How do I start homebrewing?
There is nothing better than starting a new hobby, especially one like home brewing. Homebrewing inparts the best of creativity, organization, science and making friends. Before I started to homebrew I thought I could do it all myself. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I had the creativity down, but my wife is the organized one. The only thing missing was friends in the brewing community. When I say “friends” I’m referring to the help I receive at the local home brew store. Not only did they have so much experience but they made it simple to understand.
For me, brewing started with a question. “What’s the process of making this magic happen?” How do I effectively get a hop flavor through? How does water affect the beer? What’s a wort chiller? All questions are important! By asking your friends in the brewing community, you learn from their experiences so you can put that advice into your own home brewing process.
My suggestion for you if you’ve ever asked how to make the magic happen, would be to head straight to your local brew shop, Brew Chatter for us, even if you have no intention of committing, just go, have a beer and look around, ask all your burning questions.
You can give ten home brewers all the same IPA recipe and you may get ten different beers in the end. What causes this? Although there are so many other factors for this; water source, boil temperature, fermentation temperature, sanitation, yeast vitality, or origin of the hop(s), that’s for another time. We are going to focus on the system or process you choose. Not all brewing processes are the same and as you’ll learn, it is dependant on where you choose to put your system in your home; the amount of space you have.
I wanted to go straight into all grain brewing but I didn’t have the money for a multiple vessel system. Brew in a bag was my weapon of choice. The process of brew in a bag is where you mash and boil in the same kettle. Using a mesh bag to steep the grains then pulling that out to start the boil, was the most effective way in my townhome to brew. Of course, everyone will pick the best setup for their household, whether it be all in one, multiple vessel, brew in a bag (BIAB), or extract brewing. Homebrewing today gives you so many choices on setups regardless of where you live or how much money you have. No matter what you choose, you’re fueling your passion.
Making a recipe can be so much fun once you get a general understanding on how each ingredient works together. I use an app called “beer smith” and that helped me so much in learning how to build a recipe. If you don’t know how to create a recipe and have more questions, your local home brew shop will have kits and answers to help get you on the right track. You can always consider the BJCP guidelines (https://www.bjcp.org/styles04/) to give you an idea of what a beer should look, taste, and smell like. These guidelines will help you stay true to style while still allowing you to use your creativity.
If you ever consider entering a beer into a competition, BJCP Guidelines will be your holy grail. Understanding different beer categories and styles will make a huge difference in applying that knowledge to your homebrew and producing an incredible beer.
Sanitation is the most important aspect in brewing. If you take shortcuts in cleaning and sanitizing your brewing equipment, then you’ll be drinking some not so tasty beer. Thankfully, your homebrew shop is able to hook you up with Starsan and other food grade cleaners for your equipment. You can always take the appropriate steps to brewing great quality beer. Nothing is more heartbreaking than spending the time, money, and labor, patiently waiting for your beer to ferment, only to discover that it’s infected MOST LIKELY from poor sanitation choices. Touch wood, that has never happened to us because we are both pretty neurotic about everything being clean.
You have chosen a brewing method, you have created a recipe (or purchased a kit), and you sanitized your brewing equipment and space. Now it’s time to answer the question “what makes the magic happen?” It’s not always so glamorous, in the sense that the magic comes from your creativity and hard work. Make sure your equipment is setup for your brewing area and works well in the space you have chosen to brew. My advice for your first brew day, is to wait until after the boil to drink your third beer. I know beer is life but from personal experience, liquid courage is not necessary here. You’ve got this. The most important thing about brew day is… SANITATION, joking, it’s to have fun. Learn from every mistake and success. Learn your system and journal the experience. Brewing notes are your best friend for process and recipe development, you can go back after you have enjoyed your homebrew and revise your recipe or process. Homebrewing is a forever learning experience.
Your brew day is over, you have your lovely wort, you’ve taken your original gravity (OG) and it’s time to transfer into your primary fermentation bucket or carboy and add your happy yeast. I know it is tempting, but PLEASE for the love of hops and all that is beer, leave it alone! Don’t open the bucket up, don’t take 100 gravity readings, or taste it every three days. Patience is key at this point of the beer making experience. Schedule when you are planning to take a reading or make an addition, and stick to that schedule. I prefer to use a glass carboy so I can see the “magic” happen without opening my bucket to peek in. When you do have to take a reading or make additions, you’re going to have to, you guessed it, SANITIZE. Do it! Wash and sanitize your hands and equipment. We don’t want unwelcome critters to the party. Ferment in a cooler part of the house and with no direct sunlight.
Carbonating Your Homebrew
Your final gravity (FG) reading says it is time to carbonate your beer so you can get to the best part, tasting your completed homebrew.
You’ll have to decide if you want to bottle your beer or keg your beer. If you bottle your beer, you’ll need sanitized bottles, a syphon, caps, a capper, and some type of priming sugar. This will be called “bottle conditioning” and can take up to 3 weeks to carbonate. During the bottling process, try to avoid exposure to oxygen, I use a CO2 purge. You could open up a beer once a week until you are satisfied with the level of carbonation and then refrigerate and enjoy.
If you choose to keg your beer, you’ll need a sanitized keg, proper hardware for the keg depending on if you have a ball lock or pin lock keg, and a CO2 tank and regulator to force carb your beer, which could take up to a few days but much quicker than bottling. Nothing left but to enjoy the beer.
Share your beer, with friends, family, other beet drinks, your homebrew friends, and homebrew shop owners. Get input. Hear the good and the bad and learn from it. Create another recipe or improve upon that last. Just keep brewing.