Ever sat outside a brewery chatting amongst your friends and thought- what does it take to brew your own beer? I started brewing beer after visiting a homebrew store. The owners were brewing their batches in the backroom and sharing them with customers. The beer was good. The aroma of fresh hops got into my blood. After my third pint, the owners told me to "give it a shot."
And I learned that brewing beer is a cost-effective, fun activity to enjoy yourself or with a group of your buddies. The equipment and supplies to get started can run between $100 to $150. If you're looking to start using more high-end equipment, the ballpark will be closer to $300 to $500.
- Star San Sanitizer
- Kettle (5-gallon pot or larger)
- Stirring Spoon (a stainless steel, long spoon)
- Auto Siphon / Tubing
- Fermenter (a 5-gallon carboy will suffice)
The Prep Work
Before we get into the process, let's talk about the most important aspect of brewing: sanitization. You'll want to ensure you have plenty of room to clean your equipment and brew. Sanitizing every piece of equipment used for your brew will also provide a clean product free of unwanted flavors. Tip from a Pro: Star San is the most widely used sanitizer in the industry, and I highly recommend it for its robust and effective cleaning process.
Most beginners start making a 5-gallon batch: two cases of beer. Since it's summer, let's learn how to brew a Kolsch-style beer. A Kolsch is an easy-drinking, lager-like ale that is perfect for this time of year. The recipe we will discuss today is modeled from Briess Malt and Ingredients Co.'s recipe.
What you'll need:
- Water - 5 gallons
- Malt - 6.6lbs of CBW Pilsen Light LME
- Hops - 2 oz of Hersbrucker hops
- Yeast - 1 pack of WLP029 German/Kolsch Ale Yeast
Check out Briess's website here for its superb products and affordable prices. I can not recommend this company enough.
Step One: Boiling Water
Any great beer starts with great water. Starting with filtered water ensures that your beer will have a refreshing and crisp finish. You're making 5 gallons of beer, so a 5-gallon pot (kettle) will be sufficient. However, if you can put your hands on anything larger, that will be best to alleviate any liquid spilling. Pour in at least 5 gallons of water and turn up the heat.
Step Two: Mashing
Before the water comes to a boil, add in your extract malt. We don't want any malt to burn. Be sure to stir it in to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the kettle. This step in brewing is called "mashing," the steeping grains in hot water to withdraw the sugars.
As the water boils, let's go over some general mashing knowledge. There are three ways to mash: extract, all grain, and partial mash. The extract method is the best way to start because you need to be familiar and comfortable with brewing beer. The all-grain process allows more control over the flavor profile, but a few more pieces of equipment are necessary to ensure the grain is soaked correctly. The partial mash approach is, you guessed it, a mixture of the extract and all grain methods.
The malt will need to steep for at least forty-five minutes. Be mindful of the temperature during this time to make sure the flavor is consistent.
Step Three: Add the Hops
Next, we add the hops. Add 1.5 oz of your Hersbrucker hops to the pot. Let these hops boil for 45 minutes. As the water simmers, now is a good time to take a moment to name this first beer. Don't just land on "Kolsch." A little pizazz on a beer name never hurt anybody.
When your 45 minutes are up, add .5 oz of Hersbrucker hops to the wort to boil for 15 minutes. Why? Because the initial 1.5 oz of Hersbrucker will impart a slightly spicy and fruity body to your beer. When we add a little bit more hops at the end of the boil, this will add a floral characteristic. Once those 15 minutes are up, it's time to cool down our "wort," otherwise known as unfermented beer.
Step Four: Cool the Wort
The wort needs to be cooled down for the yeast to do its job; the key to making a great beer. This can be done by filling your kitchen sink with cold water. Toss in some ice cubes to speed up the process, but always keep an eye on the temperature with your thermometer. With this Kolsch, we will need the wort to be cooled to 66 degrees. Once the wort is cooled, you'll need to transfer it to your fermentation vessel. There are many options, but it is common for beginners to use a food-grade bucket or a glass carboy. I recommend the glass carboy. Be sure to use a siphon with tubing long enough to get the wort from the kettle to the carboy. As you are siphoning, you may notice some "sludge" at the bottom of your kettle. Leftover hops create this. Do your best only to siphon out the wort. Once you have siphoned out all the wort, you might notice your batch is under 5 gallons. Not a problem. Just add water to make sure you are reaching 5 gallons.
Step Five: Add the Yeast
Finally, it is time to add the yeast. Most yeast for homebrews comes prepackaged. Just cut off the top and pour it in. Make sure to squeeze out all you can. Then use the bung to close off the top of the carboy, then press the airlock in to seal it. Put the carboy in a cool, dark place until it is finished fermenting, about fourteen days. As the yeast ferments the wort into beer, carbon dioxide builds up and bubbles through the airlock. When you do not see any new bubbles in the airlock, it's a good sign that your beer is done fermenting. When you are ready to bottle, use a siphon to get the beer out of the carboy. Once bottled or kegged, let the finished product sit for about two weeks undisturbed.
Remember, there's always a learning curve when learning something new! Learn from your mistakes and remember you're brewing a beer which is a fantastic feat!