Home brewing beer

Home brewing is a hobby that more and more people take.

As with any home project, preparation is half the key to success in home brewing.

Equipment

Everything should be clean and well organized so you can carry out the steps with confidence in the final result.

But what is 'everything'?

Water: You wouldn't think water could vary so much, but this may well be the most varied chemical substance on earth. Of course, water is nothing but H2O, but the elements dissolved in it make a huge difference to the final product. 22-30 liters (six-eight gallons) of spring water is a good start, but you'll want to experiment.

Malt: Malt is the basic material that gets transformed into beer. Usually it's some kind of barley grain. Obtain online or from a local store.

Yeast: Yeast work the miracle. These live organisms turn the sugars into carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and alcohol. Thank them for their fine efforts.

Brew kettle: This container will store unfermented liquid ('wort') to be boiled. Often a five-gallon glass carboy (like a large water bottle) is used. Hops and other ingredients are added through the spout at the top.

Fermenter: A container with a lid, it will be used to hold the cooled wort. Yeast will be added to carry-out the fermenting process. Two are required if secondary fermentation is part of the recipe.

Bottling tank: You'll siphon the fermented beer into a container before bottling. Like all the equipment, it's essential that this be completely clean.

Beer bottles: You'll need clean beer bottles for storing the final product (assuming you and your friends don't drink five gallons of beer right out of the tank). Dark brown bottles are best, to keep beer from being spoiled by light during storage.

Bottle filler: A spring-loaded device used to fill the bottle when the end is pressed. Available, as is the other equipment, from any of dozens of homebrew kit sales sites online.

Capper: Optional, but helpful, to put caps onto the bottles. Corks or screwtops are alternatives, but each has drawbacks. Cork can splinter or introduce mold into the brew. Screwtops need to be seated properly in order to ensure a tight seal to avoid oxygen spoilage.

Miscellaneous: A thermometer is essential to check the temperature at various stages. A hydrometer is helpful, to measure something called 'specific gravity'. SG is a measure of the density of some material relative to water. Not critical but extremely helpful. Various siphon tubes, copper and/or glass and/or hard plastic. A timer with a loud bell or buzzer, so you don't forget those time critical moments.

Sometimes the copper tubing is formed into a wort chiller. Formed in a spiral around the tank, cold water flows through to draw heat away from the boiled wort. Helpful, not essential for many recipes.

Heat source: You'll need a method for boiling and cooling. Air will often take care of the cooling need. Heating can be carried out by a dozen different methods, usually some kind of Bunsen burners or electric heating coils.

The equipment should be cleaned, and many recommend sterilization with a dilute bleach followed by rinsing in boiling water. At least part of the environment should be able to be kept cool, below 13ºC (55ºF) for part of the time.

Be prepared to spend a few hours on two different days, with activity off and on. Two people are often helpful to carry out certain steps.

What steps...?

Brewing: 10 steps to perfect brews

After all the equipment is prepared you'll need ingredients.

Two and a half to three kilos (six or seven pounds) of malt extract will serve well. There's an endless variety of types and brands and you'll want to experiment.

A few dozen grams (a couple of ounces) of hops will be added to most recipes. Again, there are as many types and brands as there are sites devoted to brewmaking. Check some sites and experiment. Goldings and Fuggle are two popular brands. Don't get sucked into the 'whole is better than pellets' debate at this stage. Either will do.

Two packets of dried brewers yeast. There may well be more types and brands of yeast than there are malt or hops. There are also liquid preparations, but wetting the yeast is part of the fun. Make sure not to pick up wine or bread yeast by mistake.

Step 1 - Boil 4.5 gallons (18 liters) of water.

Step 2 - Turn off the heat and mix in 5.25 lbs (2.4 kg) of malt extract, until the powder is fully dissolved.

Step 3 - Return the mixture to a boil and monitor to watch for boil-over. Lower the heat as needed. Boil for 15 minutes, then add 42 grams (1.5 ounces) of hops.

Step 4 - Boil for another hour, then cool. Check to ensure the temperature is around 70ºF-75ºF (21ºC-24ºC). While waiting for the liquid to cool, wet the dried yeast with warm, sterile water.

Step 5 - Stir the cooled wort clockwise and allow the hops to settle in the center, then siphon off the wort into the fermenter.

Step 6 - Add wet yeast and stir vigorously. Extract a few milliliters (a couple of ounces) for measuring the specific gravity using the hydrometer. The number desired will vary around slightly over 1. Check the package. Then seal.

Now for the most important steps: fermentation!

Step 7 - Between a few hours to a day, bubbles should appear in the airlock. If there's no sound and no sight of bubbles within a couple of days, your yeast is probably dead, but there are dozens of other possible causes. If you still don't see any activity, wait a few days, then start over.

Step 8 - Allow the wort to ferment for 5-7 days. The time will vary with recipe, with environment, yeast and several other variables. You'll need to experiment. Don't be too disappointed if you don't get it perfect the first time.

Step 9 - Siphon into the secondary fermenter, stored in an area several degrees cooler. 50ºF/10ºC is a good starting point. Cooler for lagers, warmer for ales. Allow to sit for another seven days.

Step 10 - After fermentation, some recipes call for 1/2 - 3/4 cup (120-175 ml) cane sugar or corn sugar, though many consider this optional or even undesirable. Experiment to taste. Pour into bottling container then siphon off the top. Fill each bottle, leaving ample space near the top. Store 2-3 weeks at room temperature, then chill.

Now for the best part. Decant, serve and enjoy!