If, after reading the last article, you have been persuaded to give home brewing a try, how can you go about it?
Basically, there are three methods by which you can home brew — pre-hopped brewing kit, extract brewing or all-grain brewing. In each of them, you are taking sugars from malt, introducing yeast to convert that sugar to alcohol then flavouring it with hops to produce beer.
Looked at in that order, they are perhaps an evolution of brewing methods — brewing kits are made to be simple and easy to use with most of the work done for you, extract brewing has one crucial step made easy, while all-grain brewing is how commercial beer is produced and you will replicate that process in miniature form at home.
All of them share methods and principles that are universal. It probably doesn’t need explaining that you will get better results with all-grain brewing, however, you will need to put the time and money in.
So where do you start? That’s a personal choice. But a starter kit is a good first purchase. This will include a lot of the equipment you will need whichever method you begin with, including a fermenting vessel and an airlock.
Pre-hopped brewing kit
A pre-hopped brewing kit can be bought for the style of beer you want — lager, pale ale, IPA, porter and so on. The kit will take about two hours to prepare, which includes following the instructions to mix the prepared malt with water and sugar and adding to the fermenter with yeast and sealing it with an airlock/bubbler.
All this needs to be done in sanitary conditions (you can buy a sanitiser for that) as beer can easily be infected and spoil.
From there you will do your best to keep it at a constant temperature (around 20C) for a couple of weeks while it ferments. Then you will need to bottle it (more on which later), a process that includes adding sugar so that the beer will carbonate. A couple of weeks later it will be ready to refrigerate and drink.
Extract brewing is a bit more involved, and starts with, as the name suggests, a malt extract. This substance is a result of extracting the sugars from malted grain and can be in dry or liquid form. To this extract, you can add your choice of speciality malts (typically barley malted and kilned to different degrees to create different flavours and colours) and hops (from the noble old hops of Europe to the more in-your-face New World hops from the US, Australia and here in NZ) to create the style beer you want.
Recipes for beers will tell you how much of what to add and at what stage and are readily available online.
This combination of malt and hops is boiled in a suitable vessel for an hour (or more, depending on the recipe) to create wort (pronounced ‘wert’), a super sweet and malty liquid that the yeast will convert to beer in the fermenter once it has cooled down from boiling temperature to around 20C. From here the process is the same as kit brewing: under sanitary conditions (not so vital before the boiling stage as that kills off any nasties), yeast is added and the wort ferments at a steady temperature until it is ready for bottling (or kegging, more on which another time).
With this method, you extract the fermentable sugar from the malted barley grain yourself. Following a recipe, an amount of milled/crushed grain is added to a vessel called a mash tun with a suitable amount of hot water and held at a steady temperature of between 65C and 68C for an hour.
In this porridge-like mash, naturally occurring enzymes in the malt will get to work on the starch in the grain to create a fermentable sugar, maltose.
The mash tun is a vital piece of equipment for the all-grain brewer. It needs to be watertight, able to maintain a steady temperature and have a filter so that the wort can be drained from the grain bed. For this purpose, many home brewers convert a plastic chilly bin (which, of course, is designed to be insulated) by adding a filter and tap or valve. You can buy pre-converted ones.
Once the mash process is finished, the wort is filtered off and boiled (along with added hops), cooled and fermented in the same manner as described with extract brewing above.
Once you’ve fermented the wort into beer, you will need to bottle it. You can buy bottles for this purpose or save (and sterilise) bottles from beer you’ve already drunk, then you’ll require some crown caps and a capper from a home brew store (you can also use plastic screwtop bottles or those fliptop bottles with a stopper — as long as it’s airtight). You will need a siphon or length of plastic tubing for getting the beer into the bottles. All these must be sanitised and a small amount of sugar added to each bottle (typically one teaspoon).
The bottles can then be filled, sealed and stored for a week or two depending on the temperature, to allow the remaining yeast to eat up the sugar, and produce CO2 to carbonate your beer.
Airlock: An S-shaped plastic tube that, when partially filled with water, will allow CO2 to escape from the fermenter but keep out other things.
Malt extract: Concentrated sugar extracted from brewing-grade malted barley. Can be in liquid or dried powdered form.
Mash: A mix of milled/crushed grain (typically malted barley but also other grains) known as the ‘grain bill’, and hot water, known as ‘liquor’, to create wort.
Mash tun: An insulated watertight vessel to hold the mash, with a filter to drain off the wort from the grain.
Wort: The resulting sweet liquid from the mash when drained from the mash.
Capper: A levered tool for sealing crown caps onto glass bottles.
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