The wonderful world of beer and brewing can seem to be almost like a labyrinth of information at first glance. Indeed, there is a lot to learn if you want to take this noble art and craft to the highest level. However, the basics of home brewing are actually rather simple. Once it’s been broken down, you’ll soon realize that anyone can make a fairly decent beer, even with the most basic equipment.
Learning how to brew requires a bit of patience, but the rewards are fantastic. Once you get to grips with the various processes, you’ll have a seemingly endless supply of great beer in your fridge. And, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll see that there’s so much more you can do to improve the quality and stability of your beer.
This is the first in a series of guides we’ve created to teach absolute beginners the basics of home brewing. Read on, and you’ll soon nail it!
3 Brewing methods
Getting into home brewing doesn’t require a huge investment and there’s no need to buy tons of shiny new equipment. That comes later… There are 3 main methods that home brewers can employ, each with different pros and cons. What they all have in common is that the end result is plenty of decent beer!
Kit brewing is the easiest, most affordable way to get into home brewing. Many brewers start out using this method, simply because it involves so little risk. If you can make a microwave meal, you can make a fairly decent kit beer, but there is room to experiment.
Home brew starter kits will generally provide you with everything you need, including a fermenter, hydrometer, bottles and a beer kit. A beer kit is basically hopped, unfermented ‘beer’ extract, available in a number of different styles. The brewer simply needs to add water to the kit, pitch a pack of dried yeast and wait for the magic to happen.
While you may not learn much about how to brew, you’ll get an idea of the brewing process and whether this is the hobby for you. After a few brews you can experiment a bit more by adding your own hops and adjuncts.
● Low initial investment
● Easy to use
● Possible to experiment
● Very little control over finished product
● Not very involved in the brewing process
● Beer extract kits are quite expensive
Most brewers treat extract brewing as the next step up from kits. It requires less equipment than all grain brewing, but takes longer and requires more effort than kit brewing. However, the end product is superior and the brewer has far more control over the process.
Dried or liquid malt extract (DME/LME) is boiled with water for an hour or so, with hops added at various intervals to add bitterness and aroma. The brewer can also steep specialty grains in warm water and add this to the mix, allowing them to concoct almost any type of style. After the boil, the wort is cooled and transferred to the fermenter, ready for the yeast to be pitched.
Again, this method doesn’t require much equipment. If you already have a starter kit, you’ll only really need to invest in a large brewing pot, a set of scales and a chiller – though you can always use an ice bath.
● Room to experiment
● Brewer has more control over the final beer
● Very little additional equipment is required
● Malt extract is more expensive than malt grains
● Brewer doesn’t have full control over the brewing process
All grain brewing
This is the method the pros use, and it provides the brewer with full control over the entire brewing process. Any style of beer can be replicated, and fine details can be manipulated to create desirable attributes. It’s far more time consuming than the other methods however, and requires more equipment and thus, more investment.
It’s the natural progression for those who have mastered the basics of home brewing and want to push the boundaries. However, you’ll soon realize that there’s more to know, and it’ll take some practice to learn how to brew like a pro!
Brew in a bag (BIAB) is another all grain method that makes the mash stage easier. The grains are put in a fine mesh bag and left to steep in hot water. Once the mash is complete, the bag is removed and allowed to drip dry.
● Raw ingredients are cheap
● Brewer has total control over the final beer
● Can produce any type of beer
● More equipment required
● The most time-consuming method
● Highest initial investment
The best method for you?
Getting into the noble art of home brewing doesn’t need to be an expensive, space consuming effort. For anyone toying with the idea of taking up this fantastic hobby, try a couple of kit brews. The required equipment is readily available at a fair price, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to complete.
Extract brewing is the safe next step up, with just a little additional equipment required, but more choice as to what you can brew. After that, if you feel the urge why not move up to all grain brewing.
The best idea is to start small and build up your equipment over time. Everything you get in a typical starter kit will prove useful for each and every method. As you delve deeper into home brewing, start to purchase additional equipment and try new methods. You’ll soon be gazing longingly at those stainless steel conicals!