When most people think "home brewer," they think of overweight bearded men, renaissance fairs, and civil war reenactments. No longer! With a modest investment in a couple of equipment items, anyone can brew 5 gallons of beer in a couple of hours, cleanup not included. In the course of this article I will review making a simple, malt extract brew. I will also discuss the required equipment and costs as well as popular (to me) vendors.1
The following is a bare-bones list of equipment needed to make beer in your kitchen:2
- 1 × 3 gallon stainless steel or copper pot (called a brew kettle)3
- 2 × 5 gallon food grade plastic bucket with a tight, sealable lid (one is called the primary fermenter or fermenting bucket, and the other is called a bottling bucket)
- 1 x long-handled, plastic spoon or ladle
- 1 x airlock
- 1 × 2 cup measuring cup
- ~50 × 12 oz bottles and unused caps
- 1 x capper
- 1 x cooking thermometer
- 1 x hydrometer4
For the purpose of this article, we will be making a standard Pale Ale.5 The ingredients include:
- 3 lbs. light dry pale extract6
- 3 lbs. amber dry malt extract7
- 1 oz. 100% dextrin powder8
- 1 tsp. gypsum9
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 0.5 oz. Columbus hop pellets10
- 1 oz. Willamette hop pellets11
- 3/4 cup corn sugar
- Wyeast 1968 liquid ale yeast12
It is easy to contaminate a beer prior to fermentation. Contamination can have a surprisingly large number of effects on the final product – the least worrisome of which is a bad aftertaste; the worst of which is bacteria competing with the yeast for sugars, resulting in weak beer.13
I generally like to use Clorox bleach for all of my pre-brew cleaning. Sweep and mop the floor, then bleach all surfaces in the area. As long as the impedimenta of brewing are resting on sanitized surfaces and there is no dust blowing around, I believe risk of contamination is minimal.
Clean and rinse all brewing implements prior to starting, too. Clorox wipes are great for this. The fermenting bucket should be cleaned once more prior to being filled with unfermented beer.
During this stage of the brewing process all of the ingredients come together in a glorious boil – the final product of which is unfermented beer. I will break this down by easy-to-follow steps, complete with definitions and explanations:
- Fill the brew kettle with 2.5 gallons of regular tap water and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, place the cans of malt extract into a second pot of hot water. In a few minutes, the heat will make the extract much easier to pour.
- When the water is just off the boil, pour in the heated malt extract. Use the long-handled spoon to scrape out what’s left in the can and stir slowly into the water.
- Immediately after the extraction, stir in the dextrin powder, gypsum, and salt.
- As soon as the water-based mix begins to boil, make a note of the time and stir in the Columbus hop pellets. (This is now officially unfermented beer, or wort – pronounced wert.)
- Boil the wort for 60 minutes, continuing to stir slowly. If the wort is left unattended during the boil, it could boil over and be an absolute disaster. Not only are ingredients lost, but the unfermented wort is full of sugars – a mixture which becomes glue as it dries on your kitchen floor.14
- At 60 minutes, turn off the stove and move the kettle from the stove to the kitchen sink. Lid the kettle and fill the sink with ice water. Keep the kettle in ice water until it drops to around 100Â° Fahrenheit.
- Pour 5 gallons of the wort into the fermenting bucket once it cools.15
- When the temperature of the wort is under 90Â°, pitch the yeast into the wort and seal the lid on the bucket.16 Place the airlock through the hole on the top of the lid, fill with water, and cap it.
This ends the boiling phase of the brewing process. At this point the beer sits in the fermenter in a dark,17 cool18 room or closet for the next 7 to 10 days. During this time, the yeast eats the sugar and creates alcohol. At day 7, check to see if the airlock is no longer "hopping" up and down in the water as it releases gas. Once that is the case, the ferment is done and the beer is ready for bottling.
This is the final phase of actual work.
- Start, of course, by sanitizing anything that will come into contact with the beer:Image error (bottle.JPG, 82, Article). Check that [[Image:bottle.JPG]] exists.
- @ Boil water in a saucepan and dump in all of the bottle caps to be used. 19
- @ Fill a large bucket, cooler, or even the bathtub with water and bleach.20 Put all the bottles21 into the bleach/water solution, fill them and allow them to slip under water. Let them sit and soak until you are ready for them.
- Place the fermenting bucket next to the bottling bucket, and use the siphoning tube to bring the beer from one to the other.22
- Siphon the beer until it gets down to the bottom inch or two of beer. At that level there is a layer of trub, or settled yeast and other things you don’t want to bottle. You will see the difference as you get to the bottom and the beer becomes milky or thick with sediment. Trub can be thrown out, or dumped in a flowerbed, used for compost, etc.
- When all of the usable beer is in the bottle bucket, boil 3/4 cup of corn sugar with 2 cups of water, and then stir it into the bottling bucket with a sanitized spoon. This sugar will provide the remaining yeast in the beer with enough food to create carbonation.Image error (bottlecapper.JPG, 82, Article). Check that [[Image:bottlecapper.JPG]] exists.
- Cover the bottling bucket with a lid to keep out dust and other things. At this point the alcohol in the beer will be antiseptic enough to fight off contamination, but it is still good practice to keep out as many foreign dust particles and whatnot as possible.
- Rinse off about six bottles at a time and stage them next to your bottling bucket. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the bottles, as a mouthful of Clorox with your beer is quite unfortunate. Fill a bottle from the spigot on the bucket, then cap it. Repeat until you are out of beer.
- The bottles will need to sit for about seven days to allow the beer to carbonate. You can drink it earlier, it just may be flat.
Conclusion and Things to Remember
That is about as basic for brewing as it gets. There is a vast library of options available to make the process more involved and to put out a better product – it all depends on how much time you have to commit to a hobby.
Lastly, here are a few things to keep in mind while brewing:
- Keeping your brewing area and equipment clean is one of the most important items in this process. If you brew with a dirty bucket you are wasting your time.
- This pale ale recipe is one of uncounted recipes. Any one of the websites I listed will either have a recipe to try, or sell all of the ingredients in a convenient kit.
- Don’t drink beer while you brew beer. Nothing good will be brewed as a result. Drink beer afterwards.
- If you don’t notice activity in the airlock within 24 hours, you may have a problem. Pull the lid off, and use a sanitized stirring spoon to give the wort a vigorous stir. This will provide oxygen for the yeast, and stir up settled sugars. Personally, this has never failed me. If it doesn’t work for you, you may have to pitch a new batch of yeast. Don’t feel rushed, the hops in the wort will act as a preservative and should allow a shelf life of approximately six weeks unfermented.
- The websites I used to link products are the sites I personally use because I have found them to have the best deals, most prompt service, or most useful information. There are an incredible number of other websites out there, these just happen to be my favorites:
- *_Brew Your Own_ – http://www.byo.com/
- *_Quality Wine and Ale Supply_ – http://www.homebrewit.com/
- *_Homebrewers Association_ – http://www.beertown.org/
- *_Homebrewers Outpost_ – http://www.homebrewers.com/
- *_Homebrew Heaven_ – http://www.homebrewheaven.com/vHome.htm
- *_Wikipedia_ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
1 All vendors mentioned have been used by the author and found to be competitive and easy to use.
2 Complete kits may be purchased at Midwest Homebrewing and Winemaking. Available online at http://www.midwestsupplies.com/products/ ProdBySubCat.aspx?SubCat=11166&fd=1. Accessed September 2007.
3 A brew kettle is not generally included in moderately priced beginner kits. Homebrewers Outpost, however, has a great deal on bottles, caps and a kettle. Available online at http://www.homebrewers.com/product/HB5000. Accessed September 2007.
4 A hydrometer measures the alcohol in your brew. There are a number of different formulas to measure the alcohol. (See the "Homebrewing" article on Wikipedia. Accessed September 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homebrewing.) The easiest is to purchase a hydrometer (available through Homebrewers online, accessed September 2007 from http://www.homebrewers.com/product/5451), with a percentage listed on the side. This is quite sufficient at a basic brewing level.
13 Even in the event it tastes funny, it is still beer and shouldn’t be wasted!
14 During a horrible boil over in my own kitchen, the family cat wandered into the mess and became thoroughly stuck.
15 Most beer brewing kits come with marked buckets, so filling it to 5 gallons should be easy.
16 When using liquid wyeast, it must be activated approximately 3 hours early. The instructions for this are clearly labeled on the back of the package. When using dry yeast, place it in lukewarm water with a tablespoon of sugar and cover. Let it sit an hour prior to pitching it into the wort. This allows the yeast to activate.
17 The fermenting bucket must be kept in a dark place – the darker the better, in fact. Light can ruin your beer.
18 Ale should be kept between 65 to 75 degrees while it ferments.
21 Homebrew Heaven has good prices on "specialty" bottles, which you might not find locally. Accessed September 2007 from http://www.homebrewheaven.com/. Just type bottles in the search engine in the upper right hand corner. To get bottles on the cheap, head to the local brewery or recycling center. Regardless, use brown bottles. They prevent light from damaging your beer. I gathered bottles the hard way – emptying them 12 ounces at a time!
22 To use the siphoning tube, first fill the tube with tap water, then place it in the beer and allow the vacuum created by the water leaving the tube to suck beer from one bucket to the next. There is a chance of germs from your mouth contaminating the beer if you use the "straw" method of starting the siphon.
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