I love beer. I said it there. I’m not apologizing. I’ve been into beer since my college years. While I admit that my taste has been remarkably refined since then, beer is a drink that I have liked since I was in my early twenties.
Then I learned to do it.
I have been home brewing since 1998. It is a very relaxing and fun hobby of mine.
As with many hobbies, there are various levels of investment you can make when starting to brew your own beer. You’re looking at a $30 investment for the low end and go up from there. You can spend a lot more, but I started brewing my own in the $30 range.
Homebrew can be separated into two categories: extract and whole grain. Each has advantages and disadvantages over the other. The extract is a syrup that consists of most of the main ingredients of the beer. When brewing with extract, you simply need water, yeast, and some fermentable substance (sugar).
The advantages of extract brewing are that the cost tends to be cheaper and the time it takes to make beer is less than with whole grains. The downside is that you are basically limited to the formula of the ingredients in the extract. While there are many different types of extracts for different types of beer (Stouts, Ales, Lagers, etc.), the options are more limited than the whole grain method.
Whole brewing is done by boiling and mixing the individual ingredients (malt, barley, and hops) for a longer period of time until the mixture (also called “wort”) is ready to add the yeast and fermentable substance. The advantage of whole brewing is that you can really customize the taste of the beer. Whole grain brewing makes it easy to do things like make a “clone beer,” or a beer that is similar in taste and style to another well-known beer, like Samuel Adams or Budweiser. The downside to whole brewing is the extra time and cost involved. This is probably a good type of brew if you are more experienced.
Yeast is a very important ingredient in beer. In fact, there are many strains of yeast available for brewing beer (and other alcoholic beverages in general). The two types I have tried are active dry yeast and liquid yeast.
Personally, I have found that liquid yeast, while more expensive than dry yeast, is the more effective of the two. The type of liquid yeast I use (Wyeast) comes in a foil packet. Inside the foil packet is the yeast and a small plastic bubble filled with unfermented beer. When I’m ready to make some beer, I squeeze the foil packet until the plastic bubble breaks. This mixes the unfermented beer with the yeast and starts a fermentation that activates the yeast. By the time I have my beer ready, the yeast is good and ready when added to the mix. There are many types of liquid yeast available. Yeast is often named for the type of beer it’s best suited for, such as American Ale or German Alt. However, I think there’s some room for experimentation here.
Dry yeast is cheaper than the liquid variety, and in some cases, you get a packet of dry yeast when you buy a can of brewing extract. The downside to dry yeast is that the variety of yeast strains can be limited, and sometimes dry yeast can take longer to start fermentation.
Other than what I already mentioned, sanitation is one of the most important factors in brewing. It is very important to have the equipment you use to make beer sanitized. There are several methods to do this. Household bleach mixed with warm water (1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water) can meet your sanitizing needs, just be sure to rinse properly after sanitizing. Other disinfectants are also available. I like the One Step Sanitizer, which is a no-rinse sanitizer. Simply add a tablespoon of One Step to a gallon of hot water and soak the parts for 10-15 minutes. After that, remove them and they are ready to use. I also like One Step over bleach because bleach always seems to leave some sort of aftertaste no matter how much you rinse.
The final part of the homebrewing process, apart from the drink, is bottling. Once again, disinfection plays an important role here. What is also important to consider is how you want to bottle the beer. Would you like to have a five gallon barrel? How about you put your beer in a lot of 12 ounce bottles? Or some mini barrels of five liters? There are several options available. I’ve experimented with several options, and my latest favorite is repurposing 2-liter soda bottles. I like this because it really makes serving a group of people so much easier. Also, storage is a bit easier for 2-liter bottles.
Once you’ve chosen and sanitized your bottles, barrels, etc., you’ll need some priming sugar for the bottling process. I have read some methods to achieve this. One method that I have found to work well is to boil two cups of water, mix with 5-6 tablespoons of sugar, and boil for 5 minutes. Then add this to the beer that has been fermenting before pouring the beer into the bottles, kegs, etc. Once you’re done, you’ll have your beer ready for tasting in a week or two (at least a week for bottles, two weeks for mini kegs).
If you are thinking of dedicating yourself to brewing as a hobby, I invite you to try it. I think you will find it very funny. Chances are your friends will agree…as long as you’re willing to share some of your beer.