If you want to find out about home brewing but don’t know where to begin, this page will set you off on your search for the perfect batch of home brew.
Beer is made from four fundamental brewing ingredients : water, malt, hops and yeast. These are combined into a coloured liquid called wort, which can be fermented to make beer.
The Beer Making Process and Three Types of Home Brewing
Beer making consists of several key steps. The process is the same for commercial brewers and home brewers alike, although the precise methods may be different:
- Sugars are extracted from malted cereal grains to produce wort
- Wort is boiled to kill off bacteria
- Hops are added, for bitterness and flavour
- Wort is cooled, preventing the beer from turning cloudy
- Wort is aerated in preparation for the yeast.
- Yeast is added.
- Fermentation takes place over 5-14 days.
- Beer is conditioned by yeast during secondary fermentation.
- Additional sugar is added to the beer during bottling or kegging, to aid gas formation.
- Beer is opened and drunk.
Within these steps are infinite opportunities for customisation and experimentation. Once you’ve brewed one or two batches the process will become second nature and you’ll begin to adapt the techniques to your own home brew needs.
In order to make beer at home, brewers typically use one of three methods:
- beer kits
- extract brewing
- all grain brewing
While all three go through the steps outlined above, they differ primarily in the way the sugars are extracted from the malt.
With all grain brewing the grains are soaked to extract the sugar, at home. The other two methods use malt extract, an industrially prepared syrup that saves the home brewer this stage (and the time involved) in the extraction process.
There are pros and cons to each method:
Beer kits enable you to make beer at home with minimal effort and little investment in equipment.
A typical kit consists of a large tin of malt extract with hops pre-added, and a packet of yeast.
You dissolve the malt extract in water (sometimes without even boiling it), before adding the yeast to start the fermentation process.
Beer kits are good for beginners who want to get used to home brewing without having to worry too much whether the beer will turn out OK – it usually does.
- quick and easy
- minimal requirement for special equipment
- almost guaranteed good beer
- good for practising brewing techniques such as sanitising without worrying about lots of ingredients
- ingredients are more expensive
- less control over recipes
- less satisfying (someone else did a lot of the work)
Extract brewers buy malt extract either in powder or syrup form, and add hops and other adjuncts to develop their own flavours during the brewing process. Extract brewing is a halfway-house between a beer kit and all grain.
- Sugars are already extracted from the malt (saving time)
- More control over flavour (hops and other grains can be added to suit taste, variety of extracts available)
- Low investment in equipment
- More expensive than all grain brewing
- Limited availability of extracts in some areas
- Not as satisfying as all grain brewing
All Grain Brewing
All grain brewing is essentially the same process that commercial breweries use.
The brewer extracts sugars from grains by soaking them in water to produce wort for boiling, before adding hops and yeast and fermenting.
Beer kits and malt extract are produced the same way – the difference is that the resulting wort is evaporated to produce a syrup or powder for easy shipping.
- Full control over ingredients
- Cheaper (ingredients) than beer kits or extract brewing
- High level of brewer satisfaction
- Ability to replicate favourite commercial beers
- More investment in equipment
- More time consuming
Best Brewing Method For Beginners
The simplest all grain method involves soaking grains of malt in a bag lined pot on a kitchen stove.
This is what I recommend for beginner brewers with any interest in pursuing for more than a couple of brews.
Although you may be tempted by a beer kit, the increased control, variety and satisfaction of all grain brewing means there is no real comparison.
Home Brew Equipment
The home brew equipment you need will change as you develop as a brewer. However, the following list describes the basic equipment a beginner brewer should get, aside from standard kitchen implements:
- boiling pot – ideally a minimum of 12 litres, 20 for all grain brewing
- stirring spoon
- fermentation bucket
- sanitiser (and container to store it in, such as a spray bottle or measuring jug)
- hydrometer (optional)
- siphoning tube
- racking cane (optional)
- bottle tops
- bottle brush
Refer to this page for more information about home brew equipment.
The Importance of Sanitising
Whichever home brew method you use, you won’t make great beer without clean equipment. It’s therefore vital that all equipment is cleaned and sanitised at every stage in the process.
Commonly used sanitising methods:
- Star San
Star San is the most effective and easy to use product for home brewers because, unlike bleach, it does not require rinsing. However, if you want to start brewing now with minimal expenditure bleach at a concentration of approximately 4ml per litre works fine. Just remember to rinse it with boiling water to remove the chlorine taste, and to allow extra time for the longer sanitisation process.
Now choose a method (beer kit, extract or all grain) and start your first batch!