How to brew beer
This method assumes you have never brewed beer before. You will need to get some equipment. You can find this equipment online, or at your favorite homebrew store. They usually will sell this equipment in one kit. Depending on what is in the kit, it should cost somewhere between $40 USD and $70 USD.
Minimum Equipment needed
Pot large enough to hold 5 gallons Large metal spoon Grain Bag (if using specialty grains) Funnel with a Strainer Bucket Fermenter with airlock Sanitizer Hydrometer Thermometer Lots of ice (does NOT go in the beer) Tub large enough to hold the pot and icewater Extract Beer Kit 3-4 gallons of spring water Siphon Bottling Bucket Bottle caps Bottle Capper Beer Bottles
The most important step for homebrewing is the first one. You must start by cleaning and sanitizing everything! We are creating a food product and adding micro-organisms (yeast). If we are not careful about cleaning, other unwanted micro-organisms might move in too. The resulting beer would not be toxic, it would just taste that way. There are no known pathogens that can live in alcohol, but we don’t want to ruin the beer. Make sure everything is very clean.
If you are using a plastic fermenter, make sure you use a very soft sponge. Do not use the abrasive side of the sponge, because this will scratch the fermenter and give bacteria a good place to hide. Once everything is clean, you will need to sanitize your equipment.
Sanitizing is not sterilizing. Sterilizing the equipment would likely require an autoclave, and it really isn’t necessary. We are not trying to kill every micro-organism. That is a very difficult task. We are just trying to create an environment where our good yeast can easily out-compete any other micro-organism. Too many other bad micro-organisms can create off-flavors.
The best sanitizer to use is a one-step sanitizer like Star San. Star San is a blend of phosphoric acid and dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid. It is a weak acid that with 2 minutes of contact will kill most micro-organisms. It is odorless and tasteless. It does not matter if you use the foam sanitizer or the non-foam sanitizer (Sani Clean), both are very effective. Make sure the solution touches every part of your equipment that will touch the wort after the boil. Wort is the unfermented sweet liquid which is created from the mashing and boiling process. It becomes beer once it is feremented. Make sure the funnel, strainer, fermenter, airlock, hydrometer, and thermometer are all sanitized. Keep the items in the solution until you are ready to use them. Do not rinse anything! The foam is ok, and will not affect the flavor of your beer.
Remove your yeast from the refrigerator at this time, and store it somewhere at room temperature (75F, 25C). Most likely your kit came with some form of liquid yeast, usually in a vial or an unfortunately named “smack pack”. If you have a “smack pack”, do not smack the pack. Smacking the pack can result in an explosion of yeast and nutrient covering everything in the room. If you have a “smack pack”, now would be a good time to get it started. Lay the package down on a firm surface. Feel around inside the package. There will be another smaller package inside the larger package. When you find it, gently apply pressure to the inner package with your knuckles until you hear a pop.
If your beer kit came with specialty grains, you will need to add them to a grain (steeping) bag. With the specialty grains we are going to make “grain tea”. This “grain tea” will help to give the beer more complex flavors and a better mouth feel. This also converts any starches in the grains to sugars for the yeast. Heat a gallon of water per instructions. This is usually between 150F (65C) and 180F (82C). Your beer kit should include instructions for the specialty grains.
Soak the grains in the water, keeping the temperature as close as possible to the temperature given in the instructions. Occasionally stir the “tea” to saturate the grains as much as possible. After thirty minutes, remove the grain bag from the “wort”.
Extracts and Adjuncts
Remove the wort from the heat. Add any liquid or dry malt extracts to the wort. You should also add honey, candi sugar, or any other sugars at this time. Stir in all ingredients well. Make sure none of the syrup from the malt is unmixed on the bottom of the pot. Heat the solution just to a boil.
At this point, start your clock. You will boil the wort for another hour. Hops are added to the wort at different scheduled times. Hops that are identified as bittering hops are usually added at the very beginning. These hops make the beer bitter to balance the sweetness from the malt. The next schedule of hops is called the flavoring or finishing hops. These are added very near the end of the boil. The last schedule of hops added is called the aroma hops. These add to the aroma of the beer and are usually added immediately after the boil is finished.
Your kit instructions should tell you when to add the hops. Usually the bittering hops are added at the beginning, the finishing hops are added 50 minutes into the one hour boil, and the aroma hops are added right after the boil is finished and the flame is turned off.
When you add your hops, be prepared for a boil over. It might take a few minutes before your pot returns to a gentle boil. Stir the wort and reduce the heat until the boil calms down.
Cool off beer
After 60 minutes of boiling the beer, you will need to cool the beer. Carefully place your sanitized thermometer into the wort. Make sure the thermometer is able to read temperatures higher than 212F (100C), otherwise your thermometer will break. The temperature of the wort should be around 212F (100C). You need to cool off the wort as quickly as possible.
Prepare an ice bath in your tub. You can use your bathtub if you need to. You need something large enough to hold the ice, your pot, and some water. Do not add the ice directly to the wort. This could contaminate you beer, and produce some very nasty flavors. Gently stir the wort in your pot. This helps cool the wort faster, because the heat exchanged through the pot is constant.
Once the wort is below 80F (26.6C), you are ready to strain the wort into your fermenter. Remove your thermometer. Make sure that your fermenter, funnel, and strainer are all sanitized. Carefully strain your wort into the fermenter. It is ok if some particles get into the beer. Fill your fermenter to five gallons with the spring water. You should not use tap water unless the tap water was previously boiled and then cooled. Tap water can be a source of contamination.
Remove a small amount of the wort using something sanitized like a sanitized glass or “wine thief”, and pour it into your hydrometer jar. This is so you can tell how much alcohol your beer can potentially contain. Use the hydrometer to determine how much sugar is in your wort. Record this in a brew journal.
At this point you are almost done. Open your yeast package and pour it into your beer. This is called pitching the yeast. Seal the fermenter, and add the airlock to the lid. You can use water in the airlock, but vodka would be better. Any micro-organisms that want in your beer will be deterred by the high alcohol in vodka. Place your fermenter in a dark cool place. Basements are perfect. You want the ambient temperature to be around 65F-75F (18C-24C). The cooler the better. At this point you can relax, clean up, and have a beer!
Some time between 8 hours and 48 hours, your airlock will start to bubble. The total time for fermentation depends on many factors; yeast used, ambient temperature, amount of sugar in the beer. A fermentation that starts late is not a bad sign. Sometimes it just takes longer. If you do not see activity within 72 hours, you will want to peek into your fermenter. If there is krausen (the foam which appears on top of fermenting beer), you’re ok. It just means that your fermentation or airlock has a leak. You can correct that next time. If there is no sign of fermentation, there might be another problem. You can pitch another batch of yeast. You should also consult your nearest homebrew expert or homebrew store for more advice.
After some time, the bubbles will slow down or stop. You are now ready to rack and bottle your beer.
Rack your beer into a sanitized bottling bucket. Racking the beer is simply siphoning the top part of the beer into a new container. Make sure you leave the sediment (lees) behind.
Your beer kit should come with “bottling sugar”. This sugar is used to carbonate your beer. Gently mix in the sugar with a sterilized spoon. The remaining yeast will eat this sugar and produce CO2, the carbonation for your beer. Fill each bottle with your beer from the bottling bucket. Leave about 1 1/2 inches of airspace. Seal the bottles with a capper and store the bottles in a cool place, 65F-75F (18C-24C). After 2 weeks, your beer should be ready to enjoy. Chill a bottle, and then open it. Enjoy!
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Credits and Links
I live in Denver, Colorado. This blog is everything about beer, wine, cider, mead and other spirits.
I am a avid homebrewer and winemaker. I’ve been making my own beer and wine for many years. I started making beer when I was in college (mostly because the drinking age in the United States is 21). My first few beers were horrible. The beers are much better now, and I often supply my neighborhood with free beer! It is a great hobby!