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Home Brewing 101: How To Brew Beer In Your Kitchen

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Small-batch homebrewed beer appeals to everyman’s desire for creation and improvisation right in the kitchen. If you are thinking about giving home brewing a try – or tried it once and can’t figure out what went wrong – here’s an overview of the four-step process.

Step 1 – Collect and clean everything

Home brewing requires some special equipment, but a lot of it can be done with items you probably already have: a very large metal pot, one (or two) five-gallon buckets with lids, a thermometer and a container able to hold your large pot for cooling.

Required special items are an airlock, siphon and tubing and the bottling equipment (bottles, caps, filler and capper). These items are often available as a starter kit.

It is important to sanitize the equipment before starting. This may not be fun, but germs on anything that touch the beer will doom the project from the start.

The beer ingredients will need to be purchased at the homebrew shop or an online site, although these may come with a starter kit as well. The four basic ingredients are milled grain or malt extract, beer (not bread) yeast, hops and spring water. Don’t use tap water, even if yours tastes good. The purifying chemicals in tap water will interfere with the yeast and will throw off the taste of your beer.

Keep the ingredients refrigerated and try to use them when fresh.

Step 2 – Create the wort

The wort is a thick, sugary mash produced by boiling the water, hops and malt. The time this takes varies by recipe but you’ll want to keep an eye on it for about 90 minutes. The ingredients and boiling time affect the beer’s taste and color – whether you end up with a lager or stout. The challenges here are to keep the pot from boiling over and to stir every so often so that nothing sticks to the bottom and burns.

When the boil is done, the wort needs to cool quickly. The goal is to add the yeast before any airborne microbes mess with the taste. But the temperature has to be right for the yeast – too hot and the yeast dies, too cold and the yeast is not well activated. Cover the pot with a lid and move it into an ice-water bath in a large sink or bathtub (even a snowbank will do) until the wort reaches the temperature called for in the recipe.

Step 3 – Move to the fermenter

In the fermenter, the sugars pulled from the grains in the wort will be consumed by the yeast and transformed into alcohol. This step means waiting. First, add the yeast to the fermenter bucket, followed by the cooled wort. In this step, the wort needs to be agitated to get a good oxygen mix for the yeast to work. When pouring the wort into the fermenter, let it shake and splash.

After that, the lid goes on and an airlock is added. Bubbles in the airlock let you know the fermentation is working. The bubbles may stop after three or four days, but that’s OK because the fermentation slows as the amount of sugar decreases.

The mixture needs to be set somewhere fairly cool and where it will not have to be moved. The recipe will have days, often about two weeks, or a certain hydrometer gravity reading to tell you when it is ready.

Step 4 – Bottling

A gentle transfer from the fermenter to a bottling bucket and another jolt of sugar activates the beer’s carbonation before bottling. Some brewers skip the second bucket and gently add a sugar syrup (called a priming solution) directly to the fermenter in order to reduce the risk of contamination. If using a bottling bucket, a spigot and tube smooth the transfer from the fermenter to the bucket because any agitation now will decrease the carbonation. Once the priming solution and beer have combined, the beer is ready to bottle using the (sanitized) bottling supplies. A five-gallon bucket usually requires two cases of bottles. The bottled beer needs about two weeks to carbonate and – finally – it is ready to drink.

Most brewers recommend starting with a simple recipe until you get the hang of the process. This free online book “How To Brew” by John Palmer provides several recipes and covers the home brewing process from simple steps to more complex attempts. Palmer also has YouTube videos.

If you’re eager to give home brewing a try, whether with a kit or not, start with a basic recipe and get familiar with the steps. In a few weeks, you could be enjoying a sip of your own micro-micro-brew.