Basics of Homebrewing
Please do try this at home!
The basic homebrewing supplies
Photo courtesy of Jeff Walch
Think you have what it takes to get into the brewing business? Starting out in the homebrewing world is easy as saying malted grain, hops, water and yeast.
Jeff Walch, owner of Jasper's Homebrew & Winemaking in Nashua, took over the store 17 years ago (it's been open since 1981) and has been helping homebrewers from the clueless to the seasoned ever since.
The good thing about home brewing, says Walch, is that the entry level cost and equipment needs are small, meaning that the risks are minimal (worst-case scenario: your first beer tastes like old socks and you're out a few bucks for ingredients). Once you've purchased the basics they don't become obsolete. Walch compares it to starting a new sport – say you want to learn to ski. At first, you buy cheap equipment. As you grow more skilled, the equipment you want and need gets more and more expensive. Not so with brewing, says Walch. No need to upgrade your equipment as you get better at brewing – though you could potentially fall down the rabbit hole of fancy ingredients that range from fruits to coffee, but more on that later.
Space requirements, adds Walch, are also small. Whether you live in a mansion or a tiny apartment, you really only need a few feet of space to house your setup.
The basic equipment, he says, costs $79.
Here's what you need:
- A fermenter – a food safe (as in not from Home Depot) bucket with a lid. You can also use a glass container, which is called a carboy.
- An air lock – a fancy one-way little bubbler that allows CO2 to escape
- Bottles and caps
- Malted grain
- Sugar for priming (priming gives you carbonation at the end of the process)
- Boil your ingredients. A combination of malt, hops and water is boiled to create what's called "wort."
- Cool the wort. Once it's cooled down, it goes into the non-Home Depot food-grade bucket or carboy.
- Pitch the yeast. Here the yeast – which gives you alcohol – is added.
- Ferment. The yeast gets to work. Fermenting typically happens in a few days, but leave the beer alone to age for a week or two.
- Bottle. This is where priming comes in. Carbonation is created by this process – a small amount of sugar is added to the flat beer before bottling. Once it's in the bottle and capped off, CO2 is trapped, creating carbonated beer. Walch recommends letting the beer sit for a bit before drinking. Carbonation can happen in a couple of days, but flavor develops over time.
Bonus fact: Homebrewed, unfiltered beer lasts far longer than filtered beer. Some, he says, can last up to two years, which can also do interesting things to flavor.
Those are the basics. Ingredients, says Walch, can get more involved. People add all sorts of stuff to beer to make new and interesting flavors. Here are a few things you can experiment with:
- And anything else you are willing to try
When we say "beer," adds Walch, we usually mean the beverage that comes from malted barley. However, he says, you can try making other styles by using things like rye or wheat instead. Only the limit of your imagination (and taste buds) can stop you now!
"Fine," you're thinking, "this sounds easy, but I still don't know where to start." No problem – Walch has easy-to-follow steps and around 150 beer recipes (complete with instructions) on his website, boomchugalug.com. You can always stop at the store for in-person advice as well.