With the recent surge in the popularity of craft beer, many brew enthusiasts are learning how to make beer at home. Contrary to popular belief, brewing your own beer doesn’t have to be complicated. Basic kits exist to help you get started right away. Becoming an expert brew master, however, requires a little more work, but reaps its own rewards.
Home brewing has grown phenomenally in recent years. In 2009, there were 750,000 home brewers in the United States and that number continues to grow. Enthusiasts have formed over 800 clubs and often compete in one or more of the 300 competitions held throughout the year. Few hobbies are as much fun as brewing your own beer – especially when you get to drink the finished product!
The History of Home Beer Brewing
Home brewing has its roots in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Barley was the grain of choice for these societies, due to its durability. The discovery of “malted barley” led to the invention of the process of fermentation. The first home brew was made shortly after. A rich tradition of brewing was born.
Home brewing is an important part of the American culture. Most of the Founding Fathers made their own beer, as did the first immigrants who landed at Plymouth Rock. In fact, the Pilgrims made the construction of a brew house one of their top priorities. Most home brewers in Colonial America were women because beer was considered food.
Beer Brewing Fun Facts
- Extracts are a distilled form of boiled malted barley. Most are available in cans or powders, depending on the brand. Your first batch may be brewed completely from extract, which is nearly as easy as boiling water.
- Beer recipes have been discovered on Babylonian clay tablets from the year 4700 BC. How’s that for a vintage brew!
- The beer can was introduced in 1935.
- For optimum flavor, dark lagers should be served at a temperature of 50 degrees F.
Learning How to Make Beer at Home
Many websites offer brewing equipment at low prices, but, if possible, find a local home brewing shop. Generally, the people who run home brewing stores have extensive experience in how to make beer at home. This experience and knowledge is invaluable to those who are just starting to learn the craft. Many local stores offer seminars and workshops about making beer at home that are ideal for the beginner.
The largest expenditure for home brewing is the purchase of equipment. Entry-level kits are very affordable and contain basic equipment that can be reused. Some people prefer to purchase a kit while others start from scratch.
Basic home brewing equipment is as follows:
Primary fermenter: The fermenter is the heart and soul of your brewing operation. An entry-level primary fermenter is typically a 6.5 gallon food safe plastic bucket with a nozzle attached about an inch from the bottom.
Brew kettle: A brew kettle is a pot capable of holding at least two gallons of liquid, preferably made of steel with no non-stick coating. Most home brewers recommend buying a brew kettle that can hold 5-6 gallons.
Airlock: Airlocks prevent outside air from contaminating the beer as it ferments in the primary fermenter.
Bottles and caps: Save or purchase at least two cases, or 48 individual, pop top bottles. Pop-tops are the only acceptable type of bottle for home brewing use.
Capper: Cappers are used for capping your bottles. A basic twin-lever capper is sufficient.
Hydrometer: The hydrometer tests the density of your beer. The density is also known as the “specific gravity.” The density is required to calculate the alcohol by volume, or “ABV” of your brew.
Hose, clamp and bottle filler: A food safe hose is used for transferring the brew into a secondary fermenter or bottles. A clamp ensures that the liquid doesn’t pour until you are ready, and a bottle filler allows you to bottle your beer without making a mess.
Secondary fermenter: Also known as a “carboy,” these are typically large glass bottles capable of holding about 5-6.5 gallons of beer. The main advantage of using a secondary fermenter is that the end product will have less sediment in it. Sediment is a natural byproduct of yeast fermentation.
Bottle washer: This handy device attaches to your kitchen sink to provide a simple and quick way to rinse out and clean bottles.
If you purchase your own equipment, expect to spend around $100. Basic beginner kits may be purchased for $80 and up. Depending on the style of beer being brewed, ingredients cost from $25 to $45 per 5-gallon yield.
How To Make Beer at Home
Start by purchasing an ingredient kit. Ingredient kits are usually a combination of extracts and whole grains. Ingredient kits require that you learn brewing techniques, however, this is where the true joy of home brewing comes in.
Read the instructions. One advantage of purchasing an ingredient kit is that it comes with detailed directions, assisting beginners to learn the process. If something is unclear, check with the local home brewing store for clarification.
Follow the instructions exactly. The proper timing is essential when brewing beer at home. Be precise in your measurements and accurate with your timing. Following the instructions will walk you through the brewing process, including the steeping, boiling, and removal of air using the airlock.
Cool, and then transfer the “wort”, or unfermented beer, into the fermentation bottle.
Allow the brew to cool to room temperature and “pitch the yeast.” Pitching the yeast is the term used to describe the addition of yeast to the unfermented beer. Place the capped, filled fermenter in a cool, dark place for 7-10 days to allow for fermentation.
Prime your brew. Priming is the addition of sugar to the fermented beer to encourage carbonation. Pour the primed brew into individual bottles and cap.
Age your home brew. Again, place the filled bottles in a cool, dark place. Do not store in the refrigerator. Wait at least another 7-10 days, preferably longer. You should begin to see the liquid clearing as yeast sediment sinks to the bottom of the bottle.
Last but not least, enjoy your beer with friends and family. Keep detailed notes about what you like or dislike about certain kits, ingredients and flavors. The fun part of learning how to make beer at home is there’s always a new variation to try. Keep the hobby fun and experiment with new types of beers and home brewing techniques.
Tips And Tricks
Here are some helpful tips and tricks to help you as you learn how to make beer at home…
- Be patient. Your first batch may take as long as 3-4 weeks to complete fermentation.
- Don’t give up. You might wait three weeks, eagerly anticipating your first batch of brew, only to find that it’s the most horrible thing you’ve ever tasted. Home brewing is as much an art as it is a hobby and there is a learning curve.
- Never stop learning about new and different techniques. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things.
- Become active in the local home brewing community. The sharing of knowledge will make you a better brewer. You’ll also make new friends.
Expanding Your Home Brewing Hobby
Learning how to make beer at home is a unique hobby where there is always something new to learn. The pursuit of perfection in taste and method spurs most enthusiasts on to bigger and better things. As you gain more experience in home brewing, you might consider expanding your craft with the following ideas:
- The logical step after beginning with a kit is all-grain brewing. Grains must be mashed for use in your home brew.
- Purchase a fully automated brewing system.
- There is no end to what kinds of beers you can brew. Challenge yourself by brewing unique beers, such as Trappist-style ales. You can also design your own beer.
- Enter home brew contests.
- Design and print your own beer labels and T-shirts. Who knows, one day your beer might end up on the shelves of your local supermarket.
Home Brewing Resources
Check out the following online resources for additional information about how to make beer at home…
Homebrewers Association of America: An online community for home brewers. Includes how-to videos, tips, techniques, forums, and home brewing news.
Brew Your Own: The How-to Homebrew Beer Magazine
The Brewers Association: Promotion and protection of for small and independent brewers, as well as the community of brewing enthusiasts.
Tasty Brew: An online community for home brewers with recipes, forums, tips, calculators, and user journals.
Related YouTube Videos
Check out the following videos to learn even more about starting this hobby.