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Home Brewing: How to Brew Beer at Home

July 25, 2014 by Rick Morris:

What is a home brewing?  How does home brewing work?  What is fermentation?  What's an air-lock?  When will my home brew be ready to bottle?

The home brewing process is fairly basic.  In fact, there are just a few steps involved in turning amber waves of grain into a tasty alcoholic beverage!  But don't let a lack of current knowledge keep you from brewing your own beer.  Learn how to home brew today!  The general method for home brewing involves boiling, fermentation, and conditioning.  Of course, the first thing you'll learn is bacteria is a ruthless enemy to the home brewer.

Sanitizing Your Home Brewing Equipment

Sanitation is one of the most critical elements in the home brewing process.  Everything must be cleaned thoroughly before being sanitized.  Use a sanitizing agent such as Iodophor.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking the powder cleanser (such as One Step) is a sanitizer.  It's not!  If you want to learn how to brew, you need to learn how to produce and maintain a bacteria-free kitchen, or home brewing station.

Boiling Your Home Brew Ingredients

You boil the malt extracts into what is call wort.  Doing so kills off bacteria and sterilizes the mixture and prevents any infectious materials from entering the fermentation vessel.  While boiling the wort, you'll also add bittering and flavoring hops to control the level of bitterness, aroma, and flavor in the beer.  Typically, the boil lasts about 50 minutes to an hour for the home brewer and must be intensive enough to accomplish the aforementioned tasks.

Pitching Yeast to Your Home Brew

Learning how to brew involves learning how to pitch like a major leaguer.  Well, not really.  But, there is some pitching involved.  How so?  Well, you gotta give the extracted sugars something to eat!  This is where the micro-living organism known as yeast comes in to play.  And, it's very important you use the correct type of yeast in your home brew.  After you have determined that, you "pitch", or pour in your yeast and mix/shake vigorously for a few minutes to aerate the wort.  This is the only time you want oxygen in your brew.  Plenty of oxygen here is crucial in getting the yeast off to a healthy start in fermenting your beer.

Fermentation of Home Brew Beer

Fermentation basically means yeasts (a form of bacteria) feeds off your boiled (yet cooled and aerated) brew juice (wort) and, as a result, converts the sugars in the wort to alcohol and CO2.  When this is accomplished, the brew can be officially called beer.  The three methods for fermentation are warm, cool, and wild. 

The yeasts used can be classified as top- or bottom-fermenting.  With top-fermentation, you'll see a layer of foam at the top of your carboy during active fermentation.  They are brewed at higher temperatures (roughly 60 to 75 degrees F), and can produce more alcohol by volume, as well as a fruity style of beer.  These are your typical "ale" beers, and can be ready for consumption in as little as three weeks after brewing began.  Of course, conditioning them for about 6 or 8 weeks produces a finer drink.

Bottom-fermenting yeast produces dryer beers, and at lower temperatures.  These are your "lager" beers.  Regardless of the yeast used, after active fermentation, the foam and clumping of particles for most brews fall to the bottom of the carboy, where the yeast becomes inactive - not dead. 

Conditioning Your Home Brew Beer

After fermentation has been achieved, it's time to bottle (or keg) your freshly-crafted home brew!  During this time, remaining yeasts gobble up any sugars left over or added, and the beer ages and matures.  This process lasts from about 2 weeks to a few months, and can even go on for several years. 

There are five different ways to condition beer: 1. krausening, 2. lagering, 3. bottle fermentation, 4. secondary fermentation, and 5. cask conditioning. 

1.  Krausening - When the beer has finished fermenting, a bit of fermenting wort is added to it.  This contains active yeasts which reactivate fermentation and produces carbon dioxide.  Since the container is sealed (no air-lock), the CO2 is dissolved into the beer, giving it that familiar foam head and bubbles.  This is usually done in a conditioning tank of size, and can also be accomplished in the bottle.

2.  Lagering - The term lager means to store.  Most beers are lager beers.  They are aged at about 35 degrees for several weeks to several months.  During this time, any sulphurs coming from the bottom-fermentation yeast are eliminated.  The beer usually becomes clearer and has a clean taste. 

3.  Secondary Fermentation - This is the process of moving fermented beer to another container for additional fermentation.   Doing so gets the beer away from the primary fermenter's yeast and trub, which has settled to the bottom of the tank.  A secondary fermentation is typically performed for more complex beers, including Belgian ales, and ensures a complete fermentation of the available sugars.  It also produces a clearer beer.

4.  Bottle Fermentation - This is how most newbies do it.  A half-cup of corn sugar is added to the wort just prior to bottling.  This sugar is eaten by the remaining yeasts while in the bottle, producing the CO2 needed for beer.  If one were to filter their beer prior to bottling, virtually all the available yeast needed for bottle conditioning will be missing.  Thus, no bubbles would be produced.  Therefore, it is not possible to filter beer that is going to be bottle conditioned.  If a perfectly clear brew is your goal, the best method is to utilize a kegging system, wherein CO2 is mechanically introduced.  With this setup, you can filter all you want before kegging.

5.  Cask Conditioning - This is probably the most complex form of conditioning as the beer is stored in a cask without the use of CO2 pressurization.

Home Brewing and How to Homebrew

As you can see, there really isn't much to home brewing or learning how to brew beer at home.  It's about as simple as growing and maintaining your own garden of vegetables.  Of course, if you really want to brew great beer, that opportunity exists.  Just keep striving to understanding brewing.


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