Homebrewing is a rewarding hobby that allows you to create your own personal beer recipes and even experiment with different ingredients. The first thing you need to do before beginning any type of homebrewing is to make sure all of the equipment and ingredients are clean and sanitized.
After everything has been cleaned, it’s time to actually begin making the beer itself! Most people start off by using malt extract as their base, but there are also other options if this doesn’t seem like an ideal fit for you. It may take some trial-and-error before finding out what works best for your particular recipe, so don’t get discouraged if things don’t turn out right on your first try! Keep in mind that many professional brewers started off just like you – a beginner!
In this article, I’ve tried to give a fairly detailed overview of home brewing beer. You’ll learn the crucial stages, some key terms as well as some tips about how to get started on the right foot.
Feel free to use the table of contents below to navigate your way around more easily.
Table of contents
Brief introduction to home brewing
What is home brewing?
Homebrewing is a great hobby for people who love beer and want to learn the craft, as well as those who just enjoy being creative in the kitchen. It should be noted that homebrewers can never legally sell their products because that would put them into direct competition with commercial breweries.
There are also some very strict laws in most countries prohibiting this too. Homebrewers are therefore only allowed to consume their own creations themselves (a whopping 200 gallons per adult in most states).
Also, home brewing isn’t restricted to beer. While here on beercreation.com I concentrate on making beer, you can also brew wine, mead, and cider if you so choose. Go nuts!
Approaches to home brewing
When you start brewing beer at home, you are more than likely going to start with a malt extract kit. This gets you off to a running start in the brewing process and means that you don’t have to personally extract sugar from raw malt grains (called mashing). By buying a particular liquid malt extract (LME) you can design any beer you want, within reason.
Another approach to home brewing is called all-grain brewing. In this process, you extract your own sugar from raw malt grains by soaking them in hot water and then flushing the grains to extract enough fermentable sugar for the next phase of brewing. This is a much more involved process than using a malt extract kit.
Whatever you choose to do with determining the amount of equipment you need on your brew day.
Brewing kits vs all grain brewing
When it comes to brewing beer at home, there are two main ways to go about it; malt extract kits or all-grain brewing.
A malt extract brewing kit comes with pre-prepared liquid malt extract (but sometimes with dried malt extract) which cuts your brew day down by several hours. All you need to do is add water and you have a ready-made malt ready for the boil.
These kits also include additional brewing ingredients such as yeast, hop extracts and sometimes specialty malts for flavorings.
A malt extract brewing kit can save time and has a lot of benefits, but might not be the right choice for everyone. I personally started with these types of kits and honestly think it’s a good way to learn about the fundamentals of brewing beer.
All grain brewing, on the other hand, means starting the brewing process from scratch (well almost). It’s the brewer’s responsibility to mash the grains and extract the right amount of fermentable sugars into the wort. Getting this part wrong can affect your entire batch, so understanding the basic principles here is essential.
After, the mashing and sparging processes (to ‘wash’ the grains and flush out more sugar) the brewing process for both all-grain and extract brewing is the same.
Brew In A Bag (BIAB)
Another form of all-grain brewing is known as BIAB. Instead of relying on a separate mash tun and brew kettle, you can use the BIAB approach to mash your malt grains directly in a brew kettle.
This is made possible by using a brewer’s bag, which is a finely meshed bag the grains are placed in. Even if you don’t mash in a brew kettle, mashing in a bag makes it so much easier to remove your spent grain from your wort.
What equipment you’ll need to brew beer at home?
In reality, brewing beer at home can be done with very little equipment at all. If you get the brewing bug, however, you will soon find lots of extra pieces of kit and gadgets you want to buy to improve your brewing prowess.
For now, however, let’s just stick to the very basic stuff you’ll need on day one in order to brew that first beer.
Essential home brewing equipment:
A brew kettle is used in the brewing process to boil the wort (unfermented beer). It can literally be any pot that is large enough to hold your wort. Most kits or all grain recipes call for a 5-gallon yield, which means you need to boil around 6 to 7 gallons of liquid to account for evaporation loss (boil-off).
So, always make sure that your brew kettle can handle this capacity plus about 20% more to prevent a boil-over and loss of precious wort.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
Long spoon/ mashing paddle
You will always need a long spoon in brewing, and I mean long enough to prevent you from burning your hands when dealing with boiling wort. I find that having something that is at least a foot longer than your brew kettle will help minimize burns. You’ll need this spoon or paddle for both extract brewing and if you choose to do all-grain brewing.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
A thermometer is needed so you can measure the temperature of the wort during the boiling process as well as other brewing steps.
For most extract kits you will be given specialist grains which you need to steep in water before adding your liquid malt extract. These malts have to be steeped below boiling temperature as they are needed for added color or flavor (not for fermentable sugar)/> Getting the right temperature is important.
Just remember, the boiling point of water varies with altitude and atmospheric pressure. In order to get the right temperature, you need to know what your current conditions are.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
Watch or timer
You will also need a timer or watch to time the different steps in brewing. It is recommended that you use the timer on your phone or phone app because it is easier to glance at than a clock.
A stopwatch helps you keep track of the boil, especially when to add hops later in the process. Adding these hops at different times will change the character of your beer, so being as accurate as you can with their addition is best.
The fermenting vessel is needed to house the wort while it is being fermented by the yeast. The fermenting vessel should be made of food grade plastic, glass or stainless steel. It should also be airtight and have a watertight seal.
You can buy purpose-made fermenters or carboys which obviously do the job well. You can also transform any other sort of seal-able container into a fermenter. As a beginner, I’d recommend a glass carboy so that you can see in it as the beer ferments.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
The most important thing is sanitizing your brewing equipment (not to be confused with sterilizing it).
StarSan is one of the most popular sanitizers used in the brewing industry. This product is highly effective and generally recognized as safe by the FDA. It has been tested extensively for use with 5 grains, 2 sugars, 15 hop varieties, and 8 yeast strains.
It’s a no-rinse sanitizer that can be used during all phases of homebrewing starting from when you’re cleaning your equipment prior to brewing all way through packaging your beer to store in a refrigerator or freezer.
Just keep in mind that it usually takes about 12 hours before StarSan loses its effectiveness, so if you plan on going out or have company over then know that there is a risk they will contaminate your beer with bacteria later on just by touching it with
Check the latest deals on Amazon
The ice is used in the brewing process to cool down the wort after it has been boiled. This helps to speed up the process of cooling the wort so that it can be transferred to a fermentation vessel.
There are more complicated (and efficient) methods of cooling your wort, but for most beginners simply filling a bucket or sink with ice and placing your brew kettle in it will do for now. Remember to keep stirring the wort in order to speed up the cooling process.
Optional extra brewing equipment:
A hydrometer is a tool used to measure the density (specific gravity) of liquids such as water and beer. It is a simple device for measuring relative density that employs a weighted float inside a long narrow glass or plastic cylinder.
The hydrometer can be obtained from any home brewing supply store and they are fairly inexpensive. Although you can get away with not having one for your first few batches, you really want to get one before brewing many more beers. Having an accurate gravity reading before and after fermentation can help you figure when the beer is ready as well as how much alcohol is in it!
Check the latest deals on Amazon
A wort chiller is used to rapidly cool the wort (unfermented beer) so that it is at the right temperature to add, or pitch, yeast. You can definitely do without this in the beginning but as soon as you are able, a wort chiller will rapidly speed up your brew day.
Types of wort chillers
There are three different types of wort chiller used in brewing beer. The type of wort chiller that is used is based on the brewer’s goals (and perhaps their setup).
One type, for example, is the counter-flow wort chiller. A counter-flow wort chiller sends hot wort in one direction and cold water in the other direction. This type of wort chiller is used externally and needs a pump for it to work.
Another similar type of wort chiller is called a plate chiller. It can be more efficient than other wort chillers and relies on small plates which alternatively run hot wort and cold water through them to create an effective heat exchange system.
Another type of wort chiller is called an immersion wort chiller. The way this works is by placing the wort chiller into your brew kettle (pop it in 15 minutes before the end of the boil to sanitize it) and then running cooler water through the tubes. It’s bar far the most basic type of chiller, but it’s reliable and rarely breaks in any way.
Just remember that all these wort chillers are only as effective in cooling your wort as the temperature of the water you use. You can’t cool the wort lower than the temperature of the water you use
Check the latest deals on Amazon
Temperature control unit
When it comes to brewing beer, temperature control is one of the most important things to be aware of (after thorough sanitation of all your equipment). My professional brewing friend Tom always used to tell me that was the next biggest step to improving my beer, steady temps!
Temperature control units are one of the first big upgrades you’ll make in this hobby and they help you control the fermentation temperature of your beer. If you have a spare refrigerator or freezer, you can easily turn it into an effective fermentation chamber with a temperature control unit and a heating map or ceramic heating lamp.
If you’ve ever read any of my other articles on this topic you’ll know I love my Inkbird, you just can’t go wrong with this product!
Check the latest deals on Amazon
This is a great piece of kit that helps you keep your wort that little bit clearer and less clogged up. A hop spider is a mesh cylinder that fits inside your brew kettle. You simply add your hops to the wort bubbling away inside the hop spider and this keeps all the organic hop material in one place.
Hop spiders can become almost essential if you want to use any sort of pump system as a lot of hops material can clog them up. It’s also easier to transfer ‘cleaner’ wort into your fermenter as you have less sediment in your brew kettle.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
Mashing is a process brewers use to convert starches in malt grains to fermentable sugars, producing sugary wort. You can do this simply by soaking malted grains in water around 145°F to 158°F. Mashing also extracts proteins (at least they are dissolved into the wort) and other solids which will aid in head retention, body, and mouthfeel in beer. Remember: You only need to worry about mashing and a mash tun if you want to do all-grain brewing.
You can buy dedicated mash tuns, often with a hot liquor tank thrown in as a bundle, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. I’ve had great success using a basic water cooler (like the ones you see at little league) and adapting it as a mash tun.
As long as the cooler you use has a faucet and you can fit a false bottom into it (used to raise the grain bed level a few inches off the bottom) you will be fine.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
Most homebrewers will begin by boiling their first batch of wort on their kitchen stove. This is absolutely fine for a starter 1-gallon kit, and can even work for bigger batches too. However, heating up in excess of 5 gallons on your average kitchen stove can take a lot of time, energy, and of course, money.
Propane burners are ideal if you have a dedicated outside space and want to get your strike or brewing water up to the right temperature quickly. Again, with most of these additional pieces of kit, you don’t need them unless you are brewing on a regular basis and want to brew larger batches.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
When it comes to storing (and serving) a brewed beer there are two options, bottling it or kegging it. In many cases bottling beer is a better option as it is easier to share and you don’t have to spend a lot of money doing it. However, when space is at a premium or you are happy drinking the same beer for a while, kegging may make more sense. Also, kegging is SO much easier than filling and capping 50 odd bottles per batch.
In addition to the keg, you will also need to buy a CO2 regulator as well as a cylinder of CO2. This may seem daunting and perhaps dangerous, but honestly, there is nothing to worry about. If you are going down the kegging route, then you will probably also want to invest in some sort of kegerator.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
A kegerator is a beer really cool dispensing machine. It can be built from a chest freezer with some modifications or bought as one complete appliance – normally in the size of a medium fridge.
So, don’t feel you need to spend a lot. You can really make your own kegerator from a second-hand fridge or freezer, and I even double this up as my fermenting chamber as I usually only have a single batch going at any one time. It’s a space thing.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
All-in-one brewing systems
An all-in-one brewing system is what you need if you want the convenience of a complete and ready-to-go home brewery. It includes everything from brew pots to pumps and cooling systems – all under one hood.
Of course, I’d recommend getting one with the ability for future expansion because once you start brewing your own beer, there’s no looking back! You don’t want to get an all-in-one brewing system without a pump, for example, and find out a month down the line you really want to sparge your mash more easily.
You can find very affordable models of all-in-one brewing systems ( I started with the Brewer’s edge) which will allow you to mash and boil in the same unit. There are some models which can even be converted to allow you to ferment your beer in the same unit too.
When should you consider buying one?
As with anything like this, I wouldn’t recommend you buy an all-in-one brewing system until you are sure you have caught the brewing bug. I went for over two years before I got one and that was more because I have a very limited space in which to brew and my wife was getting on my case about cleaning up my storage space.
Having bought one, I can say that it really helps to reduce the heavy lifting aspect of brewing and, what for me was the fiddliest part, draining my mash tun and transferring the wort into a brew kettle.
Another thing to consider is how much you might save if you take the leap from a basic starter brewing kit set up to an all-in-one brewing system. Buying a decent brew kettle alone can be half the cost of what an entry-level all-in-one brewing system costs. So, on pure mathematics alone, these units work out cheaper in the long run.
Check the latest deals on Amazon
How to find the right ingredients
Every good beer is dependent on good ingredients, so knowing where to get yours is important.
If you are starting with extract recipe kits, you don’t have to worry about this as all the ingredients are included with the kit. The only thing you might want to buy is a new packet of yeast. Sometimes if a kit is left on a shelf too long the provided packet of yeast becomes less effective. It is a precaution worth taking.
For all-grain brewers, there are really two places to get your brewing ingredients. The first place is your local homebrew supply store. If you have one near you, always try to support them and buy your brewing supplies and equipment from them. They can usually give you great advice about brewing techniques as well as substitutes when some ingredients are hard to come by.
Another great thing about your local brewing supply store is they almost always have a mill on hand to help mill your raw grains. When you don’t have a store within easy driving distance, then there are also several online brewing supply stores that will ship to you. I’ve used homebrewing.org several times when I wanted something in particular.
For me, even my local brewing supply store does a delivery service when I’m too busy to drive there.
For the most important part of your brew, water, you can more than likely rely on your own plumbing. Tap water is perfectly fine for brewing in most cases. If you want to really get into it, you can commission a water analysis from your water utility company and then work through what you need to add to make it perfect for different styles of beer. Water chemistry is an important part of brewing, but for your first few batches don’t worry too much about it.
For the more adventurous brewers out there, you can even research malting your own grains and growing your own hops. Personally, I’ve never tried this and would say that most homebrewers don’t need to go this far.
Important steps in brewing beer
Cleaning brewing equipment
It’s important to clean the kit you brew with, obviously. The reason for this is that when you brew with dirty stuff it can start to have an adverse effect on your beer. Little bits of organic matter on your brewing equipment, especially your fermenting vessel, can encourage unwanted bacteria and probably off-flavors too.
There are several different ways to get a good shine on your brewing equipment, but you can’t go far wrong with PBW which will get even the most stubborn of stains off of your kit.
Sanitizing brewing equipment
There are two sides to brewing, the hot side, and the cold side. Everything, before you cool down your wort post-boil, is fairly safe in terms of sanitation. Boiling your wort will kill off any unwanted bacteria, and this is something you can remember if you find you’ve got a bacterial infection in your beer later.
Everything that touches your beer after it’s been boiled and cooled needs to be thoroughly sanitized. Now, you can’t really sterilize your equipment, but you can use a sanitizer like Star San to significantly reduce the risk of unwanted microbes from competing in your wort before the yeast establishes itself.
So make sure that you dunk your fermenter and other equipment in your chosen sanitizer to limit the chances of a wasted batch.
If you are doing all-grain brewing, then you need to mash your own grains. This involves adding pre-heated strike water to your malt grains and keeping them at a regular temperature for around 60 minutes.
This process helps the enzymes naturally present in malted grain to convert starch into usable fermentable sugar. It’s this sugar that yeast will later convert into ethanol and carbon dioxide in the fermenting vessel later on.
When you mash your grains, a significant amount of the fermentable sugar converted from the starch in the grains does not escape into the strike water. This means you can be left with a thin wort that is way below the specific gravity it needs to be (SG is how we measure the amount of sugar that is in your wort or beer).
By sparging your grains, you can flush out even more sugar and so get a beer that has a better body characteristic and is more alcoholic. There are several different ways to sparge, but they all involve running warm water through the grain bed which forms at the bottom of your mash tun.
Once you have extracted your sugary wort from the mashing phase (or prepared it by adding malt extract to water) you are ready to boil it up. Most recipes will call for a 60-minute boil, although some brewers have experimented with much shorted boiling schedules.
There is a lot that goes on during this process. For one thing, boiling your wort gets rid of DMS (Dimethyl sulfide) which can give your beer an off-flavor if left in. It’s also during the boiling phase that we add hops, both for bittering and for flavor. It’s also possible to add other adjuncts at the boil phase to add to the characteristic of your beer as well as help with its clarity (Irish moss, whirlfloc, etc).
Once you have boiled your wort and are at flameout, it’s a race against the clock to get the wort cooled and ready to be pitched with yeast. This is when you are at most risk of introducing other microbes into the wort which can grow and affect the success of this batch.
There are different ways to cool your wort down to the right temperature. The most straightforward way is to transfer (or rack) your hot wort into your fermenting vessel directly and allow it to cool naturally, adding the yeast the next day.
A more proactive way is to put your brew kettle into a sink full of ice and stir it until it cools down to the right temperature. Even better is to use a wort chiller to quickly reduce the temperature within a few minutes, then pitch the yeast and close up the fermenter.
Know in the brewing world as racking, transferring your beer can be done in several ways from simply pouring it from one container to another to using a dedicated siphoning system.
Before you ferment your beer, you should try to get as much oxygen into it as possible, that’s because yeast needs to breathe too. So splashing is perfectly ok at this stage. However, after the beer is fermented, you want to avoid any kind of excessive introduction of oxygen into your beer. Oxidation degrades your beer’s taste and shelf-life.
This is why using a basic auto-siphon is always best (making sure it is pressed against the side of the container). More advanced setups might have a closed transfer system which really limits the chances of too much oxygen getting into your fermenter and later bottles or keg.
To be honest, there is very little that can be done when bottling your beer so don’t worry about having zero oxygen in your bottled beer. Just try to eliminate splashing.
Once you rack your cooled wort into a fermenting vessel and add your yeast, it’s now officially called beer!
Fermenting goes through different stages and it’s most apparent when you see bubbles seeping through your airlock (used to control the flow of gases in and out of the FV) and the appearance of browning foam on top of the beer called Krausen.
During these different phases of fermentation, the yeast is converting the fermentable sugars in the beer into alcohol and CO2 (attenuation).
You normally need to ferment your beer for at least a few days, but for best results, I’d recommend leaving your beer for at least 2 and a half weeks to be confident that it has finished fermenting and all of the yeast has dropped out of suspension (flocculation).
Cold crashing is a good way to give your beer more clarity in the glass. It involves dropping the temperature of the beer to just above freezing for several days. This encourages any excess organic matter suspended in the beer to drop to the bottom of the FV. You can then rack the fermented beer off of the top of this layer (trub) and have a much nicer-looking beer later on.
Conditioning beer simply means making it carbonated. You can do this naturally by adding sugar to it, or by adding carbon dioxide directly yourself. You normally add sugar to your beer when you want to store it in bottles and co2 if you are using a keg.
When bottle conditioning, transfer your fermented beer into a bottling bucket first. Before you do this, boil up about a small amount of water and add the correct amount of priming sugar to it, which will dissolve. Let the mixture cool down a bit, then carefully rack your fermented beer over it. Give it a very gentle but thorough stir making sure you don’t splash the beer around too much.
This way your beer gets an equal amount of priming sugar and when you rack it into separate bottles you will have more consistent carbonation. If you add priming sugar, either as powder or carbonation drops, to each bottle you can sometimes make mistakes and get some beer bombs down the road.
When you are kegging beer, you need to introduce Co2 into the beer give it time to absorb it. During the first few days to weeks (depending on your approach) the level of Co2 you put into the beer will be higher than when you want to serve it.
Beer storage and maturation
A beer’s character can change over time, often getting better. How you store it can be as important as how you mash the grains or ferment it.
With bottle conditioning, you should store your bottles in a dark place that is at roughly the same temperature as what you fermented it at. Bottle conditioning relies on residue yeast carrying out a second mini-fermentation process in the bottle. The same type of yeast will perform better at the same conditions it worked at before.
When kegging, you can drop the temperature to the one you will serve the beer at and give it time to absorb the carbon dioxide.
The brewing process explained
For this section, I’m going to use an example beer recipe and talk you through the process of brewing it in the most straightforward way.
Original Gravity: 1054
Expected Final Gravity: 1015
Estimated ABV: 5.1% Total
Total liquor: 56 1/2 pints
Batch size: 40 pints
– For The Mash –
Liquor: 23 pints
Mash time: 1 hour
Temperature: 179 °F
Pilsner malt – 11 lbs
Munich malt – 9 oz
– For The boil –
Liquor: 47 1/2 pints
Boil Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Tettnang 4.5%: 1 1/3 oz – IBU: 19.2 (add at 1 hr 15)
Hallertauer Hersbrucker 3.5%: 1 oz – IBU: 3.5 (add at 10 mins)
Tettnang 4.5%: 1 oz – IBU: 4.5 (add at 10 mins)
Hallertauer Hersbrucker 3.5%: 1/2 oz – IBU: 0.0 (add at 0 mins)
– To Ferment –
Conditioning: 4 weeks at 37°F
Yeast: Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager
Protofloc: 1 tablespoon (add at 15 minutes)
Recipe adapted from Home Brew Beer by Greg Hughes (Amazon)
Collecting the ingredients
Depending on whether you are brewing a recipe kit or are sourcing the brewing ingredients on your own, you will do this differently. To have a quicker and more streamlined brew day, it’s always advisable that you measure your grains and hops the day before.
If you plan to mill your own grain (not necessary for most new homebrewers or those using kits) you should also do this in advance.
Also, think about separating and measuring your hops in advance. I like to put mine in handy bowls ( you can also use zip lock bags) so I know what and how much needs to go into the boil at what time.
Cleaning and Sanitizing your equipment
Another thing to do sooner than later is to clean your equipment. Again, this can be done the day before to reduce the workload on your actual brew day. Remove all dirt and grime using something like PBW (sold on Amazon), a great home brewing cleaner. Sanitizing your equipment can be left until your brew day to make it more effective. Although there are several ways to sanitize your brewing equipment, Star San is the easiest product to use. You can buy it here on Amazon if you don’t have any.
Mashing your malt grains
Note: You only need to carry out this step if you are using the all-grain brewing method and creating your wort from scratch. When using a malt extract kit, this step has already been done for you.
Heat up the full 23 pints of water (liquor) as indicated in the recipe in one container (in this case your brew kettle) to 171°F. Generally, we want to aim for a ratio of 1.25 quarts of water per pound of grain (1.2 liters), but this recipe calls for a slightly thicker mash.
Add your grain bill to your brew kettle and thoroughly mix it in with the water (called doughing in ). Make sure that you don’t have any clumps of grain that appear dry in the center.
Take a thermometer and check the temperature in several different places and depths. You should on average have a mash temperature of 149 – 154°F. Over the next 60 minutes, maintain that temperature range. You can stir the mash occasionally too.
After 60 minutes, raise the temperature of the mash to 170°F to disrupt the work of the enzymes in the grains, called the ‘mash out’. Next, you need to sparge your mash.
Sparging the mash
For this recipe, we need about 42 additional pints of liquor to flush out all the possible fermentable sugars from the mash. It needs to be no hotter than 171°F because if it is then it will extract more tannins into the wort and will not flow as well through the grain bed.
We also need so much liquor because a lot of water is absorbed by the grain, and will not escape as usable wort. Simply pour water over your grains and collect roughly the same amount from the spigot at the bottom.
You should do this until the wort runs clear and you’ve collected the target boil amount of liquor, which for this recipe is 47 1/2 pints. You can sparge for about 30 to 40 minutes. There is more on sparging in my other article here.
Boiling the wort
Once you have collected the right amount of wort, you need to transfer it into your brew kettle. You need the wort to be boiling throughout the process, so keep the heat on to maintain a good heat.
When the wort is at the right temperature, start your clock. For the recipe we are looking at the boil time is 75 minutes. During the next hour and 15 minutes, we need to add our hops at precise times to get the right balance of bitterness and aroma from them.
Looking at the instructions, we need to add 1 1/3 ozs of Tettnang which has a level of 4.5% amino acids in it. We then wait for 65 minutes before adding 1 oz of Hallertauer Hersbrucker and a further ounce of Tettnang. At this point, we also want to add a tablespoon of protofloc, which will help improve the clarity of the beer down the line.
As the clock reaches 75 minutes, we turn the heat off (flameout) and add the final half ounce of Hallertauer Hersbrucker while stirring the wort vigorously (whirlpool).
Note: If you plan to use an immersion wort chiller, you should also add it into the brew kettle directly about 15 minutes before flameout to sanitize it in the boiling wort.
Cooling your wort
As quickly as you can, you need to bring the temperature of your wort down to 54°F so that you can pitch your yeast. As mentioned earlier in this guide, you can do this in many different ways but the most effective method is using a wort chiller.
For your first brew day, you will more likely do this by placing the brew kettle in a sink of ice and stirring the wort to help it cool. Don’t add any cold water that hasn’t been boiled and sterilized beforehand, and the same goes for adding ice directly to the pot.
Fermenting your beer
Make sure that you have your fermenting vessel and airlock cleaned, sanitized, and ready to go before you transfer the wort into it. Once your wort is at the right temperature, add your yeast directly to your wort. You can simply add dried yeast to the surface of the wort and leave it to do its magic.
Your beer (which we can now call it) will go through several phases during fermentation, but the most visually exciting is the growth phase. You will see brownish foam (Krausen) rise off the surface and a lot of Co2 escaping from the airlock.
If at any time the foam starts coming through the airlock, you can remove it and replace it with a tight-fitting length of sanitized vinyl tubing with the other end in a bottle half-filled with Star san. This is called a blow-off tube.
You can tell when fermentation is done because you’ll see the Krausen drop or a lot less gas escaping through your airlock/ blow-off tube. You can also test this by taking a sample of your beer after at least a week and testing it with a hydrometer.
If you have reached your target gravity and/or that measurement is the same when you take a new test the next couple of days, the beer is successfully fermented.
Note: try to keep the beer sealed up in the fermenting vessel as much as possible. If you have cleaned and sanitized well, there will be little risk of bacterial infection in your beer. Keep that lid closed!
Storing your beer
When the beer is fermented, you can now transfer it either into a keg or bottle. For most first-time brewers, you will be bottle conditioning your beer. You can either buy new bottles online (check out this deal on Amazon for swing-top bottles) or you can reuse beer bottles you have at home. Just try to choose a brown ale bottle, as they tend to be slightly stronger and intended for reuse.
Whenever transferring fermented beer into any vessel, make sure it is well sanitized and that you keep splashing to an absolute minimum. You can use a simple auto-siphon for this job or a specialized bottle wand, both of which you can buy on Amazon if you don’t have one at home.
I tend to find it’s best to rack the beer into a bottling bucket to which I’ve first added my priming sugar to. By dissolving the sugar in boiling water and then mixing it with the entire batch of beer, you’ll get much better carbonation across your batch.
When filling up bottles, make sure you leave roughly an inch of headspace in each bottle. This gives the CO2 some space to expand into without resulting in bottle bombs or excess oxygen in your bottles.
Capping bottles is fairly straightforward, but if you can opt for swing-top resealable bottles, your job will be much easier. When you have bottled your beer, leave it in a dark place out of direct sunlight and at roughly the same temperature you fermented it at. This will help the yeast to convert the added priming sugar better into carbon dioxide.
For information on kegs and kegging your beer, check out my article here.
Brewing tips for beginners
There are so many things you will learn about homebrewing the more you brew, but I just wanted to focus on a few nuggets of sage advice for your first couple of attempts.
Preparation is key
So many times I have been caught out because I needed to clean or fetch a piece of equipment at a crucial stage in the brewing process. This is why you need to lay things out and think they through in advance.
If you are brewing for the first time, make sure you read through the instructions a few times and arrange any equipment you’ll need for each stage of the process.
Measure your ingredients out so they are ready to go as the boil is underway. You don’t want to be searching for a pair of scissors when you should be adding your hops and a particular time.
Clean as you go
Brewing beer can be a messy and sticky hobby. So, to save on time later, clean your equipment as you no longer need it. Also, clean up any spillages of sticky wort as soon as you can.
You have no idea how angry your spouse or partner will be when you trace sticky sugary wort all over the house! You actually have quite a bit of time for cleaning during the mashing and boiling stages of brewing, so use this time wisely.
Start with an extract kit
Although I have been told the opposite, I would say to anyone thinking about getting into the homebrewing hobby, get a brewing recipe kit for the first time.
You may not want to stay with extract brewing for the rest of your brewing career, but it’s a nice easy way to get started. I’d even recommend getting a full started kit which gets you set up with some essential equipment from day one. You can then use the same setup to brew a simple beer recipe kit in the future. Check out my recommended starter kits here.
Test before you use
Whenever you are using a new piece of kit, check how it fits together and works before you use it for real. Also, whenever there is water involved, make sure you check to see if your setup can handle it.
Quite a few times when I first started using my wort chiller I had ends flying off because they were too loose or leaks into my wort because tubes didn’t fit properly. It’s much easier to fix these things without boiling wort than with it!
Give it more time
Homebrewers need an incredible amount of patience. it takes at least a month to brew most beers, and when it’s your first crack at it, you just want to taste your results. But, I would say hold off from racking your beer too quickly from fermenter to bottles and resist the urge to peek into your fermenter.
When it comes to fermentation, you can afford to leave it for at least 2 and half weeks without anything bad happening to it. This gives the yeast ample time to finish the fermentation process.
Join Facebook groups
The best way to learn anything is to ask questions. Facebook homebrewing groups are plentiful, and I’d recommend you join as many as you can and learn from thousands of brewers around the world. You can also look at Reddit and quora for guidance as well as any local homebrewing clubs which might exist in your area.
Common mistakes and how to avoid them
Thinking back, I probably made a lot of mistakes early on in my brewing career, and I even make some now from time to time. Here are some of the most important ones to avoid.
Keep it closed!
Many starter brewing kits give you a fermenting bucket, which is cruel. The best bit of brewing is seeing the beer ferment and there is a great urge to open the bucket’s lid and look inside. Every time you do this, particularly during early and later phases of fermentation, you expose your beer to oxygen and airborne microbes. If you want to avoid an infected beer, just keep the lid closed.
When your wort has been cooled after the boil everything that comes into contact with it must and should be sanitized, which includes you! Make sure you wash your hands and even give them a spray with your star san (which is great in a spray bottle).
That goes for the yeast packet and scissors you might use before pitching your wort. it sounds like overkill, but you can’t be too careful with sanitizing your equipment and workspace.
There are really so many great resources out there (and my own blog of course), but here are my favorite sites listed below.
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing
Buy this book on Amazon.
This is a fantastic book and really gives you a great grounding in not only the basic brewing approaches but also an introduction to some of the more advanced ones. It’s a fun book to read, but it does go into the science of brewing a bit, so be prepared to read and re-read this one!
How To Brew
Buy this book on Amazon.
John Palmer is the go-to guy for most modern brewers and really brought the idea of homebrewing to the masses after it had been quite a niche hobby since prohibition. His guide is a must-have book for all brewers and gives you great foundations in the art of brewing.
Homebrew Beyond the Basics
Buy this book on Amazon.
If you are looking to build your understanding of brewing, especially give taking a direct step into all-grain brewing, this is a great addition to the two books I’ve mentioned above. Brewing skills can always be improved as can your understanding of the science behind it.
Glossary of brewing terms
Adjunct: Unmalted grain or other fermentable substance added to the brewing process. Rice and corn are the most common adjuncts, with honey, syrups, and a wide range of additional carbohydrates also being used. They’re prevalent in low-calorie American lager-style brews produced on a large scale.
Aeration: The practice of introducing air or oxygen to the wort (unfermented beer) throughout the brewing process. Aeration before primary fermentation is essential for yeast health and robust fermentation. Aeration after completion of fermentation may cause cardboard or paper aromas due to oxidation, which can lead to off-flavors in the beer.
Alcohol by Volume (ABV): In terms of percentage volume of alcohol per volume of beer, a measure of the alcohol content in a solution. Because this measurement is always greater than Alcohol by Weight, it is known as “volume percent.” Subtract the final gravity from the original gravity and divide by 0.0075 to obtain the approximate volumetric alcohol concentration. For example
Aromatic hops: Refers to additions of hops that occur later during the boil. The quantity of time spent in the boil kettle will give more aromatic characteristics from the hops rather than bittering ones.
Astringency: Tannins, oxidized (phenols), and various aldehydes are responsible for the majority of beer flavor (in staled beer). The mouth can pucker because of astringency, which is often interpreted as dryness.
Attenuation: The yeast’s conversion of wort sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas during fermentation causes a decrease in specific gravity.
Autolysis: Excessive yeast cells feed on each other, creating a rubbery or vegetable odor as a result of this natural process.
Bittering Hops: Hops added to the wort towards the beginning of its boiling process. The longer hops are boiled, the more bittering qualities they will impart.
Bottle Conditioning: A method of carbonating beer in the bottle during production that occurs as a result of fermentation of additional wort or sugar added on purpose at bottling.
Bottom Fermentation: One of the two most common fermentation processes, characterized by the inclination of yeast cells to settle to the bottom of the container. Bottom fermenting lager yeast is said to be opposed to top-fermenting ale yeast. Lagers and bottom-fermented beverages are examples of beers produced in this manner.
Brew Kettle: One of the key pieces of equipment used to boil the wort (unfermented beer) during the brewing process.
Carboy: A container made of glass, plastic, or earthenware used to ferment beer.
Chill Haze: The presence of haze or cloudiness in a glass is an indication that proteins and tannins, which are naturally present in the finished beer, have combined during chilling into particles large enough to reflect light or become visible.
Closed Fermentation: Fermentation in a tightly sealed container under anaerobic conditions to minimize the danger of contamination and oxidation.
Cold Break: A process that occurs during wort cooling, proteins and tannins flocculate.
Conditioning: A phase in the brewing process in which beer is rested or aged after primary fermentation to avoid the development of undesirable tastes and compounds.
Decoction Mash: A technique of mashing that raises the temperature of the mash by removing a portion, boiling it, and returning it to the mash tun. It’s commonly used several times in some mash plans.
Degrees Plato: A density scale for beer wort based on the percentage of extract by weight, derived empirically.
Dextrin: Complex, unfermentable, and flavorless carbohydrates derived from the partial hydrolysis of starch that contributes to the gravity and body of the beer. Undissolved dextrins give the finished brew a malty sweetness.
Diacetyl: Some yeasts, such as British and Scottish ales, Czech Pilsners, and German Oktoberfest beers, produce a volatile compound that lends the beer a caramel nutty or butterscotch flavor. This chemical is permissible at low levels in several historical beer styles, but when unwanted is counted as an off-flavor.
Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS): DMS may give a pleasant sweet flavor to beer at low levels. DMS can produce a distinct aroma and taste of cooked vegetables, such as roasted corn or celery, at higher quantities. In some Lager beer kinds, low doses are tolerated.
Essential Hop Oils: The aromatic and flavor components that are associated with hop additions are created through the isomerization of essential hop oils in the wort.
Esters: A delicious fruity aroma and flavor of beer are produced by volatile flavor chemicals that develop via organic acid-alcohol interactions during fermentation. Esters are abundant in ales.
Ethanol Ethyl alcohol: The colorless primary alcohol component found in beer.
Fermentable Sugars: Carbohydrates that have been broken down by yeast cells and converted to alcohol or carbon dioxide.
Fermentation: The conversion of fermentable sugars into roughly equal parts of ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide gas through the action of yeast. The two primary types of fermentation in brewing are top fermentation, which creates ales, and bottom fermentation, which creates lagers.
Fermentation Lock (airlock): A one-way valve, which is often constructed of glass or plastic and is used to connect a fermenter to allow carbon dioxide gas to escape while excluding ambient wild yeast, bacteria, and pollutants.
Filtration: To remove solid material in suspension, usually yeast, a liquid is passed through a permeable or porous substance.
Final Gravity: The specific gravity of a beer, as determined when fermentation is completed (when all wanted fermentable sugars have been converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide gas).
Fining: To speed the precipitation of suspended matters, such as yeast, proteins, or tannins, such as isinglass, gelatin, silica gel, or Polyvinyl Polypyrrolidone (PVPP), clarifying agents are added to beer during secondary fermentation.
Flocculation: The process of congregating and settling out of suspended particles in wort or beer. Protein and tannin particles will flocculate out of the kettle or fermentation vessel during the hot or cold break while brewing. The resulting beer’s yeast cells will flocculate to various degrees throughout fermentation, affecting both fermentation and filtration.
Forced Carbonation The beer is placed into a sealed (or soon to be sealed) container and carbonation is rapidly added. Under high pressure, the CO2 is absorbed into the beer.
Fusel Alcohol: Excessively high fermentation temperatures produce a family of high-molecular-weight alcohols, which have harsh or solvent-like characteristics that are commonly compared to lacquer or paint thinner. It can cause substantial hangovers.
Head Retention: A beer’s foam stability is measured in terms of how long it takes for a 1-inch foam collar to collapse.
Hops: Hops, a perennial climbing bine with the Latin botanical name Humulus lupulus are used to balance the sweetness of wort. The female plant produces flowers that are soft-leaved and pine-like in size, measuring about an inch in length. Only the female blossoms are used to flavor beer.
Hot Break: The coagulation of proteins and tannins during the boiling phase of brewing.
International Bitterness Units (IBU): The amount of bittering ingredients in beer (analytically measured as milligrams of isomerized alpha acid per liter of beer, in ppm). The IBU rating for light lagers ranges from 5 to 10, whereas large, harsh India Pale Ales have an IBU rating ranging from 50 to 70.
Irish Moss: It is used in the brewing of beer as a clarifier. Modified Chondrus crispus particles or powder, which help to precipitate proteins in the kettle by aiding in a more efficient hot break.
Isinglass: A gel-like substance derived from the swim bladder of certain fish that is occasionally added to beer to aid clarify and solidify the completed product.
Kraeusen (Krausen: The foam-like top on the wort’s fermenting surface.
Lauter Tun: A vessel equipped with a false slotted bottom (like a colander) and a drain spigot through which sweet wort is drawn from the grains using a straining process after settling.
Lautering: The procedure of removing the sweet wort (pre-boil) from the spent grains in a lauter tun or with other straining equipment.
Liquor: In the brewing industry, this term refers to water used for mashing and brewing, particularly natural or treated water high in calcium and magnesium salts.
Lovibond: A color gradation scale, commonly used to grade the color in grains and beer.
Mashing: The process of combining crushed malt (and sometimes other grains or adjuncts) with hot water to convert grain starches to fermentable sugars and non-fermentable carbohydrates, giving the beer body, head retention, and other characteristics.
Mashing also extracts colors and flavors that will carry into the finished brew, as well as reducing its cloudiness. Wort is a sugar-rich liquid produced by mashing which is later boiled and combined with hops and other adjuncts. The enzymes in mashing can break down the proteins that cause haze, which contributes to clearer beer. The breaking of haze-forming proteins via mashing is called protein rest.
Mashing Out: The method of raising the mash temperature to 170F. The objective is to prevent enzymatic action and starch conversion by halting any activity.
Milling: The mashing of grain to prepare it for the subsequent brewing process. The endosperm should be crushed to medium-sized grits rather than flour rather than being mashed. Because they will later serve as a filter aid during lautering, it is critical that the husks remain whole when the grain is ground or cracked.
Mouthfeel: The textures that a beer has. It includes carbonation, fullness, and aftertaste.
Noble Hops: Traditional European hop varieties, which are recognized for their distinctive flavor and fragrance. These were formerly grown solely in four tiny locations across Europe: Hallertau (Bavaria, Germany), Spalt (Spalter, Germany), Tettnang (Lake Constance region, Germany), Saaz (Zatec, Czech Republic).
Original Gravity (OG): Before fermentation, this is the specific gravity of wort. As compared to water’s usual density of 1.000 and higher, the total quantity of solids dissolved in the wort, known as total solids content, is measured in degrees Plato (PP).
Oxidation: The ‘spoiling’ of beer or food by an organic oxidizer (oxygen, an oxidizing agent) is known as oxidative fermentation.
Phenols: The chemical class characterized by both aroma and taste. Some phenolic tastes and aromas are desirable in specific beer styles. Higher amounts in beer are frequently caused by brewing water, infection of the wort with bacteria or wild yeasts, cleaning agents, or crown and can linings. Clovey is a clove-like taste profile; herbal has an herbaceous aroma and flavor; medicinal or pharmaceutical (band-aid) has a medicinal flavor and aroma.
Pitching: The addition of yeast to the wort once it has cooled down to a suitable temperature.
Primary Fermentation: The first stage of fermentation, which takes place in open or closed vessels and lasts from two to twenty days, during which time the majority of fermentable carbohydrates are transformed to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Priming: Small quantities of fermentable sugars are added to fermented beer before racking or bottling in order to stimulate a second fermentation in the bottle or keg, resulting in carbonation.
Racking: The movement of beer from one container to another, particularly into a bottle. fermenting vessel or keg.
Reinheitsgebot: The German purity act of 1516, which stated that beer may only contain water, barley, and hops, was implemented. After its role in fermentation was discovered by Louis Pasteur, yeast was added later.
Residual Alkalinity: The mash’s ability to buffer or resist efforts to lower its pH is determined by the mash’s buffering capacity.
Residual Sugar: Any sugar that the yeast did not consume during fermentation.
Saccharification: The conversion of starch in the malt to fermentable sugars, most notably maltose.
Saccharomyces: The genus of single-celled yeasts that convert sugar to alcohol and are utilized in the production of alcoholic beverages and bread. Brewers frequently utilize yeast strains from the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Saccharomyces pastorianus.
The second, longer phase of fermentation for top-fermenting beer, which may range from a few weeks to several months in length depending on the kind of beer. A new fermentation starts in bottles or casks when they are primed or refreshed with fresh yeast.
Sediment The refuse of solid matter that settles and accumulates at the bottom of fermenters, conditioning vessels, and bottles of bottle-conditioned beer.
Sparging: An operation in which the spent mash grains are sprayed with hot water to extract the liquid malt sugar and any remaining material from the grain husks during lautering.
Specific Gravity: The ratio of a substance’s density to that of water is known as specific gravity. The amount of dissolved sugars in the wort or beer is determined using this method. Because specific gravity is a proportion, it has no units. See also Original Gravity and Final Gravity.
Standard Reference Method (SRM): The color of a beer may be estimated and quantified using an analytical technique and scale that brewers employ to measure and quantify the hue of a beverage. The SRM of a beer is determined by its color, with higher values indicating darker hues. SRM in beer ranges from 2 (light lager) to 45 (stout) and beyond
Steeping: Soaking a solid in liquid to extract tastes. Usually during malt extraction brewing for specialty malts.
Temperature Rests: During the brewing process, temperature rests allow the brewer to change fermentable sugar levels in order to alter the characteristics of the resulting beer.
Top Fermentation: One of the two most common types of fermentation in which yeast cells tend to rise up the side of the container. Ale yeast is active during the top fermentation process, in contrast to lager yeast, which is dormant at that time. Top-fermented ales are frequently known as ale or top-fermented beers.
Trub: The wort particles that form during the boiling and cooling periods of brewing owing to protein precipitation, hop oils, and tannins.
Vorlauf: The recirculation of wort from the lauter tun outlet back onto the top of the grain bed in order to clarify the wort at the start of lautering and immediately prior to collecting wort in the brew kettle.
Whirlpool: The center of the kettle is stirred to create a vortex, allowing for the collection of hot break material.
Wort: The dark liquid extracted from the malt by mashing and boiling it with the hops, which becomes beer when fermentation takes place.
Yeast: During the fermentation process, yeast transforms natural malt sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.