Who doesn’t enjoy a freshly brewed beer full of flavor and body, and even better, if you brewed it yourself! If you find the process of brewing your own beer interesting, keep reading because we have the experts’ advice on how to brew a beer properly from home, the equipment you’ll need, the ingredients, and the basic principles to achieve different styles of a well-brewed beer.
A person doesn’t too need much to start brewing at home, and some of it they may already have. This equipment kit can be purchased at Camp McClellan and other homebrew supply stores:
Brewers Best BASIC Kit – 5 Gallon Batches. Contains the basics a beginning brewer needs EXCEPT for boiling pot, bottles, and caps:
As far as the boiling pot, a large stockpot & metal spoon for mashing-this can be done on your stovetop. You would also need a larger boil kettle and a larger burner. A standard ‘turkey fryer set-up works fine; you just need a propane burner with at least 28qt/7gal pot.
It is OK to use an aluminum kettle as long as it has been passivated-(fill the pot with water, boil 15 minutes, then empty-the kettle should now be dull grey on the inside instead of shiny)
I would also recommend an immersion chiller to quickly cool down the wort so that the beer yeast can be pitched sooner, thus leading to less chance of infection by wild yeast.
Also, they should read the book “How to Brew” it’s available to read online for free! written by John Palmer-one of the top names in brewing.
– Karen Schaar, Home Brewer in the Quad Cities and member of the Powder Keggers (a women-only homebrew club in the Quad Cities)
When I first started, I went to my local homebrewing store and had a great 101 chat with them! They helped me get everything together and prepared me well. Support your local homebrewing store!
Also, the book !”How to Brew” by John Palmer was my guide for those first few batches. It’s a great overview of what you’re doing and why – and it really helped me get up to speed at the start of my brewing journey.
-Adam Robbings, Co-founder at Reuben’s Brews
You do not need a whole lot of space to brew your own beer. Any normal kitchen will do, even a small or modest one. If you brew outside on a burner, a back patio or garage area would also be fine. Brewing is a lot like cooking. Most of the time you will be stirring on the stove or working around the sink, so again, almost any house or even apartment would have enough space to brew beer.
Expect to spend around $200 in supplies to get started home brewing. When I first started, I was able to borrow all the equipment I needed to see if I liked it and wanted to continue. Most cities at least have one home-brew club. Look into that and see if you can befriend someone that would help you get started.
-Shane Orr, Owner of Austin Brewery Tours
Follow the 3 S’s of success for homebrewing: sanitation, simple and sober. Making beer at home is lots of fun. Make sure all of the equipment you are using from start to finish is properly cleaned and sanitized. Cleanliness and sanitation will be your best friend. You wouldn’t cut raw chicken with a knife then use that same knife to chop veggies, right? That same mindset applies to brewing as well.
Keep the beers simple at first. Get a kit, follow the recipe, and branch out from there. Learning the fundamentals of making beer will lead to better quality and consistency down the line.
Finally, keep a sober mind. Brewing is fun but can easily go downhill if you are not careful so save the beers for the end.
– Isaac Peglow, Head Brewer & Tony Zappaunbulso, Assistant Brewer at Stable Craft Brewing
You can brew almost any style of beer at home, but Ales are the easiest since they’re a bit more forgiving from a process standpoint, and they take less time to make than Lagers. Ales are top-fermented and are ready in 2-3 weeks, while Lagers use bottom-fermenting yeast and have a slower fermentation process (6-8 weeks at least). Some of my favorite Ale styles to brew are IPAs, Pale Ales, Stouts, and Saisons! The basic brewing process (milling, mashing, lautering, boiling, fermentation, packaging) is pretty much the same no matter what style of beer you’re creating.
The main thing that will affect the beer are the ingredients you choose. For example, different kinds of malt add body/color/sweetness. Hop additions contribute different levels of bitterness as well as a variety of flavors and aromas. The yeast strain you choose will impact the flavor and mouthfeel of the beer. Another thing to remember is to properly manage time, temperature, and pH during the brewing process. Take notes, and sanitize, sanitize, sanitize!
-Liz Kiraly, Co-Founder & Brewer at Bone Up Brewing Co.
The most common type of malt we use, by far, is 2 row pale malt. It makes up a large percentage of all of our recipes. It is light in color and flavor and provides the necessary sugars and nutrients required for brewing. We order about 500,000 lbs of 2 row pale a year. In order to support our local farmers, we source this malt form Country Malt Group which allows us to use a significant portion of Maine-grown grain in each batch.
-Merritt Waldron, Quality Director at Baxter Brewing Co.
Boiling the wort is essential for driving off volatile off flavors like acetaldehyde and DMS. It is also for adding bitterness through hopping. Most boils go between 60-90 minutes. It stops starch to sugar conversion if your sparge didn’t do it. The sterilization of liquid during the boiling part of the brewing process will stave off infection too.
Beer’s alcohol content and carbonation come from fermentation, in which yeast metabolizes glucose in the wort into ethyl alcohol and CO2. The fermentation process is started by adding yeast to cooled wort and you can only determine if your beer is finished fermenting by checking the sugar levels in the wort or beer with a hydrometer or refractometer.
-Karl Steinmeyer, Homebrew Academy
Beer is typically made with a base of malted barley or wheat but can also be combined with a variety of other grains to get different characteristics, colors, and flavors in the beer. Beer can incorporate Rye, Corn, Rice, Spelt and can even be made with sorghum. Often if the beer is being made with sorghum it is with the intent of making it a low gluten or gluten-free beer. The process of making beer with the other grains added to it is very similar to making a beer made out of 100% barley or out of mostly wheat.
-Jeff Poirot, Texas Brewing Inc.
Traditionally, there have been more yeast strains available to homebrewers as liquid strains than dry, so you were able to get a more specific flavor profile from a liquid yeast strain than a dry one. This is changing as more manufacturers are expanding their lines of dry yeast, but more strains from specific brewery origins tend to be available in a liquid form as opposed to a dry form.
Dry yeast can be either sprinkled into the wort (unfermented beer) or rehydrated according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Rehydrating the yeast will generally give a higher viable cell count than sprinkling the yeast into the wort, but no matter how you use the dry yeast, it will generally have a higher cell count for less money than a liquid yeast strain, and this higher cell count can help fermentation go to completion more smoothly.
One of the drawbacks of dry yeast is that there are not as many varieties available. When you want a more specific flavor profile, you can use one of a myriad of strains of yeast available in liquid form. You can add the liquid culture directly to your wort to ferment it into beer. You can also make a yeast starter, which is a small starter batch of wort usually made with malt extract, and add your liquid yeast culture to this in order to increase the cell count before adding, or “pitching,” the yeast into your main batch of wort. Making a yeast starter with dry yeast is generally not recommended, as it is packaged with extra nutrients and is best used dry or rehydrated.
Both liquid and dry yeast have their advantages and disadvantages. To summarize, dry yeast generally has a higher cell count, is cheaper, and can be easier to use. Liquid yeast is generally ready to go out of the package, but depending on how strong of a beer you are making, you might want to use two packets, or make a yeast starter. However, liquid yeast tends to have more variety, and you can get a more specific flavor profile or find a yeast that had purported origins from a specific brewery if that is what you are looking for. Both will make beer in the end, but it is a matter of what kind of specific beer you are trying to make.
-Wes, Brewer at Great Fermentations
If the question is how to make Lager beer at home when you’ve never brewed any beer before, then my expert suggestion is you should attempt an Ale first then try your hand at Lagers, Pilsner, Helles, and other types of clean, refreshing lager are extremely difficult beers to brew properly.
Lagers need consistently cool temperatures to ferment, and without the proper equipment and knowledge, you’ll end up dumping more batches than you finish. Or, at best, you’ll brew a few batches that are barely drinkable, which some see as a rite of passage for home brewers(I’ve definitely had my fair share!).
My advice is to start with brewing some styles that resemble the profile of a Lager – brew a nice Blond Ale, then move to a Kolsch and eventually, once you’ve gotten the basic skills down, try fermenting a Lager in the winter, when the ambient temperature in some parts of your house is below 60°F. Other than that, read, read, read all you can about the scientific principles behind brewing and fermentation, and one day, you’ll be busting out triple decocted, step mashed Czech Pilsners like you’re Josef Groll (original brewer of Pilsner Urquell). If you are looking to start making beer at home, we recommend Brewvana’s Beer Making Kit with Online Class.
-Chad Brodsky, Founder & CEO at Brewvana
I always like to make parallels to food because that’s something everybody can relate to. Whether you like to cook or not, everybody eats! Choosing the right malt is the brewing equivalent to picking the protein your meal is going to be centered around. Even vegans and vegetarians have meat replacements that are central to a dish.
Do you want something heavy and hearty like beef, light and fresh like seafood, or a blank canvas like white meat chicken? You may start your recipe with an idea of the flavors you’re after and then work backwards from there, whether we’re talking dinner or brewing! The same is true for choosing the malts for your recipe. If you want a roasty, robust beer, a more hop-forward beer, or something clean and crisp, you start by choosing the malts that support that goal.
Hop selection, hop schedules, water profile, yeast, and fermentation temps are all other nuanced ways to amplify the flavors and aromas you have in mind, but the malt bill is really going to be the foundation.
-Anthony “Beer Chronicle Tony” Gorrity, Co-Founder of Beer Chronicle
Here’s a fun beer fact: back in the day, since they used the heat from actual fire to prepare barley for beer-making (in a process called “malting”), almost all malted barley would have been quite dark, and thus almost all beers were dark and smokey. Fortunately, modern malting technology allows us to make beers from practically eggshell white to pitch black, but there’s something ancient and ethereally comforting about brown beers, and Brown Ales are no exception.
We no longer use a single malt to brew these beers, but malt is absolutely still the soul of this style. Defer to whatever recipe you’re using, but my broad advice would be to spare no expense on the “base malt,” the light-colored malt that provides the bulk of the malt “bill” for Brown Ale recipes. You’ll almost always want a British Maltster’s pale malt, which may have a name like “Maris Otter” or “Golden Promise,” though I’m not too picky with the country of origin of the “Crystal” or “Caramel” malts which, as you’d guess, contribute a range of classically British notes to this beer, from toffee to toast to dried fruit, potentially. If your recipe calls for something dark like Black Malt or Roasted Barley, I’m even less picky, though if you want the color to be just right, you’ll want to find something that has a color rating (usually in ˚L or ˚SRM) that the recipe recommends.
Finally, you have hops and yeast. Again, defer to your recipe, but the obvious choices would be the two classic British hops: East Kent Goldings, or Goldings more broadly, and Fuggle. Your yeast choice depends on which type of Brown Ale you’re brewing (American or British), but whatever you pick, you want to grab a relatively new pack of yeast (say, two months old if it has a manufacture date), and that matches the style (and fortunately, most recipes give a few great options). Finally, you’ll really want to make your yeast happy since this style can pretty easily be knocked off balance by unhappy yeast-driven esters, so you’ll want to oxygenate your wort by shaking it around for at least a minute, say, and by fermenting it in a stable temperature corner of a room, ideally in the 68˚F plus-or-minus a few degrees range.
Good luck, and happy brewing!
-Adrian Febre, Operations Analyst at MacLeod Ale Brewing Co.
The most important piece of brewing a Stout is the malt, you need a hefty dose of roasted barley to get the dark color and chocolate/coffee flavors that stand out in a well-made Stout. Adding chocolate malt, dark caramel malts, and a touch of black patent malt to the bill will do the trick. Adding some flaked barley and/or oats to the malt bill will result in a thicker and creamier body.
Stouts can range in ABV from a sessionable 3% to double digits, if you are brewing a bigger beer make sure you select a yeast strain that can tolerate a higher alcohol environment, so the fermentation goes to completion. Hops should be used to add balance but not a ton of flavor; adding some low alpha acid hops at the start of the boil is perfect.
If you like a sweeter Stout the addition of lactose, a non-fermentable sugar, will give a lingering sweetness to the beer, just make sure you warn anyone drinking it with that lactose included, as many people struggle to digest the sugar. If you are craving a bourbon barrel-aged Stout but don’t feel like brewing the 50 gallons or more needed to fill a used bourbon barrel, you can soak some oak chips in your favorite whiskey and then add them to the secondary fermenter, just remember that a little goes a long way! The best part about brewing is experimenting and having fun, so try some different things and enjoy the results.
-Ryan Brawn from HoppyBoston
The biggest difference between German and North American brewing techniques would be adherence to the Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law. This law stated that beer can only be brewed with barley, hops, and water; yeast was added later, and this law is still followed today. North American brewers do not follow this, and it has allowed for great experimentation in the beers they produce, including the use of fruit and adjuncts (rice, corn). By using only natural ingredients, German brewers have focused on process and technique, which is exemplified through their Lagers.
North American Brewers, outside of the macro-breweries, have largely focused on Ales. This is a warm, top-fermented beer from a single temperature infusion mash. These brewing techniques were brought over from England with the early settlers. These Ales didn’t rely on temperature control or require a long lagering process and were well-suited for the climate. Early American beers were derivative of British beers and became their own unique style with the use of local ingredients like corn, rice, and sugar cane. Ales tend to be estery with big hop expression from late additions and dry hopping, and as the modern North American brewers experiment with ingredients and techniques, we are seeing a wide variety of new and unique beers: New England IPA, Hazy IPA, Pastry Stouts, fruited Ales.
German Brewers tend to focus on Lagers. These clean, crisp beers are cold, bottom-fermented beers that are lagered for an extended length of time to reduce off-flavors and improve clarity. German brewers will utilize techniques such as decoction mashes to enhance malt flavor and color, and to produce a wonderful foam. Decoction is removing a third of the mash, boiling it, then returning it to the mash tun for lautering; this process will be done one to three times. When German brewers started to emigrate to North America, they brought their yeast and techniques with them. These beers quickly gained popularity, and the North American brewers who focused on Ales, they responded with hybrid styles like Cream Ales and Steam Beer. These hybrid styles were typically fermented like an Ale then lagered like a Lager.
By adhering the Reinheitsgebot, German brewers have focused on perfecting techniques and the science of brewing, while the North American brewer has been able to more creative and to expand what the definition of what beer is. As a homebrewer, you can utilize many of the German techniques and American creativity without any special equipment. I’d love to try a single-decocted, American Pale Alee with a touch of citrusy hopped flavors and aroma on a nice spring day.
-Paul Liszewski, Head Brewer at East Brother Beer Company
The much celebrated India Pale Ale (IPA) has a long history dating back to the early 1800s in England where the style originated. British merchants found that beer being shipped on long ocean voyages, specifically to India, ended up less than fresh when they got to their destination. A little trial and error by British brewers led to the development of a new beer style with higher alcohol content and a significant increase in the amount of hops used in the brewing process. This improved the stale beer issue as both alcohol and hops have preservative properties but they also had the unintended consequence of dramatically impacting the original flavor. This new style of beer was much hoppier than styles traditionally brewed, and thankfully for us, it stuck around. And so, the IPA was born.
Around the 19th and 20th centuries, American hop farmers started to grow hops with new intense aromas and flavors. Traditional English hops tended to be more subtle with earthy and herbal notes, while American hops were citrusy, piney, and fruity. This was a new toy that American brewers couldn’t help but to experiment with, especially as the popularity of craft beer began to expand in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Today, the IPA has speciated many many times which has brought us beers like the ever popular Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (an industry standard for a damn good, spot on, American IPA) all the way to a sour hazy IPA brewed with doughnuts and edible glitter that I had recently (can’t recall the name). For the homebrewer, there are many routes one might take, so in the interest of brevity, I’ll focus on brewing an American IPA, like an excellent one we make at Beards Brewery called Green Hundo:
So you want to brew an IPA? Let’s start simple. You’ll want to keep the grain bill limited to a handful of ingredients as we’re mostly just going for higher gravity and a little bit of color. For a base malt, where you’ll get the majority of your fermentables, you’d go with Two Row barley malt or a Pale malt. For specialty malt, you’d add some Caramel malt, like a Caramel 60L for that nice copper color, and maybe some Munich malt for some bready, biscuity notes. Keep the specialty malts around 20-25 % and the base malts around 75-80% of the total grain bill and try to shoot for an original gravity of 17° Plato.
And now for the moment, you’ve been waiting for. You’re hopportunity, if you will. You could use anything for bittering hops, really, but it’s best to use something in the 10%-15% alpha acid range. The amount depends on the volume of wort you have but a good working ratio would be .25 oz of a 13% a.a. hop/gallon of wort. A great place to start would be CTZ. It’s a good dual purpose hop and works well for early additions. You pretty much now have a balanced beer and at this point, you can start to add hops of different varieties based on your personal preferences. Late hop additions are analogous to using fresh herbs while cooking. The later you add them to the boil, the more they will retain their aromatic compounds. Anywhere from the 15 minute mark to the whirlpool itself are good times to add aroma hops. Just remember that the longer you boil them, the more bitter they become, and the less aromatic they will be. There is no shortage of aroma focused hops out there but some favorites are Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic. There’s lots to experiment with here so go nuts, within reason. Don’t overdo it or you’ll end up with something that’s too bitter and undrinkable. You can always add more hops next time if you want to.
Now you’re ready to knock out and pitch some yeast. You could get creative with any number of yeast strains out there that will impart all sorts of flavor compounds, from fruity esters, to clovey phenols, to funky barnyard Brettanomyces strains. I’d take it easy to begin with and use a neutral American Ale yeast like US-05 from Fermentis. Now just make sure you have a good place to ferment with an ambient temp of 65°- 70°F and away from any light. Give it a few days and then you can add even more hops if you want. This is “dry hopping” and you’ll get the most out of aromatic hops here as there is no heat involved. Keep letting it ferment like this until your gravity stops dropping for at least two days. And now you have an IPA, almost.
At this point, you’re going to want to package this sucker. Homebrewers typically will bottle this up and add a little sugar to carbonate and bottle condition. The best option would be to get this in a keg and on your kegerator, but best practices for carbonating and packaging is a tale for another day. The main thing here is to keep this beer, the fruits of your toil and great care, away from oxygen to the greatest extent that is humanly possible. Oxygen will seriously ruin your beer so keep it at bay.
Well, now that you’ve created a masterpiece, it’s time to kick back and enjoy a pint of (insert clever name that you surely thought of by now and may even be the reason you’re trying to brew an IPA in the first place) while you contemplate the mysteries of the universe. Just kidding. You’re going to think about how you’re going to adjust the recipe next time. The End.
-Justin Koziol, Head Brewer at Beards Brewery
With a little bit of expertise and know-how, you can easily start brewing your first batches of beer at home and experimenting with your favorite flavors and types of beer; take advantage of the great tips we gathered from the most knowledgeable and experienced brewers in the industry and start brewing now!