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This is a quick guide on brewing your own beer. It is based on my own experiences and is not an authoritative guide by any means. Iím sure there are better ways to do many of these things but this is intended to be a simple guide to help a first-timer make beer that they wonít be embarrassed to share with their friends.
Here is a suggested list of equipment as well as approximate costs:
Other items not pictured:
- 3 or 4 gallon cookpot - $15
- 6.5 gallon bucket with spout and lid - $15
- Prepackaged ingredients - $20
- Capper - $8
- One-Step sanitizer - $3
- Airlock and hose - $5
- Bottle caps (100ct) - $3
- Hydrometer - $7
Total cost: - $106
- 2 cases worth of 12oz bottles - $5
- Bottle brush - $3
- Floating thermometer - $7
- Additional 6.5 gal bucket - $15
The hydrometer is not completely necessary but without it you wonít know how alcoholic your beer is.
There are several ways to acquire 2 cases of empty bottles. Obviously you can drink 2 cases of beer and keep the empties. Many bars or distributors will have empties (especially in areas that pay a deposit for returned bottles). Some stores that sell homebrewing supplies will also sell unused bottles. They typically are way overpriced but since theyíve never been used they are easier to clean.
The second 6.5 gallon bucket can be substituted with a Coleman cooler or the like. It basically exists as a temporary container for the beer while you remove the sediment from the fermenting bucket, more on that later.
Look for the bottle brush in the baby aisles of your grocery store, Walmart, etc.
I prefer to use Brewerís Best beer kits. They contain all the ingredients needed as well as instructions and caps. The basic kit contains the following ingredients (from left to right, back to front): liquid malt, grains, dried malt, sugar, grain bag, bittering hops, finishing hops, and yeast.
Start off by putting 2 gallons of water in your cooking pot. If your beer kit contains grains, pour them in the grain bag and tie it off. Then dip the bag in the water and let it soak until the water starts to boil (like a giant tea bag).
Once the water starts to boil, remove the grain bag and throw it away. Then pour in the dry malt, liquid malt and bittering hops. Stir everything well. At this point the wonderful aroma of the hops will fill your entire house. Beer lovers will enjoy the delicious smell of simmering malt and hops. My wife finds it nauseating.
Let the mix boil for one hour stirring frequently.
While the mix is boiling, sanitize the 6.5 gallon bucket, hydrometer, thermometer and airlock/hose. Basically, fill the sink with warm water. Add 2 spoonfuls of the sanitizing powder and let it sit until it dissolves. Then rinse everything in the solution and let it air dry.
Sanitizing is one of the most important steps. Any bacteria on your fermenting equipment will add nasty flavor to your beer. Make sure everything is clean.
After the pot has been boiling for an hour, add the finishing hops and boil for another 5 minutes.
Pour your cooked mix in the 6.5 gallon bucket. Add water until the bucket has 5 gallons of liquid in it. Put the floating thermometer in the bucket and let it cool to 70 F. Placing the bucket in a sink full of ice water will make it go faster. Keep the lid on the bucket as much as possible to prevent any airborne bacteria from landing in your beer.
Once the beer has cooled to 70 F, put in the hydrometer. This measures how dense a liquid is compared to pure water. The hydrometer will float at different heights depending on the density of the liquid. Take the reading right at the surface of the liquid. Pure water should measure exactly 1. Since we have added some powder and syrup to pure water our mix should measure above 1. Usually beer at this stage should measure somewhere between 1.030 and 1.050. Write this measurement down, we will need it later.
Sprinkle the yeast into the beer and stir it in. Then put the lid on the bucket and attach the airlock and hose.
The airlock should be filled halfway with water. When yeast produces alcohol it also produces carbon dioxide gas. That gas needs to get out of the bucket somehow but there canít be any way for air (and airborne bacteria) to get back in the bucket. The airlock provides a mechanism that allows the pressurized gas from the bucket to bubble out through the water. The free flow of air back into the bucket is blocked by the water.
The bucket of beer should be kept in a dark place at room temperature. There will be a lot of gas bubbling from the airlock after about 12 hours. It will slow down after about 24 hours. Let the beer sit for about 7 days.
After 7 days, crack open the bucket and measure again with the hydrometer. This number should be smaller than your first reading. This is because the yeast has been at work producing alcohol (pure alcohol measures 0.792 on your hydrometer) which thins out the mix. Write this measurement down with your first reading.
Sanitize your second 6.5 gallon bucket, bottles and caps. Use the bottle brush to make sure the insides of the bottles are clean. Slowly pour the beer from the first bucket into the second. At the bottom of the first bucket there will be about an inch or two of sludge. The yeast, hops, grains and malt have left all kinds of bits in the bucket that we donít want to drink. Leave as much of this mess behind as possible. You may also want to filter the beer as itís pouring into the second bucket. A funnel and coffee filters would probably work. Throw away all the sludge left in the first bucket. The second bucket should now contain a nice looking beery liquid.
Dissolve the sugar from the beer kit in 2 cups of water then pour that in your beer and stir. Fill your bottles with the beer and cap them. Leave about an inch of air at the top of the bottle.
Put your bottles back in a dark place at room temperature and let them sit for about 3 weeks. Iíve found that the darker the beer, the longer it should sit.
After 3 weeks, put the beer in the fridge until itís cold then enjoy. Each bottle will still have a little bit of sediment at the bottom so itís best to pour the beer into a glass to avoid drinking it.
Calculating Alcohol Content:
The first reading you took with the hydrometer is called the Original Gravity (OG). The second reading is called the Final Gravity (FG). The sticky part is that some places use Alcohol by Weight (ABW) to determine alcohol content and other places use Alcohol by Volume (ABV). Check some store bought beer, it should say which measurement your country uses.
The formula to calculate ABW is:
ABW = 76.08(OG-FG)/(1.775-OG)
Once you know this, converting to ABV is as simple as:
ABV = ABW (FG/0.794)
While weíre at it, hereís some more math. A batch of homebrew yields about 2 cases of beer and costs $20 per kit. Assuming a 12-pack of good beer (eg. Sam Adams) costs about $12, that equals $48 for 2 cases worth. Your beer is a savings of $28 per batch. Make three batches and youíve paid for your $85 investment in supplies. Make more than three batches and youíre effectively getting your beer for $5 per 12-pack. Not to mention making a good homebrew is a guaranteed way to get invited to all the poker nights and cookouts you can handle.