How To Make Your Own Beer: A Beginners Guide To Home Brewing

malt barley yeast hops ingredients

We live in a D.I.Y. world where you can learn almost anything via the internet, including learning how to make your own beer at home.  As of today, there are more than 1,200,000 people in the United States who are brewing beer at home.

If you are an avid beer enthusiast like me and so many others who love to make craft beer from their home brewery, I encourage you to take a little time to become familiar with the brewing process, purchase some equipment, and give it go yourself.

Turns out with a little work and the right tools, brewing your own beer is easy, relatively inexpensive, fun, rewarding and very addicting. And by learning how to brew beer your own beer, you might just become the next micro brew king!

For all the specifics, I would suggest purchasing a home brewing guide or book,  but here are all the basics that you need to know before brewing your own beer.

Table of Contents

How Long Does It Take To Make Your Own Beer At Home?

Making beer at home involves about four detailed steps that included preparation, brewing, fermenting, and bottling.

Aside from the boiling and the actual job of making the wort which is a timed step-by-step process, all other steps are not based on a specific time.  Every time you brew can be different from the time before.

Preparing and brewing can take anywhere from one to eight hours, which can end up being an all day job.  Primary fermentation can take up to a week or more, and secondary fermentation if needed, can tack on another week to ten days.

On bottling day, you can probably have all of your bottles and bottling equipment cleaned and sterilized, the bottles filled and capped in less than and hour and a half.

So from the start of brewing day to popping the top of your beer, you can probably just assume it will take you somewhere between four and five weeks total.

Is It Cheaper To Make Your Own Beer?

This will, of course, depend on how often you plan on brewing your own beer.  Of course if you only plan on brewing once a year, it is gonna take a whole lot longer to see any savings, compared to the home brewer that makes a batch once a month.  And on top of that, you have to factor in the cost of the equipment or the beer kit that you buy.  Some complete beer kits range from under $50 all the up to $300 to $400.

The Homebrewers Association estimates that a home brewer would have to make 15 batches per year to break even in the cost per bottle, but most home-brewers are not looking at the break even point, they just want to focus on making their own beer.  I think you would have a hard time trying to find a home beer brewer that their main reason for doing it is to save money.

To put it simply: if you keep your home brewing equipment clean and in good condition and you brew beer regularly, then the cost of home brewing is significantly cheaper than buying regular six or 12 packs of craft beer at the store.

However, this does not account for other varieties of beer that I don’t or haven’t brewed myself. Certainly I would like to drink some of my favorite nationally distributed beers from the mega breweries in addition to the beer I would brew at home.

Lager Vs Ale: Two Different Styles Of Beer

As any beer fan can attest, there is no one flavor of beer. Sometimes the question isn’t always “how to brew at home” but “what to brew at home”, and the brewing process will vary, depending on the style of beer you want to make.

However, when it comes to beer, there are basically only two types, and it is determined by which yeast is used during the brewing and fermentation process.

Lagers and Ales.

what is the difference between a lager and an ale

Lagers

To brew a lager you need cold storage. That is the main difference between lagers and ales. Lagers use a bottom fermenting yeast that ferments at a much colder temperature, roughly 45 to 60 degrees fahrenheit

Because of the way a lager is brewed, with the extra refrigerated space that is needed, it is usually not recommended as a beer style a beginning homebrewer should start with, especially when you don’t have the room.

lager beer

Some of the more common lagers that you can find on the shelves of your favorite store are:

  • Pale Lagers
  • Dark Lagers
  • Amber Lagers
  • Pilsners
  • Bocks

Ales

While both styles of beer can be homebrewed, most homebrewers almost always starts with brewing some sort of an ale. 

Ales are top fermented using a more common form of yeast, it is the same yeast that can be found in wine and bread. Ales are easier to brew at home in that they don’t need a cold environment and will ferment in warmer temperatures, and at a much quicker pace than a lager, sometimes in just a few days to a week.

toasted coconut cream ale
Coconut Cream Ale

Some of the more common ale styles are:

  • IPA (India Pale Ale)
  • Pale Ale
  • Brown Ale
  • Stouts
  • Porters
  • Wheat Beer

What Are The 4 Main Ingredients In Beer?

Even though there can be other things like fruit and spices added to the beer to create different colors, aromas, and taste, there are only four basic main ingredients in beer:

  • Water
  • Barley
  • Hops
  • Yeast

Water

Water makes up roughly 90% of beer’s content. While water in itself is basically simple, you have to consider various elements of water such as the pH level, mineral content, if it’s chlorinated, and if it’s hard or soft water. Hard water contains a number of minerals, while soft water contains sodium as it’s only ion.

Barley

Barley is the source of sugar in beer. While it is the recommended grain for beer, you can also use other types such as wheat, oats, corn, rice, millet or sorghum. Barley itself cannot be used in beer without it being processed first. The Barley must be malted which moisture stimulates the germination process in the grain.

Malted barley is responsible for the sweet flavor, color, dextrins (which give the beer body), protein (which forms a good head, and the natural sugars needed in the fermentation process. Barley is to making beer what grapes are to making wine.

Barley for beer making

Hops

Hops are cone-shaped flowers that alter and influence the flavor and aroma of beer. Hops are used during the primary fermentation period to offset and balance the sweetness that comes from the sugary malt. The more hops, the more bitter the beer is.

Depending on what style of beer you are brewing and what style, “dry-hopping” is often done.  When more hops are added during this time, it is solely to add more aroma to the beer.

hops for making beer

Yeast

Yeast is what is needed to make the wort into alcohol, thus making it what beer is all about. During the fermentation process, yeast will begin eating the simple sugars in the wort, and start converting it into carbon dioxide and alcohol.

After the yeast has gave its all, the main primary fermentation is over and is now beer.

Brewing yeast

Equipment Needed To Make Your Own Beer

For most new home brewers, buying a complete beer making kit is a simple way to go and the easiest way to get started brewing.  Most beer kits will contain just about all of the items needed to brew your first batch of great beer, right out of the box.

But if you all ready have some equipment on hand and don’t want to buy a kit, all of your brewing equipment can certainly be bought separately piece by piece if you choose.

In addition to your four main ingredients or a beer recipe kit and instructions, you will require most the following items:

  • Brewing kettle
  • Stirring spoon
  • Plastic bucket with lid for primary fermentation
  • Glass carboy for secondary fermentation (Optional)
  • Wort Chiller (Optional)
  • Bottling bucket with or without spigot
  • Easy clean no-rinse sanitizer
  • Bung and airlock
  • Racking cane and siphon hose or auto-siphon
  • Hydrometer (Optional)
  • Thermometer
  • Bottle cleaning brush (Optional)
  • Bottle Filler
  • Bottles
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottle labels (Unless you want your beer to be a mystery)

Proper Cleaning & Sanitation

Cleaning and sanitation are not the same thing when it comes to getting your equipment ready for brew day.  Cleaning all of your equipment with a recommended cleanser, not dish soap, and then sanitizing all of your brewing equipment is the most important thing you need to do before you even think about brewing.

Remember, cleaning is not the same as sanitizing, and sanitizing is not the same as cleaning.  Doing one without the other is pointless, so skipping this step or cutting corners can result in a really bad batch of beer.

Not doing this correctly can turn a delicious home brew into something that looks like it came from a science lab, and completely undrinkable.

It is important to follow the directions exactly as they are printed on the label of your cleanser and sanitizer, and take the time to do it right.

Types Of Homebrewing

So now it time to decide on what method of brewing you would like to do.  Just like there are basically only two styles of beer to make, there are really only two ways to actually make your beer too.

Malt extract method or the more advanced all-grain method.

How To Make Your Own Beer: Home Brewing For Beginners

If you are completely new to home-brewing, and getting ready to brew your first batch of beer, the chances are you will be buying an ingredient kit that contains liquid malt extract.

This is by far the easiest introduction into the homebrewing process.

When you buy a beer ingredient kit, all of your specialty grains, hops, yeast, and malt extract are already measured and pre-packaged for you.

This eliminates a few steps in the brewing process, as well as saving many hours of brewing time.

Advanced Home Brewers

Once you’ve had some experience in home brewing (and hopefully some delicious success too) using a beer kit, then you may be ready for all-grain brewing.

All grain brewing adds in a few extra steps in the brewing process and can add about 8 more total hours to your brewing day, not to mention a few more pieces of brewing equipment. While it is not all that difficult, all-grain brewing is definitely a few steps ahead of basic brewing with malt extract.

I have talked to many homebrewers who say their first ever batch of beer was using a starter beer ingredient kit, and then immediately went to all-grain brewing on their second batch, because it is that addicting.

If you are ready to move to all-grain brewing but don’t want to spend the extra money for the traditional equipment, read our post on how to easily brew all-grain with the “brew in a bag” method.

Five Basic Steps To Home Brewing

Brewing your own beer is far from being difficult, but things must be done in a specific order and process.

Here are the five steps to brewing beer at home:

  • Preparation
  • Steeping, Boiling, and Cooling The Wort
  • Fermenting
  • Bottling or Kegging
  • Drinking the Beer

Step 1: Preparation (Cleaning & Sanitizing)

Before you can get down to the business of brewing, you must take your time to make sure that all of your equipment is cleaned, sanitized, and ready to go.

Make sure all of your equipment is thoroughly cleaned before you begin sanitizing. After everything is cleaned, take your plastic fermenting bucket and fill it with the correct amount of water and sanitizer, and completely submerge EVERYTHING that could come in contact with the wort after it is finished boiling.

star san sanitizer

Also a good idea to have a spray bottle on hand and fill the bottle with the sanitizing solution. Just keep all of the equipment in the bucket while you start boiling and making the wort.

Step 2: Steeping, Boiling, and Cooling

steeping specialty grains
boiling the wort
cooling wort in an ice bath

To make the wort, the specialty are first steeped for about 20 minutes and then discarded.  The malt extract and the hops are then added at a determined time and boiled for approximately 60 minutes.  After the wort is finished boiling, it is then cooled rapidly to reach an acceptable temperature for pitching the yeast.

The steeping and boiling will take about an hour. The cooling of the wort can take 30 or 40 minutes if submerging the brew kettle in an ice bath.  To make this step quicker and more efficient, an immersion chiller can be used.

Step 3: Fermentation

After cooling the wort and pouring into a fermentation vessel, the yeast is added, the bucket is sealed, and an airlock is installed.  This is the process where the four main ingredients start turning into delicious beer. The yeast will begin to feed on the sugars from the starches and begin producing alcohol and carbon dioxide.

Once fermentation starts, it will usually take between 5 to 7 days before the primary fermentation phase has completed.  After this time, and depending on your brewing preference and type of beer you are making, the beer can be then transferred to a carboy for a secondary fermentation, or can be immediately bottled or kegged.

primary fermentation bucket

Step 4: Bottling

It’s almost time, but not just yet. After the fermentation process is all finished, it it time move the beer to a bottling bucket, add the priming sugar, fill your bottles, and wait for your beer to become carbonated.

Unfortunately, you are probably gonna have to wait another one or two weeks for the beer to go through a final conditioning and carbonation period before you get to drink your batch of home brewed goodness. But the wait will be well worth it.

Bottle conditioning and carbonation

Also just so you know, a typical five gallon batch of beer will make about two cases of beer, or 48 bottles. Don’t forget to clean and sanitize your bottles and caps too before bottling!

Step 5: Drinking The Beer

After the beer has had time to carbonate over the last week or two, it’s finally time to drink.  Depending on what temperature you like to drink your beer, chill a few in the refrigerator, pour into your favorite glass, and enjoy!

Final Say About Homebrewing

Is it cheaper to make your own beer?

How long does it take to make beer at home?

And Is it worth the time?

As most amateur homebrewers can attest to, making your own craft beer is not difficult, relatively inexpensive, and does not take a lot of time to brew beer at home.

Not to mention that it is quite addicting too.  There is practically no limit to the different flavors of beer you can make.  If you can think it, you can brew it.

In fact, the hardest part of the whole brewing process is waiting to be able to drink it. But when it is ready, there is a great joy in drinking a beer that you make from scratch under your own roof.

Happy Brewing!

Todd
Todd

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