Making your own beer isn’t as complicated as it might seem. Yes, the science behind the beverage can be a little daunting, but just like any art, you need to try different methods to create the outcome you want.
The most important part of creating beer is getting started. If you spend forever thinking the craft would be a great hobby but never taking the plunge, then you will never know if you could have been a great homebrewer.
Before we get started, we want to say a massive welcome to the readers of BillyBrew.com. We have recently acquired the website and are excited to see more homebrewing crafters join our community.
If you’re new to this industry you may come across some unfamiliar terms. We will try to use generally understood terminology so everyone can use our advice.
However, if we write a word or phrase that you don’t understand, you will likely find the meaning in this list of brewing definitions.
How To Make Beer – The Basic Steps
To make beer you need to follow these basic steps.
The equipment you need can be found in this guide we have created for all fermentation processes, however if you know you’ll be using all-grain or malt extract methods you can click on the links for more specific advice.
For now, we want to give you a quick overview to help you visualize the process.
Step 1 – Brew
The brewing process starts by steeping grains in hot water. When the water reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit or 77 degrees Celsius, you can separate the liquid from the grains.
The water should be emptied into a kettle, where you heat it to boiling point. Once it has boiled, you add in your malt extracts and then heat to boiling point again.
What you now have is wort – a type of sugar water. You need to cool it down quickly, either using a wort chiller or an ice bath.
Step 2 – Ferment
In this step, you need to pour your wort into a sanitized fermenter. Then add in water.
Depending on the amount of wort you have and the fermentation equipment you’re using, the amount of water you’ll need will vary.
At this point, you’ll add in yeast and then seal your fermenter. Keep the bottle in a dark and cool place, ensuring the temperature doesn’t rise or fall too far from 68 degrees Fahrenheit or 20 degrees Celsius.
You then leave the wort to ferment for around 2 weeks.
Step 3 – Bottle
When the 2 weeks are up, you can sterilize the bottles you hope to decanter your beer into. But before you pour the beer into these bottles, you need to complete one more step.
Boil your priming sugar, then let it cool. Once it’s cool pour it into your bottling bucket.
Then pour all of your beer out of the fermenter and into the same bucket.
Once they have had time to mix, you can start to fill up your bottles. Store them for around 2 weeks, and then your beers will be ready to try.
Different Types Of Brewing
Generally speaking, there are three different types of brewing – all grain, extract, and partial mash.
These names refer to how the base of the beer is created. Malt extract is the easiest to homebrew but doesn’t give you a lot of control over the flavor.
All grain allows you to create the exact flavors you want, but you need to be precise and own more specialist equipment.
Partial-mash is a mixture of the two. It is easier than all grain and gives you more control than extracting.
We suggest new homebrewers should start their hobby with malt extract brewing. It will help them find their feet in the process, understand how each step works and doesn’t take up as much space while you grow into the hobby.
We have some tips here, to help make your first brew even easier.
Testing Your Beer
Part of the brewing process should involve testing your beer. When you test it, you’re looking for the mash pH, the starch conversion, the treatment, yeast viability, and more.
First Test – Water Analysis
You can buy multi-use testing tools to help you gauge how your brew is doing, but before you start analyzing your creation, you need to know what your water system levels are like beforehand.
This means testing your water’s basic chemistry to see what your baseline is.
You can buy test kits that will help you learn what your water’s pH is, the minerals found in the water, and the hardness of the liquid.
All of this information will help you alter your beer’s flavor once you know what to do with it.
Second Test – Mash pH
If you’re using a partial mash or all-grain, you need to test the compounds to gauge the pH level. You start this test when all of the grains have been dough-in, which is the second part of the first step.
When you have created a couple of batches, you can use information gathered from your Mash pH to learn which pH creates the best flavors.
What you will be balancing is the activity of the enzymes in your beer, more or less activity will affect the flavors.
Third Test – Starch Conversion
Your starch conversion is the process of testing if your starch has been turned into sugar. The sugar is needed to make your beer alcoholic.
This test doesn’t need additional equipment, instead, all you need to do is follow this methodology using your original ingredients.
You can start testing the starch right before you filter it out of the liquid. You check the starch conversion tests to see if more time is needed.
Fourth And Sixth Test – Gravity
The specific gravity of your beer is the measurement of density. A good measurement is normally between 1.005 and 1.015, but the answer is based on preference rather than hard facts.
You measure this figure using a beer refractometer or a hydrometer.
You need to perform this test after the Mash pH and again at the bottling stage. You use these two numbers to figure out what the ABV (alcohol level) is for this match.
To make the calculation you minus the final gravity by the original gravity and then multiply that number by 131.25.
(Final Gravity – Original Gravity) X 131.25
Fifth Test – Yeast Viability
You need yeast in your beer to give you the flavor you desire. Yeast viability is when you calculate how many living yeast cells are in your brew.
If you get the number wrong the beer won’t be able to stay in storage for as long, and the flavors won’t match your previous matches.
You test your yeast viability after it has been added to the fermentation process, but before it becomes sealed.
Seventh Test – Forced Fermentation
The fermentation test is normally only for new homebrewers who are having trouble with their final gravity.
If you notice that some of your tests are coming back with unfavorable results, you can take a sample of the wort and kick-start the fermentation process.
To do this, you put the sample wort into a heat exchanger. From there you can see how the fermentation process is developing and where the faults are.
The process is rather detailed, but you can see a full guide in our article dedicated to the subject.
Eighth Test – Beer Diacetyl
When it’s time to pour the beer into its bottle, you should first begin your beer diacetyl test. This is a test to see how buttery your flavor is.
Diacetyl is a natural byproduct of fermentation, and although a small amount doesn’t affect the taste that much, a large amount can ruin your flavors.
Large amounts of Diacetyl can appear when the yeast has been stressed – this means the temperature was too high, a bacterial infection was introduced, or the wort didn’t have enough oxygen from the yeast.
You can follow our method in this link, to test your beer’s diacetyl level.
The ingredients you use in your recipes will dramatically affect the flavors of your beer.
You will normally taste a difference in malts based on the soil the grains have been grown in and the temperature of the climate.
American, German and British grain malts will all have distinct differences even if the grain type is the same.
When you’re first starting out, you should use whatever grains are readily available to you, and once you become comfortable with your technique, you can branch out and test these flavors.
To help you branch out, we have a list of different malts and the flavors, alcohol percentage, and mash you can expect from each one.
Adjuncts are the sugars, syrups, non-malted grains, and solids that make up your mash. These ingredients often create the sweetness of your flavor.
Knowing how these adjuncts can affect your flavors or composition is important to creating your own beers.
For example, if you add wheat to your pale ale, you will be more likely to create a head on your beer which lasts for a long time.
When you are building your mash or creating your flavors, you need to know which sugars will blend well with your malts.
Natural sugars, such as rice, corn, pumpkins, and potatoes need to be mashed before they reach the fermenting stage. Otherwise, they won’t turn their starch into sugar.
However, you can use simple sugars such as sucrose, fructose honey, and more. You can find a more detailed list in our dedicated article here.
Without the right sugar, your yeasts will take longer than they should to ferment, and with a long fermentation process, you will end up with unwanted byproducts such as Diacetyl.
Knowing What To Brew Next
Once you’ve made your first homebrew and you’re ready to branch out into something more adventurous, it can be difficult to know what direction to go in.
We suggest following one of three concepts – following the season, using up your current ingredients, or pursuing a goal.
There are many directions you can go in, but these three can help guide you through your homebrew journey.
Following The Season
In the summer the best beers to make are light and fruity as it matches the heat and atmosphere of the season. You can create these using pale malt, cascade, galena, and crystals.
While in the winter you may prefer a spicy or hearty beverage. On those occasions, rye malt can give you a dry spicy flavor perfect to warm you up on a cold night.
Using Up Your Ingredients
If you would rather start with ingredients you already own then you should use our recipe database to narrow down your choices.
This can be a fantastic way to learn how each ingredient affects your brewing results, helping you understand the delicate changes in your homebrew collection.
Pursuing A Goal
Some people prefer to take on brewing challenges or personal goals.
They could be trying to create a copy of their favorite branded brew, or perhaps they are taking up the color challenge – attempting to make a gradient of shades like the beer version of a rainbow.
Whatever your goal is, you will probably find someone in the community that shares the same aspirations.
Making You Own Brew Recipes
We have a whole guide dedicated to creating formulas for your own brews. You can use our guide to break down the main elements of what you’re trying to create.
Aroma, taste, color, and clarity are the main features to consider, but picking the right hops, malts, sugars, and yeast is needed to create that concept.
To make your own beer at home, you need to understand the basic methods and how the ingredients can affect your flavors.
With our testing suggestions above you’ll soon learn where you’ve made mistakes and how to correct them for your next batch.
The best way to learn is to get stuck in, but refer back to our guides when you need an extra hand.