One of the most striking revelations of my adult life was when I realized that it was not only possible to brew high-quality beer at home for a fraction of the price one would pay at the store, but that it was actually pretty easy to do.
You might think that successfully brewing a beverage recognizable as beer requires an extensive knowledge of chemistry and a room filled with brewing equipment, but that's not the case.
If you're comfortable cooking with more than two ingredients, you can get through the process. You'll make a mess the first few times, but the reward is a few gallons of (hopefully) delicious beer. It's a satisfying accomplishment, and fun, too.
There are several ways to make your own beer. There's simple full-extract brewing, which involves boiling a syrup of malt extract and then throwing some yeast in once it cools. There's all-grain brewing, which has a bigger learning curve. Or there's the combo method, using extract with specialty grains.
I used this method recently to whip up a couple of batches of brews with friends. A 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 need a starter kit. Fermenting bucket, air lock, sanitizer, bottling supplies and a few other pieces of equipment can be had for under $75.
Most home brewers make ales because they can be fermented at temperatures up to 70 degrees, while lagers must be kept cooler and generally require refrigeration. Still, even an ale can be tough to brew in the Florida heat, so you will need to take steps to keep the temperature below 70 degrees (a wet towel wrapped around the fermenting bucket with a fan blowing on it can cool things off).
The process is pretty much the same regardless of variety: Heat 3 ½ gallons of water to 150 degrees, steep the grains for 30 minutes, remove the grains and rinse them with 1 ½ gallons of water, add malt extract and some hops and bring the mixture to a boil. After 75 minutes or so — the time depends on the recipe you are following — add some more hops and boil for 15 more minutes.
Once the wort cools to around 80 degrees, throw in some yeast and seal it in a fermenting bucket.
Keeping everything sanitized is key, but you can find liquid sanitizer at any home brew supply store.
A day or so later the sound of water bubbling in an air lock — which allows gas to escape without air getting in and infecting the beer — lets you know that fermentation is under way. After five days or so, the bubbling stops and the beer is done fermenting.
The next step is to transfer your new beer to bottles for a couple more weeks of conditioning and carbonation. You should taste your creation to make sure it's okay, though it will be flat. The carbonation comes after you add sugar, which causes another minifermentation once the yeast eats the newly introduced sugar.
As you get more experience, you might invest in a small soda keg system, which can eliminate the need to fill dozens of bottles and gives you the ability to enjoy fresh draft beer at home.
It takes about four weeks from beginning to end and costs around $25 to $35 for 48 12-ounce bottles.
Prices aside, it's great to be able to pour yourself a fantastic beer brewed in the comfort of your own home. Adventurous types can add nearly anything to their brew. My next batch is a jalapeno beer.