You’re standing in the beer aisle one day and one of two thoughts go through your head. Either you decide store bought beer costs too much or there’s no beer on the shelf that completely satisfies you. So you decide you should get into homebrewing, but aren’t sure where or exactly how to get started. I think I can offer you some advice.
The first piece of advice I can give you is to get good advice. Check the internet to see if your town has a hombebrew club. If it does, join. Ask lots of questions of the people around you. Your fellow homebrewers can tell you what homebrew shops to buy your supplies at. They can tell you what equipment you need and what books you should have on the subject. That done, your next stop is the homebrew shop.
The first thing the staff will tell you is to buy “The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing” by Charlie Papazian. This book is widely regarded as the authoritative book to introduce homebrewing to the new brewer. It’s also very useful for the day when you decide to expand your skills and go beyond brewing with kits. Once you’ve taken a quick look through this book and asked the staff at the homebrew shop some questions, you’ll need to pick up some supplies and brew your first beer.
A few odds and ends aside, your equipment list will look something like this:
1) 4 gallon pot
2) 5 or 6.5 gallon glass carboy
3) 4-10 gallon plastic bucket
4) fermentation airlock
5) rubber stoppers
6) plastic hose
9) bottle washer
10) bottle capper
11) 5 dozen beer bottles
12) sanitizing agent
Now, until you get into the swing of things I’m going to recomment you use the canned kits. Basically, someone has started your beer for you. They came up with a recipe, assembled the grains, extracted the sugars, and added some hops. They boiled the wort and evaporated it down to a thick syrup, kind of like a big, beer flavored can of molasses. When you brew from one of these kits, all you have to do is add some water, boil the syrup and go from there. Much easier than brewing your own beer from scratch.
Brewing your first kit should be fairly easy if you follow some basic instructions. I’ll give you a brief outline here, but that Charlie Papazian book I mentioned earlier will outline it in more detail for you. Anyways, since it’s easier to brew ale than lager I’ll start you off with the following ingredients:
5-6 lb can beer kit in whatever style of ale you want to make.
1 package ale yeast (ask your homebrew shop what yeast best goes with the beer you’re going to make).
Water split into two batches. One batch to boil and one batch kept cold in the fridge.
1) Bring 1.5 gallons water to the boil. Add the contents of your beer kit and stir to combine. Allow your beer to boil uncovered for thirty minutes. Watch carefully as this stuff does tend to boil over if you’re not careful. The rest of your water should be in the fridge, keeping cold.
2) Sanitize the big plastic bucket. Remember, especially for later, everything that touches your beer must be sanitized. This prevents your beer from being infected by beer spoiling organisms. Just follow the directions on the package of sanitizing agent you bought.
3) Add cold water to the bucket to help cool the beer you have boiling on the stove. Place the bucket in a sink full of ice and add the wort. Place a sanitized thermometer in the bucket and wait for the wort to cool.
4) When the temperature drops to 75F add your yeast. At 75F your wort isn’t so hot as to kill the yeast but is still warm enough to let your yeast stay active and ferment your beer. Next, draw off a sample of beer and measure it with your hydrometer. The hydrometer will tell you how much sugar you have in your beer. A reading later will tell you how much of that sugar got fermented into alcohol.
5) Take another reading 3 days later, then again each day for the next two or three days later. You’ll notice the hydrometer reading will keep dropping, telling you the yeast is still fermenting your beer. When the reading doesn’t change over a couple days, that means your beer has been fully fermented.
6) Transfer the beer into a sanitized, rinsed carboy and attach a rubber stopper and airlock half full of water. Leave your beer in a cool, dark place for a couple weeks. Setting the beer aside will let any haze causing yeast and proteins drop to the bottom of the carboy. when you go to bottle your beer it’ll be that much more clear.
7) Now you’re ready to bottle and cap your beer. Sanitize 60 standard beer bottles and caps. Make sure to use the ones you need a bottle opener to open. Twist tops tend not to seal properly letting microogranisms into your beer. Mix 1 cup dry malt extract with 2 cups water, boil twenty minutes and let cool to room temperature. Mix this with your beer as you transfer it from the carboy to the plastic bucket.
Fill each bottle until the beer is two inches away from the top of the bottle. Cap your beer and set it aside for two weeks. The yeast still floating in your beer, producing carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide will take a couple weeks to dissolve into your beer and carbonate it, leaving it ready to drink.
Congratulations. You’ve just made beer. If you’ve followed these instructions and sanitized your equipment every step of the way, you will have made a very good beer. And, with the variety of beer kits on the market you can stay at this level of brewing for as long as you want. And when the day comes that you want to expand your horizons, your fellow homebrewers and homebrew shop staff have plenty of experience and reference materials to help you out.