Brewing 101

Brewing 101
  • Can I really make good beer at home? Yes, absolutely. Brewing is a fairly simple process that people have been doing for centuries – long before the advent of indoor plumbing and gas burners – if they could do it, you certainly can.
  • But isn’t it hard to make good beer? Nope, it’s hard to make great beer but even a beginner can make really good beer. In recent years it has gotten much easier for home brewers to access the products and information that the pros use. And home brewers have one big advantage over commercial breweries – Freshness. You’ll never drink a beer that is fresher or has less “mileage” than one you made yourself. That freshness can really compensate for skill level.
  • Can I make something like (name of favorite beer)? Yes, the basic brewing process is the same for almost every beer style, so if you can brew one, you can brew them all. There are only a couple styles I tell beginners to avoid – mainly lagers like pilsner – because their flavors are less “forgiving”; But you can still make them, just lower your expectations some.
  • How long does it take to make beer? There is only a few hours of actual work followed by lots of waiting. Generally, it takes about a month to turn around a batch of beer. Certain styles might do better with more time and if you’re not picky about taste, you could be drinking it sooner but 4 weeks from brew day to beer glass is pretty standard.
  • How much does it cost to brew beer? It depends on the batch size and how elaborate you get with your brewing process. The most common method involves doing 5 gallon batches (roughly 2 cases worth). Typically it will cost about $150 to do your very first 5 gallon batch of beer – roughly a hundred of that is for equipment that will be re-used, the remainder is ingredients. Figure about $50 of ingredients for each new batch of beer.
  • I heard some brewer talking about an “infection”, am I going to get food poisoning if I do this wrong? Nope, don’t sweat it. Fermentation is actually one of the oldest forms of water purification. Germs can’t live in beer because of the alcohol. When brewers use words like “infection” or “contamination” they are talking about unintended yeast strains giving the beer odd flavors. You may not enjoy the taste but it won’t make you sick.
  • Do I need special water or is tap water OK? The general rule is: if your water is OK to drink, it is OK to brew with. I usually start with tap water in my brew pot and keep a few gallons of basic bottled water handy for topping off. Distilled water seems like a good idea but can actually lead to bland tasting beer due to lack its lack of minerals. More advanced brewers will start with distilled water then add their own minerals so they have more control, but if you’re just starting out don’t worry about the water too much.
  • How many bottles will I get per batch? It varies but a typical 5 gallon batch will yield around 2 cases of 12oz bottles. Make sure you have about 50 on hand when you go to bottle. If you’re using bigger “bomber” bottles you’ll probably get about 25.
  • Someone I know is really into beer; would a homebrew kit be a good gift? Absolutely. Not only is brewing fun but it is a great way to learn more about beer. If you want a simple gift that is not too expensive, get them a 1 gallon kit. It will usually come in a single box that is easy to wrap. If they are a serious beer geek, and you don’t mind spending some money, go for a 5 gallon kit. Just be aware that they are usually two parts – equipment & ingredients – and sold separately.
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