One of the most striking revelations of my adult life must have been when I realized that it was not only possible to brew quality beer at home for a fraction of the price, but that it was actually pretty easy to do. If you didn't know any better, you might think that successfully brewing a beverage recognizable as beer might require an extensive knowledge of chemistry and a room filled with brewing equipment.
But it's my goal to make sure that you do know better.
If you're comfortable cooking a meal with more than two ingredients, you can get through the process. You'll make a huge mess the first few times, but the reward is gallons of (hopefully) delicious beer that you made. It's a satisfying accomplishment.
There are several ways to brew, ranging from simple full-extract brewing, which involves boiling a syrup and throwing some yeast in once it cools down; to all-grain brewing, which has a slightly wider learning curve. A good balance between brewing methods, in my opinion, is the extract with specialty grains method. The simplicity of extract brewing is combined with the usage of fresh hops and various grains that can be tailored to suit your tastes.
I used this method last weekend, when I had friends over to barbecue and whip up a couple of batches of future brews. A quick trip to the Beer and Winemaker's Pantry in Pinellas Park provided me with all the materials I needed: grains, malt extract, hops and yeast. New brewers will want to pick up a starter kit, which includes a fermenting bucket, airlock, sanitizer, bottling supplies and other equipment needed to get started. The entry-level kit is less than $75 at the Pantry, which will pay for itself many times over once the beer starts flowing.
First up was a clone of Boddington's Ale, a British bitter with a low alcohol content and slightly fruity character. The beer is known for its creaminess, achieved by dispensing it with a blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Fortunately, I have a kegerator in my garage equipped with a N2/CO2 tank. I also needed a small amount of Crystal malt, a pale grain that is steeped in warm water before adding malt extract — a liquified version of malted barley — and hops. The simple process broke down into four parts: steeping and removing the grains, adding extract and hops, adding more hops, then cooling the finished brew (called "wort" prior to fermentation) before adding yeast.
Next was a dry porter, brewed with a hefty addition of specialty grains, most roasted to deep brown and black hues. Although many porters are sweet or even chocolate-like, this one involved large quantities of black malt and roasted barley to cut down on the sweetness. This beer is also considerably stronger than the Boddington's clone, so more grains and extract were involved. As an added touch, I threw in a spoonful of black peppercorns toward the end of the boil to compliment the dry character of the porter. Hey, when you brew your own beer, you can do stuff like that.
Again, the process was simple: 3.5 gallons of water were heated to 150 degrees, and the grains were steeped in it for 30 minutes. We then removed the grains and rinsed them with 1.5 gallons of water, added malt extract and some hops and brought the mixture to a boil. After 75 minutes, we added some more hops and the peppercorns and boiled for 15 more minutes. Once the wort cooled down to around 80 degrees, we threw in some yeast and covered it up.
A few days later, the familiar sound of water bubbling in an airlock is emanating from my hallway — the telltale sign of a healthy fermentation. In about four more days, I'll transfer the fully fermented beer to another container to let it settle, and then I'll put it in a keg to start carbonating. Others may prefer bottling the beer, but I'm lazy and I like draft beer.
The entire process takes about four weeks and costs around $25 to $30 for every 5-gallon batch brewed. That's less than $30 for 40 pints, or 48 bottles of beer. Prices aside, it's great to be able to pour a fantastic beer, tailor-made to your specifications, brewed in the comfort of your own home.
So why not give it a shot?