Maybe you want to know how to make beer because you have a fussy palette. Maybe you just want to try out a new hobby. Whatever the reason, making beer requires some planning and preparation. It also requires some special equipment and a little patience.
Choosing a Home Brew Kit
There are kits available for new brewers that will make the job much easier. Starter kits can range from an economical $80 or so to around $450 dollars. The high-end starter kits include everything you need, except the ingredients and bottles to put the beer in. However, most starter kits will require that you also by a brewing kettle with at least a three gallon capacity.
Basic starter kits include a 6 gallon plastic food-grade bucket for fermenting. The buckets are not entirely airtight and you cannot see through the plastic to observe the fermentation process. You may want to try a more advanced kit, with a clear six-gallon carboy instead of the plastic bucket. The carboy lets you see the fermentation as it is happening, cutting down on guesswork.
Basic kits usually only allow for single-stage fermentation, where the beer is bottled after a very short aging period. By getting a more advanced kit, you can easily upgrade to two-stage brewing once you get the hang of things, by simply adding a second carboy. These kits include the additional hardware needed for the carboy as well.
While expensive, deluxe kits have many advantages. If you are a true beer lover and know that you will stick to the hobby, then this is the kit for you. Deluxe kits allow for two-stage fermentation. There is a primary six-gallon carboy and a secondary five-gallon carboy included. The second carboy allows you to age the beer for several months if you wish. With some beers, such as stronger ales or mead require two-stage fermentation for extended aging.
Deluxe kits will also give you a few extras that are fun to have. The test jar is larger, allowing for more accurate hydrometer readings. The carboys have two “Fermometers” so you can monitor the temperature more closely.
Making Your First Beer
Keeping the equipment clean and sanitized should be your top priority. Fermenting involves the use of live yeast. These same conditions that encourage yeast growth also help dangerous bacteria to grow. For this reason, it is vital that you sanitize the equipment just before brewing. Use a solution of 1 Tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon water. Immerse all of your brewing equipment, anything that will contact the beer, in the solution. Rinse the equipment after soaking to prevent any affect on the flavor of the beer.
Have everything you will need, including ice, ready ahead of time. Keep a notebook handy so you can write down each step in the process, the ingredients you used and how much. This will help you make better beer next time.
How to Make Beer
The first step in brewing is to prepare the yeast. Liquid yeast is preferable for new brewers. It provides less risk of bacterial contamination, which is always a concern in brewing. Before adding the yeast to the wort (pitching), you should start the yeast. This means keeping it at 80F for two days before you begin the brew. The day before you brew, pitch the yeast to a wart starter of ¼ cup dry malt extract and 1 pint water that has been boiled and then cooled to 75F. You may also wish to add ¼ teaspoon of yeast nutrient. Allow the mixture to sit in a warm place until you are ready to brew.
In brewing, mix the ingredients and bring them to a boil. The boiled mixture is called wort. You will need a large stainless steel pot that can hold at least three gallons. Get the biggest pot you can afford and use only aluminum, stainless steel or ceramic-coated steel. Stir the wort with a food-grade plastic stirring paddle.
After boiling, you must cool the wort to a specific temperature to allow for fermentation. The thermometer must have a temperature range of 40F to 150F. You must cool the wort quickly to below 80F in order to prevent bacteria from growing. Most brewers will do this by setting the pot into an ice bath for about 20 minutes. After cooling, the wort is transferred to a fermenter where yeast is added. Fermentation takes place in a six-gallon bucket or carboy.
To ensure that the yeast can make proper use of oxygen in fermenting the beer, you should aerate the wort immediately after cooling. Do this most easily by shaking the container or by allowing the wort to splash about when you pour it into the fermenter. Aerating helps the yeast get the oxygen they need to grow and transform sugars into alcohol.
After fermenting, you will have raw beer. You can use a siphon, but a bottling bucket is often easier. By racking beer into the bottling bucket, you get a clearer beer. These buckets also have spigots that you can use instead of a siphon hose. The makes bottling much easier. Brewers should add a little sugar while bottling to help with carbonation.
Clean the equipment as soon as possible after brewing to avoid the yeast sediment and other ingredients solidifying and sticking to the equipment. Keep a large pot of bleach/water solution handy and throw the equipment into it as you finish each step in the process.
First time brewers may want to use bottled water instead of tap water. There can be many issues with tap water, like added chlorine or excessive minerals that will affect the taste of the beer. By using bottled water, you will be cutting down on the things that can go wrong with your first brew.
As you gain skill in brewing, you may want to try out recipes by buying individual ingredients. The taste of beer can be greatly affected by the types of year, malt and hops that you use.