To understand how beer is made, it’s best to start with the essential ingredients: yeast, grain, and water. Brewing requires fermentation to extract sugars from the grains (often barley), allowing the yeast to turn it into ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide (carbonation) — beer in its simplest form.
Craft brewers use hops in many styles to add flavor and aroma.
In today’s innovative craft scene, brewers use everything from fruit juice to lactose to whole pastries to make beer. And, often in commercial brewing, brewers replace the natural carbonation process with forced carbonation.
For those of you ready to expand your beer-tasting hobby beyond having Tavour deliver to your door, you might want to try homebrewing. There are many kits for beginners. And, here are the fundamental steps — along with some helpful tips from experts — so your introduction to making beer goes a little smoother.
“Mash” - For the mash, soak grains (often malted barley) in hot water for about an hour to release their sugars.
“Lauter” - Rinse grains with hot water to extract the rest of the sugar out of them; this is called sparging. Then, separate (lauter) from the hot liquid (wort). You can mash, sparge, and lauter all in the same vessel.
“Boil” - Boil the wort for an hour to kill any unwanted organisms. If you are brewing a beer that involves hops, adding them during the boil can bring out a potent bitterness or resinous character along with fruit notes, depending on the hops variety. If you add the hops later, once the wort has cooled, this is known as ‘dry-hopping’ and can extract juicy fruit flavors with a much lower bitterness.
“Cool” - The wort must be cooled quickly so that when you add yeast, it isn’t killed by the heat. Ensure everything is properly sanitized because after the temperature of the wort cools, it becomes more susceptible to contamination. Add the yeast when the wort drops to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Ferment” - Now you wait. The yeast needs 1.5 to 2 weeks to eat the sugars and turn them into alcohol.
“Bottle Condition” - Add sugar to the bottles. The residual yeast left after fermentation will eat the sugar and naturally carbonate the beer by releasing carbon dioxide. It takes about two weeks, depending on the temperature you store it, before the beer is ready to drink. Experts recommend bottle conditioning in a cool, dark place like a basement.
Those are the basics. Many of the masterminds behind breweries like 3 Sons, Listermann, Blackstack, and countless others started out homebrewing as a hobby. Here are some tips from a few of the pros who started at home:
Wisconsin’s MobCraft Beer is a brewery that crowd-sources new beer ideas from homebrewers and average beer fans.
Since they work closely with so many homebrewers to turn pipe dreams into reality, we sat down with Mobcraft founder Henry Schwartz.
“Be meticulous about cleaning. It's a pain, but 100 million percent necessary. Most homebrew that isn't awesome is infected,” he says. Also, “Temperature control your fermentation! Know the happy range for your yeast and make sure you're in that range.”
On the West Coast coast, the adored San Francisco brewery Barebottle includes their recipes and full ingredient list on all of their beer labels. Founders Ben Sterling, Mike Seitz, and Lester Koga started as homebrews and say, “it’s still who we are at the core.”
When Ben, Mike, and Lester started homebrewing in the early days, they always tried to learn from the great breweries; one of their biggest influences was the award-winning Russian River Brewing.
The knowledgeable crew at Barebottle also recommends grabbing The Joy of Homebrewing book by Charlie Papazian. “It's a really easy read, and will have you up and brewing in no time.”
For a few more quick and easy tips, we caught up with Tavour developer whiz and avid homebrew club member Frank Salinas. He agrees that the easiest way to start is to pick up a kit. “It's easy to find ones that have most everything you need to get started,” he says.
“You may hear the terms ‘extract’ and ‘all-grain.’ I personally recommend starting with extract as it really streamlines the process.” He also recommends finding a 1-gallon batch kit and emphasizes, “you can make that pretty easily with stuff most people have in their kitchen. If you have a 2-gallon stockpot, you can make a gallon of beer.”
Salinas also points out that while IPAs are the rage and what most craft beer fans gravitate to, “they're a tad difficult to do on your first try.” He suggests starting with something more malt-forward like a Porter, Stout, or Amber Ale because they’re more forgiving.
Now that you have all your bases covered for how beer is made, just remember to have a blast. And, if your homebrews don’t turn out as fantastic as you hoped, you always have Tavour in your corner ready to send you the latest craft beer fire!