How to Become a Home Brewer
Brian Skean is a seasoned home brewer and head of VOORMI’s logistics department.
Brewing beer is about as old as civilization itself and probably started in something similar to a modern-day garage through a series of fortuitous accidents. Over the years mankind has continually tweaked the process, resulting in a vast variety of beers for different tastes. So, when the opportunity arose for me to be a part of the process, I accepted without hesitation.
It was college. I was broke. And my buddy said he was going to brew in his garage that evening. Being that I no plans and a beerless fridge at home, hanging around felt like the right thing to do. Plus, when he explained to me that a home-brewed six pack was cheaper than buying one at the store, I was totally sold. (Of course, I would find out later the startup costs, but that didn’t matter at the time.)
We started off by drinking a few beers from his latest batch, which is pretty important to the process. It gets you in the mood while at the same time giving you a sense of the taste you’re after, especially for first timers.
That was a decade ago, and the pleasure I feel today from brewing my own beer hasn’t diminished a bit. I would also strongly recommend getting yourself a copy of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. It’s a comprehensive guide for all things beer that I get most of my information from. Hey, why invent the wheel if it already tastes really good?
One of the most important components of the whole process is gravity. Luckily, we have plenty of that. Even though brewing feels like more like a science experiment than cooking, you’ll follow a recipe where make the slightest alteration to the ingredients can make a large impact on the beer. Once you choose a recipe and procure the ingredients, time to brew.
It’s also worth noting a lesson I learned early on. It takes the same amount of time to brew one gallon as it does 10. Do with that information what you will. Some like to get the most out of the process. Others like brewing just the right amount. Either way is fine.
- 1 3-4 Gallon pot (large canning pot works well)
- 1 5-10 gallon new plastic bucket
- 1 6-foot length of 3/8-inch inside diameter clear plastic hose (and plastic hose clamp to fit it)
- 1 3-foot length of 1 1/4" outside diameter, 1-inside diameter, clear plastic hose
- 1 large plastic funnel
- 1 thermometer
- 1 beer hydrometer
- 1 5-gallon glass carboy
- 1 fermentation lock
- 1 rubber stopper (size 6.5) with hole to fit fermentation lock
- 1 bottle washer
- Many bottle caps
- 1 bottle capper
- 60 returnable 12-oz. beer bottles (anything other than screw top bottles will do)
- Bleach for sanitizing
Ingredients (For a Five-Gallon Batch)
- 5-6 lbs. hop-flavored malt extract
- 3-4 lbs. hop-flavored malt extract plus 1-2 lbs. plain unhoped light dried malt extract
- 5 gallons water
- 1 package ale yeast
- ¾ cup corn sugar OR 1 ¼ cup plain dried malt extract (for bottling)
My garage holds a simple, roughly 10-gallon all-grain setup that uses gravity to move the liquids between the different steps. Brewing in the 'all grain' method is like baking a cake from scratch after milling your own flour. If it is your first time ever baking a cake, you're probably going to start with a boxed mix, right? So for your very first time home brewing, I'd recommend starting with a concentrate recipe to simplify things.
You're going to start right off in your large pot. Known as the boil kettle, this is where you’ll combine and dissolve the malt extracts (and sugar if you’re using it) in one and a half gallons of water. Bring it to a boil for about 45 minutes.
While the water is heating, sanitize your fermenter with a weak household (chlorine) bleach and water solution. Keep the solution handy because you’ll want to sanitize pretty much everything that comes into contact with the beer at some point.
Once this is done, add three gallons of clean and cold water to the fermenter, then add the hot malt extracts and water mixture to the fermenter.
Allow it to cool to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit or below so the temperature doesn’t kill the yeast. Measure the specific gravity with your beer hydrometer and then add the yeast. Attach the fermentation hose, and after the initial fermentation has subsided, attach fermentation lock so that CO2 can escape but no oxygen gets in while the yeast produces alcohol. Let it ferment for eight to 14 days.
It’s a long time to wait, but once this is done you’re ready to bottle and cap. And then… more waiting. Let the beer age for about 10 days. Finally, drink. Cheers!