Yes, you can too.
Yes, it takes a little initial investment.
After your basic equipment purchase, beer kits are readily available from many homebrew suppliers.
When you get enough of beer kits, you can now formulate your own recipes, based on what you have learned.
Your basic equipment should consist of
a 5 gallon stainless steel brew pot
a 6 gallon glass carboy, with a 5 gallon mark on the side..this is your primary fermenter
a 5 gallon glass carboy, this is your secondary fermenter
a 6 gallon food grade bucket with lid (optional)
a large non wooden spoon with holes in it; stainless steel is best
siphon and bottling hose, 2 sections of 6 feet each
an aquarium aerator..available at any aquarium shop with about 8 feet of airline hose and airstones…maybe $5 for all
a hydrometer…a crucial tool needed to check dissolved sugars in your beer
a funnel with a screen
a bottling cane
a racking cane with a standoff on the end…a standoff is a tip that fits over the end of your cane, so when you siphon your beer, the standoff prevents sludge from getting into your siphon.
sanitizer…I prefer One-Step…bleach can be used too, but container must be rinsed over and over and over to loose the bleach smell.
bottles…5 gallons of beer will require about 48 twelve ounce bottles, or about 30 twenty-two ounce bottles. These will require bottle caps. You may purchase the flip top, but are expensive compared to crown cap bottles.
a bottle capper
a drying rack for your bottles
a long carboy brush for cleaning. They are usually bent so as to clean the neck of the carboys.
a bottle brush is also a good idea
carboy handles are very handy if you plan to move your carboys when they contain beer…even if you don’t, they are still handy to haul your glass carboys around. They are not tempered, and can break if bounced against something.
carboy caps have two nozzles on them, which will be discussed later. Different sizes for different sized carboy jug tops.
a beer Thief…allows you to take a small sample of beer to check your gravity.
Erlenmeyer flask for making yeast starter.
carboy bungs (corks) into which your airlocks fit
airlocks; at least two
corn sugar, a one pound pack will do for starting out
I prefer to use stick on thermometers on the carboys…the range should not exceed 90°. Aquarium shops may have these too.
A floating thermometer is handy, especially when you graduate to partial mash recipes.
a grain bag is handy too for same.
a hop bag can be useful if using pellet hops
Understanding the basics…
The basic beer recipe consists of four ingredients: water, barley (adjunct) hops, and yeast..
An adjunct can be loosely defined as anything with a fermentable sugar; barley, wheat, rice, sugar, honey, fruits, syrups, cracked grains, and many more.
Your yeast is a very critical ingredient, as it is what makes the magic happen. The yeast needs food and oxygen to survive and multiply. You seen homemade bread rising, right? The tangy aroma you smell is the alcohol giving off by the yeast.
Yeast are alive, and require oxygen and food. In turn, they supply carbon dioxide gas (CO2) and alcohol as their by products.
Grains, when cracked open at the right time, have residual sugars in them.
Extract brewing uses these sugars in a concentrated product called malt. Malt can be dried, or liquid that looks like honey. Dried malt extract, or DME, has the texture of flour.
The liquid malt extract has water in it; the DME does not.
Recipes sometimes use both types, others use one or the other exclusively.
Other types of recipes are called “partial mash” in which the cracked grains are steeped in a temperature controlled water for a specified period of time, to extract the sugars from the grains.
All grain brewing uses a lot of grains; several pounds, and takes special equipment to steep the grains, then rinse (sparge) the grains to rinse the sugars out.
We will assume for now, that we are brewing extract beers, which in my opinion, are just as flavorful as an all grain beer.
There are hundreds of varieties of yeast available, each will yield a slightly different taste to your beer.
There are liquid yeasts, White Labs, and Wyeast, to name two.
There are also many types of dry yeasts available like the kind used to bake yeast breads.
The liquid yeasts are more expensive, but give you more control over the type of beer you are making. They require a starter, for the most part. A starter is a batch of liquid yeast, put into a mixture of malt and water to increase the number of yeast cells to get your beer “kick started” so to speak.
The dry yeast packages contain massive amounts of dry yeast in them, and require hydration ideally, before pitching into your beer.
There is no right or wrong. Each style will give you good beer.
Temperature is important as well in your fermentation; too cold and it will ferment slowly…too hot, and the yeast can impart off flavors to your beer. I have made excellent beer with the fermentation temps in the mid eighties, however cooler is better.
There are two types of beers: lagers, and ales.
Generally, ales are fermented warm, and lagers are fermented at cool temps; usually refrigerated. Lagers take much longer to ferment, and requires special yeasts to do so.
Consider this: beer brewing originated in Europe in the 1500s more or less. The Germans made lagers in the winter, and ales in the summer.
I made a lager once, and it was very, very good. It took several months to ferment in the fridge however.
We assume you are making ales here.
You must be absolutely certain that your equipment has been sanitized before touching your beer. Every hose, cane, tube, bottle, carboy, funnel, that touches your beer must be devoid of germs, or your beer will become skunky; or worse.
The One-Step mentioned earlier uses 1 tablespoon into one gallon of water. Shake until dissolved. You must rinse your carboys and all your bottles before using them. Hoses, funnels, canes too; everything. Make it a habit, and all your hard work will pay off.
There is a gizmo called a Jet Washer that attaches to your kitchen faucet (with an adaptor) that is very handy to rinse your bottles after you sanitize them.
So now, you have all your supplies, and you’re ready to brew. You decided to make a hefeweizen from a kit. Hefeweizen is a wheat beer. The kit will contain a bag of DME, probably 5-7 lbs, a bag of either hop pellets or whole hops. Yeast is included; a dry package.
You may want to consider making some ice cubes from good water, placing them in a gallon ziploc bag (or two) for cooling your wort after the boil. Extra cubes too for your ice bath in your sink, into which you will place your brewpot to cool.
The rest is supplied by you.
Into your brewpot, put in 3 gallons of water. I recommend using bottled water from the store; spring water is best, drinking water is fine…NOT distilled water. Reverse osmosis water is very good as well, if you have a place that sells it; usually 50 cents a gallon.
Put your 3 gallons into your pot, and turn your heat on high.
If you have a floating thermometer you may use it, but we all know what temp water boils at.
You may put the lid on the pot and wait.
Have your malt and spoon ready.
Don’t let your water come to a complete boil, but just before, remove the lid turn down the heat to low, and add your malt.
Using your spoon, stir in your malt until it is completely dissolved; COMPLETELY. If you have any chunks that do not dissolve, it will burn, your batch is ruined.
Notice the chunks of malt
Use your slotted spoon and stir, stir, stir, bringing up spoonfuls until your are certain it is all dissolved.
Now, turn your heat back up to high, and wait.
When it begins to boil, set your timer for 60 minutes.
From this point on, do not walk away from your boil.
There are few things messier in life than a pot of wort (beer, before it’s beer) that boils over. It smells, and is basically sugar burned onto your stove.
this pot is full. It will try to boil over. You must pull the pot away from the heat, leaving half your pot on the burner, or it will boil over. You will have to jack with it to keep it from doing so. Stirring may help. Lowering the heat will help too, but is not immediate. If you have a ceramic top stove, just slide the pot over. If you have an exposed element stove, it will be more difficult. Are you strong enough to lift the pot off the burner for a few seconds?
I promise that if you can master this for just a few minutes, the wort will reach a point called “hot break” in which the foam will subside, and you will see only the wort; not the foam. BUT you will have to endure this agony.
A larger brew pot will help too; say 6 gallon or larger. This 5 gallon is the largest, so I contend with it.
Don’t walk away or turn your back. If you must, turn the heat off.
For a Hefeweizen, the hops are added during the last 10 or even five minutes of the boil.
Other types of beers, IPA for example, will have multiple additions of hops and even different kinds of hops during the boil. It’s important to pay attention to the instructions for these types of beers.
Side note: hops contain oils that bitter our beer. If we did not add hops, we would have a “fermented malt beverage” AKA, wine cooler. There are literally hundreds of types of hops out there.
Stop up your sink, and add cold tap water and ice cubes.
So, at 50 minutes, you add your hops, whether pellets or whole hops, and allow the boil to finish.
Cooling the wort…
we want our wort to cool as soon as possible. Every minute our warm wort stays in the sink, exposes it to wild yeasts and bacteria that just love warm wort.
Dump your bags of ice cubes into your pot and stir. Use your thermometer too. Add ice in sink as necessary to aid in cooling.
Take a 2 cup measuring pitcher, and add some good water to it, and dump your yeast in it, stir gently to “hydrate” the yeast, and let sit covered with paper towel on counter, until you are ready for it.
Keep checking your wort temp, when it reaches around 80, or 75 depending on the temp in your house, remove from sink.
Yes, it will be heavy. Water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon, and this weighs more, given all the dissolved sugars in it.
Is your carboy ready? You should have the funnel in place by now.
I put mine in the other sink, and slowly, slowly pour the wort into the carboy. If you use the screen in your funnel, you will have to stir the screen,…to allow the wort to pass…I use the thermometer. That’s the downside of whole hops. With pellet hops, they all dissolve, you won’t need to filter them out. They will be removed after the primary ferment is done.
Remember, all this time wild yeasts and bacteria are landing on your wort. It is crucial to get your beer into your carboy as soon as possible, so you may start your ferment. Obviously, as your alcohol content increases, it will kill off said bacteria.
OK, got your wort in the carboy? Every drop?
OK. Now you must fill your carboy to the five gallon mark with fresh clean water you bought. This is a five gallon batch, right?
When you have done that, you may add (pitch) your yeast. Be sure to get all of it, and pour it into carboy.
Now get your aerator hose with the airstone, and attach it to your racking cane (or put it inside the cane) and put into carboy so it almost touches bottom, and turn on aerator, and run it for 15 minutes. Why?
When we boil the wort for an hour, the boil removed oxygen from the water. Remember we said that yeast need oxygen? This is one way to add it back in. There is no easy way to check for O2 levels. Just be sure it’s aerated well; longer it you like. You can’t over do it.
If the wort tries to bubble over, shut off aerator, and shake the carboy, and resume. Don’t skimp.
Time to get your Thief and the hydrometer. Using the Thief, fill it with wort and empty into hydrometer tube…check your gravity and make a note of the number. The one we’re interested in will begin with
1.000 the number will be in the range of 1.055-1.075. This is important. This number will help us to determine when the ferment is finished. We’ll say that the OG (Original Gravity) today is 1.060.
When your desired aeration time is up, put on your bung and add your airlock. Fill your airlock half full of water…can use vodka too.
Important…since this is a wheat beer, you may want to, instead of the airlock, put on a blowoff tube. Remove the airlock, put the hose in the bung hole, and the other end into a glass jar half full of water, so the end of the tube is submerged, and you can see it as it bubbles.
Wheat beers are notorious for bubbling up and blowing off airlocks…I have even seen them blow off a blowoff tube; all over the floor.
It may take up to 24 hours for the wort to begin bubbling, but keep an eye on the air in the tube, and the air will be pushed into the water.
As the yeasts multiply, so will the ferment increase activity. When it is bubbling full force, you can see through the side of the carboy, the agitation and churning going on…fascinating.
I have several 1 gallon glass jugs I used for this, as it will bubble some through the tube; yeast that is. Don’t fret. The tube will never come clean.
This activity will subside after a day or so.
Allow to sit for a week, undisturbed in as cool a place in your house as possible.
After a week, get your Thief and hydrometer and check the gravity again. For example’s sake, we will assume the gravity today reads 1.015. You may have to steal more than one sample of wort to fill the hydrometer tube.
OK, that’s good. Some math for you
1.060 ÷ 4 equals 1.015…
the numbers we are concerned with are the 60 and 15…15 is 1/4 of 60, yes?
Perfect. We want our FG (final gravity) to be one quarter of our OG.
the yeast ate 75% of the sugars in the wort, leaving 25% unfermentable solids, and that’s OK.
I wish all my beers fermented out like this.
What if you check your gravity after one week, and it has only dropped to 1.025? That’s too high. that means that there are too many sugars left in the wort. So, more than likely, the oxygen ran out, and the yeast couldn’t work any more. The only remedy is to aerate again…risky, but if you bottle at this gravity, your bottled beer will explode due to too much carbonation.
Now we can siphon off to our other carboy…the smaller one that you sanitized right?
Never EVER put your mouth on a siphon tube on your beer. Your mouth has a zillion creepy crawly bacteria in it that would love to decimate your beer…don’t do it.
You have the two holed bottle caps? This orange one fits on the five gallon carboy. The racking cane here is stainless steel inserted through one of the holes in the cap. I blow into the other one to force the wort up into the cane, and through the tube into another jug, or bottling with a bottling cane, attached to the end of the hose. It shuts off the flow, when the can is removed from the bottle. I have the bottle can inserted into the carboy handle to keep the hose from kinking.
This a thing of beauty. Insert into bottle with tip touching bottom, and it releases the flow of beer. Keep cane onto bottom until beer reaches almost top, and then withdraw. It leaves just enough head space..perfect.
It’s a miracle.
Back to today…
Siphon your beer into the secondary…Do not splash. If you splash your wort now, you will re introduce oxygen…that’s bad.
cover with bung and airlock.
Wait another week. This step is for clearing.
Next week, we bottle.
A few days before, sanitize your bottles.
bottle drying rack
Now, you must prepare your priming sugar.
In a small saucepan, put in 2 C water. Bring to boil. Add 3/4 C corn sugar to boiling water, and boil 5 minutes. If you do not have corn sugar, you may use instead 1 1/4 C DME.
Allow to cool completely. Remember your carboy is not tempered and this will shatter your glass carboy if you pour it in too hot.
After cooling, pour into empty carboy.
Siphon your cleared beer into said carboy and stir gently with racking cane to assure corn sugar gets distributed evenly. Don’t splash.
This is exactly the amount of corn sugar needed to kick up the fermentation just enough in your bottles, to carbonate them. Trust me.
Attach bottling cane to tube after siphoning into other jug, and begin.
I have a shallow tray I place on the floor when I bottle, as spillage always occurs.
I use plastic bottles as I ship some of my brews to friends and relatives. I use a clear bottle as when the brew clears in the bottle, it is likely ready to drink.
If using crown cap bottles, count number of bottles used, and count caps, allowing for a dropped one or two. I put my caps in boiling water, immediately removing them from heat. I then place them in a collander or similar to drain.
Also, with a plastic bottle sitting out at room temp, when it gets so hard you cannot squeeze it, it’s ready to refrigerate.
Do not put your bottles in the garage as they will become missiles.
Let them carbonate at room temp.
Usually, a week in the summertime is enough.
For sure check one in two weeks by placing in fridge, then sampling. If carbonation is good, chill the rest and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Your friends will come over from everywhere at all hours to help you.
You must learn to be careful of this.
Partial mash brewing…
I have briefly touched on this earlier. Many beer recipes contain some grains to add flavor and body to the beer, that cannot be attained by malt extract alone.
These grains must be “cracked” and the homebrew supply store will gladly do it for you in a small mill.
These grains are allowed to sprout, then are dried. The germ inside the grain has now created a dab of sugar to allow it to grow. The drying process kills the grain, but retains the dab of sugar, which we leech out when we soak our grains in hot water. Read on.
For this, instead of plain water to begin our boil, we will do what is called a “partial mash”.
A full mash is all grain brewing. A partial mash is just that; partly all grain.
Put approximately 2 gallons of fresh water into your carboy, and bring the temp to 160°.
While you are waiting, place your grains into a grain bag.
When the temp reaches the desired temp, put your grains into the water, and set your timer for 30 minutes.
I like using a temperature probe to constantly monitor the temp of the mash.
Do not let it go below 150 degrees.
You may have to kick on the burner to keep it as close as you can to 160. Don’t let it go higher, or you will release tannins that can give your beer a taste like way too strong tea.
Just watch it.
Meanwhile, in another pot, heat it to 160 degrees as well.
When your mash reaches 30 minutes, remove the grain bag, placing a collander over the brew pot with the grains in the bag, and rinse (sparge) with the other pot of water…slowly, until your heated water is gone.
Allow your grains to drain as much as possible. Do not squeeze the bag or attempt to wring it. Set is aside, and continue with your brewing.
Simple, right? It does add some extra time to the whole process, but you have now graduated to partial mash brewing!
Feed your spent grains to livestock, if you have them.
For myself, my favorite beer is a wheat beer, using 8 lbs DME, and 1/2 ounce of Hallertauer hops at 55 minutes into boil. Delicious.
My other favorite beer is Raspberry Wheat, in which I add 3-4 lbs frozen raspberries to a secondary bucket, the siphon off the primary fermenter. I let this sit a week, and siphon this into the other carboy, and let it sit a week.
The raspberries tend to clog the racking cane standoff, so I put the cane inside a grain bag when siphoning from the bucket.
Remember we do not put out mouths on the siphon? Obviously, we cannot use our carboy caps, so we must create a siphon with our grain bag on the racking cane and tube.
Yep, it’s a pain.
I fill the hose at the faucet, keeping my finger over the end, and the other up in the air while placing it into bucket, and allowing the first 16 ounces or so drain into another container, then into carboy.
I suppose one could just dump it into carboy, but the tap water I was used to was not something I wanted in my beer…even 16 ounces…I leave it to you.
Toss your fruit. I have used frozen peaches too.
No need to thaw them first, just siphon your beer onto them. You will need a lid on this, and it should have a hole drilled for the air lock. It will require a much smaller bung.
Be patient. Wait a week before siphoning off the fruit.
The peach flavor for some reason disappears quickly, but the raspberry does not.
I have tried watermelon as well…don’t waste your time
If you can get sour pie cherries locally, that is the best. Not Bing cherries, they leave no flavor.
Sour pie cherries cost a fortune here in Texas to get from Michigan or elsewhere, and would be my top choice. I used 8 lbs of frozen sour pie cherries when I lived in Colorado, as they grow up there.
Beautiful red color too.
Blueberry, forget about it.
Strawberries; only if you really like strawberries, but there is something that happens to strawberries when they are combined with beer that just ain’t right.
You may have noticed that the more malt or adjuncts (ferementables) in your beer, the higher the alcohol content. Approximately every pound of adjunct will give your beer a 1% alcohol. 8 lbs=8%…this is approximate.
Some yeasts are resistant to high alcohol levels; meaning over 10% ABV. That would be strong beer. Your standard Budweiser is 6%.
If you add extra adjuncts to bump up the alcohol, you will need to increase your hop bittering as well.
I have made cider/mead that killed the yeast as the alcohol was so high. It was very sweet, as the yeast could not eat more and tolerate the alcohol, so it died. By the third glass, your legs stopped working.
We can make great tasting beer, that has plenty of alcohol without ruining the flavor.
This is a very good site for beginning homebrewers. One cannot have too much information on the subject.
I shop largely here
Be sure you know what you want and watch the shipping charges.
Northern Brewer has a nice starter kit for about $160.
I can make a batch of partial mash beer in three hours; that includes clean up of equipment.
All grain brewing takes all day; 8 hours, and requires different equipment and knowledge. I have not attempted this, as I am perfectly satisfied with my extract brews.
My favorite beer is 8 lbs of wheat DME, and an ounce of Hallertauer hops, and a Wyeast 3068 yeast. Excellent beer, and easy, and strong.
I prefer DME to liquid extract, as the liquid contains water and requires more liquid extract to attain the same OG as DME.
Liquid extract comes in 3 lb cans, and it can be hopped as well…beware.
It’s the same amount of work to make a weak beer or a strong beer.
Weak beers are sometimes referred to as “lawn mower beers” as one can drink several with a lesser effect. To that I say, what’s the point?
Keep in mind that water weighs 8.3 lbs per gallon. In a glass carboy, this is over 43 pounds. Plus the extract, plus the weight of the carboy.
It’s OK to splash your beer before the first siphon (called racking). After the primary ferment, you must seriously endeavor to not splash your beer. This will oxygenate it, and will be detrimental to the taste.
Also, do not let your ferment sit in direct sunlight, as the sunlight will affect the hop oils, and give your beer a ‘skunky’ taste.