A Beginner's Guide to Homebrewing
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A Beginner's Guide to Homebrewing

Homebrewers tend to be a dedicated bunch, so if you've seen a buddy's three-tier Blichmann brew stand ($1,055), with three 20-gallon steel pots ($430 each), and a dual keg system ($140 per keg, $150 per regulator), it's no wonder you hesitate to try your hand at brewing beer. To get started, though, it's a lot simpler and cheaper than you think. In fact, you can brew two gallons of your own beer for under $100.

At its very core, brewing beer is simply producing a sugar solution that yeast will ferment. Your favorite craft brewer, or advanced homebrewer, will produce that sugar solution using malted barley, but for your first brew you will start with malt extract. This drastically cuts down on the amount of equipment you need and, as a result, cuts down on the overall cost. 

The Gear

In order to get started you are going to need a few items, many of which you will either find at home or be able to acquire without to much effort. The first item to obtain is a large pot, you will want one that is at least four gallons. If you don't have a big enough soup pot, borrow one. You will also need soap and water (or, preferably, Oxiclean), nine empty two-liter soda bottles, and a sterile cotton swab from a first aid kit.

Finally, there are a few things that you will want to pick up at a local homebrew supply shop.

You will need:

  • A 6.5-gallon food grade bucket with a lid, and a 6-gallon bottling bucket which is  a bucket with a spigot at the bottom. ($13 each, northernbrewer.com)  
  • Six feet of ID Nylon Tubing ($3 overall at hardware store),
  • A brewing thermometer (from $10, northernbrewer.com),
  • And a small bottle of a no rinse sanitizer, such as Starsan (4oz $5). 

Ingredients

The most expensive item you will need to buy is an ingredient kit. Most homebrew supply shops will have a wide assortment of kits, that will cost between $35 and $50. Make sure that the ingredient kit is for an extract beer and that it is for an Ale. The ingredient kit will include all of your malt extract and your hops, but it may require you to purchase yeast separately. The kit will often suggest which yeast to buy, and you can expect that to run you an extra $5. Often the ingredient kits will contain grains that need to be put into a nylon bag and steeped like tea. These will help add color and flavor missing from the extract. The kit often comes with the bag, but if it doesn’t pick up a disposable muslin bag ($1). Finally the kit will come with a measured amount of corn sugar, used for bottling. If your store doesn't have an ingredient kit, you can try the extra recipe, below.

West Coast IPA Extract Recipe

The following is a recipe for an American version of an IPA. It is heavy on hop character, using hops often found in West Coast beers. It uses a characteristically clean yeast, that allows the hop flavor to dominate with hints of grapefruit and a full floral aroma. 

The extract:
9.3 lbs. Pale Liquid Malt Extract (or 7.5 lbs of Pale Dried Malt ExtractDME)

The specialty malts:
1 lb.s Caramel/Crystal Malt 40 Lovibond
1 oz. Simcoe Hops (60 minute boil)
1 oz. Amarillo Gold Hops (15 minute boil)
1 oz. Amarillo Gold Hops (flame out)

The yeast:
Wyeast 1056 American Ale

Brewing

Now that you have your gear and ingredients, it's time to brew.

  1.  Fill your pot with 2.5 gallons of water and bring it to 150°F.  
  2. Add your stepping grains to either the nylon or muslin bag. If the grains have not been pre-crushed, use an empty beer bottle or rolling pin to gently crack open the grains. Steep the grains for 20 minutes, and remove.
  3. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/3 of your malt extract. The boil will die down as you add the extract, but once it comes back to a boil, add another 1/3, bring it to a boil again, add the rest, and set a time for one hour.
  4. Start to add your hops as per the instructions that came with your kit or in the recipe above. You will usually add an addition of hops at the start of the boil, and then another with 10-15 minutes left and finally a third addition at the end of the boil. You will boil your beer for a total of 1 hour, and will add the remainder of the extract when you have 15 minutes left on the boil.  

While your beer is boiling, fill your 6-gallon fermenting bucket with water and use that to make a sanitizer solution, following the instructions on the sanitizer bottle. Keep the spoon you have been using to stir the beer in the bucket as well. Anything that will come into contact with the beer once the boil has started should be cleaned and rinsed with sanitizer. 

Fermentation

Once the boil is over, the beer needs to be cooled. The best way to do this is to put the pot in an ice bath. You can also cover the pot and allow it to cool naturally, although this can take over an hour. When the pot is cool enough to safely handle, pour the sanitizer out of the fermenting bucket and into the bottling bucket.  

Now, pour the beer into the fermenting bucket and top it off with cold tap water until you have five and a half gallons of beer.  Add yeast, and then cover the bucket with a sanitized lid and put it in a cool place for two weeks. There is often a hole drilled in the top of the lid, you can cover this with a  sterile cotton swab from a first aid kit.

Bottling

While the beer is fermenting, obtain 9 two-liter soda bottles with caps. You will use these to bottle your beer, but they need to be very clean.  The best way to do that is to rinse them well and then soak them overnight in a bucket with  warm water and a scoop of oxyclean or soap and water.  

After the beer has been fermenting for two weeks, make another sanitizer solution in the bottling bucket.  

  1. Soak the nylon tube in the sanitizer and rinse each soda bottle with sanitizer, recap them and put them aside.  
  2. Bring one cup of water to a boil, and mix in the sugar that came with your ingredient kit.  
  3. Boil it for 15 minutes and then cover and allow to cool. Empty the bottling bucket of sanitizer by allowing some of it to run through the spigot, saving a small amount of sanitizer in an extra bucket or pot.
  4. Add the sugar solution to the bottling bucket and using the nylon tube gently siphon the beer into the bottling bucket.
  5. Put the bottling bucket up on a counter, cut a one-foot length of the nylon tube, sanitize it again and attach it to the spigot of the bottling bucket.  t should be long enough to reach the bottom of the soda bottle.  
  6. Gently fill each of the sanitized soda bottles  and tightly cap them. Put the soda bottles aside for two weeks, after which they should be fully carbonated and ready to drink. 


Total Coast:
$79 to $94
Number of pints (16 ounces): 44
Cost per beer: $1.80 to $2.13