So you wanna make homebrew?
Here’s what I’ve discovered:
If you have the basic equipment, excellent attention-to-sanitizing-detail, and a little patience, you can definitely make beer.
A successful brew depends on nothing more than it’s drinkability (in my opinion), and making homebrew is not all that different from following a mildly challenging food recipe.
With the burgeoning homebrew scene creating a greater demand for supply stores here in Northern California (and online), the market is responding, making the list of home-crafted beer possibilities and flavor combinations literally endless. If you can dream it, you can make it!
Follow this handy, easy-to-follow step-by-step guide I've created, just for you!
Step 0: Decide that you want to make beer
Step 1: Get basic equipment
The great thing about fluctuating trends is that it's easy to find second-hand tools: no need to invest in shiny new stuff when you can find a whole setup on Craigslist for a fraction of the price (in Northern California, and probably in other places where breweries are popping up like teenage acne. With your 91, I'm looking squarely at you, Portland, Oregon! I'm not mad, just hella envious of that kind of variety!).
[ ] 6-7-gallon steel or aluminum pot
[ ] bayou burner*
[ ] propane*
[ ] long metal spoon
[ ] 8" - 10" diameter funnel (an extra-handy option is one fitted with a fine-mesh screen)
[ ] 6.5-gallon glass carboy (a 5- or 6-gallon food-grade bucket will also suffice)
[ ] airlock
[ ] hydrometer (measures the original gravity of beer/how much sugar is dissolved in the wort, pre-ferment, which helps predict the alcohol percentage at bottling)
[ ] food thermometer
[ ] timer
[ ] sanitizing solution
[ ] large wire mesh strainer
[ ] 5-10 pounds of ice
[ ] copper wort chiller
*optional. This makes outdoor brewing a fun possibility, and boils the five gallons of wort potentially much faster than your indoor range top!
Step 2: Get your beer kit
Choose one from a reputable source (William's Brewing Company is an online one I've patronized and enjoyed), and find a style that has been rated Beginner. These kits will have all of the consumable ingredients you'll need for your first 5-gallon batch of homebrew, and cost $35-50, plus shipping. They also include a detailed recipe and instructional page, and the ingredients are clearly labeled. With this kind of simplicity, you are almost guaranteed a successful first brew.
Step 3: (optional): Learn some words
Just like with any new skillset, there is a short list of common vernacular with which to become acquainted. You’ll sound like you know what you’re talking about with your growing understanding of this (secret) language, and will certainly impress your friends (or isolate yourself because you’re using words the general population of English-speakers has probably never heard...yet!). A book that my trusted homebrew coach strongly recommended I peruse to answer curious questions is How to Brew by John Palmer. It even has lists of Beginner Brewer's Vocabulary and Advanced Brewer's Vocabulary, a logophile's & listophile (yeah, I just made that word up) hot homebrew dream.
Step 4: Read!
After your kit has arrived in the mail, read over the instructions once or twice (or, ya know, as you go along, or, though unadvisable, skip this step entirely).
Step 5: Make your beer; bring your friends
It's time to set aside four or five hours and get to work. You basically just add heat, patience, love… and hops. Your pals will keep you "hydrated" and fed while you embark on this magical beer-making journey, and will probably offer you some extra emotional support (and hugs, and shoulder massages) if your pot boils over after the hops go in. They can also help you keep your equipment sanitized.
Step 6: Wait 9-14 days
This is the primary fermentation period, when the yeast eat all of the sugar in the wort, and then mostly die. There will be a lot of dead yeast in the bottom of your carboy by the time this ferment is over.
Step 7: Bottle your baby
Here's another step where friend-support is helpful. A bottling + capping assembly line is extra-fun and efficient!
Step 8: Wait 14 more days
The remaining yeast will still need some food (since you hopefully added the kit-included sugar before bottling, since you followed the directions impeccably), and your beer needs bubbles. It's a beautiful symbiotic relationship where everyone's science needs are getting met!
Step 9: Drink your homebrew!
Congratulations!!! If you've made it this far, your carboy probably didn't explode all over the ceiling and wall during the primary ferment, and you did an excellent job at keeping your tools sanitized. Your beer is likely healthy and clean, and you probably have a palatable, possibly even enjoyable, first batch of beer to drink. Now, go forth, and share your homebrewed love with everyone who deserves it.
First posted on usbg.org February 18, 2016