Beer is one of the world’s most popular and versatile beverages. As any true beer connoisseur, you’ve probably considered coming up with your own recipe. It’s your lucky day — we’ve prepared a comprehensive guide describing how to make beer.
First, you’ll find a brief brewing glossary, followed by a section explaining the required ingredients and equipment. We’ll move on to a step-by-step outline of the process, all while giving you some expert tips to make your first brew easier.
Think you’re ready to become a brewer? Fill your glass and read through our piece.
Brewing Terminology — A Small Glossary
In this section, we’ve compiled a glossary of basic terms you should know before you start brewing.
- Bottle conditioning — natural carbonation occurring when the beer is bottled, resulting from the fermentation of the wort or sugar added during the process.
- Carboy/Fermenter — a large glass or plastic bottle used for fermentation.
- Conditioning — the phase of the beer–making process where the final beer is refined to achieve the desired flavor.
- Final gravity — specific gravity of beer once the fermentation has been complete and all the desired sugars have been converted to alcohol.
- Hops — cone-like flowers that provide the bitterness and flavor to the beer and preserve its freshness.
- Gravity — a measurement of beer density.
- Krausen — foamy head forming on top during fermentation.
- Malt — germinated cereal grain that’s been heated to prepare for brewing.
- Natural carbonation — a spontaneous process that occurs by adding sugar to the beer after transferring it and sealing its final container.
- Original gravity — specific gravity of wort taken before the fermentation process begins.
- Starch — the primary carbohydrate found in cereal from which fermentable sugars are made.
- Wort — a bittersweet sugary liquid obtained by boiling. It’s made of raw materials, i.e., malt extracts and hops.
Now that you’ve become familiar with some beer-making basics, let’s go over the specifics. The following sections will cover the fundamental ingredients and equipment to get you started.
Brewing your own recipe gives plenty of scope for creativity, but there are four essential ingredients to any beer — water, malt, hops, and yeast.
Water makes up over 85% of your beer and significantly influences its quality. The chemical composition of water is very diverse, and various minerals found in water coming from different world regions are suitable for brewing various types of beer.
Malt is a multifaceted factor in crafting beer. Malted grain is a source of starch — a complex carbohydrate you’ll be using to produce simple, fermentable sugar and alcohol. Malt also dictates the strength and flavor of your beer. It comes in two forms — malted grain and malt extract.
Malt extract is a shortcut in the brewing process, and you can find it in dry or liquid form. An advantage of using malt extract is that you have a ready-made ingredient.
In turn, your beer won’t have the same quality as beer made of homemade wort, so expert brewers recommend combining malt extract with malted grain.
When using malt extract, make sure you’ve found a recipe that requires the same kind of extract you’ve bought because not every malt extract is compatible with every recipe.
Many homebrewing starters opt for making their own wort by malting grain. The most common cereal used for malt is barley since it’s naturally rich in starch. Barley also contains enzymes necessary for converting starch and proteins into fermentable sugars.
Other grains used for brewing are rye, oats, corn, wheat, and rice.
If you’re wondering where beer gets its trademark bitterness, the answer is hops. Hop belongs to the hemp family and is rich in alpha acids that provide the bitter taste in beer.
If you’re only learning how to make your own beer, an important fact is that you can use only non-fertilized flowers or cones from the female plant.
Various types of hops play various roles in different brewing stages. They add bitterness in the boiling phase and provide the desired flavor. Hop flavor depends on the region of their origin, and different brewers use them to achieve different flavors — fruity, citric, piney, etc.
Hops come in a variety of forms:
- Fresh hops — unprocessed hops freshly picked from the hop vine.
- Whole cones — dried and blended hops traditionally used for brewing beer.
- Pellet hops — milled hop cones most commonly used by brewers because of their availability and stable alpha acid content, flavor, and aroma.
- Hop extract — hop oil extract that’s used to adjust the flavor or aroma.
Last but not least, yeast is the heart of the brewing process. It’s the critical fermentation component because it converts sugar into alcohol. Alcoholic beverages were originally brewed with wild yeasts, but manufacturers started cultivating new strains to suit each beverage.
Today, breweries manufacture their own yeast strains that provide their beer with its recognizable characteristics.
There are two types of brewing yeast — dry and liquid yeast. Dry yeast has a longer shelf life (up to three years) and doesn’t require refrigeration, but there are fewer strains available.
On the other hand, liquid yeast has a shorter shelf life but comes in many different styles needed to customize your beer any way you want it to.
Needless to say, you can’t make your own beer without the right equipment. Let’s start with some basics. If you don’t want to purchase them individually, you can find all of these items and more in a good beer brewing kit.
- One 4+ gallon pot. For wort boiling. If you’re unsure how big the pot should be, aim for a lobster pot, preferably aluminum.
- One 6-gallon plastic bucket with a spigot. You’ll use this bucket for sanitizing and bottling.
- Two 6-gallon fermentation buckets for primary and secondary fermentation (if necessary). Try to find matching lids. Additionally, the lids should have holes for airlock mounting. An alternative is a carboy, a glass or plastic jug that prevents oxidation during the conditioning phase.
- Stirring utensils. Make sure they’re long enough to fit the size of your containers.
- One airlock or stopper. You need to pay attention to sanitation when making beer at home. Airlocks are filled with sanitizer and let out carbon dioxide while simultaneously blocking oxygen and bacteria from contaminating your beer during fermentation.
- 3-4 small nylon bags. You’ll need these to add hops to the boil. Quick tip — you can also use a pair of new pantyhose.
- One racking cane. Racking canes are tubes used to siphon your beer from one container to another. For first-time users, try to get your hands on an “auto-siphon” device, so you don’t have to worry about getting the flow going or spillage.
- Two types of cleaners. You’ll need to clean and sanitize your equipment and work area, so get an alkaline cleaner and a food-grade sanitizer, preferably an iodine- or acid-based one.
- One hydrometer. You’ll be measuring the amount of sugar present in the beer, which is where this device comes in handy.
- One hydrometer jar. This is a test jar where you’ll be taking the gravity readings with the hydrometer.
- One waterproof thermometer ranging between 130*F-190*F.
- Bottles, bottle caps, and a bottle capper. We believe this one is self-explanatory. Say your batch is 5 gallons of beer, meaning you can buy thirty 22oz bottles or fifty-five 12oz ones. Alternatively, save and thoroughly clean used beer bottles, but skip the detergent. You’ll also need a bottling bucket to rack your beer.
- One bottling wand. The bottling wand simplifies the bottling process. It reduces aeration and helps prevent unnecessary beer splashing.
- 5 feet of ⅜ beer line. This is a plastic tube you can use for transferring beer or filling bottles.
An optional but nifty piece of equipment is a wort chiller. Wort chillers accelerate the cooling to the right temperature for yeast pitching and prevent contamination.
Finally, if you’re interested in different types of beer glasses and kegs, here’s a guide for you!
The Homebrewing Process Step by Step
Now that you’ve prepared all your ingredients and equipment, let’s delve deeper into the brewing itself. Depending on your recipe and preferences, you can skip some steps, while others are crucial for the process to be successful.
The first step to a good brew is to use clean, uncontaminated equipment in a sanitized space. This will save your beer from spoiling, so be very thorough! First, get rid of the dirt and grime with the alkaline cleaner. After that, sanitize your working surfaces and equipment with food-grade sanitizer. You’re now ready to start brewing!
Choosing a brewing method
There are three brewing methods for making your own beer — extract brewing, partial mash, and all-grain brewing. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Extract brewing means making the wort yourself from dry or liquid grain extracts. This process is recommended for first-timers as it won’t take up so much of your time and space, and you don’t need a bucketload of equipment. Many advanced brewers still choose this method as the most convenient one.
Partial mash combines malt extract and grain, which leaves room for creativity in beer characteristics. This process is considered a level-up from basic extract brewing, although it requires approximately the same time, space, and equipment.
This method is considered the purest and most advanced beer brewing technique for seasoned brewers.
Consequently, it requires a bigger budget and elaborate equipment. All-grain brewing means all sugars are extracted exclusively from the grain, but this takes skill and a solid understanding of the brewing process, so avoid it if you’re a novice.
You’ve reached the first step of your brew — mashing. Mashing activates enzymes in the grain that will convert starches into wort. It will also influence your beer’s color, body, and flavor.
First, you should immerse the grain in hot water for 1-2 hours. This will activate the right enzymes, resulting in the starches turning into fermentable sugars.
Things to keep in mind: use good quality water, keep the temperature between 145°F and 158°F, and stir the mash several times to even out the temperature and maintain the liquids and solids thoroughly mixed.
Lautering is a step in beer–making where you separate the wort from the grains. It’s important to extract the entire wort to get the most out of your beer — more food for the yeast means better chances of successful fermentation.
Lautering involves sparging your wort, which is essentially rinsing the grain with water heated in a separate container to a temperature higher than the mashing temperature. This way, you’ll free any sugar trapped in the grain.
This step is performed at approximately 212°F (boiling point). Boiling kills any unwanted enzymes remaining after the mash. It also removes excess oxygen and stabilizes the wort, preparing it for the addition of hops. Ultimately, the purpose of the boil is to provide a basis for successful fermentation.
You can add hops at different stages of boiling. Hops provide bitterness at the beginning, flavor in the middle, and aroma if added at the end of the boil. They will also preserve your beer from bacteria and other contaminants.
Cooling the wort
The next step on our homebrewing journey is cooling down the wort after the boil. The wort needs to be cooled down to room temperature as soon as possible to avoid getting contaminated by bacteria. Your goal should be to cool the wort in less than 20 minutes. You can do this in one of two ways:
- Make an ice bath. Ice baths are a simple method of cooling. You can use your kitchen sink or bathtub or any large vessel you have at home, fill it with cold water and add ice. Make your bath as cold as you can to cool the wort faster. Carefully place the pot into the bath or your sink to prevent any outside water from reaching the pot. Submerge the brewing pot or kettle with the wort into the bath and stir it constantly for effectiveness. The pot’s heat will melt the ice quickly, so be prepared to add more on the go to reach room temperature.
- Use a wort chiller. Home beer brewing beginners might consider wort chillers quite the financial investment, but they’ll save you the time and the hassle of making an ice bath. They’re much faster and reusable, so you might consider getting one for your brew.
Transferring to the primary fermenter
You’ll have to transfer (or rack) your cooled wort to the fermentation bucket you’ve designated for the primary phase of fermentation.
Now is the time for the original gravity (OG) reading, which will tell you the wort’s density in relation to the density of water. This reading will also indicate whether your fermentation was successful when you compare it to the final gravity reading later.
Take a sample of your wort and place it in the hydrometer jar, and then use the hydrometer to gauge the OG. Put the hydrometer in the jar, ensuring it’s completely suspended with the liquid. The number on the line your liquid reached is the OG, so you should record it for future reference.
Pitching the yeast
Yeast enters the scene after measuring the OG. This step of crafting beer is called pitching. You should first decide if you’ll be using dry or liquid yeast, activate it, and let it sit for around three hours before pitching to enhance fermentation.
When ready, pitch the yeast into the fermentation container with the wort. You can either stir the mixture or secure the lid and shake the container. You’ll want to provide oxygen passage to the mixture so that the yeast can grow and initiate fermentation.
Finally, close the container with an airtight lid and mount the airlock to create an outlet for carbon dioxide and prevent outside air from entering.
As we’ve already established, fermentation is the crucial process in beer crafting, during which the yeast eats the sugar content in the wort and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. Fermentation doesn’t require your undivided attention, but you should oversee the process to ensure its proper flow.
There are two phases of fermentation, the primary and the secondary.
Primary fermentation means the yeast has started converting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. During the first week or so, any excess particles, also called trub, sink to the bottom of the vessel, so they don’t end up in your beer.
The duration of this process depends on the type of beer you’ve chosen to brew.
Maintain a temperature of 68-72°F in your working area to ensure a healthy fermentation. Active fermentation should begin after around 12 hours. This is when you should see carbon dioxide being released from the fermenter.
Another good sign is the bubbling in the airlock. When the bubbling decreases, you’ll know the primary phase is almost over.
Beer doesn’t really require a second fermentation, but it can be helpful when you make your own beer at home. Consider it a polishing phase where you modify the aroma and flavor of your beer.
You first need to rack the beer from the primary to the secondary fermenter. Be careful not to transfer any trub or Krausen along with the beer. Place the primary fermenter at an elevated position to the secondary one and use a racking cane and beer line to siphon the beer.
Once in the secondary fermenter, any leftover yeast will work its magic to convert the more complex sugars and enhance the clarity and flavor of your beer, making it more resistant to infection and spoilage. All of this should last at least a week.
This phase is also suitable for dry hopping — adding hops to intensify bitterness, flavor, or aroma. However, make sure your type of beer requires dry hopping, as not all brewing styles require this step.
After the final beer brewing process is complete, your beer is ready for a final gravity (FG) reading and calculation of the alcohol content. You should do it the same way you took the OG reading. To calculate the percentage, use the following formula: OG-FG x 131.
If you don’t feel ready for this step, skip it and let the beer ferment for 2-3 weeks in the primary fermenter instead.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final steps! Alas, your beer is not quite ready yet, as it has to carbonate and condition before serving. To make that happen, you first need to bottle it. You can purchase a brewing kit with bottling equipment for this step.
Put priming sugar in an empty bottling bucket and then rack the beer from the fermenter to mix them. Attach one end of your beer line to the bottling bucket’s spigot and the bottle filler to the opposite end.
Put the bottle filter in a disinfected bottle and push downward. Fill the bottle until the beer reaches ¾ of an inch from the top. To stop the beer from flowing, lift the bottle filter.
Conditioning and carbonation
For the final stage of homebrewing, put the bottled beer in a cool and dark place to sit for a few weeks. This is the conditioning phase, where the yeast consumes the priming sugar to produce carbon dioxide and naturally carbonate the beer.
Once these processes are complete, you can enjoy a whole batch of your first brew.
The latest beer industry statistics confirm that craft beer accounts for 12.43 percent of the global market. This includes many homebrewers across the US, and with a bit of practice, you can become one of them!
We hope this guide has provided you with enough detail and tips on how to make beer and create a tasty recipe of your own that you’ll enjoy. Bottoms up!