How to Homebrew Beer in 10 Steps
Follow along as Urban Farm’s managing editor homebrews her first batch of beer. Make 5 gallons of homebrewed beer the fun and easy way!
By Colleen Supan, Managing Editor, Urban Farm
Today starts the first attempt at homebrewing by myself. It’s a little scary because I’ve relied on help from my friend in the past. I’m hoping to be up-to-par for the next big brew day at his pad — you know, with like … real brewing equipment — and no longer be a helpless burden of a student.
What am I brewing? A red-ale recipe from an extract kit. Included in this kit are all the ingredients needed in the steps below.
Brewing Equipment: I wouldn’t say “equipment” so much as “a few things I borrowed from my friend.” The only beer-making equipment I actually have are sanitizer and a large sauce pan. No kidding, that’s it. For an extract kit, you really don’t need that much.
- Star San sanitizer
- 5 gallons of fresh, clean, filtered water (Usually only about $1 at water stores)
- 4-gallon (16-quart) pot for boiling malt extract (7 gallons is best)
- Large sauce pan (at least 3-quart) for steeping grains
- Stirring spoon (plain-old wooden spoon)
- Enough ice to cool down California
- 6 1/2-gallon (26-quart) fermenting bucket with a three-piece airlock (If you have a friend who homebrews, you can probably borrow his or her extra one.)
- Candy thermometer
- Hydrometer (optional)
- Grain bag
First, sanitize the heck out of your bucket and all utensils you’re going to use.
Let’s begin: Since the step of taking the sugars out of grains has already been done for me, resulting in the extract, I simply steeped the grains in a covered sauce pan with 3 quarts of 150-degree Fahrenheit (clean) water for 30 minutes. Ok, live and learn … I thought that keeping the heat at medium-low would produce a steady 150-degree temp, but since it’s covered, it of course boiled. Great. Don’t do that! Keep it covered, but I suggest keeping the heat on Low. I hope I didn’t just destroy the brew. I use a candy thermometer because of the handy-dandy clip, but you can use a floating thermometer if you have the urge to burn the heck out of your hand every five minutes when checking the temperature.
Placing the grain bag over a strainer allows for an easy rinse.
After 30 minutes of making grain tea (They’re in a grain bag, but you can use cheesecloth if you want to be even cheaper than me.), I drained and rinsed the grains in the bag with 3 quarts of very hot water that’s at 170 degrees. So many numbers! I needed this tea for boiling the extract, so I just kept it in the pot and put it aside for later. Placing a basic kitchen strainer over the pot and throwing the grain bag on top of it seemed to be the easiest way to rinse the grains.
What do you do with your “spent” grains? Call your local pet shop and see if they want them because they’ll make dog biscuits and other delicious goodies for our four-legged loved ones.
Pouring the extract syrup into pot of boiling water after removing from heat.
The next step was to bring 2 gallons of water (again, use the clean water) to a boil in a stock pot that’s at least 4 gallons (I borrowed a 7-gallon pot). I took it off the heat after boiling and then added the extract. After I was sure the extract wasn’t sticking to the bottom of the pot and was mixed in well, I added the grain tea and enough water to bring the volume up to 3 gallons. (Remember, water evaporates in the boil.) As for the candy thermometer — oops, my bad. Now I have to stick my hand in the pot to measure it since the thing is made for a little old lady making candy in a small pot. Get a real brewing thermometer, one that’s nice and long.
Mt. Hood hops pellets.
I put this mixture back on the heat and brought it to a boil. As soon as the first bubbles started bursting out of the top, I added 1 ounce of Mt. Hood hops and let it continue boiling for 60 minutes. Take heed to my advice — stir the hops a bit.
Phew! The hard part is done. So many numbers; it hurts my brain.
The cheap way to cool down your wort.
This next part was really important, but difficult to achieve properly because of lack of brewing equipment. Usually homebrewers have a crazy contraption called an immersion wort cooler that is made of wrapped-around copper piping that connects to a hose or sink in order to cool the wort. Why do you need to cool down the wort as soon as possible? This reduces the chance of bacteria growing before pitching (literally tossing in) your yeast and also improves your beer’s clarity.
Since I’m not interested in investing in a full range of homebrewing equipment yet, I used the age-old method of dumping my pot in a sink full of ice and cold water. The only thing I really don’t like about homebrewing is the amount of water needed to clean and cool down the wort. I feel guilty; I’m going to confession, be back later. At this point, I also poured 1 gallon of the remaining water into my fermenting bucket since I lost about that much during the different heating steps. This will help cool the wort down, too.
Yeast, being yeasty.
If you’d like to know the alcohol by volume, jump to step No. 8 and then come back here.
While the wort was going through a few minutes of ice melting, I used that time to rehydrate my dry yeast. Don’t worry, you can also purchase yeast in liquid form. This is much easier, since all you have to do is literally dump it in.
If you are using dry yeast, here are the steps: I boiled 1 1/2 cups of water and threw it in a sanitized cup, and then let it cool down to 105 degrees (put the sanitized thermometer in the cup) before I tossed the yeast in it. I let the yeast sit in there until the wort that was cooling in the sink and the yeast were at the same temperature, about 70 degrees. Keep in mind, this can take about a half hour or so, and the larger diameter your pot, the quicker it will cool down.
Hydrometer full of beer.
Now, you don’t need to take this next step unless you’re interested in seeing what the alcohol by volume is when you’re done fermenting.
Before I pitched the yeast in, there were two things I needed to do first: Scoop up a sample of my wort with my hydrometer and pour the wort that’s finished cooling down into the fermenting bucket. Try to make it “splash” a little bit to aerate it. Unfortunately, I didn’t stir my hops, so I got a goopy pile of mushy hops at the bottom. Like I said, take heed. I hope they dissolve or whatever they do. Yikes.
I filled up the hydrometer container from the fancy spigot on the bucket. Remember, you don’t want anything touching your wort, especially your hands, so don't let them touch the exit end of the spigot.
You don’t technically have to take a hydrometer reading, but if you want to take good notes and know the density of the wort (relative to the density of the water), you’ll do so. This does a few different things for you, but the main reason I’m testing it is to find out the ABV. I will also test it once a day when I hear the yeast stop bubbling to see if the hydrometer reading has changed. If it hasn’t, then the yeast is tired and the beer is ready to be bottled or kegged.
Why take a sample at 60 degrees? Because a proper density reading can only be achieved at 60 degrees. Otherwise, you have to do dreaded math.
My glass "carboy" full of beer. You can use this as a fermenter instead of a plastic bucket.
Place a stick-on temperature gauge onto the outside of your bucket or glass carboy and let it sit in an area (preferably inside) that’s between 65 and 73 degrees for about one week. After that, it’s up to you whether you want to bottle your beer or keg it. To keg it, you’ll need a setup with a corny or pony keg and a fridge, as well as access to C02.
Sanitized bottles on a bottle-drying rack.
To bottle your beer, you’ll need a lot of empty bottles; some corn sugar for carbonation, or you can buy carbonating “pills” at your homebrewing shop; and a bottling siphon. It’s cheaper to bottle it yourself, and frankly, more fun, since you can just hand your buddies some bottles of your fresh brew whenever you want.
And there you have it! How easy was that? Anyone can homebrew beer with just a few simple tools and an extract kit that you can purchase from a homebrewing-supply shop for as low as $25. Imagine having 5 gallons of beer around for $25!
Tell us about what beer you’re brewing on our Facebook page. You can also follow Colleen in her misadventures in brewing on her blog.
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