I Survived My First Homebrew, So Can You!
By Joe Smahl
Extract Brewing in 12 Easy Steps
Fill kettle with water, add steeping grains in mesh bag, and turn your burner to high. Steep grains for 30 minutes then lift out and let drain.
Bring water to a boil. Once boiling, turn off burner, add malt extract, and stir until dissolved and bring water back to a boil.
Add hops during the boil according to recipe.
Set up wort chiller, and add to kettle for last 20 minutes of boil. Once done boiling, circulate water through the wort chiller to bring down to fermenting temperature.
Sanitize fermenter and accompanying accessories. Transfer wort into the fermenter.
Take a gravity reading using your hydrometer.
Pitch your yeast when your wort is at the appropriate temperature.
Ferment your beer, monitor activity, and take gravity readings when activity stops to determine it's finished.
On bottling day, dissolve priming sugar in boiling water, let cool before adding to beer.
Sanitize and thoroughly clean your bottles, bottle caps, bottle filler and tubing. Set up your bottle filler and begin bottling and capping your beer.
Let your bottles carbonate for about two weeks.
Drink with friends and repeat!
How a Birthday Gift Turned Into Passion for Brewing Beer at Home
In college, I spent a lot of money trying different styles of beer. I first started enjoying lagers and ambers before drinking many of the IPAs that dominated the San Diego area where I went to school. Eventually, Belgians, sours, and stouts became my personal favorites. Usually around the 1st of every month, I would try to think of creative ways that I could save money while still exploring this new hobby of mine. Maybe brewing my own beer at home could help me save a few bucks in the long run? I often wondered how to make beer, but I didn’t have the slightest clue as to what supplies or ingredients I would need in order to get started at home. After receiving MoreBeer’s Premium Home Brewing Kit
as a gift for my birthday, I realized that making beer at home was easier than I ever could have imagined.
After my first brew day, I know that anyone can brew their own beer at home, even in a compact space. Of course it felt a little intimidating at first, but my initial worry began to fade with each completed step in the process as I realized, “Wow, I’m really brewing my own beer.” This rewarding feeling is something that I wish every beer lover could experience at least once.
I was pretty surprised by how much was included with my brewing kit. Not only did it include all of the equipment necessary for brewing, but it included ingredients to make MoreBeer’s American Ale extract kit
, and even a packet of dry brewer’s yeast. It came with a large bag of liquid malt extract that would be the base and backbone of the beer, which had the viscosity of carmel that you would top your ice cream sundae with. It also included a bag of grain for steeping and two different kinds of hops. Let me tell you, if you’ve never before held pellet hops in your hand and smelled them in this form then you have no idea what you’re missing! Smelling my first handful of hops was by far one of the highlights of the experience.
As an absolute beginner, the kit's instructions were incredibly useful in familiarizing myself with all that was included. Most of the included equipment was foreign to me, save for the thermometer (not to be confused with the hydrometer, which I of course confused multiple times), the freakishly large spoon, and the giant 8.5 gallon stainless steel kettle
, which looked like something that would be used in a Chili Cook-Off at a County Fair.
After giving my kettle a good cleaning, I filled it up with 6 gallons of water straight from the sink faucet and put the kettle on the burner set to the highest heat possible.
I poured the 1lb of Caramel malt
into the included mesh bag
and tied one of the drawstrings to the handle of the kettle so that it was secured and able to steep for 30 minutes. The grain's aroma quickly filled my kitchen and it smelled delicious. After the kettle reached a boil, I turned off the burner, poured in the malt extract and immediately started stirring it with the freakishly large spoon until it had completely dissolved. This stirring motion and malt introduction brought the temperature down quite a bit, which required more time for it to come back up to a boil again, this time in a vigorous, foamy fashion often referred to as “the hot break.” This hot break, when the sugary and protein-laden liquid reaches its hottest point, requires you to be nearby to adjust the burner to prevent the liquid from potentially boiling over.
Once the foaming calmed down, it was time to ask Siri to set a timer for 60 minutes while I began the boiling stage. This is where hops are added to impart bitterness, flavor, and aroma, and exactly when you add the hops during this 60 minutes determines what they’re going to provide to the beer. The hops that go in at the beginning of the boil, in this case Magnum hops
, impart bitterness, while one ounce of Cascade hops
was added with 5 minutes left in the boil to add flavor, with another ounce of Cascade added at literally the final minute for a kick of additional aroma. Admittedly, this hands-on experience with hop additions was probably my favorite part of my first brew day.
About 15 minutes into the boil, while reviewing the instructions, I realized that I hadn’t gotten the imersion wort chiller
prepared for use for after the boil. One crucial step is having the chiller set up and inserted into the kettle with about 20 minutes left in the boil. Luckily, the chiller couldn’t be easier to set up, as the kit included a sink faucet adapter, which screwed onto my faucet with ease allowing it to easily connect to the inlet on the chiller. The outlet end of the chiller went right back into the sink and it’s this circulation of water that brings down the temperature of your wort from boiling down to a temperature that is appropriate for fermentation. Even though you need to put the chiller in before the boil has completed, it’s important to make sure you don’t start circulating water through it until after you're done boiling and the heat is turned off, like I almost did.
While my beer was chilling, I thought it was my time to do the same. That is, until I realized that I needed to sanitize the FerMonster Carboy
, all of its accessories, and everything needed to use to transfer my wort into it. Brew day, I learned, is as much about cleaning and sanitizing as it is anything else. Luckily, I started the day by making a big bucket of sanitizer, which I used to swirl around inside the fermenter. Once the outside of my kettle started feeling a bit cooler to the touch, I took a temperature reading, and when the wort reached 68 degrees, it was time to transfer it into my fermenter.
Transferring into the fermenter couldn’t have been easy with the provided tubing attached to the spigot at the bottom of the fermenter. In fact, I found the whole process of assembling and installing the spigot harder than transferring. With the wort in the fermenter, I was able to do my first gravity reading using the provided hydrometer
and jar, which was actually pretty fun, especially spinning the hydrometer in the sample and feeling like a pro (which I saw in a YouTube tutorial). The hydrometer measures the sugar content in the beer giving you something to track during fermentation, and eventually to tell its alcohol content. My original gravity (OG) came out to be 1.051, which was pretty close to the estimated range listed on the ingredient sheet. I took a swig of my sample, and it tasted surprisingly sweet and very dry.
The final task of my brew day (before cleaning) was pitching the Safale US-05 yeast
. I dunked a pair of scissors into my sanitizing bucket and cut open the top of the yeast packet. I let the yeast free into my sugary concoction and hoped for the best. I put the lid and airlock on the fermenter and tucked it away in my pantry to let the magic begin. After a long day, I felt like I could use a beer.
Fermentation and Bottling
Monitoring fermentation was a unique experience. My thoughts ranged from thinking, “I must have done something wrong, the temperature in my house must be too hot for this,” to seeing activity and thinking, “something is happening,” and eventually to relishing in the glory of the life and transformation that I was witnessing before my eyes. After several hydrometer readings I determined that my beer was done after measuring the same specific gravity three days in a row. My beer’s final gravity (FG) was 1.014, and after consulting a few ABV calculators online, I determined my beer would have about 4.8% alcohol. Right what I was targeting. I took a sip, and it tasted like, well, warm uncarbonated beer, but it was warm uncarbonated beer that I made, and soon it would be carbonated and refrigerated and in its final form. I was so excited for that final taste.
I bought two cases of 22 oz. bomber beer bottles
and caps, and scrubbed every bottle individually with the bottle brush
. It’s crucial to make sure to use clean and sanitized bottles because contamination can ruin weeks of work and patience right before crossing the finish line, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.
I was surprised to learn that beer can be carbonated inside the bottle, with the addition of what’s called “priming sugar.” Typically, a small amount of corn sugar
, or dextrose, is boiled with water to create a solution, and once cooled, it’s added to the beer right before bottling and capping. Carbonation is usually completed after about two weeks.
The versatile bottle filler
took some getting used to, but ended up being extremely easy to use. Because of it’s spring-loaded valve, there was very little mess to clean up once I was done filling the bottles. After dunking all of the caps in a small bowl of sanitizer, I attempted to cap the first bottle. The bottle capper
requires a forceful motion to secure the cap onto the glass bottle. After capping two or three bottles, I had finally gotten the hang of it, and only wished I had a few friends there with me to form an efficient assembly line. With my beer bottled, all of the work was done, and now I just had to wait for the beer to carbonate to taste what I had made.
The instructions included with MoreBeer's Premium Homebrewing Kit
were extremely detailed and easy to follow, allowing me to feel completely comfortable during the entire process. With so many resources available online, it feels like there couldn’t be a better time than right now to brew beer at home. With a vareity of starter kits available at different price points, there’s no longer a barrier to entry like there once was. Even though I mispronounced most of the terminology and misused a lot of the equipment at first, I walked away from this experience having learned so much more about something that I already loved, and two cases of beer to show for it.
So, how did the beer turn out? Well, it exceeded my expectations and that of my friends. When I popped the top off the first bottle, I was greeted by that familiar “pssst” sound that told me good things were in store. The nose of the beer smelled of the steeping grains and the two different kinds of hops, and it tasted clean and malty with just the right amount of bitterness. I’ll be savoring these bottles and monitoring how the beer develops over time. Meanwhile, I’m already browsing for the next beer kit to buy.
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