I started the Home Brew Manual to explore and tweak the processes of brewing. Over time I’ve come to view these as cyclical rather than linear, as I illustrate on this page.
The image identifies eight key stages of beer making, which as a home brewer you need to understand.
The steps are not set in stone and may be reduced or expanded depending on the beer, but in general these are the processes of a typical brew.
Good brewers prepare.
Brew day is too late to buy hops, or find out that you haven’t got any yeast left. Decide in advance what you’ll make and head to the home brew store with plenty of time. As well as ingredients, make sure your equipment is all there and that it’s as clean as you left it.
My brew day checklist can help organise your preparations.
The main event in beer making is brew day.
I recommend starting straight away with all grain brewing, but all home brewing methods are similar.
The wort is boiled and flavoured with hops, and after rapid cooling is transferred to the fermenter where yeast is added.
The yeast start quickly on the primary fermentation. This lively process converts sugar in the wort to alcohol and CO2.
After three or four days the secondary fermentation begins.
This is a calmer stage in which unpleasant by-products are cleaned by the yeast. Any remaining fermentable sugars are processed before the spent yeast drop out of the liquid, settling on the bottom of the fermenter approximately two weeks after brewing.
(This stage is optional in most brews.)
Some beer recipes include additional elements, added three or four days after brewing.
The vigorous action of primary fermentation damages subtle flavours, so waiting until this has finished is sensible if working with delicate ingredients.
On completion of secondary fermentation the beer’s ready for bottling.
To make fizzy beer with plenty of head, you add more sugar in a step known as priming. The yeast ferment this inside the bottle, converting it to alcohol and CO2 as before.
Because this time the bottles are sealed, the CO2 will carbonate the beer and provide it with the texture and mouthfeel you expect.
Beer improves with time.
Although some are designed to be drunk mild, generally speaking you’ll get better results by waiting. As a minimum leave it a week or two for sufficient gas to form.
If you don’t, although tasting of beer, it will have the texture and appearance of fruit juice.
A fairly self-explanatory stage.
Don’t forget to take notes about taste, and what did or didn’t work. Feed this back into your preparations and each time you brew the beer is better!
Cleaning is an essential part of the process and the sooner after brewing you do it the better. A quick rinse in the heat of the moment saves hours of scrubbing in the long run.
Although it seems like a chore, the consequences of not doing it are pretty unpleasant.
The complete brew process takes around four weeks depending on when you bottle.
As a general rule of thumb, the longer you leave the beer in the fermenter the better, up to four or five weeks. After that move it to bottles, or dead yeast can contaminate the flavour.
The limiting factor in the cycle for most home brewers is the fermenter. You can get the most out of it by brewing again on bottling day.
Of course, with extra fermenters there are no limits, but it’s possible to brew a lot (every two weeks) with just one.
The brewing cycle never ends; once you start to brew at home you never stop.