How to Home Brew 101

This is the easiest, stripped down, anyone-can-do-it home brewing beginner lesson. It is simple, and works. If you want to start even easier, you can use hopped malt extract (HME), and pick from a variety of beer styles and flavors, all ready to brew. For HME you don’t need to do a full 60 minute boil, that work has already been done by the HME producer. All you need to do is bring your water to a boil, reduce heat, stir in and fully dissolve the HME, then chill the wort, pour it into your fermenter and pitch the yeast. You can’t get easier than that.

For this brew we will be adding our own hops and using unhopped malt extract for the fermentable sugars. Boil will last only 45 minutes (I’ll explain later), during which time we will add hops at specific intervals, then we’ll dissolve the extracts during the last 10 to 15 minutes. This is called the “extract late” method, and it will allow us to get the most out of our hop additions.

Before you begin brewing you will need to acquire a few pieces of equipment. The most important piece of home brewing equipment you will need to get started is a fermenting bucket. A plastic food-grade bucket with a spigot is great to have as a primary fermenter. If you’re going to do a secondary fermentation (recommended) then you’ll need a second vessel, a glass carboy is the way to go.

I’ll explain more about the extract late method and secondary fermentation in a bit. First, here’s a rundown of what you will need to begin brewing.

10 quart stock pot. One that can hold 2 to 2.5 gallons with a few inches to spare.
Long handled plastic or stainless steel spoon.
Muslin hop sacks to contain the hop additions.
Clean and “decontaminated” fermenting bucket, or carboy, with lid, bung or cap, and airlock.

Since most home brewers enjoy Sierra Nevada, one of the most famous examples of an American Pale Ale, I’ve decided to use my “Sorta Sierra” recipe for this home brewing lesson. It is not an exact match, but a very simplified version that makes a pretty good starter beer, with a sort-of Sierra Nevada aroma and flavor.

Two 3.3 lb. cans of pale liquid malt extract (Coopers or Muntons will work just fine).
3 ounces of Cascade hops (schedule: 1 each at 30, 15, flame out).
1 ounce of Centennial hops (schedule: 1 at 45 minutes).
3 gallons of bottled water.
1 package of Safale US-05 Dry Ale Yeast.

Before getting into the fun part, there’s a little cleanup that needs to happen. First make sure you’re work area is clean. Use clorox wipes to clean your counters, just to be safe. You don’t want anything to contaminate your first brew so work clean!

The primary fermenter needs to be cleaned and decontaminated too. I say decontaminated because, to keep things basic, we won’t be completely sanitizing. I recommend OneStep cleanser. If you work clean and use OneStep you’ll be fine, it is an oxygen-based cleanser that actually kills most of the microbes that could contaminate your home brew. You can step up to Star San, Iodophor, or another type of no-rinse sanitizer to literally kill everything, but OneStep will be sufficient for the beginner.

Using 1 tablespoon of OneStep per gallon of warm water, clean your primary fermenter by sloshing, or “rolling” the solution around so it coats all areas inside the fermenter. You can use a sponge that has soaked in OneStep to clean the walls of a bucket fermenter, and then drain it. No rinsing necessary. If you’re using a carboy, use extra care in handling the fermenter, and make sure that the OneStep solution contacts all areas inside.

DO NOT rinse anything with tap water after using OneStep, you’ll completely defeat the purpose. OneStep is a no-rinse cleanser. That means, NO RINSE, just drain.

Brew Time!
Put three gallons of bottled water in your fridge to get them cold. These will be poured into the fermenter later on, before your brew, and will help reduce the temperature of the wort prior to pitching yeast.

I Said “Wort.” That is pronounced “wert” and it is what brewers call the beer before it is fermented. We’ll begin making our wort by pouring 2 and half gallons of water into our kettle. About a quart or so of water will be lost to steam during the boil, and another quart or so will be trapped in the trub (yeast sediment) after fermentation. So in order to get close to 2 cases of beer from this 5 gallon batch, we need to make sure we’re left with 5 gallons at the end of it all.

Turn your burner on and bring your water to a boil. Once you have a nice rolling boil set your timer for 45 minutes. Since our first hops addition is at 45 minutes

Extract Late means literally that, we add the extract late in the boil, after the hops. With extracts dissolved before hand the viscosity of the liquid increases, and reduces the effectiveness of the hops. So adding hops first allows it to fully permeate the liquid. I prefer the extract late method because I get a much fuller hop presence in the finished beer. One downside of this is that the beer may turn out a little lighter in color that if the extracts were added earlier, but it’s a small price to pay for a better hop flavor, nose and bitterness.

Secondary Fermentation is not necessary for all styles, but you can’t hurt your home brewed beer by racking it to a secondary fermenter and letting it finish up and settle for a couple of extra weeks. A secondary fermentation can help improve flavor, and reduce the amount of sediment you see collected in the bottom of your finished bottles.

This also has a lot to do with patience. And I stress that: if you want to brew your own beer you need to be patient! You will not appreciate the results if you rush your beer. Brewing is an art.