep sanitized and don’t leak. If you get a carboy you may need a large bottle brush to clean it
- An Air Lock and Stopper – sized to fit your fermenter
- A Bottle Filler – available from your homebrew supplier – should be sized to fit on the end of your siphon tubing
- A Thermometer – A floating thermometer with a range of 0-100 C or up from 32-220 F
- Bottles – You need just over 2 cases in 12 oz bottles to bottle 5 gallons of beer. Do not use twist-off bottles – use high quality bottles that require a bottle opener.
- Bottle Brush – While not absolutely required, you usually need a small brush to get your bottles clean
- A Bottle Capper – a hand driven device to cap your bottles also available from your homebrew store
- Bottle Caps – New bottle caps sold at your brewing supplier – you need about 50 caps for a 5 gal batch
- A Sanitizing solution – Beer is prone to infection, so everything must be sanitized before use. Household bleach can be used, but it must be thoroughly rinsed to prevent contamination. Your brew store may have alternatives such as iodophor and starsan.
The list below assumes you want to brew 5 gallons of a simple ale. You can use BeerSmith to formulate your own recipe or download recipes from our recipe page if you are looking for a different style.
- 6 lbs of Unhopped Pale Malt Extract – Usually this comes in cans that are around 3 lbs each. Malt provides the sweet base that the yeast will feed on to make alcohol. Available from various manufacturers. Dry malt extract is an acceptable alternative.
- 2.25 Oz of East Kent Goldings Hops – Hops add bitterness to your beer. Pellets are most common and easy to store. Keep your unused hops in the freezer in airtight bags.
- 1 Package of Wyeast American Ale liquid Yeast (#1056) [ or White Labs California Ale #WLP001 ]. Liquid yeast gives very high quality beer.
- 2/3 cup Priming Sugar – such as corn sugar. Also available from your brew store or grocer.
An Overview of the Brewing Process
Brewing consists of five simple stages.
- Brewing the Beer – Pale malt extract and hops are boiled together with water for about an hour to sterilize the extract and release the bittering qualities of the hops. Frequently grains are steeped in the mixture prior to the boil to add additional color and flavor complexity.
- Cooling and Fermenting – The hot mixture (called wort) is cooled to room temperature and siphoned or transferred to a fermenter where it is combined with additional water to achieve the desired 5 gallon batch size. Once the mixture drops to room temperature, yeast is added to start the fermentation process. Cleanliness and sanitation are very important since the wort can be easily infected by bacteria in this state. An airlock is used to keep the fermenter sealed during fermentation. Your beer will ferment for 1-2 weeks.
- Priming and Bottling – Once the beer is fully fermented, it is siphoned to another container to prepare for bottling. Here priming sugars such as corn sugar sugar are mixed with the beer. The beer is siphoned into bottles and each bottle is capped with a bottle capping device.
- Aging – Once the beer has been bottled it needs to age for 2-6 weeks. During aging the yeast will ferment the remaining sugar you added and create carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide will naturally carbonate your beer so it is nice and bubbly. In addition, undesirable sediments such as excess yeast and proteins will drop out of the beer during aging and this will enhance the flavor of your beer. In may take several months to reach peak flavor, though homemade beer usually drinkable after a month.
- Drinking – When the beer is properly aged – just put the bottles in the fridge and enjoy! There’s nothing quite like a great beer that you made yourself.
This is the five step process for making your own beer. The brewing portion takes a few hours, and bottling and transferring take another hour+ spread out over a few weeks.
Overall, brewing a batch of extract beer involves 3-4 hours of your time and about 4 weeks to ferment and age into a drinkable brew. This makes home brewing an attractive hobby for people who lead a busy lifestyle, but enjoy making things from scratch.
In part two of our first time brewing guide, we will give you detailed instructions on the brewing and fermenting process.
Thanks again for your continued support. Don’t forget to browse the larger BeerSmith blog (which has hundreds of articles), subscribe for regular delivery, or listen to the podcast (also on the blog) for a wealth of great brewing information.
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