Home brewing basics for beginners

So you’ve decided to start brewing beer at home. Congratulations, you’re now entering a world known for its great community, breadth and depth as a hobby, and of course, delicious delayed gratification in the form of homemade beer.

Home brewing can be as easy or as advanced as you want, and that’s part of the joy and allure of it. Plus, no matter where you’re at in your journey, there’s always the right resource out there to help you along. As a home brewing beginner, we think it’s important to just get your first batch of beer going, and in the process, gain greater motivation and insight as you see the fruits of your labor manifest into a cold, fresh pint made by your own two hands.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be going through all the basics you need to make your homemade beer using a starter extract brewing kit. As a beginner, this is the easiest option, and even if you decide to move onto all-grain brewing (which is brewing using raw ingredients rather than malt extracts), you can still use the equipment from the starter kit to do so. Win-win.

We recommend browsing iBrew, Homebrew Co-op, or sites like Amazon and Lazada for an extract brewing kit that will suit your needs. Depending on which kit you’ve chosen, steps and items will differ slightly. So make sure you read the kit’s details too. But generally, brewing at home from start to finish can generally be broken down into three main sections – Brewing, Fermenting and Bottling.

Note that the below is only meant to give you an overview of what to expect. You’ll still need to follow an exact recipe to get desired results. Anyway, here goes.

Brewing

This is the start of the entire process. Gather all your equipment and ingredients needed, most of which should be in the kit.

You’ll need:

  • Fermenter – this is where the fermentation happens
  • Hopped malt extract – this turns into wort which turns into beer
  • Yeast – this turns your wort into beer
  • Airlock – this allows carbon dioxide to escape the fermenter
  • Stiring spoon – you need this to stir your mixture well
  • Sanitizer – use this to properly cleanse your equipment
  • Thermometer – you need to know the temperature is right
  • Hydrometer (optional) – this lets you calculate the ABV of your beer
  • Adjuncts (optional) – these are used to alter the flavor of your beer

All brewing begins with sanitizing. In home brewing, food-grade, rinse-free sanitizers like Star San and Iodophor are often used. Some types of bleach can be used for sanitizing too, but food-grade ones are your best bet. Sanitizing is important to cleanse your equipment of all micro-organisms that may interfere with your brewing, and thus might ruin your batch.

You need to sanitize all the equipment that your beer will come into contact with, so that means the fermenter, airlock, stiring spoon and the hydrometer (if you’re using it) needs to be sanitized. Different sanitizers have different usage methods, as well as how you get rid of them afterwards, so be sure to check. Star San, for instance, is rinse-free, so simply pour away the excess and do not use water to rinse off afterwards.

Next, it’s time to pour the malt extract into your fermenter. First prepare a pot and a flask of hot water. Most extracts come in metal cans, and you’ll want to first place them into a pot of hot water so that the sticky liquid inside pours out easier. So use the pot of water for that. Afterwards, empty your can of extract into the fermenter, then pour the hot water from the flask in as well. Adjuncts should also be added in at this stage. Stir the mixture using the sanitized spoon.

You then need to fill your fermenter with more water (usually cold or room temperature water) to get to a desired volume (this depends on your recipe) and temperature (lagers should be at 18°C, for instance), depending on what you’re brewing.

Check using the thermometer, best using the stick-on type, so that you’re not messing with the liquid by dipping the thermometer in. This is to check that the yeast you’re about to pitch into the wort (that’s the mixture inside the fermenter at this point) can do its job optimally. Yeasts are living things, and only function well given the right environment. Treat your yeast right, and it’ll give you the right beer.

Airlock on a glass carboy fermenter

Once the yeast is pitched, seal your fermenter with the airlock (some kits release air via the burping method, which is perfectly fine too.), and you’re done with brewing day! Just remember to have your fermenter sit in a cool, dark place. We’re talking zero light here.

Fermenting

This phase simply requires for you to wait and let your yeast to do its magic. Normally, not much needs to be done. Just check on the airlock once in awhile, and ensure that it’s bubbling. This means that carbon dioxide produced by the fermentation is escaping, and thus will not result in excessive build up of air pressure in the fermenter (which can lead to an explosion).

Some brewers check on the wort itself too, to make sure that all the healthy signs of fermentation are there, such as the formation of a krausen ring. How long you need to wait depends on many factors, including the type of beer, climate and your recipe. Some recipes call for a premature end to the fermenting, for instance.

In most cases, this period can last anywhere from two weeks to two months. It really depends.

Bottling

Most beginners bottle rather than keg, as it is easier to handle (and it is). At this stage, the goal is to get the beer into another vessel while leaving the dead yeast (which has now done its job) out. Most brewers will use a siphon to get this done. Some starter brewing kits however, come equipped with a faucet that you can attach to a bottle filler. Use whichever method you’re more comfortable with.

Once bottled, your beers still need to be primed and carbonated – drinking the beer now is still gross, usually tasting like room temperature, flat, malty sugar water. To prime and carbonate, simply use carbonating drops (this is the easier way) or add a little sugar or priming solution into the bottles directly. The few remaining yeasts that gets transferred into the bottles will continue fermenting the beer slightly, thus naturally producing carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer.

Note that the bottles should come with the starter kit. If you’re using other bottles, make sure they are suitable for the job. This means they can withstand pressure and is appropriately sealable (twist caps are easiest). Bottles need to be sanitized beforehand too.

Once bottled and sealed, the beer now needs to rest a little longer, for about two more weeks. Again, store them in a cool, dark place.

After two weeks, your beer is now ready to drink! So pop ’em in the fridge, and once chilled, pour out your well-deserved, refreshing pint of beer. You’ve earned it.

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