Everything You Need to Know to Start Homebrewing Today | Wine Enthusiast
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Everything You Need to Know to Start Homebrewing Today

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While brewing your own beer can seem wildly complicated, the reality is that it’s surprisingly accessible and easy to do at home. If you enjoy baking, or any general practice that involves precise measuring as well as following a recipe and directions, then homebrewing might just be for you. With time, patience and practice, as well as some basic equipment and sanitizing all along the way, you too can be the brewmaster of your abode.

The process takes place from the comfort of your home and typically takes around four to six weeks from start to finish. Your homebrewing adventure awaits—here’s our quick and easy guide to get you started.

Step 1: Get Learned

First things first—obtain, read and use The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian, the 40-year veteran and former long-standing president of the Brewers Association. Originally published in 1984, several craft beer biggies credit the book for helping them launch their empires. With step-by-step guides and simple-to-understand science and reasoning behind processes, consider it your homebrewing bible.

Step 2: Buy Your Materials

Get a basic homebrewing kit to ensure you have everything you need right from the start, like a hydrometer and airlock. You can find a lovely variety of starter kits from companies like Northern Brewer, Midwest Supplies, Beverage Factory and Home Brew Supply.

Some kits include ingredients, while others are equipment only. If you buy an equipment-only kit, consider also purchasing a recipe kit, also available at the sites referenced above, so you’ll have all your components for your first recipe in one box. Once you get the hang of the process, you can experiment and procure specialized ingredients and equipment for your own recipe creations individually, but best to start with an easier, pre-measured, tried-and-true ale-based recipe to get your feet wet.

An extract-based kit is a good place to start. You can graduate to a partial-mash or all-grain recipe once you understand the fundamentals of brewing. You should also stick to an ale beer style to start, as fermenting with lager yeasts requires much more controlled, colder conditions that are far more complex than ale-based ferments. Recipes like the Fresh Squished IPA or Caribou Slobber Brown Ale are good first-run options.

Step 3: Clean & Sanitize

Illustration of soap and bottle brush
Illustration by Michael Delaporte

The No. 1 reason your homebrew will go bust (read: smell like a diaper) is dust, specks of dirt, bacteria or other particles like naturally occurring yeast have infiltrated your batch or bottles. To prevent that from happening, you need to wash and rinse all your equipment like crazy, and sanitize anything that will come into contact with the beer mash after boiling.

Most starter kits come with a sanitizer of sorts, but you can never go wrong keeping a container of B-Brite or Star San around, just in case. Fill up a large Tupperware container with the solution, throw everything that’s going to be used in with it, let it soak, rinse, and then you’re ready to rock and roll.

Step 4: Boil

Illustration of pot of beer mash boiling
Illustration by Michael Delaporte

Now you’re finally ready to get cooking, but before firing up your brew, read through the entire recipe and have all your ingredients measured and accessible. Scrambling to add stuff increases the risk of contamination and the distraction can also lead to overboiling—a one-way ticket to terrible beer. Trust us. Be organized and prepared, like a chef, with all your mise en place.

Step 5: Shock & Stir

Illustration of pot of beer wort cooling on ice
Illustration by Michael Delaporte

After your boil, you will need to cool your wort in a hurry, also called shocking it. This takes place before you can add the yeast. You’ll want to do this as quickly and cleanly as possible to avoid any unwanted spoilage or contamination.

As your wort is coming to a boil, prep an ice water bath in your sink. Once removed from heat, submerge your pot in the water, without letting any get inside, to help the wort to cool rapidly. Once your wort reaches the appropriate temperature as specified by your recipe or yeast being used, transfer it to a fermentation bucket. Stir vigorously with a sanitized whisk or other utensil to aerate, then pitch (add in) the yeast and stir the mixture up again.

Step 6: Ferment

Illustration of fermenting beer in glass carboy
Illustration by Michael Delaporte

Seal the fermenter and attach a sanitized airlock to the lid. This piece of equipment seems basic, but is vital to the process, as it allows carbon dioxide to escape as the yeast converts the fermentable sugars into alcohol and CO2, while providing a protective barrier that prevents any contamination outside the bucket from getting in. The bubbles you’ll see and hear throughout the week ahead should comfort you that all is going according to plan, the yeast is working its magic and fermentation is indeed underway.

Let the bucket rest, undisturbed, for 7–10 days at the ideal temperature for the yeast used, which is generally around 68–72°F for ale yeasts. Any significant variations in temperature beyond recommended ranges might stunt or harm yeast activity, or produce off characteristics in the case of warmer ferments.

Once the primary fermentation period is complete, depending on your recipe and equipment, you might then transfer the liquid to a glass carboy by racking the beer off the spent yeast and trub, meaning the sediment that collects at the bottom of the bucket, and seal with another sanitized airlock for secondary fermentation or conditioning. The beer will rest there for at least another week or so, though again, aging recommendations vary based on the beer style and recipe.

Step 7: Add Suds, Bottle, Shelve & Sip

Illustration of beer bottles, caps, and mechanical bottle capper
Illustration by Michael Delaporte

You’re in the home stretch now. Get ready for another round of sanitizing—this time, all of the bottles, caps, siphon, bottle-filling equipment and transfer tubing. Store your clean bottles in cases, boxes or other storage caddies so they can be easily moved once you fill them.

Before bottling, you’ll need to add fermentable sugar so the remaining yeast can create carbon dioxide. Called priming, this can be accomplished through a variety of methods or ingredients, like corn sugar. Again, the beer kit should come with your priming ingredient. As you fine-tune your process and go deeper down the homebrewing hole, you’ll discover other options to experiment with as your priming agent, like honey, molasses, agave nectar or even maple syrup.

After your beer is primed and bottles are filled, get ready to use a little elbow grease with your bottle capper and some crown caps. Pro tip: consider working on a slightly grippy surface or using a lightly textured shelf liner underneath your bottles while capping, to avoid the unintentional skid out of the bottom of the bottle as you’re sealing it. Having a partner during this step can also help immensely.

Once everything is capped, move your bottles to a dark place and store at temperature. A couple of weeks later, your beer will be carbonated and ready to enjoy.

You did it! Cheers to your first homebrewed beer!

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