Related: Your 4-Step Guide To Growing Hops
The key ingredients in beer are water, grain, hops, and yeast. However, depending on your process, style, and goals, these ingredients can vary in type and texture. For help with crafting your first custom recipe, look at brewersfriend.com, which not only has forums and recipe options, but tools to create your own recipe.
Knowing the ingredients you want to source will depend on your brewing process: extract, partial-grain, or all-grain. Extract brewing requires purchasing liquid or powdered malt whereas partial and all-grain brewing will require you to purchase grains. For partial-grain, these grains will be steeped into your beer before adding liquid or powdered malt extract during the boil. For all-grain brewing, grains will be mashed into your beer for about 60 minutes to extract simple sugars. Most home brewer websites will offer organic grain and malt extract options.
Adding hops to your beer is what provides bitterness and balances out the sweetness you’ll get from the malts. Also, depending on what hops you use, you can give your beer flavors that range from citrus to pine. Read up on the different types of hops to understand how to get the flavor you want and when to add them to your brews. Organic hops will be tougher to source. Look online to see if you can source any fresh organic hops, or reach out to your local brewery, as they may be able to lend you what you need. Better yet, you can try growing your own hops!
Related: How To Grow Your Own Hops For Homemade Beer
Yeast is the magic ingredient in beer because it’s what makes alcohol. When creating your recipe, read up on the different types of yeasts you can use to brew your desired beer. While you can buy Brewer’s yeast online or at your local homebrew store, Imperial Yeast’s website lists stores that carry their product, which is organic. You can always get creative by adding organic fruit, spices, or flavor extracts to make the end product your own.
Watch the video below to learn how to make IPA beer:
The Brewing Process
The steps for brewing your first beer will differ slightly depending on the brewing process you choose. Let’s look into the steps for a process called Brew In A Bag (BIAB). This will save you time and money; it is an all-grain brewing process that uses the same stainless steel pot for your mash tun and boiling kettle.
Pre-Brew: Sanitize all of your equipment (Star San is commonly used). Also, make sure to fill your fermenter with sanitizer. If you are using a liquid yeast, take the packet out of the fridge, give it a smack, and let the packet sit to allow the yeast to expand.
1. Heat Your Water: Fill your pot to the designated water level (the standard ratio of water to grain is 1.5 quarts of water for every pound of grain) and begin to heat it to 150°F.
2. Mash-in Your Grains: The purpose of a mash is to break down the starch in the grains into simple sugars that could be more easily fermentable. The by-product of your mash will be what we call wort. Pour your grains into the nylon bag and immerse the bag into your water, tying the top to the pot’s handle. The typical mash is 60 minutes, during which you should try to maintain a temperature around 150°F. At different points in the mash, you should take gravity readings to ensure you hit your pre-boil target gravity. Gravity measures the amount of dissolved sugars in water, which will differ depending on the ABV you’re shooting for. To do this, you can either use a hydrometer or a refractometer. Most kits will come with a hydrometer, but using a refractometer eliminates steps. While your gravity will rise during the boil, knowing the pre-boil gravity will allow you to make any changes during the boil. After 60 minutes, raise the heat to 170°F, which will be your mash out temperature.
Related: 13 Sparkling Organic Wines Your Holiday Season Needs
3. Sparging: With 20 minutes left in the mash, begin to heat a second pot of water to 170°F. The amount of water will depend on the size of your batch. Keep in mind that in addition to the water you will lose from being absorbed by your grain bag, you will lose approximately 20% of your volume during the boil, so make sure you add enough water to finish with the right amount. Once the mash is complete, carefully lift the bag above the pot to let the water that has been absorbed drip back into your kettle, which will be your wort. Keeping your grain bag over your kettle, pour the sparge water from your second pot over your spent grains, allowing the water to spill into the kettle. This will allow you to add the volume of water needed pre-boil for your batch, and extract any additional wort from your grains. If you are looking to recycle your spent grains, find out if any local spots could use your grain for fertilizer or animal food.
4. Boiling: Continue to raise the temperature until you hit a slow rolling boil at 212°F, which will last for 60 minutes. During the boil you can add your hops. Depending on the style of beer, the amount, and time at which these hops are added will differ. The boil is also the time where you can add extracts if you find yourself not hitting your target post-boil gravity. With 10 minutes left, you can add ingredients such as whirlfloc which will help clarify your wort and yeast nutrient, which promotes healthy yeast during fermentation.
Related: How To Finally Learn To Make Your Own Delicious Kombucha
5. The Cooldown: Once you end your boil, it’s critical to get your beer down to room temperature as quickly as possible to deter the risk of contamination, or chances of off-flavors. For beginners, a good option is to give your pot an ice bath in your sink. Stir your wort with a sanitized spoon, as this will speed up the process and allow any leftover grain that made it through your bag to drop out. Keep in mind, every piece of equipment you use post-boil must be sanitized.
6. The Transfer: Once your beer gets below 70°F, it’s time to transfer. Take your fermenter and slowly pour out the sanitizer. Then take your sanitized siphon and siphon your beer from the pot into the fermenter. It helps to pour the wort through a funnel with a filter to collect any of the unwanted spent grain or hops.
7. The Pitch: When you have transferred your wort into the fermenter, add your yeast. Then put your cork on, shake the carboy for three minutes to mix the yeast and introduce some oxygen, before adding an airlock. Be sure to fill the airlock with distilled water to the designated line.
Related: 5 Organic Beers You Should Definitely Try
8. Fermentation: Depending on the style of beer, the fermentation period will vary. You will be able to tell if your beer is fermenting when you see a foamy layer called krausen forming at the top as well as bubbling in the airlock. Once the bubbles begin to subside, you know that your beer is exiting fermentation. To know you hit your final target gravity, use a wine thief (sanitized) and extract enough beer to fill your cylinder to do a reading with your hydrometer.
9. Bottling: Once your beer has hit your gravity, it’s bottling time. For this there are two options. You can either research the process for how to use sugar to bottle your beer from the bottling bucket, or you can buy carbonation tablets on Amazon and add them to the bottle before adding your beer. Make sure you use the correct number of tablets otherwise you beer might be either flat or explode.
10. Enjoy: After two weeks, pop one of your bottles into the fridge and once cold, give it a test! If you like what you’re tasting, toss the remaining bottles in the fridge for enjoyment, otherwise, try again in another week.
Homebrewing equipment options are endless. Narrow down your choices based on your budget, space, and level of expertise. For your first batch, there are several kits that will come with the basic tools. While none include organic ingredients, you can look online or local home brew stores as mentioned above for organic substitutes. Keep in mind, the ingredients are pre-packaged so when you do create your own recipes, you may have to add some additional equipment. Before long, you will begin to learn that for home brewers, purchasing more equipment or making upgrades is all too common. When that time comes (and it will), check out my gift guide for homebrewers on Hopculture.
Midwest Supplies Starter Kit
For those looking to start small, a one gallon kit, such as this one from Midwest Supplies, is a great starter kit. Keep in mind, this kit does not have a kettle; you can either purchase your own, or use any stainless steel pot you have at home. Outside this however, all you need are some bottles and you’re ready to go for your first all-grain batch! After that, you’re going to have to research what additional equipment will be needed for own recipes.
Buy now: $56.95 on Amazon.com
Northern Brewer Starter Kit
This kit from Northern Brewer comes with almost everything you need for your first five gallon batch. The kit also comes with a partial-grain recipe, which will differ slightly compared to the one detailed above, as you will be steeping speciality grains for your mash and adding an extract during boiling. After trying this brewing process, you can decide whether you want to continue doing partial-grain or switch to an all-grain process like the BIAB process described above.
Buy now: $99.98 on Amazon.com
Premium Homebrew Starter Kit
This final kit is the Premium Homebrew Starter Kit from More Beer. Sure, it’s pricier than the previous two options, but this kit comes complete with every tool needed to take your beer to the next level. First is the wort chiller, which is an upgrade to standard ice baths and promotes faster cooling after boiling. It also includes a hyrdrometer and a clear carboy, which makes it easier to monitor your beer during fermentation. Plus, it includes a kit for your first recipe as well!
Buy now: $229.99 on Morebeer.com