Brewing your own beer at home is a lot easier than most people think. Yes, you can absolutely make the process very complex and control every detail meticulously, however that’s reserved for the experienced homebrewer. Getting started with extract recipes is really simple and doesn’t require that much equipment. Plus, you can brew award-winning beer. I’ll break down the equipment and basic steps.
How Long Does It Take to Brew Beer?
Well, it varies depending on your brewing and packaging process along with the style of beer you’re making. I’ll get into some of the details below but on average, a brew day lasts between 2.5-5 hours with about 10-14 days of fermenting and conditioning. If you bottle, you’ll have to wait another 1-2 weeks for your beer to carbonate naturally. SO about 3-4 weeks total for most batches. I’ve also gone grain to glass in about 14 days with kegging.
Extract Vs All-Grain
for simplicity, I’m going to focus on extract brewing, which is a simplified brewing method that’s perfect or beginners. The main difference between the two is how the fermentable sugars are acquired in the brewing process. In all-grain brewing, the brewer uses crushed malted grains and mashes with very hot water to convert starches into fermentable sugars. In extract brewing, this process has already been done for the brewer and is available in syrup or powdered form. You can get a more detailed breakdown of all grain vs extract here or an in-depth overview of all grain here.
Beer is made with water, grains/extract, hops, and yeast.
Water: Beer is 90% water. Tap water is fine to use assuming it tastes fresh. The general rule of thumb is if it tastes good—it’s fine to brew with. You can alternatively buy bottled spring water in gallon jugs.
Extract: Extract comes in two different forms. Dry malt extract (DME) and liquid malt extract (LME). Both are mixed with hot strike water and boiled for 60 minutes with your typical hop editions.
Hops: Hops come in pellet or whole leaf form. I’ve used both but honestly prefer pellet hops. It’s the most commonly used and widely available form, especially by breweries.
Yeast: Brewer’s yeast comes in both dry and liquid forms. Dry yeast is the easiest to work with and doesn’t require additional prep in most cases. Liquid yeast is available in more variations but sometimes requires a yeast starter depending on the strength (original gravity) of your batch.
You can get all of these ingredients at your local homebrew store or more widely available online. A few personal recs are MoreBeer. Adventures in Homebrewing, and Northern Brewer. I also really like Brew Hardware for more advanced components.
Homebrew Starter Kit
I would recommend a starter kit to get everything you need for your first batch. They’re relatively affordable and contain all the equipment needed to ferment, transfer, and bottle your brew (you will need to purchase bottles separately). The kits above are the best type of homebrew kits. I also have personal experience with this one here as well. I got it for my father-in-law and he loves it!
A starter kit should include a fermenting bucket, bottling bucket, bottling wand, bottle capper, auto-siphon, and transfer tubing, hydrometer, airlock, and sanitizer solution. In addition to the brewing kit you will also need a big enough pot/kettle to brew in and a propane burner. Some people use their kitchen stove but it may not be big enough to support a 7-8 gallon kettle. A digital thermometer also comes in handy and is a must-have for steeping and pitching temps.
I would recommend a basic 7-8 gallon pot for 5-gallon batches. This gives you enough room to protect from boil overs. Bayou Classic also makes some basic kettles you can check out. You have to remember a standard batch of beer is 5-5.5 gallons. A 6-gallon kettle would work, but you’ll be filled to the BRIM after added top-up water, etc.
If you’re looking for a more durable and refined brew kettle that will grow with you, the MegaPot 1.2 series from Northern Brewer is a really great value buy.
A propane burner from your local hardware store is your best bet. You don’t need anything fancy here. Just something sturdy enough to support your kettle filled with wort (water+extract).
12 Ounce Bottles
You will need about 48 12 ounce amber bottles and potentially bottle caps if they do not come with your kit. You can purchase these or recycle old beer bottles and scrape off all the labels. This part is a major PITA, but it does save you some money! In hindsight, I wish I just purchased bottles…but I suppose it was a character-building experience. You can alternatively keg your homebrew, it’s just more expensive and more of a commitment to the hobby.
Extract Recipe Kits
Recipe kits are the best way to start. Advanced homebrewers design their own recipes, however, a kit will give you everything you need with premeasured ingredients, etc. All you need to do is follow the instructions. There are hundreds of kits online including clones of your favorite commercial beers. I have a blueberry ale extract recipe here if anyone loves blueberry beer. You’ll just need to purchase ingredients a la cart.
How to Brew Beer: The Process
The extract process is comprised of 4 basic steps plus bottling.
Steep Specialty Grains
A lot of kits will include specialty grains that are meant to be steeped in a mesh bag for about 20 minutes just before the boil. This is almost like a mini all-grain portion of the recipe. Specialty grains add a little complexity and flavor you can’t get from the extract. At this point, your water is now considered wort.
Once the grains are steeped you can remove, discard, and stir in your extract. Return to your heat source and bring it to a boil. Once you surpass the hot break (foamy period right before the boil), you can add your hop additions. The boil is typically a 60-90 minute process.
Chilling the Wort
After the boil, the wort needs to be chilled to yeast pitching temps (below 80°F), however, I strongly recommend chilling to 68°F for the cleanest-tasting results. You can chill your wort with an immersion chiller, however, an ice bath is the best way to get started. I used to place my kettle in a large tub of water filled with 10-15 pounds of ice.
You’ll most likely need to top up your boiled wort with 2 gallons of cool water, which will give you a head start. You’ll need an ice bath to get you the rest of the way. It’s important to chill your wort as fast as possible to reduce the risk of wild bacteria forming. As soon as the chilling process starts, strict sanitization methods must be taken. The cold side of brewing is where homebrew can go south without proper sanitation. Sanitize EVERYTHING that comes in contact with your wort with a no-rinse sanitizer such as Star San. This includes thermometers, tubing, buckets, lids, airlocks, etc.
Once your beer is chilled to 68°F you’re ready to ferment. Fermentation is typically done in a sanitized plastic bucket or glass carboy. Aerate your wort by shaking vigorously for 120 seconds and then pitch your yeast. Seal the lid, place your airlock in the lid, and let it ferment in a cool place. Your beer should ferment for about 2 weeks to fully finish, however active fermentation will complete in 4-5 days. Before pitching your yeast, you should take your original gravity of your wort (OG) using your hydrometer. This will allow you to calculate your ABV later on.
Before bottling and adding priming sugar, you’ll want to take a final gravity (FG) reading of your uncarbonated beer. Your OG and FG can be used to calculate your ABV. More details on that here.
Your brew kit will come with a bottling bucket and bottling wand to make bottle filling a snap. Siphon your beer from your fermenting bucket to your bottling bucket, leaving behind the trub/yeast cake at the bottom of the fermenter. You’ll need to add priming sugar to the bottling bucket just before packaging in order to naturally carbonate your beer. This will essentially kick off a mini fermentation in your bottles in order to carbonate. Store in a cool dark place (about 70°F-75°F) for 1-2 weeks to carbonate.
That’s it, you did it and can enjoy your hard-earned brew. I would recommend taking a look at some extra steps you can take to improve your homebrew and really dial it up.