We live in a D.I.Y. world where you can learn to do almost anything yourself, including brewing your own beer at home.
If you are an avid beer enthusiast like so many who love to make craft beer from their personal home brewery, it will be worth it to take a little time to become familiar with the brewing process, purchase some inexpensive brewing equipment, and give it a 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!
In this beginners guide to homebrewing, we will cover everything you need to know about making your own beer.
Table of Contents
A Beginners Guide To Brewing Your Own Beer At Home
Making beer at home involves about four detailed steps that includes preparation, brewing, fermentation, and bottling/conditioning.
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 necessarily based on a specific time. Each and every brew day can be different from the time before.
Depending on your brewing method, your brew day can take anywhere from two 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 six weeks total.
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.
To brew a lager you need cold storage for fermentation, and 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 or experience.
Some of the more common lagers that you can find on the shelves of your favorite store are:
- Pale Lagers
- Dark Lagers
- Amber Lagers
While both styles of beer can be brewed, 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.
Some of the more common ale styles are:
- IPA (India Pale Ale)
- Pale Ale
- Brown Ale
- 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 basically just 4 ingredients.
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.
The water that you use in your homebrew, can have a distinct outcome of your beer.
Malt is the source of sugar in beer. While barley is usually the recommended grain for beer, you can also use other types such as wheat, oats, corn, rice, millet or sorghum.
But the grains cannot be used in beer without it being milled and malted first.
The grain 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.
Malt is to making beer what grapes are to making wine.
Hops are cone-shaped flowers that alter and influence the flavor and aroma of beer. Hops are used to offset and balance the sweetness that comes from the sugary malt. The more hops, the more bitter the finished beer will be.
During the boil, hops are added at various times. Most often they are added at the beginning of the boil, and towards the end of the boil. Hops at the start of the boil are for bitterness, and for aroma when added at the end of the boil.
Depending on what style of beer you are brewing and what style, “dry-hopping” is often done. This is when more hops are added during primary fermentation to add more aroma and flavor to the beer.
Yeast is what is needed to turn the wort into alcohol, making it beer.
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 given its all, the main fermentation is over and is now beer.
Equipment Needed To Make Your Own Beer
For most new home brewers, buying a complete beer making kit is a simple way, and the easiest way to get started brewing. Most beer kits will include just about everything you need 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.
To get started, 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 tubing and/or auto-siphon
- Hydrometer (Optional)
- Bottle cleaning brush (Optional)
- Bottle filler
- Bottle caps
- Bottle labels (Unless you want your beer to be a mystery)
Proper Cleaning & Sanitation
Cleaning and sanitation is one of the most important steps on brewing 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 two common ways to actually make your beer too.
Malt extract method or the more advanced all-grain method.
Home Brewing For Beginners
If you are completely new to homebrewing, and getting ready to brew your first batch of beer, chances are you will be buying a beer 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 Homebrewing
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:
- Steeping, boiling, and cooling the wort
- 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 ready to go after using a good brewing cleanser and sanitizer.
After your brewing equipment is thoroughly cleaned, take your plastic fermenting bucket, or another large vessel, and fill it with the correct amount of water/sanitizer ratio.
Completely submerge EVERYTHING that could come in contact with the wort after it is finished boiling.
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
To make the wort, the specialty grains are first steeped for about 20 minutes and then discarded. The malt extract and the hops are then added and boiled for approximately 60 minutes.
After the wort is finished boiling, it is then cooled to reach an acceptable temperature for pitching the yeast. The wort should be chilled as quick as possible to avoid any contamination and bacteria.
The cooling of the wort can take 30 or 40 minutes if submerging the brew kettle in an ice bath, but to make this step quicker and more efficient, a wort chiller can be used for rapid cooling.
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 wort starts turning into a delicious and drinkable beer. Within a few hours, 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.
Once fermentation is finished, the beer can be then transferred to a carboy for a secondary fermentation if desired, or it can be bottled or kegged.
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 10 to 14 days 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.
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!
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 will 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.
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 it as a cost-saving thing, they just want to make their own beer. I think you would have a hard time trying to find a home beer brewer that their main reason for homebrewing 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.
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.
There are lots of good beer making kits and homebrewing books available for every type of homebrewer. Check out our detailed review pages of the best beer making kits, and best beer brewing books.