Homebrewing Basics

If you’ve found out that you really like beer, like I did, and you are interested in all the different types of beer out there, one thing that you might want to look into is homebrewing. Homebrewing is basically what it sounds like — you brew your own beer to drink yourself and share with other people.

Pros:

  • Cheaper
  • You can experiment
  • You get to drink something that you’ve made
  • You can brag about it to your friends
Image Source: Bourbon Blog

Image Source: Bourbon Blog

Let’s talk a bit about the pros. Your average homebrew beer price is cheaper than most any beer that you’ll get from a store. Sure, you can go down the level of Miller and get 48 beers from basically the same cost as brewing your own IPA, Stout, or whatever beer you want to make. But you also can make a wide variety of beers; you aren’t limited to what is in the liquor store. You can experiment and take a kit and add different hops, malts, or grains to it, to see if you can get a taste you like better. And then there are the two best parts: drinking it yourself, and drinking it with your friends. Drinking beer is a great social activity, and the process of brewing and bottling (or kegging) your own to share makes it even nicer.

Cons:

  • It takes time
  • There are initial start-up costs
  • You can mess it up so it goes bad

Now, there are some cons, the first being that it does take time. If you are bottling your beer, it will take a minimum of four weeks — two weeks of it fermenting on its own and two weeks in the bottle, until it gets to the point where it is carbonated and tasting like you’d expect it to. There is also the initial cost, which really isn’t all that high, but there is more initial cost than just buying a kit for brewing. For example, there is a brew pot, bottles (though you can just use empty bottles from most any beer brand that doesn’t sell twist-offs), carboy, sanitizer, bottle caps, capper, and a few other things that you’ll need. However, for initial start-up, you can often buy a kit for as little as $100, and it’ll have everything that you need to get started. And finally, there is a chance that the beer can go bad — if you didn’t sanitize correctly, or if too much air gets into your beer once it starts fermenting, it can grow mold and go bad. But if you follow the directions and sanitize very well, it isn’t that likely.

So, if you still want to jump into brewing, you are likely going to want to start with a malt extract recipe kit — or if you are really daring/brave/possibly unwise, you can go straight for all-grain. The difference between malt extract brewing and all-grain is that the all-grain brewing process, which is more intensive, extracts the sugars from the grains themselves, whereas with a malt you are using the sugars that a company somewhere has already extracted. Either way, you are getting the sugars for you beer to ferment.

I would recommend starting with malt extract recipe kits. First off, they are cheaper, because you don’t need as much equipment as you do for all-grain. It is also cheaper in the initial start-up phase, as a mash tun can run over $100. The downside to the malt recipe kit is that you can’t tweak it as much as you can with an all-grain kit. But with all-grain, it takes more time, and it’s trickier to get all the sugars you want and need out of the beer. With an extract recipe kit, you can still brew just as wide a variety of beers; you are just a little bit more limited in the flavor profile from a kit. This is the case with an all-grain kit as well.

Once you’ve gotten down how to turn out a recipe consistently, you can then start to make up your own recipes. It is smart to continue with extract at this point, as you can buy all the ingredients needed from a brew shop to make your own beer and recipes without following anything that they have put together. This is where you can really home in on creating your own style and flavors and make the beers more uniquely yours. You’ll also be able to experiment with brewing in such a way that you are less likely to have a batch go bad, as compared to all-grain brewing.

Next Week: The Full All-Grain Brewing Process (and where extract falls into the spectrum).

 

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