Does the idea of boiling water, malt, hops and yeast intoxicate you? Well, if done properly, after a few weeks it will! Want to impress your friends with your own “suds?” Can you operate a stove, measure water, understand a recipe, maintain a clean work environment and have patience? If so… you can make beer.
The greatest thing about making your own beer is you are in complete control of everything from the flavor to the color to the alcohol content. Want a more flavorful or bitter beer? Add more hops. Want a darker beer?? Add darker grain. Want more alcohol??? Add more fermentable sugars!
Don’t want to spend $200 on the newest shiniest Stainless Steel Brew Kettle Set? ? No cash for a Bayou Cooker with Hose Guard? No grain mill? No worries! All you need are some simple and relatively cheap items.
I am going to break this process down to 3 parts: Tools, Cooking, and Bottling. Each portion will require its own set of tools, ingredients.
Part one: Tools/Ingredients
Free things you may already have in your home:
- Stockpot – 5-7 gallon if you have it. 3-4 gallon possible but not ideal
- 2nd Kettle – 2-3 gallon to hold extra boiled water
- Stove – Gas or Electric. Gas will boil quicker
- Spoon – Stainless works best
- Tin foil/wax paper – to cover you sanitized equipment
- 2 qt measuring cup – for…. measuring
- Scale – for measuring grain/hops
- Blender or rolling pin – for crushing grains
- Gallon sized freezer bag – to crush the grains in
- Tupperware container 1-3 qt – to hold sanitizer
- Spray bottle of Water
Equipment you will more than likely have to purchase:
- Buy a Brewing Starter Kit from Midwest Supplies or somewhere similar. The equipment will last you years and worth the initial outlay.
- The only other things you will need to are the following:
- 48 Empty Pop top bottles (you should have these as you are already drinking GOOD beer)
- Some sort of Sanitizer (I use Star San) 10.00 (1 oz makes 5 gallons and it can be stored)
- Total for equipment: $80-90 depending on shipping.
- 5 lbs light/extra light DME or LME $20.00
- 1 lb Caramel/Crystal 10 grain $2.00
- 1 lb Carapils/Dextrine Malt $2.00
- 2 oz of Willamette Hops (if not Hallertau, Saaz would work)$ 4.00
- 1 pack Safale US-05 Ale Yeast $4.00
Total price for Ingredients is roughly $32.50
Total price for equipment is roughly $85.00
Total price for your first batch is about $110-120.00.
As you can see, the majority of the expense is in the initial outlay of equipment. Also if you decide that brewing beer is something you enjoy, you can move to All-Grain or Brew in the Bag (BIAB) and further reduce the costs of ingredients as you are buying grain in bulk vs. buying liquid or dry malt extract. But there is an initial cost with All-grain and Brew in the Bag (BIAB) as well.
Part two: Cooking
- Boil about 5-6 gallons of water. I do this to boil off any Chlorine and other minerals that you may not want in your beer. If your water district uses something other Chlorine there are ways to remove those chemicals that are beyond this discussion… ok ok… get Campden tablets and add 1 per gallon. After the water is boiled set aside about 1 gallon of the boiled water for later. (This step can be avoided except for about 1 gallon if you are going to use bottled water from the grocery store etc.)
- Measure your specialty grains. These grains are not really adding any fermentable sugar to the wort (it’s not beer til it’s fermented, pronounced “Wert”). Instead these are adding color and flavor.
- You need to release the sugars and flavors in the grain so you need to crack them. The best way is to have a grain mill, know someone with a grain mill, or when you buy them have them sent to you already crushed. Should you not have access to these options I’ve used a rolling pin and a plastic back before as well as a food processor to chop the grains.
- While you’ve been doing this you water has cooled hopefully to about 165. Make sure you have about 3.5-4 gallons of water in your kettle.
- At this point we have our grains in our grain bag and are going to steep the grains for 60 minutes, trying to keep the water at 160 degrees.
- While the grains are steeping we are going to measure our hops. For this recipe we will use a small amount of a very neutral/ low bitterness hop.
- After 60 minutes raise the temperature of your water and bring it to a slow boil. Place 1 oz. of hops in the hop bag and put it in the boiling wort. The boil acts not only as a way to sterilize the wort but also allows us to pull the bittering/flavoring/aroma aspects of the hops out.
- During the boil we want to prepare a cold water bath for our wort to cool. Cooling the wort helps to drop out some of the grain/hop matter as well as makes the environment easier for the yeast to thrive in. I have used a large sink and filled it with ice and water successfully.
- We are going to boil this for about 55 minutes. After 55 minutes we are going add our late addition of hops for flavor and aroma. At the same time we will add our Liquid/Dry Malt Extract (this is going to provide the sugars for the yeast to convert to alcohol). We will boil this for the final 5 minutes. Make sure you stir the LME/DME as you add it and do not let it burn or stick to the bottom of the kettle.
- After we have boiled this for 5 minutes remove the wort from heat and place the kettle into the water bath. Make sure not to splash water into the wort. At this point we are making the wort susceptible to outside factors such as natural yeast and bacteria. Things we do not want!
From this point on anything that touches the wort needs to be sanitized. I personally use Star-San. 1 oz will make 5 gallons and if stored properly can last you quite some time. If using star-san realize it bubbles quite a bit and is not to be rinsed off! The bubbles have no impact on the wort. I use a spray bottle to coat any spoon, thermometer etc that will touch my wort.
- While the wort is cooling from 200+ degrees to our goal of under 70 degrees we are going to get our yeast ready. For this recipe we will use a cheap dry yeast US-05. It’s very neutral and works well. Remember that boiled water we set aside about 2 hours ago? With a sanitized thermometer make sure it’s at less than 80 degrees. Measure out about 2 cups of water making sure everything is sanitized. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the water in the measuring cup and cover with a piece of tin foil/wax paper that you have sanitized. Let this set for 15-20 minutes. Lightly stir the yeast and water mixture. Cover again and set aside.
- Taking our fermenter out we add the sanitizer to it. Put the lid on the fermenter and cover the grommet hole. Shake the sanitizer so it covers every inch of the fermenter. Don’t pour the sanitizer down the drain! Instead put it in a Tupperware or some sort of sealable container. Set the fermenter aside.
- Add our wort to the fermenter.
- Because we want to make 5 gallons of beer and we only have about 2.5-3 gallons of wort from our boil we need to add water. Taking the remaining water we boiled earlier pour it into the fermenter so that there is approximately 5.5 gallons total (there are makes on the fermenting bucket) TIP: The 2-3 gallons I have sitting aside I usually put in the fridge so its cools much faster and can help to cool the wort! I’ve even put it in the freezer so it’s about 30 degrees. Really helps to cut the cooling of the wort.
- Check the temperature. We want the temperature to be between 60-70 degrees so we can pitch our yeast.
- Using a sanitized turkey baster or other siphoning tool pull out some of the wort. We are going to use this to measure our specific gravity. This will give us a starting point of how much sugar is in the wort. This number is critical to calculating the amount of alcohol. This initial measurement is known as “Original Gravity or OG (Original Gangsta if you are making 40’s.)”
- We need to aerate the wort so there is enough oxygen for the yeast to thrive. Pour the wort back and forth between your kettle and fermenter a couple of times to really stir up the wort and aerate it.
- Now that all the wort is back in the fermenter add your yeast.
- Close the fermenter and add the airlock. (make sure to add a little sanitizer to the airlock and cap it)
- Take the fermenter to a relatively cool place. Preferably a basement or dark closet that has a consistent temperature between 60-68 degrees.
- Walk away… just walk away.
- With the sample we took earlier place it in the hydrometers tube and set the hydrometer in it. Take the measurement. We should around 1.040-1.050 OG. Write this number down.
- Clean up your work area and patiently wait 2 weeks.
Part Three: Bottling:
- Racking Cane
- Bottling Bucket
- Priming Sugar
- Bottle brush
So we’ve gotten our tools and ingredients and put them to the test. Our wort has had friendly yeast farting (CO2) and peeing (alcohol) in it for about 2 weeks. It’s time to check in on it. At this point there should have been no bubbling in the airlock for a few days. Our next step is verify that our wort has finished fermenting and is now flat beer! We need to take a gravity measurement of the wort and see where we are. Making sure we have sanitized our turkey baster we want to draw a sample of the beer. If there has been no bubbling for a few days and our gravity reading is close to the estimated Final Gravity (FG) of 1.013 we are ready to move onto the next step… Bottling!
*Note Do not pour the beer back into the fermenter. If you do you can risk infecting the entire batch. Instead don’t waste it and have a drink of your now flat creation!
- We need to insure our bottles are clean. This is especially true if we are using bottles that previously had beer in them or have been sitting around in someone’s basement/garage. In order to do this we can use a basic cleaner such as PBW that is readily available from any homebrew website. (Depending on your kit this may be included) Dish soap could be used but sometimes there is a transfer of flavors/scents as well the remaining soap can have a negative effect on head retention of your beer. The key is we want to remove any physical particles from the bottles. This is where our bottle brush comes in handy. It really helps to loosen and remove those stubborn spots.
- After our bottles are clean we need to sanitize them. My process for this is I make about 2-3 gallons of sanitizer (remember 1 oz is mixed with 5 gallons of water) and either fill a large tub or sink with it. Since I use a non-rinse sanitizer I don’t need a tub/sink full of water to rinse. Taking the bottle I fill it up with sanitizer and covering the top shake it up and then pour out the remaining sanitizer back into the tub/sink. I then place my bottle to the side and cover it with a piece of tin foil or I go ahead and place a sanitized bottle cap on top of it. We just want to prevent anything from getting inside. As you can see this is the most labor intensive portion of the beer brewing. After you have bottled a few hundred times you will really start looking at investing in a kegging system. Hell… it might only take you 1 time! As you can see this is the most labor intensive portion of the beer brewing.
- Taking our bottling bucket we want to fill it with sanitizer and make sure it is completely sanitized as well. Now we need to boil some water and dissolve about 4-5 ounces of corn sugar/table sugar. We are going to be priming our beer for carbonation. This yeast will come back to life and begin feeding on the sugars. Because our bottles will be capped the carbon dioxide that is produced has nowhere to escape to so it is forced back down into the solution (beer). This provides our carbonation after about 10-14 days. We call this bottle conditioning. If you prefer a bit more fizz in your beer go with the 5 ounces. Different beer styles have different levels of carbonation. This level is usually described as volumes of CO2 per unit of liquid. This sugar will act as food for the remaining yeast in our beer. We want to make sure we don’t over carbonate our beer or else we will have gushers… or worse… exploding bottles. If you want your spouse to stop you from brewing beer again have a few bottles explode in your basement/closet/bedroom.
After we let the sugar solution cool we can add it to the bottling bucket.
- Now it’s time to become familiar with the “racking cane”. Taking our sanitizer we want to sanitize both the inside and outside and hoses of our cane. Circulate sanitizer thru the cane a few times and make sure every part is coated. Place the cane into the fermenter making sure we are not disturbing all of the crud (trub) down at the bottom of the bucket. The easiest way to do this is place the cane at an angle. Place the hose into the bottling bucket and begin to “rack” the beer to the bottling bucket. Making sure not to oxygenate the beer. At this point oxygen is an enemy to our brew. Oxygen can lead to a funky tasting beer! Always worry about sanitation. I like to spray some sanitizer on the bottling spicket. But do not be worried about the bubbles of sanitizer that still remain in the bottle. In fact if they have sat around for a while go ahead and empty the bottle again.
- Taking our bottle slowly turn open up the bottling valve and fill the bottle until there is about 1-1.5 inches remaining at the top. At this point there are two options or if you are lucky you have an assistant. Your options are to stop capping as you go or set aside 6-12 bottles that are full and cap them and then start filling again. Obviously with a partner they can cap everything while you fill the bottles.
- Taking our cap, place it on the bottle and use the cap to securely fit the cap to the bottle. You may need to wipe down your bottle if there was any spillage.
Repeat this until you have you 48-52 bottles filled. Now that our bottles are filled and capped we need to be patient. Set the beer away in a dark place that will be about 65 degrees. This will allow the beer to carbonate. Since this is a low alcohol beer (low gravity beer in the business) we can start checking a bottle at around day 7-10.
Grab your bottle opener and crack it open. That sound of “Pop!” will be one of the best sounds you hear! Pour yourself a glass of your minimalist homebrew. Because your brew was bottle conditioned there will be yeast and other material in the bottom of your bottle. Be careful not to disturb this and realize you will not completely empty the bottle. If the beer is not carbed to your satisfaction you may want to wait another couple of days for the carbonating to finish. Repeat as many times as necessary! I always do this near or in a sink just in case I get an infection somehow. (This in fact has happened to an award winning Russian Imperial Stout I brewed. After it had conditioned for about 3 months every bottle has been a gusher when it was opened. You can imagine how happy judges are to be covered in 11-12% infected beer.)
Enjoy the fruits of your labor…. which are always best to be enjoyed with friends!