It’s no secret that I am a major beer enthusiast; a hophead, if you will. I’ve been thinking about learning how to brew for years, but condo living, time, and fear of the unknown kept me from taking the plunge. Well, tonight I opened up my first bottle of homebrewed Irish stout and had a drink.
To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure this whole thing would work out. On the one hand, you have people who will tell you that home brewing is easy and simple (especially the ones selling you the equipment). On the other hand, you will also hear horror stories of infected yeast, contamination, bottle grenades from too much carbonation, and so on. I needn’t have worried so much. My beer poured out perfectly, and it tastes fresh and wonderful, if a little bit “green” (it should improve in the next couple of weeks as it settles down and matures in the bottles). The experience is unlike drinking any commercial brew. I taste all of the ingredients and know where they came from and why they taste the way that they do. It’s nice.
Making beer is fun; it’s tasty, and not too hard to figure out. My kit from Midwest Supplies had everything I needed to get going, and I figured out the rest in short order.
In fact, the process is strikingly simple; steep some grains, boil and flavor with hops, add yeast, wait for the alcohol to happen… then bottle it up and wait again for carbonation to occur.
For a typical 5 gallon batch, you’ll need a lot of bottles. Amber (brown) bottles are the ones to collect. Don’t use clear or green bottles; they allow light to enter and cause a skunky aroma. I collected my own bottles by drinking commercial beer and taking the labels off with a solution of baking soda and hot water in the sink. Any size and shape will do, as long as it can be capped air-tight (no twist-off).
You’ll also need the biggest pot in your house. If you make your own stock for cooking, as I have written about in the past, you probably already have a big stockpot, and that will do just fine! The bigger you make your initial brew, the better the beer will turn out.
Steeping the grains in hot – but not boiling – water creates a sort of a grain “tea.” Starting to look like stout already!
Malts are added to the mix. I’m using a dark malt which, combined with the grain infusion, will give us the dark stout flavor.
Hops are used twice… first they are added early in the boil to make the brew more bitter. A second batch of hops are added at the very end for aroma.
The wort (boiled mixture) has to be cooled quickly and covered to prevent contamination. It is at this point that sanitation becomes important. Everything that touches the beer from here on out must be sanitized.
The wort is transferred to a bucket for fermentation, where the sugars will break down into delicious and inebriating alcohol over the next two weeks. Water is added to top up to 5 gallons. The liquid is vigorously stirred to add oxygen to the liquid, then yeast is added. Before sealing the bucket up, a hydrometer can be used to take a reading of specific gravity – this will come in handy later on.
The bucket is sealed and an airlock is placed over a small hole, half filled with water. It allows CO2 to escape but keeps everything else out. Then comes the most painful part – waiting two weeks for fermentation. I worried a lot during this time, and did too much fiddling and reading forums to make sure nothing was going wrong with my brew. I learned that, unless you somehow get a lot of dirty stuff into your brew, you will be fine. Just have faith and wait it out. RDWHAHB – Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!
Two slow weeks pass… hydrometer readings are taken to determine progress. When the specific gravity gets close to the target level, it should level off and stop changing for a few days. That is the correct way to do it. I just waited two weeks and hoped for the best.
The fermenter will be full of sediment… hop particles, dead yeast cells, all sort of nasty stuff. But it will have settled to the bottom. The solution is to use a siphon hose and move the beer to a bottling bucket with a spigot. Most of the sediment will be left behind. Sugar is mixed in gently, then the hose is used with a special bottling wand to move the beer to bottles, which are capped and stored for another couple of weeks at room temperature. The beer carbonates inside the bottles.
Here’s everything I would recommend to a new brewer to get started. I’ve tried to find the best stuff at the best price and link it below. Hopefully the links won’t break too soon.
- Brewing Basics kit from Midwest Brewing Supplies – I found everything to be well-made and durable. Midwest was very helpful when I had questions. This kit has pretty much got you covered as far as basic supplies.
- Some sort of recipe kit – I brewed an Irish stout, but Midwest has many quality kits available. Ales are easiest for beginners to make because they ferment at room temperature.
- How to Brew: Everything You Need To Know To Brew Beer Right The First Time – The brewing book to have. An invaluable book with clear explanations of everything.
- Glass carboy – After the primary fermentation in the bucket, siphoning to one of these as a secondary fermenter will result in clearer, better beer. A good upgrade. You’ll also need a stopper that fits properly.
- A big stockpot with a lid – Choose something durable that can be used for cooking as well as beer making.