Home Brew Beer: A Beginners' Guide

Horst Buchs, a native German beer-drinker, demystifies the process of home brewing beer, including an overview of supplies and ingredients, and the two cardinal rules of home brewing.

| October/November 1992


Home brew may seem to be shrouded in mystique and entirely too complicated, but when you separate the nonsense from the useful information, you'll discover that you don't have to be a mad scientist to make a great beer.


Since my arrival in America as a young man from Germany, I have been appalled at what passes for beer here. I'd have to agree with the guy who said that the reason Americans drink in dark, dingy bars is because they're ashamed of their beer. The funny thing is that while American beer drinkers keep telling me how much they love hearty German beers, our country's beer keeps getting lighter and lighter. Considering what you pay for the privilege of drinking this glorified water, it's an outrage!

Now imported beer is more expensive and, unless you live near a city (which I don't), it isn't always easy to find. So I was left with two choices—I could give up beer or make my own. Because I like it entirely too much to give it up, I decided to teach myself to home brew beer. At first, I was put off by all the books and magazine articles I read. Home brewing beer seemed shrouded in mystique, involved too much rigmarole, and required a whole new language—what the heck is sparge, trub, or wort? Furthermore, who cares?

When I finally separated all the garbage from the useful information (no easy task), I discovered that you don't have to be a half-crazed chemist to make a good beer. I can proudly say that during the 10 years I have been making beer at home, I have made good beer and I have made better beer. Never have I made bad beer. Okay, maybe it's not authentic German beer, but my home brew tastes terrific, it's cheap, and it's easy. What more could anyone ask?

The Secret Formula

As far as I'm concerned, there are two things to remember when brewing: consistency and cleanliness. Cleanliness helps ensure consistency. Consistency means that every time you pop a cap, you can rely on the same satisfaction. It's a simple philosophy but it works.

Home Brewing Rule #1: Be Consistent

To make good beer, you need five basic ingredients: water, sugar, malt, hops, and yeast. Being consistent means using the same amount of water, sugar, malt, hops, and yeast time after time. When it comes to water, I'm lucky. I'm not hooked up to city water, and I have a beautiful, clear well without the chlorine and other goodies that water departments serve their customers. If you aren't as lucky, try getting your water from a country cousin. The fact is: bad-tasting water makes bad-tasting beer. If you have to use city water, or you think your water might be contaminated with bacteria, boil it for 15 minutes to evaporate chlorine and to kill bacteria that would otherwise ruin your brew.

Down to the gritty stuff—sugar. The best sugar for making beer is corn sugar, which you can purchase from from beer-making suppliers. If you can't find it at a local shop, there are plenty of mail-order outfits (see "Mail-Order Resources" sidebar). Now you can use regular cane sugar, but the taste simply isn't as good. If you want nothing to do with sugar at all, go for an all-malt beer, which isn't quite as dry. But be warned: Unless you have a taste for full-bodied European beer, you would be wise to work your way up to all-malt beer gradually.

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