New to homebrewing? It can often be quite overwhelming when first starting out deciding which style of beer to attempt brewing first. Even us old hands can find it hard sometimes with new styles of beer being created on an almost daily basis!
We all know what our favorite types of beer are, but how easy are they to replicate at home? Nothing is worse than a batch of beer you have worked so hard to brew, turning out an undrinkable mess with fruity off-flavors.
What types of beer are easy to brew for the beginner brewer? Which are the more easily-salvageable beer types if you should make a mistake? And also, is it legal to brew your own beer at home or do you need a permit?
Let’s take a look at some of the beer types which could be classified as the best beginner beers for the newbie home-brewer.
“Easy” doesn’t necessarily mean bad beer, just one which should start you on a long-term hobby and have you moving on to more advanced techniques with more confidence.
The Legality of Home-Brew
if you’ve never brewed your own beer before it’s quite understandable that you may be concerned about how legal it is. After all, news stories keep popping up about random good ole boys being prosecuted and even jailed for making moonshine in their own unlicensed stills. Fortunately, brewing your own beer is a completely different story!
Home-brew was federally legalized in 1978, with a cap of 200 gallons per year applied for a household where 2 or more people of legal drinking age resided.
Unfortunately, each state has its own statutes on alcohol and it wasn’t until July 2013 that the last two states of Mississippi and Alabama finally made home brewing of beers, ciders, wine, and mead legal.
Homebrewing is a relatively safe pastime compared to operating a still for the distillation of home spirits and moonshine. When distilling moonshine, larger amounts of potentially explosive alcohol vapor and highly flammable ethyl alcohol are often a disaster waiting to happen.
By comparison, the worst that may happen when brewing beer at home is the odd “explosion” or fountain of beer from a fermenter or bottle when the beer is over lively.
Maybe that’s why moonshine production, even for your own consumption, is illegal while beer brewing is now pretty widely accepted (although many would argue it’s more to do with the higher levels of taxation involved in moonshine).
With each state still setting its own regulations for the production of alcohol, some of the more conservative states may limit the ABV of beers you can brew, and even limit the transportation of home-brewed beers to the place where it was produced, effectively banning you from taking it outside your own home.
Check local regulations if you’re unsure before starting a brew.
Lager vs Ale – Which Is the Easiest to Brew?
Almost all home-brew enthusiasts would agree that ales are by far the easiest beers to brew and an excellent place for the beginner brewer to start. Ales are much more forgiving in their brewing process, meaning that any of the common mistakes a new brewer may make will be salvageable.
Hoppier styles of beers can help mask the off flavors you may get from a poor water supply and give the beer more bite, the more forgiving yeasts used by ales don’t require the fermentation chambers and cooler fermentation needed by lager yeasts, and a malty complexity gives more flavor.
The higher levels of alpha acids in the hops of ale will also make the beer more bitter and help mask any mistakes you may have made.
As a beginner homebrewer, there are also many more beer styles to choose from when brewing ale, particularly when making an extract beer. Ingredient kits that use malt extras are an ideal way for the beginner-level homebrewer to start.
A recipe kit offers an almost foolproof way of brewing your favorite beer recipe at home successfully and there’s a wide choice to choose from in almost every beer style.
Once you’ve mastered the brewing process and made your perfect beer with no mistakes, you can then move on to more advanced beer styles and try out the all-grain brews with more additional techniques for a more authentic beer.
Easy-to-Brew Beer Types
Below I have listed some of the more popular beer types which are also among the easiest to brew. You’ll notice the majority of them are ales because, as said above ales are the easiest style of beer to brew and the most forgiving of mistakes.
American Amber Ale
An American amber ale is a beloved beer amongst many beer drinkers due to its malty complexity and only slight hop flavor which isn’t as overpowering as found in other types of beer in general.
This ale is defined by its deep rust or dark amber color, just like European amber ales, from the use of darker roasted malts alongside light malts.
The American version of an amber ale uses American hops which make it a more citrusy version than the traditional English bitters. Amber ales are known for their malty caramel flavor with a hint of citrus and low to moderate hop levels.
An amber ale is an ideal choice for brewers who are less experience as they can learn to experiment with fining agents and clarifiers used for that outstanding clarity. Novice brewers can also try out adding a few additives such as different hops or malts without losing the whole flavor profile of the ale.
American Pale Ale
Before the explosion in the American IPA craft beer market, American pale ales were the most popular beer style and are still considered an American beer classic. Fortunately, they are also easy to brew and a good choice for homebrewers.
An American pale ale is typically a bright copper color and features an American-style carbonation level which is much higher than English versions. They are also usually served much cooler than their English counterparts.
Cascade hops are most commonly used in an American pale ale, which gives it those citrus and floral notes we all love so much. The hops can also help mask any off flavors from mistakes you may make when boiling the extract.
If you scorch the extract (easy enough to do) you may get a more caramel flavor in the finished beer which the larger than normal hop additions can help to cover up.
An American pale ale is probably the closest you will get to brewing an IPA without actually reaching those same dizzying levels of bitterness. The higher hop additions needed by an IPA and more advanced techniques can make an IPA a tricky first brew for the novice brewer.
Instead, the APA offers a beer that is moderately heavy, but with only a moderate hop aroma for beer lovers who find the bold hop flavor IPAs tough to stomach.
American Brown Ale
American brown ales are beers that have been inspired by the more traditional brown ales found in England.
An American brown ale uses substantial amounts of American-grown hops and an American yeast compared to the English version where a more complex yeast often adds to the flavor of this beer.
Similar to an amber ale in color, the use of dark malts and roasted barley gives it a much darker color. Normally the darker a beer gets the sweeter it becomes but this is not the case with an American Brown Ale.
Amber ales tend to use caramelized sugars which results in less of the sugar being fermented and a sweeter drink. Brown ales use much less caramelized sugars with more fermentable sugars, resulting in less sweet but nuttier flavor notes.
The naturally bitter flavor of an American brown ale can help cover a multitude of mistakes that will often be made in the brewing process by beginner brewers and the dark coloring can hide any haze or other clarity issues you may experience with those first few brews.
The brewing process is classically simple with a few basic hop additions during the boil and a basic flavor profile that comes from the toasted grains used. An extract kit makes the process even simpler for the new brewer.
As they get more confident, many ambitious all-grain brewers often try their hand at roasting their own malts for the American brown ales for a deeper malt complexity.
American Wheat Beer
The main advantage of wheat beers for the novice brewer is the hazy finish which removes the stress of worrying about the clarity of the finished beer.
Getting your beer clear enough to see through can often be a headache when you first start out and some start-up homebrewers will overstress about this. In addition, the higher hop profile of an American wheat beer can help cover any imperfections in the flavor.
American wheat beers have their roots in the German Hefeweizen and the Belgian-style beer witbier. American versions tend to feature less fruity flavors than European wheat beers, will be more heavily hopped, and in general, use American ale yeasts.
Wheat beers are rarely filtered and don’t require a secondary fermentation so they are ideal for the first-time brewer who wants a faster brew with a quicker turnaround.
Unfortunately, if going all grain, wheat beers can be one of the more difficult beers to brew due to the lack of husk on wheat which makes the mashing process more complex and more TLC needed.
There are many excellent extract wheat beer kits available that take away the difficulty of the all-grain mash. The Northern Brewer one-gallon all-in-one recipe kit is a great place to start brewing excellent extract wheat beers.
Adventure With Fruit Additions
A wheat beer is an excellent first brew to try additions for flavor. Many Belgian brewers have added fruits to their wheat beers for a more complex flavor profile.
When you’re ready to step up your brew game, wheat beer is the perfect place to start. Adding fruits such as peaches to a Hefeweizen recipe can leave the flavor intact while creating an excellent American peach wheat ale.
Porters & Stouts
The main advantage of Porters for homebrewers just starting out on their journey is the similar brewing process of a brown ale but with a much darker color. This makes it more resilient and less susceptible to mistakes or failure.
Porters are a darker European-style beer. Like a brown ale, you will find both American versions and English versions with the American Porters adding a higher hop bill to the brew pot.
Dark malts make the beer very dark in color and additions like chocolate malt can also be added to improve the flavor and aroma of the Porter. However, be careful not to add too much as this can give the beer a more bitter or burnt flavor.
18th Century Porters had a reputation of being several beers mixed together in the beer glass so you can often get away with a darker beer with muddled flavors if your first attempt doesn’t turn out perfect.
A dark wheat beer that originates from Germany, a Dunkelweizen is a good option for those summer parties in a beer garden, with a dark color that can hide any haze from mistakes in the brewing process.
A top-fermenting ale that uses a traditional brewers yeast this is an ideal beer to maybe try your first all-grain brew.
Combining the rich malty characteristics of a Munich Dunkel with the fruity banana and clove-like esters of a traditional Hefeweizen you get a classic style that is quite easy to replicate at home.
A medium-bodied German beer, it uses Munich and Vienna malts for that malty flavor with grainy wheat and a small amount of de-bittered black malt for a light amber to a mahogany color.
Hops use just enough of the noble hops to avoid the beer from becoming too sweet as the flavor and aroma of the malts should shine through.
You can even try experimenting with the temperature the beer ferments at, with warmer temperatures resulting in more fruity esters and conversely slightly cooler fermentation temperatures resulting in less.
The Hardest Beers to Brew
Although I started by looking at the easiest beers to brew for the first-time brewer, there are some beer types I would definitely recommend you don’t try until you have more experience.
In particular, sour beers (or Lambics) and New England IPAs can be too difficult for many experienced homebrewers, let alone a novice.
The bacteria or airborne yeast used in sour beers can make them troublesome to brew. Hops in these beers also need to be aged and take more preparation. And the addition of fruit to many sour beers adds to the level of brew complexity with more time needed to mature than most other ale brews.
New England IPA is also particularly difficult due to the water chemistry and the dry hop additions. If the wrong water is used, you won’t get that juicy mouthfeel so associated with New England IPAs. Plus, exposure to oxygen during the dry hopping stage can make a beer taste grassy or go off much more than an IPA without dry hopping.
The Easiest Beer to Brew – The Conclusion
Homebrewing can be fun. There’s nothing better than inviting a few of the lads around to sample your latest homebrew.
But one of the things which can quickly sour a home-brew hobby is a bad batch of beer. Don’t be too adventurous with your first attempts and stick to beer styles that are easy to brew. You can always move on to more experimental brews as you get more experienced.
Recipe kits, particularly extract kits, are a great way to start home brewing your own beers and there are some really good quality ones out there for all styles of beer. I’m not ashamed to say that I still occasionally purchase an extract kit, especially when brewing quick batches of beer for my next party.
Let me know if you think I have missed out any particularly easy-to-brew beer that you have tried. We always want to hear your brewing adventure stories here!