Brewing your own beer is the ultimate hobby. It combines the science of chemistry, the art of cooking, and the craftsmanship of woodworking. It’s one of the only ways you can combine drinking copious amounts of beer with the respectability of mastering a craft.
It’s easier to brew beer than you might think. If you just want to get your feet wet, you can pick up kits (Mr. Beer is a popular brand) that contain everything you need to make about twelve bottles of beer. But, if you really want to get into brewing your own beer, you’ll want to be a little more involved with the process. Here’s a good, basic method for brewing a simple ale at home.
- Minimum 3 gal. pot
- Stirring spoon (plastic or stainless steel is best)
- Tubing (3/8” plastic) and clamps to siphon beer into bottles
- At least one glass carboy (large glass jug) , or 5 gal. plastic bucket with airtight lid
- Air lock and stopper to fit carboy or bucket
- Bottle filler (available from brewing supply company)
- Floating thermometer
- Glass bottles (enough to contain 5 gal. beer, usually 2 cases of 12 oz. glass bottles)
- Bottle capper (available from brewing supply company)
- Caps (new, obviously)
- Bottle brush
- Sanitizing solution (available at brewing supply company, or you can use bleach)
- 6 lbs. unhopped pale malt extract
- 2.25 oz. East Kent Goldings hops
- 1 package liquid yeast (look for American Ale style or similar)
- 2/3 cup sugar (corn sugar works well)
- Several gallons of distilled water
Before you begin, clean and sterilize everything—we mean everything—that will come in contact with the beer-making process. Contamination is the enemy of beer, and is the leading culprit in a bad batch. Unless you want to wait a month only to find out that the crisp, delicious ale you were dreaming of is actually a flat, sugary swill, clean and sanitize everything to surgical standards.
Now you’ll brew the beer. Slowly bring about three gallons of water (some people use distilled or spring) to a boil in the pot. As the water heats, slowly add your malt extract. Stir constantly until the mixture (called a wort) comes to a low boil. Add your hops and continue to boil for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
Cool the wort. Chilling the wort to room temperature as quickly as possible is vital to a successful brew. Some brewers use cooling devices to achieve this, but that’s not necessary. You will notice that your wort is significantly less than the five gallon capacity of your carboy. You can make up the difference and cool the wort rapidly by adding refrigerated, distilled water until you hit the five gallon mark.
Add the yeast. Once you’ve reached room temperature, pour your wort into your carboy or bucket, and add the yeast. Follow the instructions on the packet to prepare the yeast—some can be added directly, while some require additional preparation. Close the container, attach the airlock (you’ll need to add a little water to it), and set the container somewhere cool and dark for about two weeks. You’ll know you’re ready to bottle when the bubbles in the airlock slow down to about one per minute.
Mix in the priming sugar. Again, make sure that everything is sterile and rinsed thoroughly. Carefully siphon your beer into the second carboy or bucket, and gently mix in the priming sugar. Avoid splashing or bubbles, because this will add oxygen to the beer and spoil it. Once mixed, gently siphon the beer into your sterilized bottles, leaving at least an inch of space at the top. Cap the bottles as you go.
Wait. Now you’ve reached the hardest part: waiting. The beer will need to age in a cool, dark place for at least four weeks. The key is to keep the temperature as stable as possible, so basements or cellars are ideal. After four weeks, you can begin sampling beer, but the best results generally occur after at least eight weeks. A good rule to remember is that, the longer you wait, the better it tastes.