Homebrewing beer

Homebrewing beer refers to the brewing of beer on a very small scale. The typical homebrewer brews as a hobby for personal consumption, free distribution at social gatherings, amateur competitions, and for other assorted generally non-commercial reasons.


The history of making alcoholic beverages is essentially the history of homebrewing. Historians believe that beer was originally discovered by accident by the peoples of classic Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt. Barley was one of the staple grains of this region, and it was soon discovered that if the grains were allowed to get wet, germinate, and then quickly dried, the grain would become sweeter and more enjoyable for making breads and cakes. This is the process of malting.

It was a short leap from the discovery of malting to the discovery of beer. Probably quite on accident someone allowed their malted barley to get wet and remain exposed to the elements. Wild yeasts, occurring naturally throughout the world, contaminated this exposed liquid. Because the malted barley contained sugars that were the perfect nutrition for these naturally occurring yeasts, the yeast took hold and multiplied, creating a bubbly soup of alcohol and malted barley byproducts that eventually became the first beer. Once this process was discovered, it became quite easy for the brewer to separate the beer from the spent yeast, that would then be cultured into the next batch of beer.

Evolution of beer styles

Early in the history of beermaking, a brewer was limited in his selection of ingredients. Furthermore, because various yeast strains are more common in various parts of the world than in others, the yeasts that were isolated by any given brewer were frequently localized to his geographical area. As a result of these two localizing factors, distinctive types of beer became indigenous to particular regions.

Over time as human ingenuity and economics brought forth specialized commercial enterprises, the first commercial breweries were born. People stopped making beer in their home and began to buy it from the local brewery. As a result of this transition from household to small-town brewery, the regionalization of beer varieties became more pronounced.

Those ingredients indigenous to a particular geographic region influence the character of that region's beer. In those areas where particular herbs or hops were available, they were included in the brewkettle, and thus became part of the local beer culture. As a general rule, beers brewed in areas that have an abundance of hops (such as southeast England and parts of the Czech Republic and Germany) have more pronounced hop character. Furthermore, the hardness, softness, or particular mineral content of the water used to make the beer gave the beer its own, distinctive, character.

As a result of the regional variety of ingredients, local beers have become synonymous with particular locales. Pilseners were first brewed in the area around southeast Germany and the Czech Republic. Bock beer originated in Einbeck, Germany.

The events of human history have also had an impact upon the evolution of beer varieties. India Pale Ale is a variety of beer that was developed in England to serve to its troops that were stationed in India. It is a beer that has a high alcohol content and it is heavily hopped, both of which contribute preservative qualities to the beer. These preservative qualities permitted the English to brew the beer at home and then ship it the thousands of miles around the Cape of Good Hope to its colony in India.

Furthermore, economics has also had an impact upon the regionalization of beer styles. Certain governments have historically taxed beverages based upon their alcohol content. Thus, in Ireland, Guinness Stout that was served locally had a much lower alcohol content than did the Guinness Export that was taxed at a much lower rate by the Irish taxing authorities.


In January 1920 the United States outlawed the manufacture and consumption of alcoholic beverages "for beverage purposes." The prohibition against the non-medicinal use of alcohol was made law when the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified by the State of Wyoming on January 16, 1919. As a result of this grand experiment breweries, vinyards, and distilleries across the United States were closed down or placed into service making malt for non-alcoholic purposes. Small localized brewers went out of business, and as a result, a great many of the variety of beers available to the American consumer prior to January 1920 went extinct.

Prohibition ended in the United States on December 5, 1933 when the State of Utah ratified the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution. The end of Prohibition meant that commercial brewers and distillers could resume operations, but as a consequence of the failure of so many businesses, the variety of beers available after 1933 was much more limited than before. Further, in an attempt to mass market their product and to appeal to women who had experienced a great deal of economic and social liberation during the 1920s, large commercial brewers began making what has become the now-ubiquitous American lager beer.

Legality of modern homebrewing in the US

Unfortunately for homebrewers, the homebrewing of beer remained illegal after the adoption of the Twenty-first Amendment. Due to a clerical error, the words "and/or beer" were not included in the Federal Register after the U.S. Congress adopted the statutes that put the Twenty-first Amendment into effect. Thus, commercial brewing of beer was legalized, but the homebrewing of beer was not, despite the fact that the statutes had legalized the making of homemade wine.

It was not until November 1978 that Congress took action to correct this omission. President Jimmy Carter signed the law legalizing the homebrewing of beer in February 1979. Now, by federal law, an adult who is 21 years of age or older can legally brew up to 100 gallons of beer each year, so long as the beer is for personal use. It remains illegal for a homebrewer to sell his or her creations. The homebrewer may, however, give their beer away to friends or at social gatherings or brewing competitions.

The majority of U.S. states permit the homebrewing of beer by statute. There may, however, remain some states or locales that prohibit the practice of brewing one's own beer. Prudent advice would be to verify with state or county officials the legality of the practice before brewing the first batch of homebrewed beer.

Basic ingredients


Perhaps the most important ingredient of beer is water. In all but the simplest of brewing processes, this is treated by boiling to sterilize the liquid and to help drive off any dissolved chlorine. The resulting purified water is known as the brewing liquor. The more serious homebrewers often contact their local water company to obtain a report on the dissolved minerals in their water (the water's hardness or softness). Such mineral reports are frequently available free or for a nominal charge in the UK and the US.

Based upon the water report, some homebrewers may employ water treatments to try to improve the quality of their water. This process is known as water treatment or sometimes burtonisationWheeler "Home Brewing: The CAMRA Guide" 1993 p69] after the famous Burton brewery in the UK. A simple, but effective water treatment technique is to add a Campden tablet, (Sodium / Potassium MetaBiSulphite), tablet to the water prior to boiling it. This helps force out the chloramines added to domestic water supplies to ensure that their chlorine content remains stable. Alternatively, some homebrewers will simply buy purified or distilled water to use as their brewing liquor.


Brewing relies on the conversion of sugars into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast through fermentation. Fermentable sugars are typically obtained by steeping malted grain (malt), usually malted barley, in hot water during a process known as mashing. When malt is mashed at temperatures between about 60-70°C, natural enzymes in the grain break down large starch molecules into both smaller non-fermentable starch-like molecules known as dextrin and into fermentable sugar molecules.

Dextrins typically provide mouthfeel and sometimes sweetness to the final beer, while the sugars are converted to alcohol. The resulting solution, known as wort (pronounced "wert") is run off from the mash during a process known as "sparging" and contains the sugars, dextrins, proteins, and other molecules, many of which are carried into the final beer. The wort is boiled with hops (which adds flavor and a preservative effect) then cooled to near room temperature and yeast are added to begin the fermentation process.

Concentrated wort or malt extract is commercially available and can be used alone or in combination with grain homebrewing. Homebrewing kits are also available and they usually provide a malt extract (infused with hops for flavor) which can be fermented upon dilution with water and in many cases, the addition of some sugar or some other kind of basic, fermentable carbohydrate.


Modern beers (including ales) are typically flavored with the flowers of the hop plant ("Humulus lupulus"), a type of climbing vine. Use of the hop plant to flavor beer began in Europe, possibly in Flanders, and replaced Gruit. The bitter acids in the hops help flavor the beverage and also help extend shelf life, particularly important in the centuries before refrigeration. Hops will vary widely in flavor and acid levels depending on the hop variety and environmental conditions.

Hop oil is used as an easy way of adding bitterness. Whole hops tend to appeal to brewers who like an "authentic" feel to their beer, but they tend to age quickly since they have a much greater surface area than other forms. This is because exposed air tends to cause the oils and resins contained in the hop flower to become rancid. Whole hops left in the freezer for extended periods of time are better for bittering than for flavoring or (especially) aroma.

Hop pellets and plugs have a much greater shelf life (because most of the usable oils are inside the pellet or plug, and thus not exposed to the air). Thus, pellets and plugs are often preferred by brewers who want the freshest hops available. Pellets often come in the greatest variety in homebrewing supply shops, since they take up the least space and store very well. Unfortunately they break up into very small particles and can be hard to filter out of the wort. Plugs do not seem to have that problem, but are harder to find than pellets or whole hops.


The homebrewer must then decide whether to introduce a yeast culture or wait for airborne yeasts to infest the wort. The latter is known as lambic brewing. [cite web | url= http://www.lindemans.be/start/lambik/en?PHPSESSID=e7e91d75542bb72e7996c17ee947b5c9 | title = Lindemans - Commercial Belgian Beer Site | accessdate = 2006-10-14 ] Traditionally, "wild" yeast was the only type available, but since Louis Pasteur's discovery of the yeast microorganism, many specific types have been isolated in laboratory conditions.

At the home level, the introduction of a yeast culture is often preferred in order to save time and avoid possible infection by undesirable bacteria.

As with many disciplines within homebrewing, some practitioners are very interested in the choice of zymology. There are strong proponents of lambic brewing, as well as enthusiasts who seek out and re-culture yeasts from favorite or local breweries. Choice of yeast is very important to the character of the final beverage. For example, homebrewers seeking to produce authentic lagers may choose lagering yeasts, which require lower temperatures for the most effective fermentation. On the other hand, a good champagne yeast tolerates the broader range of temperatures used in the champagne production process.

Brewing process

The beer brewing process can be broken down into the following steps:

# Making wort;
# Fermentation;
# Conditioning;
# Packaging (in bottles, kegs or casks);
# Consumption.

The principles behind the process of homebrewing beer are similar to commercial processes except in scale. A hopped wort is produced and yeast pitched into the beer to stimulate fermentation. The complexity of the process is mostly determined by the approach used to manufacture the wort; by far the simplest method is kit brewing.

Beermaking kits

Sometimes known as beer in a can, no-boil, and hopped wort; kits contain liquid malt extract that, when reconstituted with water, produces wort. They are the easiest method available since the basic varieties typically don't require boiling or other preparations. Generally, the quality of beer from these kits can be on par with beer made from all-grain or malt extracts, and can be a good start for someone overwhelmed by the process. Kits requiring additional sugar tend to produce thinner beers. These "sugar" kits typically come in one 1.8 kgcite web|url=http://www.muntons.com/homebeer/countries/UK/default.asp|title=Muntons plc homebrew range - Commercial site|accessdate=2006-10-17] can.

Some more authentic kits contain extra malt extract and come in two cans weighing a combined 3 kg. A few advanced kits may also come with a hop "teabag" and require you to boil this with the wort before cooling it and pitching the yeast. On the whole two-can kits produce thicker-tasting, more commercial brews as all the alcohol is made from malt sugars. Some learners try a few of the more complex 3 kg kits to get used to the copper hopping, (boiling wort with hops), process before progressing on to more complex brews.

Brewing by use of beermaking kits may allow the homebrewer to avoid the need to boil the wort. Wort is typically boiled for an hour to two hours, which allows the beer to be infused with hop flavor and which also has the effect of sterilizing the liquid so that it will not be contaminated before the addition of yeast. Beermaking kits are frequently pre-boiled with the hops. And as long as the homebrewer observes sanitary practices, such as sanitizing the fermentation vessel before addition of the malt extract and liquor, the yeast will immediately take hold in the sweet liquid and other microbes will have less chance to spoil the beer.


Homebrewers may purchase liquid or dried malt extracts that are quite simply the condensed or dried wort that is sold in concentrated form. Whether the homebrewer chooses to mash his own grains or chooses to purchase malt extracts, he will then need to add hops and boil the liquid, typically for an hour to an hour and a half.

Homebrewing through use of malt extracts allows the homebrewer to select extracts that are made from different types of malted grains to produce lighter or darker beers, or to make beers made from malted wheat instead of malted barley. These selections allow the homebrewer to change the color, richness, and flavor of the final beer. Use of malt extracts to homebrew also allows for the selection of the varieties and quantities of hops that will govern the level of hop flavor and the dry taste or bitterness of the beer.

There are a number of undesirable microbes that may infect a wort, which can give the final drink an offensive off flavor and smell. While this primary reason for boiling the wort is an important one, the boiling process has other advantages, as well. The boil will drive off undesirable volatile substances that are produced during the mashing or extraction processes. The boil can aid in the coagulation of proteins and nitrogenous compounds (particularly important for beers made from mash). Finally, the boil will allow the homebrewer to rapidly cool the wort to force either a "hot" or a "cold" protein break, causing coagulated compounds to settle out of the liquid.

At present, brewing systems as HERMS are available to produce better results for the homebrewer with mashing. "HERMS" is such a system and is an acronym for "'Heat Exchange Recirculating Mash System". The basic premise is that liquid wort is drawn off from the mash and passed through a heat exchanger before returning to the mash. It is widely (although not universally) accepted that this process speeds starch conversion, clarifies runoff and greatly reduces temperature stratification within the mash.

Partial mash

A partial mash differs from an extract brew in that the extract remains enzymatically active. Unlike dead malts where some of the starch has been converted to sugar via the action of heat and the natural enzymes have been destroyed, wheats and unmalted extracts need the help of enzymes to convert their starches into sugars.

The next step up from extract brewing is to use a diastatically active malt extract to convert starches from other beer adjuncts such as flaked and torrified barleys, flaked wheat, and wheat flour into fermentable sugars. These extracts are currently only available in the canned form. Unmalted barleys and wheats can add extra "body" to a finished beer.

Full mash

Advanced homebrewers make their own extract from crushed malted barley (or alternative grain adjuncts such as unmalted barley, wheat, oats, corn or rye) by mashing the grain in hot water. This requires an insulated vessel known as a mash tun.

When mashing beer there are two competing enzymatic reactions at work. α-amylase is working to convert malt starches into dextrins adding body and residual sweetness to the beer, while β-amylase is working to convert malt starches and some dextrins into sugars for making alcohol. Both reactions work their best at differing temperatures and mash pHs (acidities or alkalinities). Mashing is a trade off between these reactions. α-amylase prefers a temperature of 70°C and a ph of 5.6. β-amylase prefers a more acidic pH of 5.0 and a temperature of 60°C. Hence the compromise choice of 66°C, although professional and homebrewer alike may vary mash temperature and pH to obtain differing results. Broadly, the hotter and more alkaline the mash, the sweeter and thicker the final beer; the cooler and more acidic the mash, the drier and more alcoholic the final beerWheeler "Home Brewing: The CAMRA Guide" 1993 pp76-77] .

In one procedure popular with homebrewers called the Infusion Mash, all grains are combined in the tun and added to brewing liquor. Before being combined with the grains, the brewing liquor is heated to a "strike temperature" that is hotter than the desired temperature for enzymatic activity. The reason the liquor is heated is to compensate for the fact that the grains are cooler than the desired temperature.

The mash is then removed to a lauter-tun and the grains washed with hotter water to obtain all the sugars from the tun in a process known as sparging. The sparging process will also stop any further enzymatic activity if much hotter water is used; conversely the mash may be heated to around 80°C to end such activity prior to placing it in the lauter-tun, and to prevent cooler grain from lowering the sparge water temperature to a lower than desirable figure. [Papazian "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing (3rd Edition)", ISBN 0-06-053105-3]

The resulting wort is then boiled for around 90 minutes. Copper hops are added at the beginning of the boil and flavouring hops after 75 minutes. Irish Moss, a form of seaweed, is typically added at the end of the boil to help prevent any hazes in the final brew. Haze-preventing additives to the boil are known as copper finings.


Quick cooling and isolation from the ambient atmosphere is needed to prevent early bacterial contamination or oxidation of the wort. Often, cooling is hastened by the use of thermal heat exchangers, informally, "wort chillers", which often consist of copper tubing immersed in the wort, through which cold water flows. For larger volumes of wort, a counter-flow wort chiller can be used, in which the hot wort flows through copper tubing which is jacketed by a second tube (often garden hose) through which cold water is run in the opposite direction from the wort's flow. A less effective (albeit cheaper) method is to immerse the pot in a sink full of ice water.

The cooled wort is poured into the primary fermenter in an aggressive manner, so as to aerate the wort; sufficient oxygen is vital for the yeast's growth stage. Advanced homebrewers may further oxygenate the wort by bubbling filtered air or even pure oxygen through the cooled wort. The yeast is then pitched (sprinkled or poured) into the wort.

Primary fermentation takes place in a large glass or plastic carboys or food-grade plastic bucket, nearly always sealed. When sealed, the fermenter is stoppered with the carbon dioxide gas produced venting through a fermentation lock. During this time, temperatures should be kept at optimum temperature for the fermentation process. For ale this temperature is usually 65-75°F / 18-24°C, and for lager it is usually much colder, around 50°F / 10°C. A vigorous fermentation then takes place, usually starting within 12 hours and continuing over the next few days. During this stage the fermentable sugars (maltose, glucose, and sucrose) in the wort are consumed by the yeast, while ethanol and CO2 are produced as byproducts by the yeast. A layer of sediment, the Lees or "trub", appears at the bottom of the fermenter, composed of heavy fats, proteins and inactive yeast. A sure sign that primary fermentation has finished is that the head of foam (kräusen), built by bubbling of CO2, falls.


Some homebrewers will keep the batch in the primary fermenter, called single stage fermentation, for the entire process. The potential drawbacks include added sediment in the finished product and a greater risk of off flavors. The tradeoff is this eliminates the need for a second container, reduces labor, and reduces the likelihood of contaminating the batch with bacteria, or oxidizing it, during transfer to the second container. This is a good beginner strategy, especially for those not skilled with racking.


Once the secondary fermentation is finished, the beer is ready for carbonation. There are two methods of carbonation. The first method does not require much capital expenditure per batch but is more time consuming. About 3/4 cup of corn sugar (dextrose) or other fermentable sugar is added to the beer, which is then transferred to bottles and then capped, or placed in a keg. The fermentation of the priming sugar in the closed container by left-over yeast suspended in the beer creates carbon dioxide which then dissolves into the beer. This takes 1-2 weeks. The second method involves pressurizing carbon dioxide into the beer into a special type of keg - either a Cornelius keg, the kind used in restaurants for soda storage, or a pressure barrel. Canisters of carbon dioxide, or soda chargers, can be released into the pressure barrel directly. The carbonation process then occurs almost instantaneously.

See also

* Homebrewing


External links

* [http://www.howtobrew.com/sitemap.html John Palmer's "How to Brew" book] (1st Edition)

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