How to Make Beer – An Introduction

When I tell people that I’m a home brewer, the first question most people ask is:  How do you make beer?  Well, that’s the purpose of this blog post.  Let’s get started.

There are 2 ways for home brewers like myself to make beer:  1) extract method, or 2) all grain method.  I’m going to describe the all grain method before I discuss the extract method.

Beer is typically made with only 4 ingredients:

  • water
  • barley
  • hops
  • yeast

The basic process is as follows

  1. Heat the water to 165 degrees
  2. Stir in the malted barley grains
  3. Hold the temperature at 152 degrees for 1 hour
  4. Drain the liquid (wort) into a different kettle
  5. Rinse the grains with more hot water, drain
  6. Boil the liquid and add hops over the course of 60 minutes
  7. Cool the liquid down
  8. Add yeast
  9. Wait 2-3 weeks

The all grain brewing process requires 3 vessels for different aspects of the brew cycle.  You’l need at least 1 vessel to heat water (commonly called a Hot Liquor Tank or HLT). You’ll also need at least 1 vessel to mash the grains (commonly called a Mash Tun). Finally, you’ll need a container to boil your wort (for sanitation and hop addition).  Lastly, you’ll need some method of cooling your wort down before you add your yeast.

The purpose of soaking the malted grains in hot water is to product wort.  The hot water soak converts the starches in the grain kernels into fermentable sugars.

Extract brewing, on the other hand, requires much less equipment because a lot of the work has already been done for you.  Malt extract, whether dry or liquid, is highly condensed wort.  All you need to do is add water, boil it, and add hops.  You’ll notice that once you have wort, the process is pretty much the same for extract as it is for all grain.

The basic process for extract brewing is:

  1. Heat some water
  2. Add your extract
  3. Bring it to a boil and add hops over the course of 60 minutes
  4. Cool the liquid down
  5. Add yeast
  6. Wait 2-3 weeks.

Extract brewing is a much simpler process, with less waste (there are no grains that require disposal), requires less equipment.  However, you don’t have much control over important details of the brew.  The all grain process allows you to have fine control over the type of malts you use, resulting in more complex and flavorful beers than you can get with extracts.  Now, this isn’t to suggest that you can’t make a great extract beer.  A lot of home brewers start brewing extract beers, but then move on to using the all-grain method.

Here’s a handy comparison of extract vs. all grain:

Extract All Grain
Equipment Only 1 pot required Requires 2-3 pots
Cost Slightly higher cost per batch Slightly lower cost per batch
Results Moderate quality, very consistent Higher quality, more control over final product

In our next episode, we’ll talk about the equipment needed for all grain brewing.

Brewday – Kolsch

Me, standing with my brew rig

Me, standing with my brew rig

My friend Tony and I brewed again.  The recipe for today is a Kolsch.  Kolsch is a light, dry beer, very light in color, and a minuscule amount of hops.  Originally brewed in Koln, Germany, it is also well known in Cologne.  I am intending this to be my ‘spring’ beer and it should be ready for consumption by April.

This was the 3rd brew on my new brewing system. Today, we were able to hit all of our numbers. It takes a little bit of time to get used to the equipment.  I do feel that the banjo burners I bought were a little overkill, as small changes in output result in big changes in kettle temperatures.  But, with just a little care, we can avoid any boil-overs.

My target for O.G. was 1.0.54 and we hit 1.0.52.  Not bad.  I’m hoping to finish around 1.0.13/14 and I should have a beer around 5.1% ABV.

My Brew Rig

8 years ago my friend J.P. invited me to brew with him. That started me on the journey to becoming a home brewer.  For the past several years, we’d use J.P.’s equipment to brew all kinds of beers.  This fall, I decided to branch out on my own and purchase my own equipment.

I knew that I wanted a single-tier system and I decided to get a 10 gallon system.  (J.P. has a 20 gallon system, but I thought that might be a bit too unwieldy.)  After researching kettles, I settled on the Bru-Gear line of kettles.  They all come with a thermometer and a ball valve, and they use tri-clamp fittings, something that I knew would be good to have on a personal system.

My budget did not allow me to buy a brew table, but I had some really nice caster wheels and some leftover lumber.  I built a brew cart, stained and sealed it, and ended up with a very nice brew cart for just a few bucks.

I had an existing burner, but I needed 2 more, so I purchased some Bayou Classic KAB4 Banjo burners with built-in stands.  Since I was using a single-tier system, I knew I’d need a pump, so I bought a Chugger in-line SS head pump. I also bought a Duda Diesel 20 plate wort chiller.  I can’t say enough about the plate chiller.  That is an exceptional piece of equipment.

I also purchased 20 feet of high temperature silicon hose, and a lot of cam/groove stainless steel fittings.

Here’s the finished product.

Damon's 10-gallon brew rig

Damon’s 10-gallon brew rig