I have come to teach you how to brew too.
Why brew your own beer, though? Let me try and convince you…
It’s tasty, and you can make beer whenever and however you like it. Have a hankering for an Oktoberfest in March? Brew it yourself.
It’s a lot of fun, and really does border on being magical. I’ve brewed several batches and each time, I’m still amazed to see the bubbling fermentation lock showing that the microscopic yeast are churning away.
It’s also cheap—you can cut the cost of beer in half by making it yourself!
How Much Does It Cost To Brew Your Own Beer?
Yes, you read that right. Homebrewed beer costs half as much as store-bought beer. Let me explain:
We can get a 12-pack of craft beer at Costco for $16. Even with a frugal purchase like this, the cost works out to $1.33/bottle.
The ingredients for our most recent 5-gallon batch of homebrew cost $38.73. We got 48 beers out of this 5-gallon batch, making the cost just $0.81/bottle.
Here’s what went into it:
- 7 lbs liquid malt extract – $21.70
- 1 lb crystal malt – $1.85
- 0.5 lb two-row barley – $0.88
- Gypsum – $0.05
- 2 oz Hops – $4.25
- Yeast – $8.50
- Bottle caps – $1.50
You Can Brew Your Own Beer Too
Have I convinced you yet? No? Here are some more things to think about.
Brewing yoour own beer isn’t hard. It’s sort of like baking bread. There are a lot of steps that take time and it can be intimidating at first, but by the time you’ve made a couple batches you will have developed your own flow and it’ll be a snap.
The most important thing to know is that you need to keep everything very clean.
We wipe down the counters with cleaner before we start, and sanitize any brewing equipment that comes into contact with the beer. You will make awesome beer as long as you follow this one rule. Even then, there’s room for mistakes—Zach sneezed in our kitchen twice when brewing our last batch and we still didn’t get funky beer.
Most recipes make a 5-gallon batch, which translates into about 48 12-oz beer bottles. If that seems like too much, you can always scale the recipe down to as low as a 1-gallon batch. This makes about 9-10 12-oz beer bottles. Small-scale brewing is even cheaper to start with and has a lot of advantages over big-batch brewing.
You’ll Need To Invest In Some Brewing Equipment
It’s easiest to buy a homebrewing kit if you’re just starting out.
If you’d like to try 5-gallon batches, this kit has everything you need to get started except the beer bottles. It even comes with all the ingredients to make your first batch of beer!
I found one book in particular to be very helpful when I started. It’s the gold standard for newbies, and it’s called the Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian. This book is written especially for first-timers, but it has enough information and how-to to keep you occupied for years to come. It’s a fun and witty read (don’t forget your “charismatic spoon”!):
If you’re interested in measuring the alcoholic content of your beer and determining exactly when it’s fully fermented, you’ll also need a hydrometer and a testing flask.
Brew Beer Frugally
You will need to invest in some equipment no matter what, but you can still use a lot of things you have already laying around the house.
You can actually reuse the glass beer bottles you get from regular store-bought beer. Ask family and friends to rinse and save their beer bottles for you. Soak them overnight in soapy water or store-brand OxiClean, and the labels will scrub right off. You’ll need 10 12-oz beer bottles for small-batch brewing and 48 12-oz beer bottles for big-batch brewing.
Loose steeping grains and hops are a pain to fish out of the pre-fermented beer. You can buy premade grain and hop steeping bags (sort of like empty, reusable tea bags), or you can make your own out of mesh laundry bags for delicate items or even pantyhose.
Many brewers (myself included) use a special no-rinse disinfectant called Star San to simplify the disinfecting process. You can also use household bleach, though—just don’t forget to rinse it well!
The ultra-frugal brewer can even grow and culture their own ingredients! Hops are especially easy to grow (so easy that our community garden considers them “weeds” and won’t allow us to plant them), and it’s not too difficult to culture your own yeast either.
Okay…. So How Do I Actually Brew Beer?
Have I convinced you why you should brew your own beer yet? Great! You’d probably like to know how to do it, though.
Here’s a brief rundown of how all the steps work. As I stated above, I highly recommend buying Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing because it contains the in-depth instructions, tips, and tricks that are outside of the scope of this introductory blog post.
But, in a nutshell, here’s what you’re going to do:
Make the Wort
No, not a wart. Wort (pronounced wert) is the name for unfermented beer. It’s what all the cool kids call it, and you should call it that too.
First, clean your kitchen. You don’t need to do a top-to-bottom, under-the-fridge cleaning, but hit up all the major spots like counters and stovetops.
Sanitize your equipment. I just make up a few gallons of sanitizer in the fermenting bucket and soak my equipment in it while I’m cleaning the kitchen.
Now it’s time to make the wort. Throw any steeping grains in a mesh bag in the pot (you can make them frugally as described above, or buy reusable steeping grain bags) and bring it to a boil.
Remove the grain bag once it’s boiling. Add in the malt extract and stir it all together. Throw in another grain bag filled with the hops. Bring to a rolling boil for about an hour or so.
Finally, remove the hop bag and pour off the hot wort into a bucket filled with cold water.
Brew The Wort
The combo of the cold water and the hot wort should even out the temperature. You might have to wait a bit for it to cool down even more to room temperature.
Once it’s cooled down sufficiently, measure and record the specific gravity using your hydrometer.
Now it’s time to ferment! Add in the yeast. Put a lid on the container, fill up the fermentation lock halfway with water or sanitizer, and plug it in. This keeps microorganisms from getting in your beer and allows carbon dioxide to escape.
Let the beer sit for a week or two. Measure and record the specific gravity again, and when it stays consistent over the course of two days, your beer is fully fermented!
Bottle The Beer
These beers will be bottle-conditioned, which means we’re going to bottle and reactivate some of the yeast already in the beer to develop the carbonation. To do this, we’re going to give the yeast a shot of sterile priming sugar.
We’ll dissolve sugar in some water, boil it, and add it to the bottling bucket. Then, we’ll siphon off the fermented beer into the bottling bucket with the priming sugar. We’ll mix it together, and then dispense the mixture into beer bottles using a bottle filler.
Finally, we cap the bottles and let them sit for another week or two to develop carbonation.
Drink The Beer
We’re done! Put some bottles in the fridge for a few hours to cool down.
These beers will have a fine sediment of yeast on the bottom of the bottles because they were bottle-conditioned. It’s completely edible, but floaties in your beer can be a little off-putting. So, just pour out the beer into a clean glass, leaving just a half-inch or so of beer and sediment in the bottle. It’s a small sacrifice to pay for the awesomeness of homebrew.
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Rinse the bottles out and save them for your next batch. You’ll never need to buy beer bottles again!
Here’s a great video that takes you through the process from start to finish:
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to give it a try, too.
Have you ever tried to brew your own beer? Would you like to try it? Leave a comment below!