Has homebrewing been on your bucket list since 2012?
Perhaps you keep stumbling upon those Mr. Beer kits at your local retail store. Maybe you think a kimchi stout should be the next big thing. Brewing your own beer may seem challenging and overwhelming, but in reality homebrewing can be a simple and very rewarding process that comes with never ending bragging rights.
As someone who has dedicated years to the homebrew industry, I believe that sticking to a few rules of thumb are the key. There are hundreds of homebrew books, which all have different techniques and rules. Through the years I have learned to use them as guidelines to learn what works best for you and your precious brew.
Homebrewing has become an increasingly popular hobby during the last decade. Rest assured, there is no need to pull out thousands of dollars from your bank account to make your first 5-gallon batch. You can make beer with a simple equipment kit from your local homebrew shop. Equipment kits usually run from $80-$100 but will contain the basic tools to start your first batch. You will also need a kettle. Starting with a simple 20quart/5 gallon kettle is sufficient. Think big spaghetti pot, or tamale pot in my case. You can always invest in better and bigger equipment as you start to get the hang of it. However, Some of my best beers were made on my stovetop, and fermented in a plastic bucket.
It’s officially your first brew day!
All your equipment is sanitized, your ingredients are ready, and you just cracked open a beer. Brewing your first batch will only take a few hours and can easily be made on your kitchen stove.
If you have a prepackaged extract kit, all the ingredients are measured out for you, and you are ready to go. If you put a recipe together at your local homebrew shop, it is a good idea to measure out the amount of hops you will need for your recipe on a small kitchen scale before you start. With any liquid yeast, follow the instructions according to the package. Some liquid yeast require to be left out longer than others. Dry yeast can be hydrated, or sprinkled over the cool, finished wort; the sweet liquid produced by the brewing process, or a fancy way of saying unfermented beer.
If your recipe contains crushed grain, use a muslin bag or a reusable nylon bag to steep the grain. Think of it as a giant tea. You are slowly extracting those wonderful flavors and fermentable sugars for your beer. Steep the grain for 20-30 minutes at about 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, if you have liquid malt extract, this is the perfect time to submerge the extract containers into hot water to make it easier to pour out. Start off by heating up about two gallons of water in a pot to 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit. If chemistry is your thing, there are many great resources that focus on water profiles. As a beginner, if your water tastes good to you, it will do just fine. You can also pre boil water, or use a carbon based water filter to help dechlorinate the water if too much chlorine present. Pool water is never a desirable taste in beer.
After the grain has been steeped, remove and add the malt extract. Turn off your burner to avoid scorching. If the extract is dry, make sure all powder dissolves. Don’t worry if it starts clumping, keep stirring until the clumps are gone. Once the extract is mixed in, bring the wort to a rolling boil. This is the time to watch your brew like a hawk since it can easily boil over and create a very sticky mess on your stovetop. I like to keep a spray bottle with water handy to spray the foam if the boiling wort starts getting out of control. Once you adjust the heat, and get the boil under control, set a timer to 60 minutes (Sometimes a beer calls for a 90 minute boil. Check your recipe). It is crucial to read the recipe and note the hop additions. The bitterness of your beer can change drastically depending on hop additions. For easy clean up, again, I use disposable muslin bags. If you are a hophead and love hoppy beers, a hop spider can make your life a lot easier.
Once the timer is set and your hops are ready, start adding them in the increments noted on the recipe. Hop additions are counted backwards. For example: If your recipe calls for .5oz of Magnum hops at 10 minutes, you are adding them the LAST 10 minutes, meaning 50 minutes after you started the timer. 1oz at 5 minutes will be added at 55 minutes, and so on. When the timer goes off and all the hops have been added to the boil, turn the heat off and remove the hops.
If you choose to hydrate dry yeast, this is the best time to do so by mixing the yeast in a sanitized container with about a cup of warm clean water, and cover it with sanitized plastic wrap for about 15 minutes.
Before adding the yeast, the wort needs to be cooled as quickly as possible and there are a few effective ways to do so. You can do an ice bath in your sink, or use a wort chiller, which can be found at your local home brew store. Once cooled, pour it in a sanitized fermenter. You will only have about a gallon, so top your beer off with cool, clean water to make a total of 5 gallons. Take a sample of the wort, once it is diluted, but before adding the yeast, and float a hydrometer in your sample. This number known as the Original Gravity, will measure the amount of fermentable sugars in your beer. Not only will this reading let you know how boozey your beer is when fermented, it is also an effective way to see if your beer has fermented when you take a reading later on. Write the number down on your recipe.
When your wort is less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, add the yeast, and close your fermenter. Finish it off by placing a sanitized airlock filled with a distilled spirit or sanitizing solution. This will let CO2 escape while the beer is fermenting, but prevent bacteria from entering the fermenter. Once sealed, aggressively shake the fermenter. This process of aeration will introduce oxygen into your beer to facilitate healthy yeast growth. Store the fermenter in a dark place where the temperature is around 65 degrees Fahrenheit (this was my clothes closet for a long time). One of the easiest ways to measure the temperature is by using a strip thermometer glued to the fermenter. From this moment to the next few days, you will start seeing and hearing that airlock bubble which means your beer is being fermented! Now it is time to be patient, but you may start drinking more beer and collect beer bottles over the next couple of weeks for the next step, bottling! Home brewing part II.
*These are general directions for an extract beer. Recipes may vary.
A couple of weeks have passed, and the airlock is no longer bubbling.
You are ready to drink your beer, but there is just one problem, it is not carbonated! Before you start the bottling process, you will need:
- No-rinse sanitizer
- Bottling bucket
- Plastic tubing
- Small saucepan
- Corn sugar (dextrose)
- Bottle filler
- Empty beer bottles
- Crown caps
- Bottle capper
- Bottle tree (optional)
Is your beer fermented? A gravity reading will determine that. Reference back to your recipe, and if the reading is within .002 of the final gravity, the beer is ready to be bottled. To figure out the amount of alcohol in your beer, adding the original and final gravity numbers to the equation will calculate the Alcohol By Volume.
ABV =(76.08 * (og-fg) / (1.775-og)) * (fg / 0.794)
If you are not exactly a math whiz, a handy online ABV calculator will do the hard work for you. Grab a friend, open some beers and order some pizza because the process will take a while.
If reusing old beer bottles, soak them in hot water and cleaner, scrub with a bottlebrush if necessary. Sanitize the clean bottles, crown caps, and all your equipment with no-rinse sanitizer. I am a fan of using a bottle tree, which allows the bottles to drain until ready to use.
Sugar will cause re-fermentation, naturally creating CO2. The amount of sugar added to the beer will be one of the biggest factors that will determine the level of carbonation. The amount of sugar needed to carbonate will depend on the beer style. For beginners, the rule of thumb is usually 4-5 oz of dextrose (corn sugar) for a 5-gallon batch. Dextrose is easy to dissolve and won’t give any off flavors, plus it was most likely included in your beer kit. Other sugars such as honey, molasses, dried malt extract and table sugar can also work. An online calculator can help you determine the amount needed.
Boil about 1 ½ to 2 cups of your newly fermented beer (or water), and the priming sugar in a saucepan. After boiling for a few minutes, cool completely. This will eliminate any bacteria, and make it easier for the sugar to dissolve. Add the sugar mixture in the bottling bucket. Meanwhile, slowly transfer the beer by dropping the auto-siphon in the fermenter making sure it does not touch the bottom, and siphoning it over into the bottling bucket. You will notice a large amount of yeast sediment at the bottom of the fermenter, as well as what will look like the remains of a volcanic eruption on top called kraeusen (created by all the yeast activity) in your beer. An auto-siphon is the best way to separate the yeast from the beer without oxygenating it .
After the priming sugar and beer are combined, you are ready to bottle. Slowly fill the sanitized bottles with a bottle filler, leaving about 1 ½ inches of space on top. Crimp the bottle camps with a bottle capper, and set in a dark room that’s about 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. It will take about 2-3 weeks for your beer to be fully carbonated. Congratulations on brewing your very first beer!
Let the bragging rights begin.
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