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As a homebrewer myself, I could talk for days on this topic, and have on many occasions! So this is a relatively brief overview of how to brew beer at home…
Alright, so you’re into your beers. You know what you like, you know what you think sucks, and you’re up for trying the fuss stuff. So what’s next. Having perhaps formed an opinion on hundreds of other brewer’s handywork, where does one go from there? Well for some, it leads them to making their own beer!
So there are three main ways you can brew beer at home. We’ll start with the simplest and take it from there!
Get a Kit.
There I said it. This is home brewing at its most basic level (And not technically brewing at all..). Kits are available from most homebrew shops, and Wilkinson’s interestingly enough! They comprise of a liquid malt extract and some yeast. You add the yeast and some water to your malt extract and wait. There. Simple. You will have beer at the end of this, but it will be pretty one dimensional, and lets face it… The sense of achievement will be pretty dismal too. It’s a starting point, and may be good if you’d like a point of comparison.
Use Dried Malt Extract.
This is ever so slightly more involved than the kit method above. Dried malt extract is available from most home brew shops. Get some of this, add water and boil it up to create your own liquid malt extract. The extra dimension here, is you can add your own choice of hops to the boil for more flavour. This is perhaps a decent starting point in learning how to brew beer at home. However, as you’re still buying in dried malt extract, you have little control over the flavour of the resulting beer.
All Grain or Full Mash Brewing.
Ok, so now we’re talking! THIS is brewing! This method involves extracting sugars from malted grain yourself. There is a huge variety of malted grain available on line or from homebrewing outlets. Have a look and see what takes your fancy! All Grain brewing is much more involved than the two above and requires much more care, equipment and scientific application. If you have nerdy tendencies, you are in the right place my friend!
Smash The Mash!
At it’s core this method is about detail. The malt must be added to water at exactly the right temperature to allow the correct reactions within the grain to occur. It must then be kept at a specific temperature (In a mash tun) for an hour. The enzymes released will convert the starches from the malted grain into fermentable and non fermentable sugars. Now this does require a bit more kit than just pans on your kitchen hob. It’s essentially a scaled down version of exactly what commercial brewers do. After an hour in your mash tun, you will have created a sugary liquid… your very own wort!
Now we need to boil this sucker to kill off any bacteria and get some more reactions occurring to make your beer great. Boil times vary and make a big difference so do your research! Hops are added at this stage. Typically bittering hops are added early in the boil, aroma and flavour hops are added later in the boil in the last 15 minutes or at flame out. This is because the alpha acids in the hops add bitterness to the beer when boiled for longer. The longer you boil them, the less flavour they add.
Your hoppy, sugary liquid (wort) Now needs to be cooled as quickly as humanly possible. This is go time on brew day! The quicker you cool this bad boy, the better your hop flavour will be so get to it! It also reduces the chance of infection from wild yeast… Many a promising homebrew has been obliterated by a pesky wild yeast infection. Sad, but true. The danger is real. There are various bits of specialist equipment you can use for this… but at the end of the day, you need cold water to circulate, but not mix with your wort, and lots of it.
We’re nearly there now…. The end of brew day is nigh. But this is just the beginning of the life of the beer. It’s essentially in embryonic form.
Brewers Make Wort, Yeast Makes Beer!
There is an incredible and ever expanding variety of yeasts available to a home brewer. Your choice of yeast will have a massive impact on your final product. Some work quicker than others, some add fruity or bready flavours. Some ferment more quickly so you get a stronger beer with less sweetness, or they can ferment less quickly for a weaker beer with more sweetness due to the unfermented sugars.
The skill of the brewer is to balance the bitterness, sweetness and alcohol strength in their Wort and match this with a well cared for, complimentary yeast selection. The type of grains used, how much malted or roasted varieties you use, The temperature of the mash all have an impact on the type and fermentability of the sugars created in the Wort and therefore the finished beer. As you can see, there are so many considerations and variables. It really is an art.
What About the Kit?
Brewing beer at home can become an obsession. It can also be quite costly. Having said that, you can make good and bad beer on any equipment you use… I’ve had shite beer from a very expensive set up (Not mine!) I’ve also had awesome beer from a homemade boiler with 2 Tesco value kettle elements (mine…) While I wouldn’t recommend going quite as feral as I did for health and safety reasons, you don’t have to spend a fortune on your equipment to make a great beer. The outcome is far more related to the care you take, rather than the cash you drop.
Further Support and Info.
Finally, your greatest ally in this endeavour, as with most things, are other like minded people. There is a massive homebrewing community in the UK and the vast majority of them are more than happy to help! Get involved in forums, ask advice and start talking. Everyone has been a noob at some point, and people are happy to help as they were helped. The Nottingham Brewers Group is particularly helpful and I’d definitely recommend it.
So there you are… now you know how to brew beer at home…. Or have a bit more of an idea about it! This is a massive topic, with so many rabbit holes to go down, but bloody hell, they’re some tasty rabbit holes! Have fun, stay safe and brew beer!!
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