Brewing Beer at Home


Give a man a beer, waste an hour. Teach a man to brew, and waste a lifetime
-Bill Owens


A few weeks ago, I had the chance to learn a new skill relating to self reliance.  My cousin has taken up the new hobby of home brewing beer, and asked me to give him a hand with a batch.  Brewing is something I’ve read extensively about, but never actually tried before.  Knowing how something is done is not the same as knowing how to actually do it.  I wanted to share a little bit about the process I learned, but this won’t be a step by step article.  My cousin will be doing a guest post soon to go into more detail.

He is still a novice, but he is advancing very quickly in his abilities.  There are a few ways to brew at home ranging from very simple to extremely complex.  For this project, we took on a more advanced method.  A lot of beginners use malt extract brewing.  This means the grains have already been mashed and canned.  For this, you add water to the contents of the can and go from there.  There isn’t much that can go wrong, because the hard part has been done already.  You don’t have to closely monitor temperatures and mash times.

A step up in complexity is mashing the grain.  For this method, you take raw malted barley and hold it at a certain temperature for a specific amount of time.   This step converts the starches in the grain into a sugar that the yeast can ferment.  Yeasts are very picky about their food sources, and starches are pretty much useless to them.  They must feed on sugar to produce alcohol.  If mash temperatures are too cool, it takes too long to convert to sugar.  If the temperature gets too high, you will destroy the enzymes that do the conversion.

Once the grain mash was done and the starches were converted, we moved to the hops.  Hops are the flower of a vine that has been used for centuries in beer brewing.  They add the bitterness that offsets the sweet flavor of the malt, and act a preservative and stabilizer.  Once the mash was complete, we brought the liquid (called Wort) to a boil and started adding specific amounts of hops at specific intervals.  This step took about an hour.

At this point we had a wort that needed some yeast.  Aside from being picky about their food sources, yeast are temperature sensitive.  If you pitch the yeast into wort that has just come off a boil, they will all die.  So here we are with a 5 gallon bucket of steaming liquid and a yeast that likes room temperature.  Let the waiting begin!

We helped the cooling process along by filling the sink with ice water and setting the bucket down in it.  This method isn’t exactly efficient, but since we didn’t have the proper cooling equipment, we had to handle it this way.  Once the waiting game was over we were able to pitch the yeast and start the real beer making process.

The beer we brewed is a classic German Lager recipe.  This type of beer requires a fermentation temperature in the 40s.  This really slows the fermentation down, but provides a very crisp flavor when it is done.  Most beer styles ferment for a few days at room temperature, but the Lager has been going for 3 weeks and will require at least 2 more in the cold.  If you ever brew Lagers you will need a separate refrigerator unless you are willing to sacrifice most of your fridge space for a couple of months.

This article is very simple and only covers the concepts of brewing.  I’ll be posting a detailed step by step authored by the actual brewer very soon.  In the meantime, check out his new blog!  He covers his success and failure at learning to brew.  You can leave comments there to ask questions, offer advice, or share experiences.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *