MOTHER's Handbook shares a detailed home brewing article on how to make homemade beer. Includes step-by-step instructions, equipment illustrations, beer recipes and a beer ingredient chart. (See the beer equipment illustrations in the image gallery.)
Home Brewing: How to Make Homemade Beer
There are three likely reasons why you may not have tried making your own beer: 1) you don't like beer, 2) you've read about making beer and decided it was too difficult or time-consuming, or 3) you tried someone else's home-brew and decided you'd never tasted anything quite so awful. We can't help you with reason one. If you don't like the stuff, that's that. But if you've hung back for either or both of the other two reasons, this handbook is for you. (Oh, yes—it's also for those of you who have tried brewing beer and met with unqualified disaster.)
If you can boil water and stir, you can brew beer—and we're talking premium here. Things have come a long way since home brewing beer was legalized in 1979 (a single-person household can make up to 100 gallons a year, a family household 200 gallons). Not only have techniques been refined, but the variety and quality of brewing ingredients and supplies now available virtually assure pleasing results.
True, home brewing in some circles has reached a state of high science. Serious home brewers (sort of a contradiction in terms, actually) dabble in a world of alpha and beta hop resins, custom-made wort chillers and tenth-degree temperature control. Most malt their own barley; some even grow their own brewing hops and grains and cultivate their own preferred strains of yeast. These are the home-brewing possessed, intrepid souls who explore the nether worlds of fermentation. They produce extraordinary beers.
But you don't have to practice high science just to make good—very good—beer. Brewing is an eminently inexact science, forgiving of many mistakes and allowing for much experimentation. Just look at any half-dozen books on the subject. Like as not, each will describe a different procedure for brewing and fermenting, and each will include recipes unlike those in the other books. All will produce perfectly good results.
The only real requirements for becoming a home brewer are a taste for quality, an appreciation for economy and a compelling pride in doing things for yourself. If there also happens to be a certain amount of mad scientist in you, well, so much the better.
Home Brewing Beer: Gearing Up
Finding the necessary equipment and ingredients for home brewing is not, fortunately, the formidable challenge it used to be. Chances are very good there's a well-stocked beer- and wine-making shop near you, and even if there isn't you can easily acquire all the supplies you need by mail.
Here are the basic components for a five-gallons-per-batch home brewery:
1. A boiling kettle, either copper, stainless steel or enamel. The pot should hold at least two gallons, preferably more. Copper and stainless steel are best, but expensive. An enamel canning kettle works nicely, but be sure the porcelain coating isn't chipped or scratched. The exposed metal could give beer an off-flavor.
2. A kitchen strainer and/or cheesecloth. A wire-mesh strainer six to 10 inches across is perfect. If you don't have a strainer, cheesecloth will do.
3. A long-handled stirring spoon. Stainless steel or enamel are good choices.
4. A thermometer. Any good kitchen thermometer with a range from freezing to boiling will do.
5. A hydrometer. This is a simple instrument that measures the density of a liquid (known as specific gravity) compared to that of water. Water has a specific gravity of 1.000 or, because hydrometer readings are commonly expressed in terms of their last two digits, zero. Home brewers use the hydrometer to tell them how much sugar and alcohol are in their brew. Sugar is heavier than water and alcohol is lighter. When beer ferments, yeast converts the sugars in the brew to alcohol. So by measuring the sugar content of a just-mixed, unfermented batch of beer, you can calculate its potential alcohol con-tent. Likewise, you can use the hydrometer to tell you when your beer has stopped fermenting and is ready to bottle. Some beer recipes give you the formulation's anticipated final specific gravity. With those that don't, you can assume that the brew is done when the specific gravity remains essentially unchanged for two or three days.
A hydrometer looks like a large thermometer with a heavy weighted bulb on one end. Some made specifically for brewing come with a graduated cylinder in which you draw off a sample of the brew for taking a reading. In either case, to use the hydrometer you simply place it upright in the liquid, spin it once or twice to dislodge air bubbles, and let it float freely. When it stops bobbing, take a reading at the surface of the brew, just below the point where the liquid clings upward along the sides of the hydrometer.
Most hydrometers are calibrated to read accurately at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Chances are you'll be taking readings when the brew is warmer than that, so take a thermometer reading as well and add two to three points (.002 to .003) to the specific gravity for every 10 degrees above 60 degrees Fahrenheit
6. Fermentation containers. You'll need two: one for primary fermentation and one for secondary. Food-grade plastic buckets are acceptable; the primary container should be big enough to hold at least eight gallons; the secondary can be as small as five gallons. Each should have an airtight lid, and each lid should have a hole in its center to accept a rubber stopper and a fermentation lock (the next items on the list). Plastic fermenters are inexpensive and widely available at beer-making supply outlets—or in a pinch you can use food-grade containers purchased from a local restaurant. Many home brewers use plastic fermenters with great success, and most home-brew kits come with plastic fermenters. But plastic is hard to keep clean, particularly if it has picked up a few scratches through normal wear and tear, so you run at least some greater-than-normal risk of contaminating your beer with unwanted bacteria.
The material of choice for fermenters, therefore, is glass, which is easy to sanitize. Many (but not all) beer-and wine-making shops sell five or six-and-one-half-gallon glass carboy fermenters-large jugs like the ones used for bottled water. Carboys are ideal for this purpose, but they are heavy, more expensive than plastic and sometimes hard to find. An acceptable but less convenient alternative is to use five or six one-gallon glass jugs.
7. Fermentation locks. You'll need one for each fermenter. Also known as bubblers or air locks, these in-expensive little valves, available at all home-brew shops, keep outside air from contaminating your brew but al¬low fermentation gases to escape. A glass fermenter with a threaded neck will accept a screw-on holder for the lock; otherwise use a drilled rubber stopper to hold the lock in place.
8. A siphon hose. About six feet of 3/8-inch (outside diameter) clear plastic tubing, for transferring your brew from one container to another.
9. Bottles. You'll need about 60 capable (nonscrew-top, nontwist-top) brown or green glass bottles; that'll be enough for five gallons, plus some extra to allow for breakage or to accommodate any surplus beer. Brown bottles do a better job of protecting your beer from light, but green bottles are easier to fill since they let you see the level of the liquid more readily. Most brewers are content to use either. Returnable bottles are usually stronger than nonreturnables. In any case, don't use clear glass bottles or any bottle not designed to hold a carbonated beverage.
10. A capper and caps. There are several different kinds of bottle cappers on the market, and all will do the job. The easiest to use, though, is the bench-style bottle capper shown in the illustration. It's also the most expensive ($25 to $30), but its efficiency and durability make it a worthwhile investment. Metal crown caps are usually sold by the gross for just a few dollars.
Beer cannot be made without four essential ingredients: malted barley, hops, yeast and water. The first two are the yin and yang of beer-malted barley (more commonly referred to as malt) adds body and flavor; hops provide characteristic bitterness and aroma. It is the mixing of these two ingredients—varying their relative proportions, their cooking times, the varieties used, the points in the process at which each is added—that makes each beer distinctive and different.
1. Malted barley. Barley that has gone through a complicated, carefully controlled process of steeping, partial germination and kiln-drying is said to be malted. In the process, soluble starches and sugars in the barley are released. Before the malt becomes brewable, however, the grain must be mashed, another complex procedure involving steeping the grain in water at precise temperatures for specific time periods. Mashing develops the fermentable malt sugars that give beer its alcohol potential and distinctive body and flavor.
But you don't have to bother with malting or mashing barley to make good beer. Instead, you can buy ready-to-use concentrated malted and mashed barley extract, sold in two forms: syrup (referred to in recipes as malt extract) or powdered (usually designated dry malt). Literally hundreds of different varieties and brands of light, amber and dark malt extracts (both syrup and dry) are now available in this country. Always buy the best you can afford. (Munton & Fison, Edme and John Bull are three highly regarded British brands.)
Hopped malt extract, in which hops have already been boiled, is also sold. Because it saves the beginning brewer a step in the process, hopped extract is often included in beer-making kits. Most experienced home brewers who use hopped extracts, though, maintain that additional hops are necessary to produce a proper bouquet.
Specialty malts are used in some malt extract-based recipes to add color and/or flavor. Any of several kinds of specialty ma1ts are commonly called for in recipes: black patent, chocolate (no, not the same kind used in milk shakes!) and roasted barley malt are used in dark beers to add color and character. Crystal malt is lighter, giving beer a golden color and adding a bit of sweetness. The first three malted grains can be added whole to the brew. Crystal malt should be crushed first-simply run a rolling pin over the grain once or twice to crack the shells (don't pulverize the grain in a blender or coffee grinder).
As you gain experience as a home brewer, you may eventually decide to quit using malt extract and make all-grain beer, mashing malted grains yourself to convert the necessary sugars. For now, though, rest assured you can produce superb beers using malt extracts and—if you want—small amounts of specialty malts.
2. Hops. These are the cone-shaped flowers of the female hop plant (Humulus lupulus). Besides adding characteristic bitterness and aroma to a beer, hops act as a preservative; the acids released during cooking kill fungi that would otherwise spoil the brew.
It's not the flowers themselves, but the resin glands (called lupulin) at the base of the petals that give hops their distinctive properties. The resin itself contains acids that produce bitterness; the volatile oils in the glands yield aroma.
Hops are usually added to the brew in several stages. "Bittering" hops-those varieties that are high in acid content—are added to the brew first, and cooked the longest, in order to extract the desired hop tanness. "Aromatic" hops—which generally have a low acid content—are added only in the final few minutes of boiling, so that the pungent oils are retained in the brew rather than cooked away. Some varieties of hops are used exclusively for bittering or aroma, while others (usually those with a medium acid content) can produce either characteristic, depending on when they're added to the brew. You can buy whole dried hops or hop pellets. Pellets are made from pulverized and compressed hop resin glands. They're somewhat easier to use than whole hops—you just stir them into the brew. Whole hops need to be strained off, or "sparged," before fermenting or bottling. In any case, be sure the hops you buy are fresh. Whole and pellet hops should appear green, not brown. Many home-brew shops now keep their hops refrigerated, a desirable precaution since hops deteriorate rapidly at room temperature.
The accompanying chart lists the basic characteristics of a number of popular hop varieties. Feel free to experiment: If a recipe calls for a kind of hop that's unavailable in your area, substitute another with similar properties.
3. Yeast. This of course is the fuel of fermentation, the stuff that makes beer beer. Just as important as knowing what kind of yeast to use is knowing what kind not to use-specifically, baker's yeast or brewer's yeast (sold as a nutrition supplement in health food stores). The former won't work satisfactorily; the latter won't work at all.
Use only high-quality beer yeast, which is generally classified as either ale (top fermenting) yeast or lager (bottom fermenting) yeast. Most of the recipes you'll find here call for ale yeast. Lager yeasts are generally used only to produce lagers, which are specially fermented at temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit and are best reserved until you have at least a couple of batches of ale under your belt (speaking only in terms of brewing experience, of course).
Many strains of ale and lager yeasts are available. Most are sold in the form of dried granules, sealed in foil packs. Different brands and strains of yeast impart different flavors; if you're a beginner, you might want to try a different strain each time you make a new batch of the same beer, to get better acquainted with the possibilities.
4. Water. Since water is by far the main ingredient in beer (up to 95%), its quality naturally has some effect on the quality of the brew; just how much effect is one of many minor controversies that rage among home brewers. Generally, any water that tastes good is acceptable for malt extract-based beers. Most public water supplies are, however, quite soft—in other words, low in minerals—so many beer recipes call for the addition of gypsum, noniodized salt, epsom salts or other conditioners to enhance flavors and foster ideal brewing conditions.
In Addition: Other Beer Ingredients
Many recipes call for ingredients beyond the basics.
1. Adjunct sugars. Any sugar that is added to the brew, other than priming sugar (discussed in the section on bottling), is called an adjunct. All-malt beers produce all their alcohol from the malt sugar (maltose) derived from the grains. But all-malt beers are, by nature, full-bodied.
To produce a lighter-bodied beer, some brewers simply use less malt and add an adjunct to provide the sugar necessary for fermentation and proper alcohol content.
By far, corn sugar (dextrose or glucose) is the most widely used adjunct because it converts to alcohol readily without producing the "hot" taste characteristic of fermented cane sugar. Too much of either, however, can make your beer taste cidery or can produce an un-pleasantly high alcohol content. As a rule of thumb, never use corn sugar in an amount greater than one-third, by weight, the combined amount of malt extract and adjunct sugar in a recipe (some say that the upper limit should be one-fifth, by weight, and others say that any adjunct constitutes beer blasphemy).
2. Optional Refinements. The emphasis is on "optional" here. The following are listed in many recipes and used by many brewers, but others consider them entirely unnecessary.
Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) is sometimes added to the brew as an antioxidant, just before bottling. (Don't use vitamin C tablets; most contain additional ingredients you don't want in your beer.) Citric acid is used to raise the acidity of the brew to a level conducive to fermentation and hostile to unwanted organisms. Finings (Irish moss, fining gelatin, papain, Polyclar) are substances used to clarify beer by precipitating proteins that supposedly create cloudy brew. Yeast nutrient (also called yeast food or yeast energizer) is designed to make your unfermented brew a great place for yeast to live and reproduce.
Before You Brew. . .
Okay, so you've gathered up your supplies and ingredients and you're ready to get cooking. First, though, you'll have to take what may be the most important step in the entire brewing process: Clean-no, sanitize-all your equipment and utensils.
Don't use soap or detergent; they can leave residues that are virtually impossible to rinse off completely. Instead, use a dilute solution of household chlorine bleach. Make up a solution of two tablespoons of bleach in five gallons of water, and let it stand 10 minutes. While you're waiting, rinse all your equipment in hot (not boiling) water. Then soak everything in the solution for a half hour or so, and let it drip dry. There's no need for rinsing with water; the chlorine solution is much too dilute to have an effect on your beer.
Another popular sanitizer is sodium metabisulphite, sold in home-brew shops. It, too, is diluted in water (about one tablespoon per five gallons; follow the pack-age instructions). Soaking is unnecessary; simply slosh the solution around in your containers and pour it over your utensils, then give everything a quick rinse in water.
Get Brewing Beer
Ready? Then, to brew your first batch of beer, just pick one of the following lists of basic ingredients, and carefully follow the instructions given in each step.
All-Malt Ale Beer Recipe
2 3-1/2 -pound cans light, amber or dark malt extract
1/2 teaspoon noniodized salt
I teaspoon gypsum
1/2 pound crushed crystal malt
2 ounces bittering hops (Brewer's Gold, Hallertauer, Northern Brewer or Bullion)
I ounce aromatic hops (Fuggles or Cascade)
Water to 5 gallons
3/4 to 1 cup corn sugar for priming
Starting specific gravity: 1.044 to 1.046
Final specific gravity: 1.010 to 1.012
Light Summer Ale Beer Recipe
1 3-1/2-pound can light malt extract
1-1/2 pounds corn sugar
1 teaspoon gypsum
112 teaspoon noniodized salt
2 ounces bittering hops (Northern Brewer or Bullion)
1/2 ounce aromatic hops (Fuggles, Tettnanger or Cascade)
3/4 to 1 cup corn sugar for priming
Starting Specific Gravity: 1.036 to 1.038
Final Specific Gravity: 1.006 to 1.008
Dark Beer Recipe
2 3-1/2-pound cans light malt extract
2 cups corn sugar
1 teaspoon gypsum
1/2 teaspoon noniodized salt
1-1/2 ounces Talisman bittering hops
1/4 ounce Bullion bittering hop pellets
1 cup black patent malt
2 cups crushed crystal malt
2 ounces aromatic hops (Hallertauer)
3/4 to 1 cup corn sugar for priming
Step 1: Boiling the wort. Put two gallons of water in your kettle and bring it to a boil. While you're waiting for the liquid to heat, place the can or cans of malt extract in a container of hot water to liquefy (or, if you're substituting dried malt extract, make up the necessary batter by adding water according to the package instructions).
When the water comes to a rolling boil, switch off the heat momentarily and stir in the extract. When the malt is thoroughly dissolved, turn the heat back on and add the salt, gypsum and crystal malt (if called for). This mixture is called the wort (pronounced wart). Continue heating to reestablish a rolling boil, but keep a careful eye on the pot. Just before the wort boils, it will begin to froth up. Stir the liquid (and reduce the heat, too, if necessary) to keep the contents from overflowing.
Keep a slow but strong rolling boil going for 20 to 30 minutes. Then add half the flavoring hops, and boil for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining flavoring hops and any dark specialty malts (roasted barley, black patent or chocolate malt), and boil for 30 additional minutes, adding the finishing hops during the last five to 10 minutes.
Step 2. Transfer to the primary fermenter. Remove the kettle from the heat, and pour the hot wort into the primary fermenter through either your kitchen strainer (with or without an added lining of cheesecloth) or through cheesecloth stretched tightly across the fermenter, in order to separate out the spent hops and grain. (Don't forget to sterilize the fermenter and strainer.) Then pour a quart or two of hot boiled water over the retained hops and grains (and into the fermenter) to extract as much of the remaining flavors and starches as possible; this is called sparging the wort. Next, using a sterilized spoon, stir in any sugar called for (but not sugar designated for priming). Make sure the sugar is dissolved completely.
Add enough more water (boiled, but not boiling-hot) to the fermenter to make five gallons. Don't fill the fermenter more than about two-thirds full, however; some air space is necessary to accommodate the foam and gases created by the first few days of active fermentation. If your fermenter's not big enough, add only enough water to bring the liquid up to the two-thirds level. You can add the remaining water to the brew when you transfer it to the secondary fermenter.
If you're interested in monitoring the starch content of your brew, this is the time to check the specific gravity with your (sterilized) hydrometer. (If you weren't able to add all the water, you'll have to adjust the gravity reading: To do so, multiply the reading by the number of gallons actually present and divide the result by five.) Even when the recipe doesn't provide anticipated starting and final gravities, it's a good idea to take and record readings. They'll be helpful references when you brew your next batch.
Step 3. Add the yeast. Check the temperature of the won with a sterilized thermometer. When it has dropped below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (70 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for ale yeast), sprinkle the yeast on the brew, let it activate for about 10 minutes, and then stir it in. This is called pitching the wort. Some brewers proof the yeast first, to make sure it's viable, by drawing off about a half-cup of wort into a small sterile container and then adding the yeast to that. When it is apparent the yeast is active, the wort is pitched.
Now put the lid on the fermenter, attach a fermentation lock (sanitize the stopper and lock), and fill the lock one-third to one-half full of boiled (but not boiling) water. Put the fermenter in a cool, dark place where it won't be disturbed and where temperatures won't go above 75 degrees Fahrenheit or, when using ale yeast, below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Strong light can affect the beer's flavor and aroma in short order; some brewers slip a black plastic garbage bag over the fermenter and cut a small hole for the fermentation lock to poke through.
Step 4. Transfer to the secondary fermenter. Over the next two or three days the beer will ferment actively and develop a foam layer called the krausen. After about four days the krausen will fall back to the surface. When this happens, it's time to transfer the beer to the secondary fermenter. Sterilize your siphon tube, the fermenter and its fermentation lock. Then siphon the beer into the secondary container (if you haven't added all the water yet, do so now, before adding the beer). Keep the siphon tube off the bottom of the primary to avoid picking up sediments; at the same time, try to keep the other end of the tube on the bottom of the secondary, to avoid splashing the brew, which can cause it to pick up airborne bacteria. Now cap the fermenter, attach the lock (one-third to one-half full of water), and allow the beer to finish its fermentation. Keep an eye on the fermentation lock. In three to 10 days (depending on the room temperature and the amount and vitality of the yeast), when apparent fermentation has stopped, when the rise of bubbles through the lock has ceased, and when your hydrometer reading is near where the recipe indicates, your brew is ready to bottle.
Step 5. Bottle and cap the beer. Wash your bottles in hot water, making sure to rinse away any residue (including—yech—bugs and cigarette butts) in the bottoms. Then sterilize the bottles. If you're using the chlorine solution described, soak the bottles the prescribed time, and turn them upside-down to drip dry. If you're using sodium metabisulphite, put about a tablespoon of the solution in each bottle, put your thumb over the bottle, shake it, dump it, and rinse the bottle lightly with water. Also clean and sterilize your primary fermenter and the siphon tube.
Now put one to two cups of water in a pot, add the three-fourths to one cup of corn sugar for priming, and boil the solution for five minutes. In the meantime, siphon the beer back into the now-clean primary fermenter (or any other sanitized container big enough to hold the brew). Add the boiled sugar-water, stirring thoroughly. This "priming syrup" puts just enough fermentable sugar into your brew to carbonate the beer after it's bottled. Those who prefer low carbonation should use only three-fourths cup of corn sugar for priming; if you like a somewhat fizzier beer, use one cup.
Now carefully siphon the beer into the bottles. Don't splash it; put the sterilized siphon all the way to the bot-tom of the bottles as you fill them. Leave about a one-inch air space in each bottle, and after they're all filled, cap them. Store the beer in a cool, dark place. After about a week, chill a bottle or two in the refrigerator and give your beer a try. If it's carbonated, it's ready to drink, although it may be a bit "green." Many home brewers let their beer age at least a month before sampling it; whether or not aging improves the flavor of beer, and the precise length of time required to produce optimum flavor, are favorite subjects of home-brew debate.
Pouring a bottle of your own beer—for yourself or for a friend—is a celebration of achievement, an act to perform with pride and proper care. There'll be a bit of yeast sediment in the bottom of each bottle; it's rich in B vitamins and can't hurt you, but it can give your beer a cloudy look in the glass. One mark of an artful home brewer is the ability to pour a clear beer, slowly filling a tilted glass until the yeast approaches the lip of the bottle, then deftly tipping the bottle back at the last moment to catch the yeast while wasting barely a half-swallow of the brew itself. This is a skill that demands practice, a task no home brewer seems to mind much.
There you have it: basic brewing from start to—well, not really to finish. Chances are this is only the beginning. There's a phenomenon in home brewing that compels those who make a first batch to try a second, and then a third, and—before you know it, you, too, are among the home-brewing possessed, on a quest for the perfect beer.
Common Hop Varieties
For each hop variety, we list the variety name, bitterness level, and then notes on flavor, aroma, etc.
Brewer's Gold; High; Strong, full-flavored bittering hop
Bullion; High; Strong, full-flavored bittering hop
Cascade; Medium; Mild bittering, flowery aromatic
Cluster; Medium high; Widely used bittering hop
Eroica; Very high; Strong bittering; use sparingly
Fuggles; Low; Spicy aromatic
Galena; Very high; Strong bittering; use sparingly
Hallertauer; Low; Pungent, spicy aromatic
Northern Brewer; High; Flavorful bittering hop; can also be used as an aromatic
Nugget; Very high; Strong bittering; use sparingly
Saaz; Low; Distinctive, spicy aromatic
Spalt; Low; Full-flavored; blends nicely with bitter varieties
Styrian Golding; Medium; Mild, spicy
Talisman; Medium high; High-quality bittering
Tettnanger; Medium; Bittering hop; can be used as aromatic
Willamette; Medium; Similar to Fuggles
Byron Burch’s Favorite Stout
Widely known for his excellent, landmark book, Quality Brewing (published more than a dozen years ago and recently updated and retitled Brewing Quality Beers; see the access listing), Byron Burch is considered one of America's preeminent home brewers. Burch, who also manages Great Fermentations, a California-based wine-making and beer-making shop, won the Homebrewer of the Year award in 1986. This recipe, he says, is one of his all-time favorites.
Irish.Style Stout Beer Recipe (5 gallons)
5 pounds light dry malt or 6 pounds light malt extract
2 pounds amber or dark malt extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Water to 5 gallons
2-1/2 ounces bittering hops (Northern Brewer or Bullion)
1 pound roasted barley (added whole to boil)
1/2 ounce aromatic hops (Fuggles, or Styrian Golding)
3/4 cup corn sugar for priming
1/2 ounce ale yeast
Starting specific gravity: 1.058
Final specific gravity: 1.020
Thoroughly dissolve dry malt, malt extract and salt in 2 to 5 gallons water. Heat to rolling boil. Stir in half the bittering hops, and boil for 30 minutes, stirring occasion-ally; Add rest of bittering hops and roasted barley, and boil for 30 more minutes, adding aromatic hops during the last 2 minutes. At end of boil, cool wort as quickly as possible to be. tween 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. [Editor's Note: This can be done by placing kettle in a bathtub and running cold water around it, or—in winter—by packing snow around kettle.] Add yeast and siphon beer into fermenter. Ferment and bottle as in main article.