Homebrewing 101: The Complete Start Guide
Strictly speaking, brewing is the process of making something by soaking, boiling, and fermentation. Homebrewing is, well, brewing done at home.
Homebrewing, though, has its own history. It is an ancient practice of producing a beverage that was mainly done at home until the medieval times. That was when pubs and monasteries saw the great potential of it and began producing for local trade. The practice went through various times of prohibition. In fact, a prohibition that began on January 16, 1920, in the US had breweries closed down.
Came 1978 when Congress passed a bill repealing Federal restrictions and excise taxes. President Jimmy Carter signed into law H.R. 1337, the bill that:
- finally allowed homebrewing of beer with an alcohol content higher than 0.5%
- federally legalized homebrewing but only “for personal or family use, and not for sale”
- sparked the craft beer revolution
Today, this bill is being followed and legalized in both federal and state levels. However, the 21st Amendment predominantly leaves regulation of alcohol to the individual states.
Homebrewing 101: Things to Know about Homebrewing
Any homebrewing newbie needs to know a few things about the practice before starting the hobby. Read and drink these homebrewing 101 in:
Cleanliness is a must. Keep the production area clean at all times. Keep it sanitary from start to finish. In fact, even before brewing takes place. Sanitize. Then once the beer has cooled, that’s the time to sterilize against possible harmful bacteria and infections. That’s because it’s still the pre-yeast fermentation stage.
Cool the wort immediately. Doing so will:
- take out the tannins and proteins — they are not good for beer
- minimize the growth of bacteria
- improve the clarity of the beer
Go dark when brewing.
Start with darker beers such as porters and stouts. Mistakes are not uncommon for brewing rookies. It is a trial-and-error process. To be quite frank, the darker beers’ role is to actually mend the ego. Any mistakes made during their brewing are not much noticeable whether in taste or makeup, therefore, there is more time for a new hobbyist let more practice make perfect.
Go dark when bottling.
Dark bottles prevent a skunky smell since they lessen the hops’ reaction to ultraviolet light. Clear bottles don’t have that ability to protect the brew.
Know the ingredients.
This does not only mean making sure every ingredient is fresh and ready. By “knowing”, this means finding out certain properties of the ingredients. What items can be stored in the freezer, which items would be better stored in normal temperature…Stuff like that. Now knowing might negatively affect the taste of the beer, which is synonymous with saying the beer is no good.
Don’t waste what is still reusable. Wash the yeast and reuse five to six times. After drawing a sample, harvest the yeast and store in a mason jar. This certainly makes homebrewing a practical and inexpensive hobby.
Use the best-filtered water.
A lot of homebrewers use unfiltered tap water, which unfortunately still has chlorine, though they often remove the chlorine. It would be much better if there is no chlorine to remove in the first place. Many homebrews taste like medicinal chlorophenol (chlorine + phenols from malt and yeast).
Plastics just don’t cut it.
Choose glass or stainless steel fermenters rather than plastic because being non-sticky, they are easy to clean and sterilize. Also, they are great for keeping out oxygen that affects brewing. Plastics aren’t effective barriers, in comparison.
It may not be quite an expensive hobby, but homebrewing is still an investment that could be very beneficial in the long run. Therefore, invest wisely and decide to be in the homebrewing world for the long haul.
It’s okay to go semi-commercial.
Selling homebrewed stuff is not altogether illegal if the homebrewer pairs with an established brewery and sell to them the license to a recipe or recipes, so to speak. In Oakland, the company Noble Brewer’s nature of the business is to actually take care of such pairings.
Homebrewing 101: Things Needed to Start Brewing
Already committed to starting homebrewing? Make sure to have the essentials:
It is used to boil the wort.
This is to heat the brew kettle with. It could be a stove top burner, except it sometimes supplies inconsistent heat and a big brew kettle might not fit. A propane burner could be a better option as it can allow for large brew kettles (up to 30 gallons, depending on the propane burner being used) and boil the wort very fast. Also, it can be used outdoors.
Of course, this is where the fermentation, a very important part of the brewing process, happens. The 6-gallon food-grade plastic pail is recommended for beginners because they are easy to use. There are glass carboys in 3-, 5-, and 6.5-gallon sizes.
This equipment cools down newly-boiled wort fast. Quick cooling results to a lower chance for contamination and off-flavors, as well as a clearer homebrew.
Also called lauter tun, the mash tun is where the grains are infused. It must be well-insulated. Temperature maintenance is very important in brewing.
When the homebrew is ready, it’s time to get it transferred from the primary fermenter into a bottling bucket. Special care must be done to avoid picking up sediments. The two most common and basic bottle fillers are the siphon type (simple bottle filler) that is also sued for wine, mead and cider projects, and the counter pressure bottle filler, which is the most common technique used by commercial breweries and those who keg homebrew beer.
One would think this is a no-brainer since obviously what is needed are crown beer bottle caps and a bottle capper. But even this needs to be right and has to do with the bottle capping systems, which are:
Double-lever bottle capper
– a simple capping machine; works by applying force to two spring-loaded handles that attach crown style, non-twist beer caps to glass bottles.
Bench bottle capper
– secured to a tabletop, it is easier to operate and a more efficient way to cap bottles
Homebrewing 101: Clean Set-up for brewing
Another homebrewing 101 essential: Cleanliness MUST be observed all the time. As mentioned earlier, everything should be clean before, during and after brewing. This is very important, especially for a serious homebrewer. Avoid letting money spent on homebrewing equipment go to waste by not taking care of them. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the general term “cleaning” is the same as “sanitizing” — it isn’t.
Cleaning has to do with the more visible problems like dirt and debris just like cleaning a kegerator. Sanitizing takes care of the living organisms that may be harmful to yeast. Remove bacteria and germs from anything that comes in contact with the wort or beer such as brew pots/kettles, brewing spoons, fermenters, siphons and tubing, and wort chillers.
That said, follow these steps:
- Clean. Use mild (non-toxic) detergents that should be free of perfumes and dyes. They may leave residue on equipment so do scrub and rinse very well. A brewery wash, being more environment-friendly, biodegradable, and an alkali cleanser, should specifically work better for this purpose. Clean equipment as soon as possible to avoid dirt and stains.
- Sanitize. Sterilize the equipment after a boil to effectively rid of the bacteria and germs. A no-rinse sanitizer would be a great option to avoid using water that may have bacteria that may be bad for the yeast. Whatever sanitizer is used, make sure to follow the instructions due to the required contact time.
Types and How of Homebrewing
There are actually three ways to brew beer. Deciding on which is best depends on individual choices — costs, brewing time, beer quantity to produce, and the chosen ingredients. Before tackling the three methods/types, let’s briefly discuss the homebrewing process.
Homebrewing 101: How to Do Homebrewing
Milling or crushing the grains.
This is a very important part of the process as it may spell success or disaster. Crush the grains enough to expose the starchy of the barley seed. Do not damage the grain hulls. Too coarse and there won’t be enough sugars to ferment. Too fine and the husks will be destroyed, causing the brew to become gummy and, therefore, unusable.
The milled grain is put in a mash tun and mixed with hot water. The heat from the water (called “liquor”) activates the enzymes in the barley. These enzymes are what convert the starches into sugars. Brewers monitor and manipulate the temperatures to control the sugars.
Lower temperatures result in highly fermentable sugars, which results in dry beers. Higher temperatures result in some unfermented sugars, which results in sweeter end-products.
Enzymes convert starches to sugar quickly.
Raising the temperature to over 200 degrees Fahrenheit stops the activity.
In this process, the spent grain is separated from the wort (sugary liquid). The mash is transferred to a lauter/mash tun where the wort is drained away from the hulls and barley grist. Gradual sparging is done to extract more fermentable sugars. Prolonged sparging may remove the bitter tannins from the grain, so care must be given.
Boil the wort for one to two hours to sterilize the beer. Also, the longer hops are boiled, the more alpha acids are isomerized, adding the bitterness aspect in the brew. Hop additions are allowed to boil for an hour or more. Later additions in the boil also lend flavor and aroma.
After boiling, it is transferred into a whirlpool to collect hop matter and coagulated proteins. Then it is immediately cooling down to avoid oxidation and letting the beer develop any off-flavor.
The wort is moved into the fermenter then yeast is soon added to it. Yeast eats the sugar while expelling carbon dioxide, alcohol and flavor compounds. This is when the homebrewer decides whether he/she would like to make an ale or a lager. Fermentation is over once the yeast is done consuming the sugars.
Off-flavors were created during fermentation. The yeast, at this stage and given enough time, will absorb them. Conditioning for ales takes a week or so; conditioning for lagers can take months. In the case of lagers, some brewers resort to kräusening, which is adding still-fermenting wort and the yeast inside it to conditioning beer. This speeds up the process.
When fermentation is over, the yeast settles at the bottom and can now be removed. What is left is clear beer.
This is when the finished beer is transferred into bottles, cans, and kegs. Many brewers force-carbonate beer first to avoid causing ruptures in tanks due to pressure build-up. Some do bottle conditioning instead. They create a second fermentation by adding yeast and sugar to the beer after packaging. The advantages?
- additional depth of flavor
- improved shelf life
Three Types of Homebrewing:
Extract brewing is the most commonly used and the quickest to accomplish. It uses concentrated malt extract to skip the mashing process.
Partial-grain brewing adds flavor and aroma. Crushed malt is immersed in water for 30 minutes before using the extract to brew. A mill is used to crush the malt that should extract sugars during the half-hour period.
All-grain brewing is expert brewing. Sugars and flavors are extracted by mashing and sparging all the grain. The brewer is able to select grain varieties to match flavor and aroma of the beer. Sparging collects the sugar to start the boiling process.
Homebrewing may seem like a lot of work, but it really is not. As long one knows what he/she’s doing–what he/she’s getting into, for that matter–homebrewing could be a fun, satisfying and even potentially lucrative endeavor.
Visit Keg Fridge for more home brewing tips and guides.