Until recently making beer at home was a niche occupation practiced by just a few devotees mostly working in isolation for their own enjoyment. These days, however, home brewing has exploded in popularity and is on the verge of becoming a (gulp!) mainstream activity. Don’t let that discourage you though because the joys of being able to brew your own beer at home are many and the popularity of brewing beer at home has actually made it much easier than it once was to get the ingredients and equipment you’ll need to do the job right.
Below we’re going to take an in-depth look at how to make beer. We’ll explain the different types of brewing, go over the things you’ll need to make your own beer and take you on a step by step journey from hops to bottle tops.
- 1 How to Make Beer: All Grain or Extract Brewing?
- 2 What Ingredients are in Beer?
- 3 How to Brew Beer: The Essentials
- 4 Brew Your Own Beer Using these 12 Steps
- 4.1 Step 1. Heat the Water
- 4.2 Step 2. Steep the Grains
- 4.3 Step 3. Add the Malt Extract
- 4.4 Step 4. Bring the Kettle to a Boil
- 4.5 Step 5. Add the Hops and Whirlfloc Tablet
- 4.6 Step 6. Sanitize all Bottling Containers
- 4.7 Step 7. Chill the Wort
- 4.8 Step 8. Transfer the Wort
- 4.9 Step 9. Add the Yeast
- 4.10 Step 10. Ferment the Beer
- 4.11 Step 11. Carbonate your Beer
- 4.12 Step 12. Bottle your Homemade Brew
- 5 Wait for a Week and Enjoy!
- 6 Brew Your Own Beer Now!
How to Make Beer: All Grain or Extract Brewing?
Before you can brew your own beer, you need to decide which type of brewing you want to engage in. Essentially there are two types available to the home brewer: all grain and extract.
In the step by step guide, we’ll be explaining the extract process, but it’s good to know a bit about both so you can make up your own mind which one is more to your liking.
All Grain Brewing – All grain brewing entails extracting sugars from the grain through a process known as mashing. This is necessary in order to convert the starches in the grain into fermentable sugars. Mashing grains is not like mashing potatoes so don’t go reaching for the potato masher here. Instead, mashing in this case means soaking the grain in water to release the starches and allow the enzymes within the grain to break down into the aforementioned fermentable sugars.
Once this process is complete, the resulting sugars are then rinsed from the grains through another process called sparging. Once the fermentable sugars have been extracted from the grain the rest of the brewing process is the same as that of extract brewing, which we’ll go over now.
Extract Brewing – With extract brewing, you are able to skip the mashing step because someone else has already done it for you. They then packaged the results in the form of a liquid or dry malt extract which, along with other things you’ll need, comprise a kit you buy to kick-start the beer brewing process. While there’s no doubt that brewing your own beer with malt extracts is going to cost you more many people opt for this method because of the time and effort they’re able to save.
What Ingredients are in Beer?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions aspiring home brewers have and thankfully it’s one with a nice simple answer. There are 4 main ingredients in beer: hops, grains or malt extract (depending on which process you’re using), yeast and water. The role of the different ingredients is:
- Water – Without water beer (or any beverage for that matter) would be impossible. Because more than 95% of your final product will be water, the quality of the water you use will have a big impact on the quality of the final product. So keep that in mind.
- Yeast – Yeast is that which turns your sweet brown tea into beer. Yeast is a single cell organism that eats sugar and converts it into alcohol and CO2. This process is called fermentation.
- Grains or Malt Extract – Barley is probably the most common type of grain used in beer today although there are plenty of beers out there that use wheat, corn, and even sorghum or rice. If you’re using the All Grain method, you’ll be purchasing barley in its whole form. If you’re using the extract method, you’ll be purchasing barley malt, which is a soup of sugar and soluble starches that’s ready for fermentation.
- Hops – Hops are those things that give your DIY beer its flavor and aroma. They also work to counteract the sweetness left over from the fermentation process and act as a bacterial inhibitor. There are many kinds of hops and different ones produce different flavors.
How to Brew Beer: The Essentials
Nobody today brews beer without the right equipment so here’s a list of the essentials you’ll need to set up your home brewery.
- Fermenter – During the fermentation stage your soon-to-be beer is known as wort and you’ll need a large vessel to hold the wort as it ferments.
- Airlock – Because the top of your fermenter is going to be securely closed, you need some way to vent the carbon dioxide that the fermentation process produces. This is what the airlock is for.
- Brew Kettle – The whole boiling process takes place in the kettle. For an absolute beginner making a limited amount of home brew, a 1.5 gallon kettle may suffice. Although there’s no harm getting a larger one so you’re prepared when the time comes to ramp things up a bit.
- Burner – If you’re going to make beer at home you’ll need a heat source that’s strong enough to bring 1 or 5 or however many gallons of brew you’re making to a boil in a timely fashion. For small batches the stove top may work. But for big batches, you’ll need a dedicated heat source like a turkey fryer.
- Siphon with Tubing – Siphoning your wort or finished product from one vessel to another is the way to go as other methods have the potential for disaster built into them. Try to find an auto-siphon that will create the necessary vacuum for you.
- Cleaner – Keeping things nice and clean is as essential with home brew as it is with cooking. You wouldn’t make yourself dinner using dirty cutlery, dirty pans and dirty dishes. Same goes for brewing. Try to avoid scented cleaners though.
- Sanitizer – Sanitizing is a separate step that’s done in addition to cleaning. Sanitizers kill off any pain in the neck microorganisms that could wreak havoc with your brew. Be sure to follow the instructions to the letter.
- Hydrometer – You use a hydrometer to measure the sugar density of the wort or beer. Once you know how to brew beer you can get by without a hydrometer, but you’ll likely wind up using one anyway for more precise control over the fermentation process. You can a refractometer as a substitute.
- Thermometer – They’re cheap, and it helps to have one on hand to monitor the temperature of the water during the early phase of the brew process.
Brew Your Own Beer Using these 12 Steps
We often get asked, “How long does it take to brew beer?” Thing is, there are so many variables involved that it’s not possible to give 1 definitive answer that will be accurate for everyone. That said, if you have all the necessary equipment (including a wort chiller which is a non-essential but sure is a handy time saver), it can take about 3 hours to brew beer at home.
Now that that’s settled let’s go through the brewing process. Remember we’re using the extract method and that assumes you’ve purchased a brew kit.
Step 1. Heat the Water
The first thing to do is to bring the water in your kettle to about 170 degrees over your burner of choice. If you’re only making a small batch, this won’t take long.
We recommend always making at least 5 gallons, just to make the process worthwhile.
Step 2. Steep the Grains
Fill a muslin bag with the grains from your kit. Tie off the top and steep it like a tea bag in your hot water for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
Then remove it and rinse it with clean, warm water over the kettle to extract the final bits of flavor for your DIY beer.
Step 3. Add the Malt Extract
Next, we add the malt extract. This will be pre-portioned and have the consistency of molasses so be patient and make sure you get it all. In fact, rinse the tub with warm water to make sure you get the last of it and add it to the brew.
Step 4. Bring the Kettle to a Boil
Your water/extract mix is now officially “wort,” or unfermented beer.
Spark up the stove now and bring your wort to a boil. Not an insane, bubbling over the top boil, but a nice slow, gentle boil. Like chicken soup.
Step 5. Add the Hops and Whirlfloc Tablet
Take your hops and place them in a muslin bag ala the grains. Tie it off and suspend the bag in the boiling wort for about an hour. The purpose of the hops is to counteract the sweetness of the malt extract.
About 15 minutes after suspending the bag of hops, add a whirlfloc tablet to sanitize the beer.
Step 6. Sanitize all Bottling Containers
Boiling your brew is going to take a while so there’s plenty of time to sanitize the equipment you’ll use to bottle your beer. We recommend a food sanitizer, but regular dish soap will do in a pinch.
The most important thing when it comes to how to brew is to make sure all your bottling supplies are totally clean and ready to go once the wort has finished boiling.
Step 7. Chill the Wort
After about an hour of boiling it’s time to turn off the burner and let the wort cool. You can either let it cool on its own (which will likely take a couple of hours) or use a wort chiller.
We didn’t include the wort chiller in our list of essentials because it’s a luxury. But it’s a luxury that will save you a lot of time. So if you can afford it, go for it.
Step 8. Transfer the Wort
The next step is transferring the cooled wort to the fermenter. Your fermenter should always be slightly bigger than the batch size. This gives the beer plenty of room to ferment and foam without creating so much internal pressure that the fermenter is compromised.
We don’t advise pouring the wort as you see in the video unless you have a lot of experience. Use the siphon instead.
Step 9. Add the Yeast
Once the wort is in the fermenter, it’s time to add the yeast. Remember: brewing your own beer will be a dead end process if you forget the yeast.
Use the yeast that came with your malt kit. It’s probably a freeze-dried ale yeast, which will work fine.
Step 10. Ferment the Beer
Place the airlock on top of the fermenter and then let the whole thing sit for about 2 weeks. During this time the beer will ferment and the airlock will allow CO2 from the fermenting process to escape without letting air or bacteria seep in.
When brewing beer at home, a normal, steady temperature in the room where the ferment is located is crucial. Temperature swings can screw up the process.
Step 11. Carbonate your Beer
After the 2-week fermentation process is complete, you have real beer, although not “beer“ as most modern beer drinkers understand it.
To produce that you’ll need to carbonate your beer. And to do that you’ll need to add carbonating sugars and let it sit for another week. (There are more complex ways of carbonating beer, but this will do for small batches.)
Carbonating sugars are created by mixing 3 or 4 ounces of corn sugar with 1 or 2 cups of water. Mix it thoroughly and pour it into the (now clean) 5-gallon kettle we used earlier. Siphon the beer from the fermenter into the kettle and mix it with the corn sugars.
Step 12. Bottle your Homemade Brew
Take the beer with the carbonating sugars mixed in and siphon it into nice clean beer bottles. Don’t forget the caps and the crimper and make sure everything is clean and sanitized. Carefully fill each bottle, then cap and crimp. Fill, cap and crimp until all the beer is bottled.
To review the entire how to brew your own beer process watch the video below.
Wait for a Week and Enjoy!
The carbonation process will take about a week. Once it’s complete, you’re ready to enjoy your master brew so pop one open and have at it. Make notes about what you like and don’t like regarding the finished product so you can tweak things next time you want to make your own beer. Something things you can try next time could be adding fruit to your brew or trying different types of hops.
Brew Your Own Beer Now!
Brewing beer at home can be an incredibly satisfying experience. Just don’t expect to win any awards with your first batch. Like anything else that’s worth doing, it’s going to take time to master the process of making beer at home. But with patience, the right ingredients, the right equipment and some practice you will.
Once you do, you can expect your friends to start showing up at your door a lot more frequently than they do now. But who can blame them?