New to Brewing?
So you want to make your own beer? You’ve come to the right place, but let us warn you - it can be an addicting hobby! Most of us will agree; there is no greater satisfaction than cracking a cold one that you made with your friends. Making beer is a pretty simple process. You boil a bunch of sugars with hops to achieve flavor and bitterness. You then add brewers yeast and wait a couple of weeks. Then you bottle your beer, wait for it to carbonate, and enjoy! We encourage you to continue reading the New to Brewing guide or check out our other information over in our learning section.
The Basic Steps of Brewing
Making beer is a pretty simple process. In short, you boil a bunch of malt sugars with hops to achieve flavor and bitterness. You then add brewers yeast and wait a couple of weeks. Then you bottle your beer, wait for it to carbonate, and enjoy! So lets get a little more detail on the brewing process. It consists of six major steps and takes about six weeks. If you have any questions about the vocabulary being used here's a link to help.
Step One: Mashing and Fermentables
In the brewing world, those sugars I mentioned are called “fermentables” and they are generally derived from malted barley. The malted barley goes through a process called “mashing.” Mashing is executed in all grain brewing when brewers combine crushed, malted barley and hot water. The hot water releases natural enzymes in the malted barley which break down starches into malt sugars. As a beginner, you can skip the mashing process by purchasing malt extract. With extract the mashing process has been done for you! Extract comes in dry (powder) and liquid (syrup) forms which can be added to water. The combined liquid is henceforth called “wort.”
Step Two: Boiling
Once the brewer’s wort is in their kettle they bring it to a boil. If this is your first time you will need to be careful because when wort first comes to boil foam will form quickly and can cause a mess. Be sure to turn the heat down to slow the foam. This foam is called the “hot break.” Once the hot break has died down it is at this point in which some hops are added. Hops, which can be in pellet or leaf form, contain many oils. Some of these oils are called “alpha acids” which when boiled with wort go through a chemical reaction called “isomerization.” Isomerization of hops transforms these alpha acids into what we perceive as bitterness. The higher percentage of alpha acids that a hop varietal contains, the more bitterness a given weight of hops can impart. Additionally, the longer the hops are boiled the more bitterness that can be extracted however; the total bitterness extracted does seem to stop after about 90 minutes. These additions are called “bittering-hop additions.” The boil is also transforming the beer through evaporation. Over a normal boil of one hour, the wort can decrease in volume 10%-15% creating more concentrated wort. Lastly, the boil sanitizes the wort making it safe for drinking - before modern biology it was believed that the alcohol in beer was what made it safe for drinking, and while that helps, the boil was the real hero! Before the 60-minute boil is over brewers will often toss-in additional hops or sometimes even other spices, into the kettle to add more flavor. These additions will be boiled for less time and therefore result in less bitterness being attributed to the beer. The minimal wort contact time will also help retain some of the flavorful hop oils - think of citrus and pine aromas common in an IPA. These additions are called late, flavor, or aroma hop additions
Step Three: Cooling
After completing the boil the brewers chill the wort to their optimal fermentation temperature. The rapid temperature change results in two positive outcomes for the eventual beer. The first is that there is limited time and exposure to wild bacteria (naturally occurring in the air) which can take hold of your wort at temperatures below 140F. (This would cause undesirable results). The second is the creation of a “cold break” which is the coagulation of the proteins in the wort. Without getting too scientific, a good cold break can prevent your beer from being hazy in the future. This rapid cooling achieved through a wort chiller.
Step Four: Fermenting
Lager fermentation[/caption] After cooling the wort it is then transferred to a sanitized vessel such as a carboy or brewing bucket and yeast is added. Brewer’s yeast comes in dry or liquid forms. Liquid yeast offers more variety, but often requires a yeast starter to guarantee optimal fermentation. After yeast is added, the fermentation vessel is sealed with an air lock or blow-off tube to only allow CO2 to escape. (Nothing else can get in!) Over a few days to a few weeks, the yeast will consume the sugars in the wort and break them down into carbon dioxide and alcohol. It is this stage of the journey many new brewers start to worry and second guess themselves. To avoid these tribulations I can assure you that everything is fine and you didn't ruin your homebrew.
Step Five: Packaging
22oz bottle[/caption] Once fermentation is complete the brewer will rack, or gently siphon, their brew to a keg or into a bottling bucket. In the bottling bucket the brewer has added some boiled sugar water which will create a second mini-fermentation in the bottle and produce carbonated beer. This is called “bottle priming.” or “bottle conditioning.” Fill up your sanitized brown bottles and cap them. Then set them in an area to wait for about 2 to 3 weeks. For more on bottling please follow this link.
Step Six: Drinking
Three weeks has passed and you throw your homebrew in the fridge, or maybe you just pop one open and drink it warm. Either way homebrewed-beer often benefits from some cold conditioning time in the refrigerator. The longer the beer is in the fridge, the clearer the beer will become as the yeast drops to the bottom. I recommend at least 48-hours in the fridge before popping your first handcrafted beverage. I know, I know, you already waited six weeks, what is another two days? I also suggest pouring gently into a clear glass as well (You want to be able to see and appreciate all your hard work!).
What Kit is Right for You?
Hopfellas IPA Kit[/caption] Now that you understand a bit more about the brewing process, you may be thinking "Great! Where do I start?" We were all there, at one point or another. Getting started can seem like a daunting task, but you'll quickly refine your equipment and process. A great place to start is with a Homebrewing Kit and a Recipe Kit. The homebrewing kit will get you everything you need to begin brewing, and the recipe kit will let you start figuring out what a standard recipe and brew day look like before you start experimenting with your own recipes. The recipe kit is easy, select whichever kit appeals to you. IPA fan? Grab an IPA kit. More of a dark beer drinker? Can't go wrong with a porter. You will need to consider whether you want to go all-grain or extract, but that will need to wait for a minute. The real question is what kit do you need, and there are a few available here at Homebrew Supply that you may want to consider.
The Starter Homebrew Kit runs about $80 and is the bare bones of what you'll need to get started. This option is awesome if you already own a 5-gallon pot for the boil. If you don't, look into the Complete Homebrewing Kit which contains all of the equipment from the starter kit, but also includes a pot, spoon, and stick-on thermometer for your bucket so you can monitor fermentation temperatures. Both of these kits will include buckets to ferment in and bottle from, caps, a capper to secure said caps on your bottles, a hydrometer for measuring gravity, siphons, bottle fillers, the whole deal. The Complete Homebrewing Kit also has a glass option, and for a bit more you can grab a 6-gallon glass carboy instead of a bucket to ferment in. You can read up on the glass versus plastic debate here, the choice is yours. If you'd like to invest a bit more and prepare yourself for expansion, you can grab the Advanced Homebrewing Kit, which includes everything in the Complete Homebrewing Kit plus a copper wort chiller. Grab a nylon bag and you're ready for all grain brewing, or stick with extract. Both are solid options that have their own set of challenges. Most brewers stick with extract in the beginning, since it removes on of the variables (the mash step) from the brew day. Other brewers advocate beginning with all-grain, since it isn't too complicated a process and it lets brewer's learn more from the beginning. Whatever you choose, both are great options and you'll always have room to expand.