When you were last visiting the local home-brew depot or browsing online, you must have noticed the plethora of brew-your-own beer, “everything you need to brew in a box,” or “brewery in a box” kits available.
But are they any good, or can you make your own “kit” cheaper and more effectively?
For first-time brewers, these basic homebrewing kits can be an ideal way to brew that first batch of beer. They also make great gifts for somebody you want to introduce to the beer brewing process, just look how many of them pop up on Amazon near the holiday seasons, or In Men’s gadget and lifestyle shops.
Normally, all you need to add is cold water, and follow the instructions on the box. Homemade beer brewing can be just as easy when you don’t use a kit and will give you more freedom to try brewing different types of beers.
Much of the equipment you’ll need for your first attempt at homebrewing you’ll probably already have in your house and anything you have to buy will always be a good investment for future home-brew projects.
Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to brew beer at home without a kit and just how easy it can be. What are the easiest beers to brew and what ingredients are you going to need?
Is Homebrewing Illegal?
I certainly hope not, otherwise, all my home-brew buddies and I are in trouble! If it was illegal, the craft beer scene in the US would be a whole lot smaller and you would probably be reading this on the “dark web.”
In the US, homebrewing beer or wine was illegal since 1919, the days of prohibition. But in 1978, homebrewing was federally legalized, although in some states it wasn’t fully legal until as recently as 2011.
Each state may have its own additional legislature on brewing beer at home, but basically, as long as you’re only brewing 100 gallons a year per every 18-year-old in the household, and it’s for personal consumption, you’re fine.
The additional rules some states may have normally refer to the transporting of home-brew (in some states you can only consume the beer in your own home), or other aspects of homebrewing, such as the ABV of homebrewed beer allowed.
Basic Equipment Needed for Brewing Beer Without a Kit
Most types of beer will use the same equipment for a brew, it’s just whether you choose to go down the malt extract route or the full mash and boil all grain route where the equipment needed will change.
For extract brewing, you’ll need the following equipment as a bare minimum:
- A plastic fermenting bin or carboy. I would start with a 10-gallon bin. but you can use a 20-gallon fermenter if you want to produce larger batches. Always allow for a couple of gallons of headspace in your fermentation vessel to avoid a build-up of pressure during the fermentation process.
- A 22 quart or larger pot for the boil. I tend to use an old canner pot.
- 2-liter plastic bottles for bottling “Growler” style. Recycled glass beer bottles can also be used, but you will need some crown caps and a crown capper to seal the bottles efficiently.
- Vinyl tubing and hose clamps for transferring from one vessel to another and bottling.
- A good amount of sanitation solution. You’ll soon learn that sanitizing all equipment is key to a successful home-brew process.
Additional equipment that will prove useful is a hydrometer, for exact Original and Final gravity readings to enable you to work out the alcohol content of your homemade beer, and a thermometer, which can help take the guesswork out of the temperatures to brew at.
The Key Ingredients in Beer
Four common ingredients are used in all types of beer when brewing:
- Fresh water. The more consistent the quality of the water is, the better the final beer. Try to avoid using water with higher mineral or heavy metal contents to prevent a metallic taste and other funky flavors.
- A source of fermentable sugar. Normally, when going down the extract route (definitely the easiest to start with), this will be some form of malt extract. As you progress you can always use some form of grains as a fermentable sugar source.
- Hops. The magic ingredient that gives beers and lagers a crisp finish and, in some cases, a hoppy flavor and aroma.
- Yeast. A quality brewer’s yeast is essential for the production of homebrewed beer. For ales and bitters, you’ll need a top-fermenting yeast, which allows for the sediment to drop to the bottom of the beer for easier filtration and bottling. Bottom fermenting yeasts are used in the brewing of lager-style beers but need more controlled temperatures.
What Is an Easy First Beer to Brew?
Ales and stouts are definitely the easiest beers to brew at first. Ales tend to be more forgiving and easily salvageable if you should make a mistake.
Lagers by comparison need stricter temperature control for the yeasts to ferment correctly and really need a fermenting chamber where the temperature is controlled.
Pale ales, Brown ales, Irish Stouts, Amber ales, and Porters are among the easiest first brews. Check out my article here on the easiest first beers to brew.
As you get more experienced, you can move on to advanced techniques to produce beers like an IPA, a Wheat Beer, or even a Pilsner-style lager.
10 Easy Steps to Brew Beer at Home Without a Kit
You’ll need some basic ingredients if you want to try out a simple ale recipe without buying a kit:
- A 4 oz can of malt extract (flavor of your choice)
- 8 cups of white sugar or corn syrup
- Hops, added at the boiling stage or dry hopped at the end of fermentation if needed.
- 1 packet of Brewers Yeast
- 24 tsp of granulated sugar for bottling
- Fresh cold water
Sanitize all your equipment thoroughly. Wash with warm, soapy water and rinse off all residues of the soap before using a food-grade sanitizer to ensure all bacteria are killed. No rinse sanitizers like StarSan are ideal for this, but you can also use 1 tbsp of bleach per gallon of water to soak your equipment in – just be sure to rinse with clean water after.
Pour 2.7 gallons of cold water into your fermenting bin.
Pour a 40 oz can of malt extract into your pot with boiling water and keep stirring until completely dissolved (about 20 minutes is normally a good boil time). Add about 8 cups of white sugar, or preferably corn syrup, and allow to dissolve.
Add the malt and sugar mixture to your fermenting bin and then top up with cold water until the temperature comes down to 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Add the yeast to the bin and stir.
Place the top on the bin and allow it to ferment for 6 days at room temperature. Adding an airlock to the top will allow for any excess gasses to escape during the fermentation process. Don’t remove the lid during this time to avoid contamination from airborne bacteria.
Check on the beer after 6 days. If it has stopped “bubbling” then it is normally ready. A more accurate way of knowing whether the beer is ready or not is to use a hydrometer. For higher beers, like Pale Ales, you’ll be looking for a Final Gravity of about 1.008 while darker beers will typically be between 1.010 and 1.015.
Congratulations, you have brewed your first beer! Now just to bottle it. For beginners, I would recommend 2-liter plastic bottles with screw top lids. Add 2 tsp of sugar to each 2-liter bottle for secondary fermentation to take place in the bottle and give the beer that natural fizz.
As you get more experienced, you can always reuse those empty glass beer bottles you may have lying around, just use a crown capper to seal them and ensure they are well-sterilized before use.
Using a sanitized plastic tube, siphon the beer off into each bottle, allowing for a little head space, before sealing the lid and then invert the bottle to mix the sugar. When the tube starts to reach the sediment at the bottom of the bin you are done and have got all the beer you can from this batch.
Store the plastic bottles in a warm dark place for 2 days to allow important secondary fermentation to take place. A good sign the beer is ready and carbonated enough is when the plastic bottles are hard to squeeze, this means they are gassed up.
Move them to a cool dark place to store when the bottles are firm to touch and place them in the chiller if needed before drinking.
Can You Make Beer Without Brewing?
Strictly speaking, no. Beer by its very nature is a fermented or “brewed” beverage. Fermentation doesn’t just give beer that fizz but it also contributes to the aroma and taste of the beer. Without the brewing or fermentation process, all you’re left with is a sugary wort.
However, you can brew beers using botanical ingredients rather than traditional malts or grains as long as you have a source of fermentable sugar. Yeast still needs to be added, but many beer connoisseurs would consider these “non-brewed” beers.
Brewing Beer at Home Without a Kit – Final Thoughts
For most of us experienced homebrewers, we now have our own kit which we have accumulated over the years. A pre-bought kit can be ideal for somebody new to the homebrewing hobby but isn’t strictly necessary. As I have shown above, much of the equipment needed to brew your own beer are common household items that you probably already have.
A visit to your local hardware store or a home-brew depot should suffice to buy any extra equipment you need. Building your own kit rather than a brewery in a box-style kit off the shelf will allow you to experiment more with different styles of beers and more advanced brewing techniques.
How did you first start homebrewing? Did you buy a kit or build your own? Do you have any stories that could help future homebrewers develop their own kits? Get in touch and let me know if you think I’ve missed any important details or just with some handy tips for the home-brew community!