Most homebrewers first get into this hobby by making a few batches of beer using the malt extract kits. However, after a few batches, it is not long before they want to improve the quality of their beer and they begin researching what is involved with making beer at home without a kit. Although it is not a complicated process there are important things to understand and more steps involved than simply using a kit.
If this describes you read on because my goal in this post is to not only show you how to brew beer at home without a kit but to walk you through all of the steps involved in making delicious beer you can be proud of to include reviewing the equipment and ingredients required, how to brew the beer, ferment and bottle it.
So let’s get brewing…
Table of Contents
Welcome to All-Grain Brewing
The first thing to understand is that making beer at home without a kit is actually called all-grain brewing.
With all-grain brewing, different people use different methods of making their beer. Basically, the different methods come down to how many pieces of equipment are used in the actual brewing process itself.
Some people may use 3 kettles, some may use 2, while others will use only 1 with a bag or a basket.
When I am brewing at home I prefer using a 1 vessel system. However, in some of my brew videos, you will see me brewing on the 2 kettle system at my brewpub.
The process is very similar to the 1 kettle system. And the only reason I use the 2 kettle system at my brewpub is that it was the most economical method for us to get up and running. The irony in that is that when brewing at home, the most economical method to make beer is using the 1 kettle system.
Before I get into the additional pieces of equipment you will require for all-grain brewing it is important to make sure you have all of the basic brewing equipment first…
The Basic Equipment Needed
A fermenter – you can purchase one or pick up a 10-gallon food-grade pail will also work. If you have ever made wine before the glass carboys work well as a fermenter also.
An airlock – Although some people will brew in buckets with the lids just lightly sitting on top to allow for the CO2 to escape it is better to have an airlock on the top of the fermenter lid so that oxygen does not penetrate the beer. If you do not use an airlock and simply use the lid you will need to stop fermenting after 7 – 10 days and rack your beer over to the bottles or kegs.
An auto-siphon – This will be used to transfer the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, bottles, and kegs. It is much easier to use than a standard siphon and prevents your beer from becoming oxygenated by not splashing around during transfers.
A stir spoon – When you are brewing a stir spoon is referred to as a mash paddle and is a must-have piece of equipment.
Advanced Equipment Needed
After you have all of the basic brewing equipment it is time to decide what type of system you want to brew on and source out the equipment for it.
I recommend you start out on a 1 kettle system, it is the easiest and most cost-effective way to make delicious beer without a kit and you can always add more kettles as you gain experience if you want to, but do not be surprised if you never want to because a 1 kettle system is just as good or better then any of the others.
A 1 kettle system is called BIAB, Brew in a Bag, or Brew in a Basket.
The difference between the two is:
1) Brew in a Bag: This is typically done outside using a propane turkey fryer and kettle, and you use a brew bag that you place inside the kettle to hold your grains during brewing. It is often referred to as BIAB brewing.
2) Brew in a Basket: This is basically the same concept, except it is an electric system, so you can brew inside and instead of using the bag, the system comes with a basket that you put the grains in.
Although some homebrewers will still use the brew bag with these systems as you get better efficiency versus using the basket.
The systems that use a basket are also referred to as all-in-one brewing systems. Some of them come with more bells and whistles than the others, such as brewing apps that connect to your smartphone. However, from the standpoint of making good-tasting beer, in my experience, the base models are just as good as the ones with all the extras.
So step one is deciding which system you wish to start with, I started with the kettle and the turkey fryer and brew bag as it cost the least. I did move up to the all-in-one electric systems within about 6 months, and the main reason for that was I live in Canada, and brewing in the winter outside can get cold.
I now use either one depending on my mood and whether I want to brew inside or outside.
The choice is yours.
Brew in the Bag you will need:
A kettle that is capable of holding 15 gallons of water
A brew bag to hold your grains. There is a company called Brew in a Bag that makes the best bags on the market. When ordering one make sure that it fits the kettle you buy
A turkey fryer and a bottle of propane.
All-In-One Brewing System:
There are many options available to you:
The Mash & Boil from Williams Home Brewing. I own this unit, it was the first I purchased and it has worked well. It is a basic model and as a result, is not as expensive as the other options out there, but does the job and makes good beer! Here is a review of the mash and boil.
The Brewzilla is my newest unit. It has a few more bells and whistles than the mash and boil, but the best part about it is the recirculating pump which greatly increases the efficiency of your beer.
The GrainFather is another popular unit. It is the higher-end all-in-one system on the market as it has a lot of accessories including the app for your phone I mentioned previously.
In the end guys all of the systems and methods, I just listed make good beer, and it really just depends on your budget and how much you want to spend.
And if you want to see these units for yourself Adventures in Homebrewing carries the brewzilla and the grainfather.
Since you are no longer using a kit and are making the beer from scratch you are going to need to source the following ingredients:
Base Grains: These are the grains that will make up most of the grain bill. Typically, about 80% of the grain bill (grains you will use in a batch of beer). Base grains provide the majority of the alcohol in the beer.
Specialty Grains: These grains make up the remainder of the grain bill and will add flavor, body, color, etc.
Yeast: You will need to decide if you want to go with dry yeast or liquid yeast. I typically prefer dry yeast because it is easier to use and I find most of the dry yeast out there does just as good of a job or better than their liquid counterparts. And in most cases, dry yeast is less expensive.
A quick note on yeast, if a recipe calls for a certain type of yeast and you can not find it or do not want to use it, or happen to have a different yeast on hand, don’t sweat it use what you want, it is your beer after all!
Hops: The recipe you use will tell you exactly which hops to use, how many and when to add them to the brew. Some hops are for bittering, flavoring, and aroma. It’s fun to play around with hops. Adding them at different times to the brewing process can create a whole different beer from the same recipe.
You can source your ingredients online. I typically use Adventures in HomeBrewing to order all my ingredients.
What Recipe Should You Use
You can find beer recipes all over the place on the internet these days. There is also a great selection of recipes on YouTube. On this site, we have a ton of recipes you can try here.
There are a lot of good homebrewing books with recipes in them also. One of the best books on the market to learn how to brew beer at home without a kit is Home Brew Beer by Greg Hughes. It’s an excellent book loaded with awesome recipes. I have brewed many of the beers in this book and have enjoyed them all.
Alternatively and a great way to start with all-grain brewing is to actually buy an all-grain beer kit.
These kits are not like the malt extract kits, instead what some companies will do is package together all the grains, hops, and yeast you need as well as the recipe and detailed brewing instructions.
It’s a great way to get started making beer without a kit. I started out this way and to this day I still use many of the recipes that came with the all-grain kits I bought and from time to time I will still order a new one to try out their recipe.
This list of online vendors all carries a wide selection of kits with very good recipes!
The Brewing Process
After you have all of your equipment, recipe, and ingredients it’s time to brew. Keep in mind what I am about to explain is not the basics. If you are brand new to brewing I suggest you back up a couple of steps and learn to make beer with a simple beer kit, to begin with. Doing so will give you a good foundation of the steps involved in making beer. Here is a post to learn the basics of brewing.
The following are the steps to making beer without a kit:
1) Heat up your mash water. Making beer is like making tea. You heat up your tea water and then you put the tea bag into the warm water to soak to get all the goodness out of the teabag.
Same principle with making beer. You heat up the beer water (mash water its called) and you put the grains into it in order to get all the goodness out of the grains to make beer with.
Your recipe will tell you how much water and how warm you need to heat it up to. With a single vessel system, you will typically heat up about 5 gallons of water to start.
2) Mash In. The strike temperature is the temperature you are to heat the water to originally. At this point, you have now reached that temperature and will be adding the grains to the kettle. If you are using the brew in a bag system you will now place the bag in the kettle. If you are using one of the all-in-one brewing systems you will now place the basket into the kettle.
Once the bag or basket is in place, simply pour the grains slowly into the bag or basket within the kettle, stirring slowly as you go. You do not want the grains to clump up, these are dough balls and they will lower your efficiency.
3) Mash. Let the grains soak in the water for either 60 – 90 minutes depending on your recipe. Be sure to stir the grains from time to time to increase your efficiency. (once every 5 – 10 mins is fine).
If you are using the all-in-one brewing systems they will automatically keep the temperature at the correct mash temperature.
If you are using the brew in a bag with the turkey fryer it can be a little more of a challenge to keep the temperature exactly at the mash temperature. Don’t worry too much about this, most of the conversion takes place in the first 20 minutes of the mash and the temperature will not have fluctuated much during that time.
The following are a couple of suggestions to help keep the temperature steady with the brew in the bag:
Turn the burner back on for a couple of minutes until the temperature goes back up to the mash temperature. Be sure to stir the grains while you are doing this and make sure the grain bag is not touching the bottom of the kettle as you will scorch it.
Insulate your kettle. I have a buddy who uses the mash and boil system from Williams Homebrewing and he insulated his with the same type of insulating material you would use on a hot water heater. This keeps his kettle at the perfect mash temperature. (LINK)
You can also try wrapping your kettle with a sleeping bag. I have done this many times and also put a pillow over the lid of the kettle and it holds the temperature perfectly (make sure your burner is off).
4) Boil. Remove the grains from the kettle and turn on the burner to bring the liquid to a boil. Strive to maintain a nice rolling boil. Nothing too vigorous, just a nice rolling boil will do great. Once the boil starts remove the lid from the kettle and keep it off during the boil. The boil is typically 60 – 90 minutes depending on your recipe.
5) Add Hops. Your recipe will tell you when, how much, and what kind of hops to add. Follow the instructions. I prefer to place the hops in a hop bag, and then put the bag into the boil tied to the side of the kettle. This makes for a clearer beer.
6) Chill the Beer. When the boil is over it is time to chill your beer and get it down to the yeast pitching temperature. When I am brewing at home I use a method the Australians came up with called the No Chill method. They pour the hot wort into a cleaned HDPE (High-density-polyethylene) container, seal it, open the back air valve, and using oven mitts squeeze as much air out of the container as they can, close the valve, and then just let the wort chill overnight on its own.
It works great, and it’s simple to do. The next morning the wort will be at the ideal yeast pitching temperature.
Once the wort has reached the correct temperature to pitch the yeast you can now transfer it to your fermenter. You want oxygen to get into the wort at this point of the brewing process so I let the wort splash around when transferring it and I also give it a good stir. Now add your yeast, and put your lid and airlock in place.
Place the fermenter in a space in your home that is at room temperature. Between 58 – 70 degrees F works well. On the back of your yeast sachet, you will find the ideal fermenting temperature for that yeast.
I recommend that you let your beer ferment for 2 weeks in order to ensure fermentation has fully completed and the yeast has had time to clean itself up. You can learn more here about proper fermentation techniques.
Bottling or Kegging
Once the beer has finished fermenting it is time to package it. Most people start out bottling as it is the easier way to get started; however, most will switch to kegging their beer in a short period of time due to how convenient it is. Plus having beer on tap is an added perk.
The following posts will walk you step by step how to bottle or keg:
Enjoy Your Beer
Taste test time is one of the best parts of this hobby, there is nothing like pouring the first pint of your own brewed beer. Enjoy!
If you have any questions on any of this process feel free to post them in the comments section below and I will be sure to help you out.
Cheers, Big Robb is Out!