Brewing Beer at Home

Beer is becoming increasingly complicated. The old standbys of Budweiser and Miller are competing for shelf space with such imports as Guinness Stout and Bass Ale. The relative expense of buying these and other imports is fueling a home-brewing boom as people realize just how easy it is to brew a quality product in their own home. This paper will give a general overview on the process and will demonstrate just how easy it actually is.

The first requirement is to gather the equipment. The equipment is pretty common and most people own some or all of it already. A large pot is required. It should be large enough to comfortably boil two to three gallons of water. Also required is a fermentation vessel. This should be large enough to hold five to six gallons of liquid with at least an inch of air space on top. Most people simply use a carboy. This is a vessel commonly used in water coolers to hold the water. A funnel with a strainer is necessary to transfer the liquid from the brew pot into the fermenter. The next piece of equipment is a bottling bucket. This is a five to six gallon container which is used to hold the beer for easy transfer to individual bottles. It should have a spigot in the bottom to allow for easy filling of bottles.

A hose is necessary to siphon the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. Another is needed to act as a blowoff hose. The next piece of equipment is a fermentation lock. This is a device that allows carbon dioxide to escape from the fermenter and keeps oxygen from entering the fermenter. A rubber plug big enough to close off the neck of the fermenter is also necessary. It should have a hole drilled through it big enough to attach the blowoff hose or the airlock. Finally, the home-brewer needs forty-eight beer bottles (for about five gallons of beer), bottle caps, and a bottle capper. The bottles cannot be twistoff, as it is almost impossible to get a good airtight seal on them with this equipment. Most beer shops will sell all this equipment as a starter package costing less than $100.

Next the home-brewer must gather the materials. The style of beer being brewed determines the materials needed. All beers require hops, malted barley, yeast, and water. Different styles result from using different types or amounts of barley or hops, or using adjuncts. Hops are small flowers which are added to the beer to counteract the sweetness of the malt and to help retard spoilage. Adjuncts are materials such as ginger, honey, or cinnamon. These are used to give the beer a unique flavor. There are two methods to brew beer. One is mashing. Mashing gives the best control over the final product, but is more time consuming and requires more equipment. When mashing, the home-brewer malts the actual grains and extracts the
wort. Wort is the term for the beer before it is fermented. The extract method is simpler using packaged malted barley extracts. This cuts down on the complexity of the process and the time required to complete it. Extract brewing is easier, will result in a quality product, is a great entry into homebrewing, and will be covered here. Materials required for a simple first beer will be two cans of malt extract, two ounces of hops a pound of dried malt extract, a pack of dried yeast, and five gallons of water. All the materials should total about $20-30.

Before discussing the procedure, it is important to understand just how beer comes about. Yeast is combined with sugar in a liquid solution. The yeast eats the sugar and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide. At a certain point, all the free sugar is consumed and the yeast goes dormant. This is the end of the fermentation cycle. Before bottling, the home-brewer adds more sugar which the yeast consumes. The yeast excretes slightly more alcohol and carbon dioxide. After it uses all the free oxygen, the yeast suffocates and dies. At this time the solution is in a tightly capped container, which causes the carbon dioxide to become suspended in the solution, producing bubbles.

The first step in the procedure is to clean. Proper sanitation cannot be over stressed. The air is full of wild yeast. The yeast used by brewers is a special type of yeast developed for the brewing industry. A wild yeast will produce an off flavor and can kill the good yeast. Another problem is bacteria. The same conditions that are beneficial to yeast are also good for bacteria. The good news is that harmful bacteria will die during the brewing process. The bad news is any bacteria will contribute an
extremely off flavor to the beer, but will produce some really interesting growths in the beer bottles. The bottom line is that all equipment must be sterilized. There are two methods of doing this. One is a powder which is combined with water. All the equipment is soaked in this solution. After soaking about five minutes, the equipment is sterilized and need not be rinsed. Another method is to rinse everything in a solution of bleach and water. After soaking in the bleach/water mixture everything must be thoroughly rinsed to remove the bleach. Failure to do this will result in the yeast dying with no fermentation
accomplished and a really off flavor.

The next step is the boil. Two gallons of water are brought to a boil. Tap water is fine, but for more control of the beer’s flavor, bottled water may be used. Once the water is boiling, the two cans of extract and the dried are added, along with one ounce of the hops. The extract has a consistency of molasses, and it can take a while for it to pour out. The pouring process can be hastened by holding the can over the boiling pot, letting the steam make the extract pour more quickly. Take care, however, not to get burned by the steam or the can (which, being metal, will get quite hot). . At this time, any adjuncts would also be
added. Let the mixture boil for forty-five minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the mixture from boiling. This boil will kill any bacteria in the solution or the water. After 45 minutes, add the other ounce of hops. These are the aroma hops and will impart an aroma to the finished product. Boil one minute more, then remove from the heat.

Next comes the sparge and yeast pitching stage. Place the wort in a container of cold water. A bathtub works fine. The idea now is to cool the wort as rapidly as possible. It must be within a specific temperature range or the yeast will die. After reaching about 75 degrees, the wort is ready to sparge. This is simply the term for pouring the wort into the fermenter. Place the funnel into the neck of the fermenter and slowly pour the wort into the fermenter. The solids will be caught in the funnel’s strainer and can be thrown out. After emptying the brew pot, top the fermenter up to 5 gallons with more water. Again, this
can be bottled water or tap water. Attach the blowoff hose to the plug and insert the plug into the fermenter. Now carry the entire assembly to a dark quiet place with a constant temperature. A closet is usually ideal.

The next stage is the fermentation stage. As the fermentation commences there will be a lot of activity. This is where the blowoff hose becomes necessary. As the fermentation proceeds a large mass of foam is produced. This is called the kreusen. If without an outlet, it will fill the head space in the fermenter and gradually break down and sink into the beer. This will create a beer with an off flavor. Additionally, the oils in the kreusen will contribute to headaches when the beer is consumed. To prevent this, a hose is attached through the plug. The other end of this hose is placed inside a half full bottle of water. This gives the kreusen a place to collect while preventing oxygen getting into the fermenter and spoiling the beer. After
two to three days, the fermentation will subside somewhat and the blowoff hose can be replaced by the airlock.

After about a week the fermentation is over and the bottling stage commences. The end of fermentation can be determined by observing the bubbles in the beer. While fermentation is ongoing, the beer will be full of small bubbles traveling from the bottom of the fermenter to the top. When fermentation is complete, these bubbles will disappear. Take the fermenter to the bottling area. Mix a solution of one cup of powered sugar with one pint of water. Boil for two minutes, cool, and add to the bottling bucket. Carefully siphon the beer into the bottling bucket. Keep the siphon submerged to prevent the introduction of oxygen. One at a time, fill and cap each bottle. Store in a cool, dark place. After one to two weeks, it will be drinkable. If it’s still flat after two weeks, store for another week.

As anyone can see, brewing beer is quite a simple process. Using these basic procedures, people can and have brewed great beer. Of course, as the home-brewer becomes more experienced, more complex beers can be made. In the end, the goal is to produce a beer the drinker enjoys.

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