Home Brewer Brent Fedor tells us how to BIY.
Why not? I love beer and I love cooking. It seemed like a no-brainer the day I flipped through SkyMall magazine and saw the Mr. Beer Home Brewing Kit. My eyes lit up like the Fourth of July and within just a couple weeks I had in my hands the best invention since fire.
So, since 2006, I’ve been making my own beer and enjoying its sweet reward. Think about it: the furthest you’ll have to go for your next beer run is the kitchen. You can also figure that in many cases there’s decent savings per bottle compared to buying a craft brew.
In the last couple of years, I’ve made some upgrades to my home brew setup, graduating from the Mr. Beer level to a hand-picked set of tools to make more beer per batch and have easier ways to store the finished brew. Although the upgrade lends itself to a more complicated recipe than when I started, it’s still the same simple process.
You can pick up your own starter kit like Mr. Beer in a few stores like your local Bed, Bath, and Beyond for around fifty dollars and with just a stovetop and some typical kitchenware, anyone can brew their own.
Here’s how to brew your own beer (the basic process):
Step 1: Clean up. Until you hit a certain stage in beer fermentation, your brew is pretty sensitive to the same organisms that will spoil your food (think about a loaf of bread left out too long). So, you need to sanitize equipment that will have direct contact with the liquid bread you’re about to make. This can easily be done with household bleach and water. Just rinse off with hot water after about a 30-minute bath and you’re good to go.
Step 2: Get cooking. You’ll have to make a “tea” (brewers call it “wort” – pronounced “wert”) with the grains and hops by doing a little boiling and steeping to pull out all the nutrients and flavors that will fuel the yeast and make your beer taste good. This step is probably where you’ll spend most of your active brewing time.
Step 3: Chill out. Once you’ve finished cooking, you have to bring the temperature of the wort down to where you can safely add the magic ingredient – yeast. There are special kinds of yeast on the market that create the flavors which are unique to your favorite styles of beer. When the temperature is right (around 75 degrees Fahrenheit) you can pour the wort into your fermentation container and add the yeast.
Step 4: Sit back. Here’s where you get to sit back and leave the work to an able staff of about 400 billion yeast cells. Within a day or two, the brew will be bubbling like crazy to let off carbon dioxide gas from the fermentation process. You’ll have to keep an eye on it in the first few days to make sure the bubbling has started and that any overflow is contained. I’d check in on it every day just because I’m a good boss and like to make sure my yeasty minions are happily chowing their way through the malty goodness I’ve so benevolently provided. In about a week or two, the yeast will convert the sugars in your wort into carbon dioxide and alcohol. You can pour it out and enjoy it as-is, although it’ll be pretty flat by normal standards and definitely cloudy, especially where all the sediment is resting at the bottom of your fermenter.
The next few steps will help you refine your home brew and develop the qualities you’d expect to enjoy from a professionally brewed beer. But again, you’re already the proud parent of your very own beer.
Step 5: Move it along. Around this time you can bottle your beer, but you’ll want to add a little sweetness to feed whatever yeast cells are still hungry. It doesn’t take much, maybe a couple tablespoons per pint, to work. The sugars you add should be boiled with water to make a syrup for easy mixing. I prefer to mix the syrup into the wort instead of directly into the bottles. Then, gently fill each bottle to keep from creating any foam. Seal your bottles and caps (pre-sanitized, I hope) and set them aside for at least a week at room temperature or at least two weeks in the fridge. This will give the yeast time to eat up the last dose of sugar, creating a little more alcohol and carbonation from trapped carbon dioxide.
Step 6: Enjoy! For first-time home brewing, I suggest using plastic soda bottles. Soda bottles have the ability to stand up to the pressure created by the yeast’s gas production. Since you might absorb flavors from repurposed soda bottles, go for containers that held something like plain seltzer, unless you think Mountain Dew Brew would be something you’d like to try. You can also use cleaned and sanitized glass beverage non-screwtop bottles, new or pre-owned, and seal them with brand new lids from a local home brew store or online. Sometimes I’ll go completely recyclable and re-use swing-top glass bottles from IKEA or from a previously enjoyed Grolsch or Rogue XS Imperial Stout.
Get the full rundown of the equipment you’ll need, how to assemble your own kit and how to make your own fermenter here.
And see my take on an easy recipe from The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, by Charlie Papazian, here.
Brent Fedor is an avid brew-it-yourselfer and sustainable-living advocate. Visit his blog Brewty and the Yeast. Ask him a question at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him @askahomebrewer on Twitter.
Images courtesy of grain edit, Maryland Homebrew and Flickr users jbcurio and x-ray delta one.