I can remember years ago when I first started making beer. I was using the ol’ can of goo beer kits, and although I finally figured out how to make those beer kits taste alright they never ever tasted quite as good as the beer made by the guys who were making their beer from scratch.
… so I started out on a mission to figure out how they were making beer at home without a kit. At first I thought that it would be very difficult to do, that there must be a lot involved in the process… I was wrong!
As you will see in this post, it turned out that making beer from scratch just using grains and hops was not that difficult at all and rather simple… lots of fun and the best part was that the beer tasted so much better.
My goal in this post is to show you the basics to help you get started making your first batch of beer from your home kit free… I will explain the equipment needed, the ingredients required, how to get them all one place and provide you with a quick overview of the brewing process itself.
The Equipment You Will Need
First off… making beer at home without a kit is called All Grain Brewing.
And with all grain brewing different people use different methods for making their beer. Basically the different methods come down to how many pieces of equipment are used in the brewing process.
Some people may use 3 vessels/kettles… some may use 2… while others will use only 1.
Myself I prefer using a 1 vessel system and when I brew at home that is all I ever use. Now having said that you will see in many of my newer brew videos from my pub that I brew there on a 2 vessel system.
The process is very similar to the 1 vessel system. And the only reason I use the 2 vessel system at my brew pub is that it was the most economical method for us. Which is funny, because brewing at home, the most economical method to making beer by far is using the 1 vessel system…. go figure.
So that is what I recommend you use…
Before I get into the pieces of equipment I recommend, let me say that when I discuss the equipment you require to brew beer without a kit, I am assuming you have already brewed a few batches of the kit beers and as such already have the basic equipment you require to make beer… such as a fermenter, bottles, etc.
Those pieces of equipment you will also use with All Grain brewing.
OK lets get into the additional equipment you will require to make all grain beer using a 1 vessel system:
A 1 vessel system is called BIAB, Brew in a Bag or Brew in a Basket.
The difference between the two is:
1) Brew in a Bag: 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.
2) Brew in a Basket: 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 of us will still use the brew bag with these systems as you get better efficiency verses using the basket.
These types of systems are typically called all-in-one, all grain brewing systems. And of course some of them come with more bells and whistles than the others; but from my experience the beer all comes out just as good.
So in the end you are going to need to decide on your own which system you wish to start with… myself I started with the kettle and the turkey fryer and brew bag… this was due to cost. It was the least expensive way to start making beer…
… 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 is damn cold!
I now will use either one… depends on my mood and whether I want to brew inside or outside.
So the choice is yours.
Brew in the Bag you will need:
– Kettle that is capable of holding 15 gallons of water
– Brew Bag. A company called Brew in a Bag makes the best on the market. Just pick one up that fits the kettle you buy
– A turkey fryer and a bottle of propane.
All-In-One Brewing System:
You just need to pick the one you want to use:
– I brew on the Mash & Boil from Williams Home Brewing and it has worked good. 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!
– If I were to buy a new model, I would buy the grain father. It is the higher end all-in-one system on the market and has some neat accessories with it.
In the end guys all three of the systems/methods I just listed make good beer, and it really just depends on how much you want to spend.
Here is a review of the mash & Boil:
And if you want to see the grain father Adventures in Homebrewing carries them and the mash and boil.
Ingredients You Will Need
OK… when it comes to making beer at home without a kit the ingredients you are going to need are:
– 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 counter parts. And in most cases the 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.
Now that is basically it for the ingredients you will require…
… The recipe you use will tell you exactly what you need and how much. You can source your ingredients online. I typically use Adventures in HomeBrewing to order all my ingredients.
What Recipe Should You Use
OK now you are getting into the fun part of making beer… what beer are you going to make?
There are recipes all over the place… the internet has recipes, YouTube has recipes, you can find recipes on my site and of course there are books you can buy with recipes in them.
My favorite book when it comes to making beer without a kit is Home Brew Beer by Greg Hughes. It’s a great 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 believe it or not pick up an All Grain beer kit!
haha… yup a beer kit…
… here I am teaching you how to make beer without a kit and now I am recommending you pick one up! 🙂
Bare with me… these are not the can of goo kits… but rather what some companies have done is packed all the grains, hops, and yeast you need into a package/box and included the recipe for you.
So you order this “kit” and it comes with all the ingredients you require AND the recipe with detailed instructions!
It’s a great way to get started making beer without a kit… oh’ the irony I know! lol
I started out this way and to this day I still use many of the recipes that came with those all grain kits.
Adventures in Home Brewing carry a wide selection of kits with very good recipes!
Let’s Get Brewing
OK… you have your equipment, you have your recipe and you have your ingredients… lets make some beer!
And again… what I am about to explain I do so with the understanding that you have already made beer from the can of goo before?
If you are a brand new novice to brewing I suggest you back up a couple of steps and learn to make beer with a simple beer kit to begin with it… it will give you all the basic brewing knowledge you need to understand.
The following is a link to a post I did showing you how to learn the basics of brewing: Get Started Brewing Beer
OK… Now making beer using the 1 vessel system is simple. The following are the simple steps to take:
1) Heat up your mash water. Making beer is like making tea. You heat up your tea water and than you put the tea bag into the warm water to soak to get all the goodness out of the tea bag.
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 kettle (into the bag or basket within the kettle I should say), 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. The grains are now in the kettle… you now let them soak in the water for either 60 – 90 minutes. Whatever your recipe calls for. You will want to stir the grains from time to time to increase your efficiency. (once very 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 is a little trickier to keep the temperature exactly at the mash temperature. Do NOT worry 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.
A couple of things you can do to help keep the temperature steady with the brew in the bag system is:
– 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 home brewing ( I have also), 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.
You can also simply wrap your kettle with a sleeping bag. I have done this many times and put a pillow over the lid of the kettle and it held the temperature perfectly also.(make sure your burner is off!!) Lots you can do. But again do not worry too much about this, just do your best and the beer will be fine.
4) Time to Boil. Remove the grains from the kettle and fire up the burner to boil baby! You want a nice rolling boil. Nothing crazy, just 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 and how much and what kind of hop to add. Follow the instructions. I prefer to place the hops in a hop bag, and than put the bag into the boil, tied to the side of the kettle. This makes for a clearer beer.
6) Chill the Beer. Just like with the beginner forms of making beer, with a kit, you now need 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-polyethelyne) container, seal it, open the back air valve and using oven mitts squeeze as much air out of the container, close the valve and than just let the wort chill overnight on its own.
It works great, and its easy! The next morning the work will be at perfect yeast pitching temperature and you can dump it into the fermenter and add the yeast! You can pick those containers up at most hardware stores or even on Amazon.
Enjoy Your First All Grain Beer
That is it my friend, as I told you making beer at home without a kit is fun and a simple process.
If you have any questions, post them in the comments section below and I will be sure to help you out. Cheers!