How to Start Brewing Beer: A Simple Guide to Brewing at Home

Why buy when you can brew? Master the craft of making beer at home with our foolproof guide. Get started now!

HOW-TO

Mat Stuckey

9/25/202310 min read

The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide to Brewing Beer at Home

Have you ever wondered how to brew your own beer at home? This quick start guide will walk you through the entire beer brewing process, from gathering the right equipment to savouring your finished product. Read on to unlock the secrets of homebrewing and become the brewer you've always wanted to be. Let's learn how to make beer!

Why Brew Beer at Home?

Brewing beer at home is not only a rewarding hobby but also a fantastic way to understand the craft beer world. Brewing at home allows you to experiment with various beer styles and flavours. Plus, making beer at home can be cheaper in the long run, especially if you're a frequent consumer of craft beer.

Some key benefits of homebrewing include:

  • Cost savings - Homebrew can cost much less per pint than buying craft beer. The startup equipment costs pay for themselves over repeated brew sessions.

  • Total control - You choose the exact beer ingredients and recipes to create your ideal brews. Tweak and perfect flavours to match your taste.

  • Fun hobby - Undertaking a home brew is an engaging hobby and creative outlet perfect for craft beer lovers.

  • Learn brewing science - Understand firsthand how ingredients and methods affect beer flavour and characteristics.

Shareable pastime - Make beer with and for friends. Homebrew makes impressive gifts.

What Equipment Do You Need to Get Started?

To start, you'll need some essential equipment to make beer:

  • Brew kettle - A 5-gallon (maybe 10 if you have space) stainless steel kettle is easy to clean and durable. Look for one with volume markings.

  • Fermenter - A 6-7 gallon plastic bucket or glass carboy to hold the beer during fermentation.

  • Airlock - Allows CO2 to vent during fermentation while keeping air out.

  • Bottling bucket - Has a spigot at the bottom for easy bottling into bottles.

  • Bottles - You'll need enough 12-16 oz beer bottles to hold your finished beer.

  • Bottle caps - Caps seal your filled beer bottles. A bottle capper crimps them on.

  • Sanitiser - Vital for cleaning and sanitising all equipment before use. Star San or PBW are popular choices.

  • Cleaning brushes - For thorough cleaning of equipment. Look for bottle brushes and carboy brushes.

  • Thermometer - Essential for monitoring proper mash and water temperatures.

  • Hydrometer - Measures your beer's ABV by its density before and after fermentation.

Getting Started with Beginner Homebrew Kits

For those totally new to making beer, basic home brewing kits provide an easy entry point for those who want to brew without massive investment in equipment and ingredients. They contain all the starter equipment you need to brew a basic batch of beer. Here's how to begin brewing with simple kits:

Purchase a Beginner Beer Brewing Kit

First, select an extract-based starter kit for beginning brewers. These contain:

  • A brew kettle (usually around 3 gallons)

  • A fermenting bucket or carboy (around 5 gallons)

  • An airlock and stopper

  • A syphon setup

  • Sanitiser and cleaning supplies

  • Bottles and caps

Kits also include liquid malt extract, hops and yeast needed for a specific beer recipe. Common starter kits make ales like pale ales, IPAs, or stouts.

Familiarise Yourself with the Process

Read the included instructions start to finish. Watch YouTube videos on brewing basics so you understand each step. Being comfortable with the general beer making process will ensure your success.

Sanitise Your Equipment

Before brew day, thoroughly clean all equipment with detergent then soak in sanitising solution. Sterilisation is vital when brewing. Make sure it's completely clean, we cannot stress how important this part is. It's not the most glamorous part of brewing, but you'll be thankful for it.

Brew Your First Batch

On brew day, set aside 4-5 hours to step through the brew operation, following kit directions precisely. Take notes on volumes, times, temperatures and procedures. Avoid improvising until you have a batch under your belt.

Ferment and Bottle with Patience

Store the filled fermentor in a cool, dark spot for the recommended fermentation duration before bottling. Wait the full 2-3 weeks after bottling before enjoying your homemade beer!

Basic kits let you dip your toes into homebrewing. Learn the basics, then take your skills to the next level!

clear wine glass with red liquid on brown wooden table
clear wine glass with red liquid on brown wooden table

Choosing Your Ingredients

Beer requires just four basic ingredients - malt, hops, yeast, and water. Let's briefly cover their roles:

Malt - Provides the fermentable sugars that yeast convert into alcohol and CO2. Barley malt is most common, but various grains like wheat, rye, and oats can be used.

Hops - Contribute bitterness, flavour, and aroma to balance the sweetness of malt and can be added at various intervals to introduce complexity. Hundreds of hop varieties exist.

Yeast - Converts sugars into alcohol, carbon dioxide and other flavour compounds. The strain determines the beer style.

Water - Makes up 90%+ of beer. Water chemistry significantly impacts the final beer characteristics.

The specific quantities, types and quality of ingredients dictate the flavour profile of your finished beer. With experience, you'll learn how to tweak recipes to engineer your perfect pint.

Brewing Equipment - Additional Gear

Beyond basic equipment covered already, several other items make the overall process easier, you can add these to your set-up as time goes on:

  • Wort chiller - Cools boiled wort quickly prior to fermentation. Required for all-grain brewing.

  • pH meter - Measures mash and water pH to ensure optimal range for enzymatic activity.

  • Grain mill - For crushing malted grain kernels to expose starches. Needed for advanced all-grain techniques.

  • Grain bag - Nylon mesh bag for holding grains during mashing then lifting out. Reusable and easy to clean.

  • Funnel - For cleanly pouring wort from the kettle into the fermenter or bottling bucket. Pick stainless steel for durability.

  • Refractometer - Special prism-based instrument that measures initial wort density before fermenting. Determines ABV.

  • Racking cane - Flexible tubing for transferring beer between vessels using gravity. Helpful for limiting oxygen exposure.

While not strictly mandatory, these accessories make key processes much easier.

Understanding the Basic Steps of the Brewing Process

Making a good beer involves several basic steps. While techniques vary between extract and all-grain brewing, the principles remain the same:

1. Mashing - Mixing crushed malt with hot water to extract fermentable sugars. Usually 60-90 minutes at 150-160°F.

2. Lautering - Draining the sweet liquid (wort) from the grain material using the grain bag or lautering system.

3. Boiling - Adding hops to the wort and boiling it for 60-90 minutes. This sterilises the wort, extracts hop flavours, and stops enzymatic processes.

4. Cooling - Quickly chilling the boiled wort below 80°F using a wort chiller so yeast can be safely added.

5. Fermenting - Adding liquid yeast to the cooled wort in a sterilised fermentation vessel and allowing the activity to occur for 2-4 weeks.

6. Bottling - Transferring the fermented beer into bottles, adding priming sugar, and allowing bottles to carbonate for 2-4 weeks before drinking.

With practice, these steps will become second nature. For now, focus on understanding the basic brewing process flow.

How to Choose Your Malt and Hops

Choosing the right malts and hops for your recipe can seem daunting as a new homebrewer. Here are quick tips:

Selecting Malt

  • Base malts like 2-row and Maris Otter comprise the majority of the grain bill and provide enzymes needed in mashing. They lend colour, body and baseline flavour.

  • Speciality malts like caramel malt, roasted barley and wheat malt lend unique flavours, aroma and colour when used sparingly.

  • For beginning extract kits, stick to light malt extracts to make pale ales and IPAs. Move towards darker extracts as you advance.

Picking Hops

  • Bittering hops like Magnum and Nugget add clean bitterness without overwhelming aroma. Use for 60 minute boils.

  • Flavour hops like Cascade and Centennial contribute taste notes mid-boil. Add around 30 minutes.

  • Aroma hops like Citra and Mosaic provide enticing aromas. Add these late, around 5-10 minutes before the end of the boil.

Experiment with small batch recipes to learn how different malt and hop combinations influence beer flavour.

What Role Does Yeast Play in Homebrewing?

It may be microscopic, but it plays a huge role in the production of beer. During the ferment, yeast converts sugars into:

  • Alcohol - Ethanol alcohol provides enjoyable intoxication effects. Too little = sweet beer, too much = too boozy.

  • Carbon dioxide - CO2 carbonates beer naturally and provides carbonic bite. Insufficient CO2 = flat beer.

  • Flavours - Yeast produce fruity esters, spicy phenols and other compounds that significantly impact beer's flavour profile.

Yeast also contributes to the final beer's:

  • Body - Certain yeast strains leave behind a thick, full mouthfeel while others create lighter beers.

  • Head retention - The clinginess and lacing of the beer head depends partly on the strain.

  • Clarity - How fast the yeast flocculates and drops from suspension impacts final beer clarity.

So proper yeast selection aligns the strain's characteristics with your target beer style. Rehydrating and pitching the right amount leads to flawless fermentation.

Creating a Yeast Starter

Making a yeast starter involves mixing dry or liquid yeast with a small amount of unfermented wort and allowing it to sit for 1-2 days before brewing.

Why make a starter?

  • It rehydrates dry yeast and acclimates liquid yeast to fermentation conditions.

  • It allows you to confirm it is active and viable.

  • It increases cell counts for faster, more complete fermentation.

  • Starters help avoid off flavours from underpitched or stressed yeast.

For liquid yeast, starters are vital. Follow package directions for ideal starter sizes. Even for dry, small 0.5L starters help boost the results.

The Importance of Sanitising in Homebrewing

Sterilising all the equipment that comes in contact with your beer is so important for preventing contamination and off flavours in your brew.

Effective sanitising steps:

  • Always thoroughly clean equipment with detergent before sanitising - this removes debris and organic deposits.

  • Use a high quality no-rinse sanitiser like Star San at the correct dilution as per label directions.

  • Completely submerge or spray contact surfaces, allowing 1-2 minutes contact time.

  • Drain excess off but don't rinse. Leftover residues are beneficial.

  • Cover fermenters and carboys with sanitiser-filled airlocks.

The old adage "brewers make wort, yeast makes beer" is true - don't allow your hard work to go to waste by neglecting sanitation!

Tips for Your First Homebrew

Follow these best practices when undertaking your inaugural homebrew batch:

  • Start with a beginner extract kit - Extract brewing is simpler than all-grain for your first batches. Kits contain all needed ingredients.

  • Sanitise meticulously - Obsessively clean and sanitise all equipment before use. Don't risk ruining a batch through contamination.

  • Follow instructions precisely - Deviating from recipes and directions without experience can derail your brew. Stick to the plan.

  • Take good brewing notes - Record recipe formulations, ingredient amounts, each step taken, fermenting activity etc. This allows reproducing successes and improving techniques.

  • Allow full fermentation - Wait the full two weeks minimum before bottling. Rushing this risks over carbonation and bottle bombs.

  • Have patience - It will take weeks until you can finally taste the fruits of your labour. But good things come to those who wait!

Relax, take it slow, and savour the process. Before you know it, you'll be a homebrew pro!

four clear stemless glasses
four clear stemless glasses

Bottling Your Finished Beer

Once fermentation is complete in your carboy or bucket after 2-4 weeks, it's time to get your brew into bottles! Here's the bottling process:

  • Sanitise bottles, caps, syphoning and bottling equipment thoroughly to prevent contamination.

  • Add priming sugar to the bottling bucket first, then syphon beer gently into the bucket to mix thoroughly. Priming sugar carbonates the brew in bottles.

  • Attach bottling spigot and tubing, then fill each bottle, leaving 1 inch headspace. Cap bottles immediately using your bottle capper.

  • Store capped bottles at room temp for 1-3 weeks to carbonate before refrigerating for ideal carbonation and clarity.

  • For brews with substantial sediment, allow bottles to settle in the fridge for 1-2 days before pouring carefully into a glass.

Enjoy your homemade beer with immense pride and satisfaction! Then begin brewing your next batch!

Additional Resources

For those eager to dive deeper into the wonderful world of homebrewing, some helpful resources include:

Let this guide set you on a journey of crafting amazing homemade beers! Your tastebuds will thank you. Brew on!

Q: How do I make beer as a beginner?

A: Making ale at home is easy! You will need a basic brew kit and some ingredients, such as malt extract, hops, yeast, and water. The process involves steps like boiling the ingredients, fermentation, and bottling.

Q: What equipment do I need to make beer?

A: To make beer, you will need a brew kettle, fermenter, airlock, thermometer, hydrometer, syphoning equipment, bottles, and a bottle capper. These are the basic equipment to get you started.

Q: What is wort?

A: Wort is the liquid that is created when grains are steeped in hot water during the home brew process. It is the foundation of your beer and contains the sugars that will be fermented by the yeast.

Q: What is fermentation?

A: Fermentation is an essential part of the beer production process. It is when the yeast consumes the sugars in the wort and converts them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is what gives your beer its alcohol content and carbonation.

Q: How long does fermentation take?

A: The process usually takes about 1 to 2 weeks, depending on the type of beer you're making and the temperature conditions. It's important to monitor the progress with a hydrometer to ensure fermenting is complete.

Q: How do I know if my beer is fermenting?

A: You will notice bubbling in the airlock and a layer of foam on top of the beer. This is a sign that the yeast is actively working and fermenting the sugars in the wort.

Q: Can I make beer with a brewing kit?

A: Yes, using beer kits is a great way to get started with home brewing. The kit usually includes all the necessary equipment and ingredients, along with step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process. Everything you need to get started! They are typically inexpensive and show that creating beer at home is easy.

Q: What are the different types of beer I can make at home?

A: With home brewing, you have the freedom to make a wide variety of beer styles. Some popular options include ales, lagers, stouts, IPAs, and wheat beers. You can experiment with different recipes and ingredients to create your own unique brews.

Q: How do I add the yeast to my beer?

A: Once your wort has cooled down to the appropriate temperature, you can add the yeast. Depending on the type of yeast you're using, you may need to hydrate it first or simply sprinkle it on top of the wort. The yeast will then start fermenting the sugars in the wort.