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Brewing your own beer may seem complicated from the outside looking in. It can even seem confusing as a newcomer to the hobby. However, after a brief learning period, you'll be making incredible beer in no time. In this article, we'll cover some of the absolute basics in homebrewing, the equipment you'll need, and of course, a recipe to follow.
Turning Grain Into (Liquid) Gold
The beer making process takes you through a few key steps which take water, a few pounds of grain, a couple ounces of hops, a bit of yeast, and turn it into the incredible beverage we call beer. Each of these four ingredients play a key role in any beer's characteristics. The best way to see how each of these things play a role in your first beer, let's take a look at the process. There are entire books about brewing your own beer. The guide below will only scratch the surface of the subject, but you will be able to make your first batch with just this article!
Get Your Equipment Together
Most brewers will brew between 3-10 gallons of beer at a time. It's possible to brew as low as 1 gallon of beer at a time. However, it takes roughly the same amount of effort and time to brew 10 gallons as it does one. Because of this, we're going to give you what you'll need to brew 5 gallons of beer. Most online recipe kits are designed to make 5 gallons of beer.
The process this article covers is called brew in a bag (or BIAB for short). It lets you use your own malted barley (readily available online and in local homebrew supply shops), and requires less equipment and startup expenses than other methods. There are even more entry level setups, but they give you far less control over your recipes.
- 7.5 Gallon Kettle
- Large Mesh Bag - to fit inside kettle (Also called a BIAB Bag).
- Large Spoon
- Propane burner
- Long Thermometer
- 6 Gallon Carboy
- Stopper for Carboy
- No Rinse Sanitizer (StarSan is popular among homebrewers)
- Immersion Wort Chiller (optional, but very useful).
- Large funnel
- New bottle caps
- Wing Bottle Capper
- Empty pry off-style beer bottles (can be recycled as long as they are pry-off bottles not screw tops).
- Bottling Bucket (Optional)
Buying all of this equipment piecemeal can become prohibitive and intimidating. Thankfully, most online homebrewing shops (MoreBeer, Northern Brewer, Homebrew Supply to name a few) all sell kits which include most of the components listed above. In regards to a propane burner, you can usually find turkey fryer setups that come with a good-sized kettle for a fair price on Amazon.
Your ingredients will change from beer to beer depending on what you're making. Most beer is made up of just four ingredients. Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast. The recipe for the blonde ale below also only contains those four simple ingredients. It's been brewed for two different weddings and is a certified hit.
- 10 Pounds - simple 2-row malt
- 0.5 Pounds - crystal malt 20L
- 0.25 Pounds - carapils malt
- 0.5 Ounces - Warrior Hops
- 2 Ounces - Saphir Hops
- Safale US-05 Yeast
- 7-8 Gallons of Water
That's all you need to produce five gallons of beer, which comes out to roughly 40-45 bottles. When your ingredients arrive, keep the yeast in the fridge and the hops in the freezer.
When ordering ingredients online or at a homebrew store, have the grain crushed for you as you likely don't have a grain mill.
Your First Brew Day
Brew day has finally arrived and you're excited to make some delicious beer. Here is a step-by-step process to create the incredible blonde ale listed above.
Step 1 - Mash Your Grains
The first thing you need to do is mash the grain. This process will convert the starches in the grain into sugar, which will be fermented by the yeast further down the road.
- Place your kettle on the propane burner and fill it with 5-6 gallons of water. The more the better, but leave room for the grain.
- Light the propane burner and raise the heat to 165F.
- Once you've reached 165F, turn off the propane burner.
- Place the crushed grains into the BIAB Bag and place the filled bag into the hot water.
- Stir very well to break up any clumps.
- Place the lid on your kettle and wait 60 minutes.
After the hour is passed, the enzyme in the grain should have completed their work. These enzymes love to work between 150-157F. Much hotter and they can be denatured, and cooler they won't convert the starches. We used 165F as a starting point because the lower temperature of the grain will lower the temperature of the water. You should land well within the ideal range.
Step 2 - Boiling
Now that the mashing is complete, it's time for the next step, which is boiling.
- Carefully lift the bag of grain out of the kettle. Let as much liquid drip back into the kettle as you can. Ideally, you can tie the bag above the kettle and let it drip for a while without holding it.
- Discard the grains. They can go into compost, be added to homemade bread, or even fed to any farm animals you keep.
- Re-light the propane burner and bring the sugary liquid, called wort, to a boil. Once it starts to boil, it will foam up very quickly. Turn the heat down on the burner to prevent a boil over.
Once the boil has settled down, it's time for hops. Hops serve two purposes in beer. Bitterness and flavor/aroma. The longer hops are boiled, the more bitterness they provide and less flavor/aroma they provide. Hops boiled for only a short period of time will add little to no bitterness to the beer. Hops strength are measure with Alpha Acids or AA. The higher the number, the higher the bittering potential of that given hop.
- Now that your beer is boiling, add the half ounce of Warrior hops and set a countdown timer for 50 minutes.
- Once the timer goes off, add one ounce of Saphir Hops. Set another countdown for 10 minutes.
- After the 10 minutes is up, add the last ounce of Saphir hops and turn off the burner.
- If you purchased a wort chiller, hook it up to a water source and place the copper (or steel) coil into the hot wort. Turn on the cold water. This will help cool your beer very quickly. Be careful of the water leaving the wort chiller as it will be hot.
- If you did not purchase a wort chiller, you'll need to find another way to cool the wort as quickly as you can. Some people place the kettle in an ice water bath. You can just let it sit until it cools, but it can take over 8 hours to cool to 70F, which is where you need it to be around.
- Once your wort has reached the ideal temperature range (65-70F), prepare a solution of sanitizer and sanitize your carboy, stopper, and airlock. Also sanitize anything that will touch the wort from here on out. At this point, your wort is a five star resort for bacterial growth, and we don't want that.
- Sanitize your funnel and carefully pour the wort into the (sanitized) carboy.
- Sprinkle in your yeast, affix the stopper, and attach the (filled) airlock to the stopper. Swirl the carboy around to incorporate the yeast.
- Carefully move the carboy to a cool dark location.
- Let your beer sit for two weeks. A couple days into this process, you may see the airlock bubbling. This indicates that CO2, a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation, is leaving the carboy.
Bottling, Conditioning, and Enjoying
After what seems like a decade, the two weeks has passed and your beer is ready to be bottled. Collect the 45-50 amber beer bottles needed for the process. Rinse them and put a bit of no rinse sanitizer in each. Pour out any sanitizer that will come out.
- If you don't have a bottling bucket, take a funnel and add a raised half-teaspoon of sugar to each bottle.
- If you do have a bottling bucket, weigh out 4 ounces of table sugar and dissolve it in warm water. Add the warm sugar water to the bottom of your bottling bucket.
Note that you only need to do one of the steps above. Do not add sugar to your bottles AND a bottling bucket.
- Carefully transfer your beer to the bottling bucket or fill each bottle to within an inch or so of the neck. The goal is to have as little splashing as possible.
- Once the bottles are filled, place an un-crimped cap on a bottle, then use the capper to crimp it in place. If you filled directly to the bottles (no bottling bucket), give the bottle a gentle swirl.
- Store your bottles at room temperature for a week in a dark place if possible (sunlight is bad for your beer).
- Once the week is up, add some bottles to the fridge and let them cool off for at least 8-12 hours.
Now the cold beers are ready for your glass. Cheers everyone! While you wait for your grain to mash, check out some of my other articles.