Brewing your own beer at home is very easy! Here we have laid out the typical steps for brewing a complete batch of beer at home.
If you would like to see the process in person, please check our “Events” page for the date of our next demonstration.
Note: These instructions are basic… individual recipes may differ. Always refer to your recipe’s boiling instructions.
24 HOURS BEFORE BREW DAY:
- Next time you’re at the supermarket, pick up three (3) 1-gallon jugs of spring or distilled water. They can be purchased just about anywhere, from 69 to 89 cents per gallon. We want water without chlorination. Immediately place into a refrigerator and allow at least 24 hours to chill. Another option is to bring three gallons of tap water to a boil, cover, allow to cool, then bottle in sanitized jugs. You can then place and cool the water in the refrigerator, as listed above.
NOTE: It is important to get this water pre-chilled to below 40 degrees on brew day… as you will find out later in these instructions.
- Most recipe kits come with dry yeast for simplicity of use. If you are using a liquid yeast, remove from the refrigerator and gradually warm to room temperature (except Imperial, keep cold). If you are using a smack pack, slap the package to break the interior capsule, and shake to disperse the nutrients. Within a few hours the pack will swell, indicating healthy, ready-to-pitch cells. This can also be done the morning of brewday.
- Fill your brew kettle with 3 gallons of water. Turn on the heat. If there are any specialty grains in the recipe, place inside a muslin grain bag. When the water is 158-160 °F, place the bag into the brew kettle and turn off the heat. Steep for 20 to 30 minutes, occasionally lifting up and down like a tea bag. Do not let your water go above 165°F. If the water gets too hot, it will cause the grains to impart undesirable flavors into the wort. After 20-30 minutes, remove the muslin bag and discard without squeezing. Just let it drip and then discard. Turn the heat back on and bring your wort to a boil.
- Once the water (or wort, if you steeped specialty grains) begins to boil, turn off the heat and remove your kettle from the burner. Add half of your liquid and/or dry malt extract to the brewpot while stirring carefully. Do not allow the extracts to scorch on the bottom of the kettle. Use your brew paddle or a long spoon to stir it in. If adding other sugars (i.e. malto-dextrin, Belgian candi sugar, rice syrup, corn syrup, honey etc,) add those later.
- Once the extracts are dissolved, return the brew kettle to the burner & bring back to a boil. Watch carefully as the wort gets close to boiling, as it will “break” right at the very beginning of boil, foaming up quickly, and you will need to turn down the heat to prevent a boil-over. When the wort is boiling, add your first ‘bittering’ hop addition. You can add the hops directly to the boil, or you can fill a hop bag. If you use a hop bag, tie off the very end of the bag and insert into the brew kettle. Do not tie the bag so that the hops are compressed. Allow lots of room for hop pellet expansion and movement. If you choose to add directly to the wort, just pour them in, but watch for boil-overs! Record the time when you added the bittering hops. You will boil the wort for 60 minutes from when you added your bittering hops. Periodically stir your wort, and watch the boil to prevent messy boil-overs.
- Follow the recipe instructions for your next hop additions. Some recipes call for multiple hop additions, for both flavor and aroma. Always follow the recipe instructions. Generally, hop insertion times indicate how long the hops should be in the boil. A recipe might say “1 oz. Warrior hops – (60 minutes)”. This means 1 oz. of Warriors should be in the boil for 60 minutes. The recipe might also say “1 oz. Willamette hops – (20 minutes)”. This means the Willamette hops would be added at the 40 minute mark, (with 20 minutes remaining) in the 60-minute boil. Additional aroma hops might be added at 50 minutes, for a boil time of only (10 minutes remaining). It is not unusual to add an aroma hop addition at ‘flameout’ which means the hop boil time would be ‘zero’ minutes (0 Min). Some recipes might say “Add bittering hops, boil for 40 minutes and add flavor hops.” Make sure you understand the recipe instructions. If using Irish moss and/or yeast nutrient, add them when the recipe specifies… usually with 10 minutes remaining in the boil.
- Now is the time to add any late extract or adjunct additions, with 10 minutes still left to boil. Remove your kettle from the burner and add the second half of your liquid or dry extract, and any stirring carefully to completely dissolve the extract into your liquid. Return your kettle to the burner and bring back to a boil while stirring occasionally. When the boil is complete, turn off the heat, remove hop bags & discard. No need to squeeze the hop bags! Recipes will always vary on hop and extract additions, so pay close attention.
IMPORTANT – FROM THIS STEP FORWARD, EVERYTHING THAT TOUCHES YOUR WORT/BEER MUST BE SANITIZED!!!
- Now we need to chill the wort down to a healthy temperature for our yeast. Place your brew kettle in a cold tap water ‘bath’ in the kitchen sink. Do not allow water from the sink to splash into your brew kettle! (It is not sanitary) Gently stir the wort with a sanitized spoon to speed the cooling. Drain and replace the water outside the kettle as needed, whenever it gets too warm to draw heat from the kettle. Continue this procedure until the wort is around 90°F. You can add some ice to the bath water if you want to speed this process up, but be sure not to add the ice into the kettle.
- Make sure you mark the 5-gallon level on your fermenter, if it isn’t already marked. Once the temp of the wort is around 90°F, pour it into your SANITIZED fermenter. Strain, if desired, with a sanitized strainer. This is the ONLY time straining is appropriate. Once yeast has been ‘pitched’ into your wort, straining becomes harmful to your beer for reasons which we will discuss later.
- Now add your refrigerated/sanitary cold water to your fermenter. Top it up to slightly over 5 gallons. Between 5.25 to 5.5 gallons. You may not need all 3 gallons to get to 5.5 total gallons, so be careful. If you add too much water, it will lower your OG and increase your volume. This would not be a disaster because you’ll get more beer… but it will be a little lower in ABV (alcohol by volume). If your top-off water has been properly chilled to refrigerator-temperature (about 36 – 38°F) and, if your wort has been chilled to 90°F beforehand, your topped-off batch will end up in the mid-60’s temperature range, which is the perfect yeast pitching temperature for most ales. If you are doing a lager, then chill to 80 degrees before topping up. This will get you down into the mid-50’s which is an appropriate temperature for lager yeast.
- Now aerate your 5.5 gallons of wort. If you’re fermenting in a 6.5 gallon fermenting bucket, use a sanitized wire egg-beater to whip air into the wort. You can also pour from sanitized bucket to another sanitized bucket several times to force air into your wort. If you are fermenting in a carboy, carefully (but aggressively) shake the fermenter back and forth (covered with a sanitized stopper to prevent splashing) until it is foamy and frothy. Proper aeration is critical to the vitality of your yeast.
- Take a sanitized beer thief and grab a sample of wort. Pour into a sanitized test jar and insert your sanitized hydrometer. If your beer thief is wide enough, just insert the hydrometer straight into your sample and skip the test jar. Have we stressed the term ‘sanitized’ enough? This is very important each and every step of the way, once the wort has cooled. Record the OG (Original Gravity) into your brewing log. This information is important. Comparing this gravity reading to your post-fermentation reading will tell you if your brew is fully attenuated and will also yield your beer’s ABV.
- Check the temp of the wort. It should be 68 °F maximum. If not, set the fermenter in an ice bath to help get it there. Pitching temperature is important for the adaptive phase of your fermentation. Once you are in the 64 to 68 degree range, pitch your liquid or dry brewing yeast. No need to stir, if you’ve aerated well. Just rock the fermenter to swirl the yeast into the beer. With dry yeast, sprinkle on top of the wort and allow to re-hydrate for 30 minutes before rocking your fermenter to mix it into solution.
- Secure the sanitized lid or stopper to the fermenter. Now place the airlock, which has been sanitized & filled halfway with sanitizing solution (or cheap vodka) into the hole.
- Place the fermenter in a cool and dark place, or cover it too, and keep your beer cool while fermenting. Most ale yeasts do their best work between 64-70 °F. At first, you might not see any yeast activity, but nevertheless the yeast are working. This initial phase of fermentation is called the ‘Lag Phase.’ The yeast are busy taking up oxygen, budding new daughter cells, and preparing for primary fermentation. Even though there’s little visible activity, this is an important time, as a lot of the flavors in your final product are produced by the yeast in the lag phase. Once the yeast have depleted the oxygen that you aerated into the wort, they will begin primary (anaerobic) fermentation. This is when the yeast begin processing the wort sugars and producing most of the CO2 and ethanol. It will typically begin 5-24 hours after pitching and continue for 3-5 days. Personally, I like fermenting in glass carboys… the yeast can really put on a show! You can see the activity in your beer which is advantageous over a bucket. Your actual fermentation time will vary according to temperature, yeast strain, yeast cell count, level of aeration, and wort sugar density. Not all fermentations behave the same… even similar batches can differ. Pay attention to the temperature of your beer at this stage, as the yeast will create their own heat and the temperature of the beer can be a lot higher than the ambient temperature of the room. Try to keep the temperature on the low side of the ideal for the strain you are using. Look at our flyer on Fermentation Temperature Control for additional tips. When the fermentation slows a bit, allow the temperature to rise slightly. We’ve experienced beers finishing with primary fermentation as quickly as three days… while others might take 3 days just to show airlock activity. Cooler temperatures generally produce slower fermentation.
IMPORTANT – FROM THIS STEP FORWARD, LIGHT AND OXYGEN ARE THE ENEMIES OF YOUR BEER!
- About 5-7 days after brewing, and primary fermentation shows signs of coming to a close (very little airlock activity) pull a sample of your beer, and get a hydrometer reading. If it is close to your recipe’s specified FG (Final Gravity), it is likely finished with primary fermentation. Record the FG in your log. If it isn’t close to the recipe’s final gravity, allow it more time to ferment. Generally, if your readings stay the same for 3 days, primary fermentation is complete. If you’re unsure, err on the side of caution. Most beers benefit from secondary fermentation. Secondary fermentation gives the yeast time to “clean up after themselves.” It also gives the beer time to age and mature… as many flavor compounds produced during primary fermentation will mellow out. If you are fermenting in a bucket, always rack into a 5 gallon glass or PET carboy for secondary fermentation. This is necessary because the plastic in the bucket can allow oxygen to ‘migrate’ into the beer. Which is bad! This will not occur during the initial stage of anaerobic fermentation, because positive CO2 pressure is coming off the beer, blocking out any migrating O2. However, once the beer settles into secondary fermentation and CO2 output has slowed, O2 can potentially work its way into the beer. To avoid this, rack into a glass or PET secondary fermenter. If you are using a 6 or 6.5 gallon glass carboy or stainless steel fermenter for primary instead of a bucket, there is no need to move your beer into a second fermenter. Just leave it in the glass primary for two or three weeks and then bottle your beer. For more info on this, refer to John Palmer’s How To Brew. I recommend this book to all novice and experienced brewers.
- Once secondary fermentation is complete (usually about 2 or 3 weeks after primary) you’re ready to bottle. Take your final gravity (FG) reading and record it in your log. To determine the alcohol content, use this formula: (OG-FG)*131.25 = ABV.
- For example:
OG ………… 1.045
FG ………… – 1.011
Difference = 0.034
Times……. x 131.25
Equals……. = 4.46 % ABV
…or use an online calculator on our “Resources” page. https://www.microhomebrew.com/calculators/abv/
- Clean & sanitize all bottles; you’ll need about (54) 12 oz. bottles or (29) 22 oz. bottles. Use only non-twist bottles. Amber is optimal, but green & clear can be used in a pinch. Always remember to keep green and clear out of direct sunlight. UV rays will interact with hop compounds in your beer and cause a ‘skunky’ flavor and aroma. Swingtop bottles are great too; just replace the grommets as needed to hold carbonation.
- Boil about 2 cups (16 oz.) of water with your priming sugar (4 oz corn sugar), then allow to cool & stir until dissolved. Add this hot solution to your sanitized bottling bucket. Be sure the spigot on the bottling bucket is closed. If you are adding flavor extracts (fruit, etc) gently add them to the priming solution.
- Siphon your beer from the fermenter to your bottling bucket. During this process try to avoid any splashing during the transfer. Splashes and bubbles will oxygenate your beer, which is bad, giving it a slight cardboard taste later. Try to leave behind as much sediment as possible. Use an auto-siphon—they are well worth the investment. Place the fermenter on a table or counter, with the bottling bucket below it on the floor or a chair. Remove the fermenter lid or stopper. Place the sanitized racking cane or auto-siphon into the fermenter. Pump the auto-siphon to start the siphon. Once the beer is flowing, allow the beer to gently swirl into the bottling bucket, mixing with the priming solution. Again, avoid pouring, splashing or rough handling. As the beer level drops in the fermenter, you may notice the beer getting a little cloudier. Don’t let this bother you. It is yeast. Yeast is good. You need yeast to carbonate your beer. If you work too hard to avoid transferring cloudy beer, you could end up with an under-carbonated batch. Don’t worry about the yeast… it will flock out once refrigerated, making a nice clean-looking beer.
- Now you have your beer & priming solution in the bottling bucket. Make sure the priming solution is adequately mixed by doing gentle “figure-8’s” in the bucket with your sanitized brew paddle or spoon. This is to evenly disperse the priming solution so every bottle has an equal amount. Place the bucket on a table. Remove the hose from the auto-siphon and attach to the spigot. Attach your sanitized bottle filler on the other end. Open the spigot & allow the beer to fill the hose. Fill each bottle by pressing the bottle filler onto the bottom of each bottle. Let the bottles fill all the way to the top, and then lift the filler just as the beer reaches the very top of the bottle, to stop it from overflowing. Removing the filler from the bottle will lower the level of the beer, leaving the perfect amount of headspace. It takes a little practice, but it’s easy!
- Sanitize your bottle caps by soaking in your sanitizing solution several minutes before bottling. If you are using Oxygen-barrier caps, follow these instructions. To cap your bottles, place a sanitized cap onto the bottle and crimp with your capper. Don’t apply excessive pressure, let the capper do the work. Some cappers have a magnet under the crimping cup to hold the cap in place.
- Natural carbonation occurs as a result of the suspended yeast in your beer consuming the priming sugar. Allow the beer to carbonate at room temperature (70-75 degrees) 5-14 days before refrigerating. Additional aging will improve the clarity & flavor. Pour your homebrew carefully into a room-temperature or chilled (your choice) beautiful pint glass, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the bottle behind. Unless it’s a Hefewiezen… that style calls for the yeast to be swirled and poured into the glass, to be enjoyed.