How to Make Beer
Making beer is like making a batch of soup. It can be done with minimal equipment, a variety of ingredients, and minimum cooking skills. In the near future we will go through the specifics of making a batch of beer but for now, just a brief explanation to summarize the process.
There are four main ingredients in beer: Malt (malted barley), hops, water and yeast. With those four ingredients and minimal equipment you can make up a batch of tasty beer in your own kitchen.
Step 1: Water and Malt
The first step is to prepare the malt for steeping (like tea). Although you can omit this step in some recipes, generally the use of these steeping grains will add character and depth to your beer that wouldn’t be there if you simply use dried malt extract alone. You prepare these grains by “crushing” them, but just enough so they are cracked, not ground to flour. You put the cracked grains in a steeping bag and steep them in water in your biggest soup pot, just like tea. When that has been done for 30 minutes you usually add several pounds of dried malt extract. This is a sweet powder that comes from processors that extract it from the barley itself. It’s quite an efficient product to use and allows homebrewers to make beer at home without having to deal with large amounts of grain and long brewing times. There is a population of homebrewers that brew via “All-Grain” methods and that process much more closely resembles what actually breweries do. But it takes longer, involves larger quantities of ingredients, and there is more equipment involved. The method I’m describing is what’s known as “extract brewing”. It is without a doubt the place to start. Brewing can be a rewarding experience but it is also time consuming and requires equipment that you do not want to purchase until you are convinced this hobby is for you.
Step 2: The Boil
So you’ve steeped the specialty grains, now you’ve added the few pounds of malt extract and you are going to bring that to a boil. Once boiling you add HOPS, which are little green compressed pellets that contribute to the flavor, aroma, and bitterness in beer. You add hops at certain times over the course of a 60 or 90 minutes boil to achieve different effects. There are many different varieties of hops out there and many of them bring their own unique flavors and bitterness. Choosing the right hops for the right style of beer is an important part of the process.
Step 3: Adding Yeast
Once the hops have been added and everything has boiled for at least 60 minutes, its time to add water to make the entire volume 5 gallons, then “cool” the beer, or “wort” as it’s called (unfermented beer at this point). Some people will cover the brewpot and put it in the fridge, others use a device called a “wort chiller” that you put in the brew pot and run cold water through. It’s made up of copper tubing, and using this method will successfully chill the wort in a matter of 20-30 minutes. Once the wort has been brought down to a temperature of under 80 degrees, it’s safe to put in the yeast. If the temperature is too high, the yeast will not be able to do their job, which is to eat all the sugar in that wort, producing 2 important byproducts: alcohol and carbon dioxide — what we know as beer. Once the yeast has been “pitched”, meaning thrown into the wort, you cover the container and put on an air lock. This little device allows CO2 to escape while not allowing oxygen and bacteria to enter in. In a matter of 7-10 days that bucket of beer will be fermented and ready for packaging. Some people prefer to bottle their beer, others like to keg it. It all depends on your preference and your equipment. After this beer is bottled it needs an additional 3 weeks to properly “condition” and carbonate. If you use the kegging method, you can have ready to drink beer in about a week, sometimes sooner depending on how you choose to carbonate it.
Again, this is just a non detailed summary of making beer at home. To really understand it you need visual aids and instructions. One thing to note, sanitation is probably the most important issue when it comes to making beer. On mistake on the sanitation side of things and you could easily ruin an entire batch. When we do a real “how-to” on beer making, we will explain the steps of sanitation and further discuss the importance of it.
With four major ingredients, minimal cooking gear, a few hours of spare time and some patience, just about anybody can make a batch of delicious homebrewed beer, right in their own kitchen. Stay tuned for more on this topic and some much more detailed instructions of how to actually do this. Cheers!