Brewing 101: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Beer at Home
Brewing isn't just for the pros. You can do it too!
So, you want to brew beer at home but you don’t know where to start? Maybe you’re making the move from extract brewing or diving right in with all grain. Either way, there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there and it can get confusing.
We’ve listened to what you’ve said on social, spoken with the newbies and pulled in the expertise of our resident brewers. Now we’re proud to share with you All Grain Brewing 101: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Beer at Home.
Read on for a step by step guide of everything you need to know to get started. If you want to know more about a topic, just follow the links provided to access an in-depth article or video.
We raise a glass to your journey and welcome you to the community of home brewers across the globe.
Let's start with a quick intro to brewing beer
Beer doesn’t just taste great; it has a fascinating history too.
Brewing, in some form or other, has been around for thousands of years, with evidence of recipes dating back nearly as far as 2000BC.
Beer quickly became the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, with currently around 2 billion hectolitres being brewed worldwide, per year.
Craft breweries, synonymous with innovation in flavours and often higher percentage beers are starting to take more of the market.
For homebrewers, a good beer can be anything that we enjoy as we don’t have to cater to other people’s tastes. So what kind of brewer will you become? The maker….The scientist….The wild one or even the old-school master?
We want everyone to enjoy making beer at home, so let’s get started with the guide and get you up and brewing in no time.
1. Ingredients for All Grain Brewing
Brewing your own beer has endless creativity but there are some basic ingredients you will need to get started.
These are processed grains which have a naturally high starch content. Brewers use the starch for the formation of sugar and the eventual production of alcohol. Malted barley, or malt, is the brewer’s preferred grain for making beer though many other types of malted and non-malted grains are commonly used.
Hops are what makes beer beer. They provide a flavour and aroma and help keep the beer fresher for longer. In most brewing situations, some number of hops are boiled in wort for 1-1.5 hours, and it is during this time that the ‘alpha acids’ provide the main bitter and preservative element of beer. We have compiled everything you need to know about hops in this great article.
Yeast is the most important element of brewing. It’s what converts the sugar to alcohol. Most yeast manufacturers indicate the ‘style’ of beer the yeast is most suited to, in order to help you in the beginning. This article walks you through how to pitch the correct quantity of healthy yeast.
Pure, clean water is essential as it makes up more than 85% of your beer. The better that quality of the water, the better the beer.
With the correct knowledge and adjustments, water can be the difference in turning a great beer into an amazing beer! Read more about the importance of water chemistry. Brewing is science after all!
2. Brewing Equipment
Brewing at home can be made a lot easier when you have the right gear and tools. With a whole range of brewing systems and accessories on the market, it can get a little confusing for someone new to the hobby.
Systems like the Grainfather have been created to make the hobby more accessible to everyone as they combine multiple pieces of the equipment into a single cohesive device. Don’t panic if you don’t have an all-grain system yet, the essential bits of gear you will need to acquire to begin brewing are based on the same fundamentals. Our resident brewer walks you through the equipment essentials in this video.
A brew kettle is used to boil wort during the wort-creation process. We recommend choosing a high-quality product here, especially one made from 304 stainless steel. The resistance to corrosion and heat damage which will prove its value over time and last for years.
If you are proceeding to all-grain brewing from extract, then you may also need to get your hands on a mash tun for the additional mashing process. While many systems including the Grainfather G30 combine both the kettle and the mash tun into a single piece, it is possible to use a separate mash tun from your kettle.
A critical piece of equipment for any brewer. A fermenter is where the sugary solution made from steeping malted grains in warm water (the wort) takes on its alcoholic content.
3. The Beer Brewing Process
Here is a breakdown of the basic parts of the brewing process and while there is much to learn, this starting point will get you started brewing in no time!
There are only 3 rules in brewing. Sanitise, sanitise and sanitise! It may not be the most enjoyable part of brewing but it’s the most important. The last thing a brewer wants is a batch of beer ruined by avoidable contamination.
Mashing refers to the process where enzymes in the grain convert complex starches into sugars which can be turned into alcohol. Using a ‘Mash Tun’ the grains are steeped in warm water usually between 65°C – 68°C (149°C – 154°F) for an hour.
Once the mashing is complete the grains are ‘rinsed’ with new warm water to extract all the sugars from the grains.
Boiling concentrates, sanitises and contributes significantly to the final wort composition, which in turn controls many of the factors in flavour, body and palate fullness of the final beer. It‘s also where we add delicious hops.
To begin the fermentation process, you transfer cooled wort to a fermenting vessel and add the yeast. During this process, the yeast converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and CO2. Important flavour compounds are also being created at this stage.
While we do not have complete control over our fermenting time, controlling the temperature is important to the outcome of the fermentation time and the quality of the finished product.
We have compiled an in-depth guide to fermentation to help you avoid any mistakes.
Kegging and Bottling
When it comes to packaging your beer at the end of the process there are several options available to homebrewers. The most popular of these choices is bottling or kegging.
Bottling is generally the cheaper and simple option for those starting out. It also makes it easier to turn up to a BBQ with your latest homebrew in hand.
Just like everything in brewing, bottles need to be clean and sanitised. Fortunately, this can be as easy as running them through a hot wash in a clean dishwasher. Bottles can be glass or plastic and can be reused to make the hobby even more sustainable.
If you’re planning on bottling your homebrew, take a read of our guide to bottling beer.
Kegging beer is a more consistent alternative to bottling – it also takes less time.
Kegs can be hooked up to a tap and served just like your local brewery. It’s more of an investment but as well as ease of process, it comes with the ultimate bragging rights. Picture your next hangout, sharing your latest brew from your home bar set up.
If you think kegging is the way to package up your brew, you can find some great tips in our guide to kegging.
We recommend following brew day videos on YouTube to see the process in action. You can subscribe to our channel here.
4. Homebrewing Techniques
Once you have the basics covered, you can experiment with different techniques – and there are a lot of them! Here are just a few to excite the appetite:
Making a yeast starter
A great way to save money is by creating a yeast starter. Yeast will happily reproduce under the right conditions. This means that you can multiply the number of yeast cells from one packet. The process is straightforward and it takes less than an hour to set up.
The bitterness, flavour and aroma in hoppy beers like IPA’s, mostly come from essential oils in hops. Hops in the boil is essential to the production of iso-alpha acids which determine the bitterness of the beer, but you will want to add your hops towards the end of the boil if you want some delicious notes (as most of the flavour and aroma oils are easily boiled off.)
Dry hopping is the process of adding the hops back into the beer to steep towards, or at the end of fermentation.
This technique preserves as much flavour and aroma in the final beer which is great for hoppy beer styles like pale ales and IPAs.
Through trial and error, we have compiled the best techniques, backed by prominent breweries on dry hopping. You can get the article here.
As you develop your skills, you may wish to experiment with different techniques like step mashing. Step mashing is where the temperature is progressively increased through a series of rests. It’s a great technique for producing more variety and more distinctive beers. If you want to learn more about this technique, you can watch our instructional video here.
- Adding enzymes to the wort to remove the proteins and polyphenols that cause haze development.
- Choosing the right raw materials. Using high alpha acid hops for bittering will reduce the hop-derived haze in your beer. Hop leaves contain more polyphenols than hop extracts. Low-polyphenol-content malts do exist but some compromise on flavour.
- Try using a batch sparge, which is known to reduce the amount of tannins extracted from the husks.
- Use a wort chiller for rapid and effective chilling. When boiling wort is rapidly cooled, the trub forms large particles and drops to the bottom. This is called the cold break, and it drops a lot of protein out of the solution.
Permanent hazeIf you are worried about the look of your beer, a permanent haze will be the bane of tasting day. As the name suggests, it’s a haze that doesn’t go away. It could also suggest a serious problem in the brewing process. A permanent haze can be due to biological contamination. You will easily be able to identify a biological haze as it’s not just the look that will be off. There’s little that can be done to fix the problem but it will be a learning curve to tighten your sanitation process to prevent it happening in your next batch.
Common Off Flavours in Beer
New and seasoned homebrewers alike often experience different off flavours in beer at some stage of the journey. This can be quite disappointing, so if you want to learn more about recognising, remedying and avoiding common off flavours, read our article here.
5. Homebrewing Tips and Tricks
Our resident brewer and social followers have kindly shared their top tips for a smooth brew day.
- Know all the steps of your brew before starting.
- Read your recipe a few times, don’t miss count if you make the recipe larger!
- Start off with a relatively simple brew until you get used to the process and familiar with your equipment, save the 12% Russian Imperial Stouts or DDH IPA’s for further down the road.
- Be patient! Your beer won’t go bad sitting in the fermenter or cellar a bit longer than needed.
- Have fun when homebrewing. Why wouldn’t you make your own beer if there’s no fun in doing it?
We are working on bringing you a more extensive blog of homebrewers tips and tricks so watch this space!
6. Beer Recipes
Now for the fun stuff!
Choosing your recipe may reflect your choice in beer or perhaps you want to start off with a blonde ale to ease yourself in. Whatever tickles your fancy, we have you covered along with a whole bunch of creative inspiration.
If you haven’t already, join our community of craft brewers and gain free access to a catalogue of recipes.
7. Homebrewing Resources
If you’re really serious about homebrewing, we recommend further reading. Or listening! Here are our recommendations for brewing books and podcasts.
Congratulations, you’ve graduated from home brew wannabe to a well-informed crafter. Now you just need to get started. Don’t forget to follow our social channels to stay up to date with even more great content.
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