There’s nothing like a tall, cold glass of foaming beer to finish off the day right and get that “I’m the king of the castle” feeling. If you’re a fan of craft beer, or just don’t want to have to visit the liquor store every time you want a nice refreshing brew, you have options. One of which is learning how to brew a beer at home with a kit.
Using a homebrew kit is an affordable way to make your own beer on a small scale that will slake your thirst without breaking the bank and without the need to commandeer your wife’s crafting room.
How to Brew a Beer at Home with a Kit
A Word of Warning – What you’re going to learn by reading this simplified guide to home brewing is that making your own beer can be rather a serious undertaking. So, for a start, we’ve reduced your workload down to brewing just one beer at a time.
Why? Because you’re tampering with the fermentation process- which is a fairly good way to make yourself ill if you’re not careful. So, we’re starting small to build up your skills and experience.
In time, if you want to turn up your brewing capacity to 11, you can do the additional research and make the additional investment in the equipment you’ll need to do so. But for now, let’s just cozy up to the art and discipline of brewing beer at home. I guarantee it’ll be fun.
What You’ll Need
The following tools and materials are all readily available. They can be found on Amazon, eBay, and elsewhere. You can probably find much of it around town if you don’t want to wait for shipping and are willing to search.
You can check out my top 5 online homebrew suppliers here.
There are many such kits on the market. You will probably need to pair it down to suit the size of the batch you’re planning to make. Using one of these will save you a lot of headaches, and alleviate the need for much of the re-brewing process later on.
Here is a post of Big Robb’s favorite kits:
For most home brew projects, you’ll need a 5-gallon brew kettle. For an individual sized brew, a smaller kettle will do.
This is where the vessel in which you cook your liquid will transform into beer via the digestive process of yeast.
If you plan to use your equipment more than once, you’ll need to clean it. Since we’re dealing with the waste products of a type of bacteria, ordinary dish soap won’t cut it. Boiling water or bleach will do the job, but bleach requires extra care to wash out thoroughly- if you don’t want to taste it, and you don’t.
Your best option for sanitizing is to use StarSan. You can read all about cleaning and sanitizing to include what we recommend here:
This is used to measure the “gravity” of your beer, (a measure of comparison to the density of water), or alcohol percentage. It’s not absolutely necessary to the process, but it can help if you want to avoid producing low-grade liquor.
You will need a thermometer when measuring the temperature while steeping the grains and judging the coolness before “pitching” the yeast.
An Over-sized Spoon
Any large spoon from your kitchen will do. Wooden spoons are usually a poor choice unless you are willing to heat or sun-dry them thoroughly after each use. The best choice is probably going to be a large, stainless steel spoon.
Using Your Home Brew Kit
Some home brew kits will come with all of the hardware described above, including a burner. Others are a bit more piecemeal, and some are totally whiskey-rebellion-level ad-hoc. You can find everything you need at Adventures in Homebrewing, including the burner- if you’re not going to use your stove-top.
The process described here uses the simplest setup possible, consisting of the absolute basics. If you’re looking for a package that contains everything so that you don’t have to shop all around town, the following post reveals my two all time favorite beer kits:
How to Brew Your Beer
This method is simple, using just extracts from your grains, in either dry, liquid, or a mixture of both forms, to create the base of the beer, called the “wort.”
Extract brewing can include small amounts of grain to add depth, but the whole process requires less equipment and time, making it ideal for newcomers to home brewing.
Even as some brewers learn and develop their skills, they will continue to employ the extract brewing method for the simple reason that it is easy, and it works.
Step 1: Mashing
This is the first step in the actual brewing process. There’s not much to it, but a lot of people get antsy about mashing. Even first-time brewers can produce a quality beer and often do.
Your kit should provide you with all the right information about the mashing phase. Different enzymes activate at different temperatures. Beta-amylase is active at 140 to 149 °F and shuts down at 167 °F and above. Alpha-amylase will activate between 158 and 167 °F and deactivates at 176 °F.
Knowing the characteristics and behaviors of each enzyme is important. But once again, we’re starting from a kit, with prepackaged ingredients. These will provide you with all the details you need.
In some cases, if you follow the instructions precisely, you may not even need to know the temperature. You will be guided to heat with a certain flame in a certain way, and that will get you in the temperature range you need to be in.
This is a good place for any beginner to start. Think of these kits like training wheels that will help you develop the muscle memory needed to do it on your own and slowly transition to harder methods as your comfort level dictates.
Mashing is a bit like steeping tea or infusing hot water with coffee.
Step 2: Lautering
With the majority of beginner beer kits you will not be doing this step, but for educational purposes it is worth mentioning. But if you do not see it in your beer kit instructions do not worry about it, they did it for you.
OK In this step, you’re going to separate the grain from the wort. The idea is to remove the sugars trapped in the grain after mashing. This way the yeast has the most access to that sugar and turns it into alcohol.
Therefore, the better your lautering, the stronger the beer. There are different ways to do it depending on the type of brew, but they all include the essential “sparging” phase.
During the sparge, you heat the water to a higher relative temperature in another container and use it to wash or rinse out the sugars. The idea of sparging is that sugar melts at lower temperatures and can therefore be washed out with water that is hotter than the wort.
More advanced methods will require additional equipment, but the general idea remains the same.
Step 3: Boiling
Sometimes confused with the mash stage, boiling destroys the enzymes you don’t want. The mash phase allows starches to turn into sugar, so the two stages are very different. (again not all kits will require that you even do the boil).
During the boil, you want your temperature around 212°F (with some variation depending on altitude) for a long period of time. Hops can be added during the boil to add the desired aroma and flavor.
Hops act as a natural preservative, protecting the beer from infectious pathogens like bacteria. The environment you boil in will also affect your brew, so be mindful of the air quality where you work.
Once your homebrew is done, you can either say “nuts to everything,” drink some beer and fall asleep on the lawn – or you can make sure your set-up will work again next time you’re feeling thirsty.
You want to cool-down, or chill, your wort to room temperature in 20 minutes or less. The point to this is to lower the temperature of the wort to be able to add the yeast without killing it, get the yeast added quick enough to prevent an infection from occurring. You can use an ice bath or a wort chiller.
Take A Gravity Reading
This will help you determine when your beer has finished fermenting. You will do this prior to adding the yeast and then again in 5-7 days after fermentation has started. This is not a really complex process but does require training all its own, you can watch a quick tutorial from Homebrew Academy, here.
Here is also a post Big Robb did on how to read a hydrometer.
Pitch Your Yeast
To keep your foundation alive and kicking, you’ll need to add yeast- a step known as “pitching.” Make sure your yeast is ready by letting it set out in a room-temperature space for about three hours.
Ferment Your Beer
Now you put your fermenter away in a room temperature area, I recommend the temperature be 60 – 70 degrees F. Leave it there for 4-5 days and then take your first gravity reading (see above).
And there you have it my friend within 4 – 14 days you are going to have fermented beer and are ready to move into the bottling or kegging stage, you can lean about them here:
And there you have it my friend the basics of how to brew beer without a kit. The last step after your beer is all carbonated up it is to kick back and enjoy that delicious beer with friends and family!