Homebrewing Your Own Beer
Beer has been made for centuries with just 4 ingredients: water, sugar from malted barley, yeast and hops. Actually, hops is a relative late comer to the ingredient list. Hops only joined the ingredient list some 2,000 years ago, however, records show evidence of beer making going back over 9,000 years!
These four simple ingredients are responsible for the hundreds, if not thousands of beer varieties available to today’s consumer. What makes the different beer flavor profiles are the nature of the basic ingredients, such as the mineral content of the local water, the preparation of the barley (called malting) and the type of yeast.
While the ‘Reinheitsgebot’ – the German Purity Laws of 1516 defined and made law only these 4 ingredients be used, today’s brewer has no shortage of ingredients to choose from to further vary the beer profiles produced. Lemon zest, coriander, cloves and even hot pepper are all ingredients added to to the brew pot!
For the new homebrewer, water from tap is generally perfectly suitable for making beer. There are exceptions but in general, if you drink it and cook with it, it should be fine. There are some who advocate for removing the chlorine/chloramine before brewing, as it can lead to off flavors. Personally, I have not had this problem – your mileage may vary.
Some advanced homebrewers will actually completely filter the water (using reverse osmosis) and then ‘build’ the water they want – adding minerals to replicate a specific region’s water profile in order to best duplicate a specific beer!
Barley, Malt, Malted Barley
The sugar in beer typically comes from barley but first the barley goes through a process called malting. The malting process consists of allowing the grain to sprout under controlled conditions, then stopping the growth process by drying. The result of this is starches in the grain are converted to sugar.
Malted Barley can then be roasted for a period of time to create a variety colors and flavors.
Many people are surprised to learn that a hop is… a flower! A small, plump green flower from the hop vine. Hops contain two important elements that contribute a great deal to the final flavor of a beer – bittering oils and aromatic oils. The bitter flavors work in harmony with the sweetness from the sugars while the aromatic oils contribute to, you guessed it, the aroma of the final product.
There are and plenty of varieties of hops available, contributing differing amounts of these oils thus effecting the beer taste.
These first three ingredients are boiled for 50-60 minutes however hops are typically added at the beginning and usually with 15-20 minutes left. The reason for this is the aromatic oils will evaporate over the course of the boil so they need to be added towards the end of the boil.
Hops are available fresh or in a pelleted form. Fresh hops degrade very quickly and must be stored refrigerated and used promptly.
This single celled organism is THE MAGIC! It is what makes brewing possible. These tiny critters sit patiently waiting for the right conditions to start eating, growing and reproducing. It just so happens the perfect mixture is a warm, sugary liquid made from grains! Once immersed in the wort, yeast will ‘wake up’ from their dormancy phase and start eating those sugars. This process happily results in wonderful flavors, carbon dioxide and alcohol. Not bad for a single celled organism.
The boiled mixture (now called wort) must be cooled to a temperature safe to add (pitch) the yeast. Yeast cells will perish in temperature greater than 100 degrees F. and ale yeast work best below 78 degrees F.
Boiling the wort killed all bacteria and wild yeasts that could cause off flavors, however, as the wort cools, it once again becomes susceptible these unwelcome guests. At this point, everything touching the wort must be sanitized and wort should be covered and cooled down as quickly as possible to below 78 degrees F.
Upon reaching proper temperature, the wort is transferred to a clean, sanitized container so the yeast can be pitched and fermenting can begin. An air-lock is attached to the fermenter to allow CO2 gas to escape but prevent those unwanted guests from getting into the wort.
Within a day, the yeast will have reproduced enough that active fermentation can be seen. CO2 gas bubbles will be rising like in a carbonated soda and the air-lock will be bubbling happily. After 3 to 4 days, the active fermentation will slow until there is no evidence of fermentation.
After all signs of fermentation have stopped, the beer is ready to transferred to bottles and capped. First, the beer must be transferred to another container, the most common being a bottling bucket (a food-grade plastic pail with a valve near the bottom. The valve is equipped with a bottle filling wand to allow control of the flow of beer). The transfer of beer is also essential to remove the beer from the remnants of the fermenting process – a cloudy, silt-ish residue visible a the bottom of the fermenting vessel.
The bottling bucket helps makes quick work of bottling, but before you start, you need to add some sugar to the liquid. This small amount of sugar (priming sugar) will reactivate some of the remaining yeast. These yeast will once again start their magic, but under the capped bottle, the CO2 will have nowhere to escape will carbonate your brew! Aren’t those yeast amazing?
You will need about 50 or so 12 oz. Bottles, the pop top type, not the screw-off. A special bottle capper will crimp the beer caps tight. Once capped, the bottled beer needs to be placed in a dark, warm spot for that carbonation to take place.
Depending on the storage temperature, in about 10 days the those yeast will have naturally carbonated your beer. You may want to test one by slowly loosening the cap and listen for that satisfying pfffft! If all goes well, you can now chill your homebrew and get ready to enjoy some of the best, freshest brew ever!