Getting Started With Homebrewing

The aim of beer is to play with the senses and the mind; these are qualities we are unable to quantify. Creating mouth-watering, exciting, and evocative beers involves a great deal of self-awareness and a deep awareness of the way others experience the world. In my personal opinion, art has similar aims, interacting with peoples senses to create something wonderful. It’s a great power and a massive liberty. As brewers we are tugging at the senses and emotional relations which people build over a lifetime of joyful times. Bread, cake, cookies, chocolate, raisins, grapefruit, grass, pine, amber, sagebrush, fruit, marmite—beer can awaken memories from all of these smells and tastes.

Who Are You Brewing For?

It’s essential to keep your drinkers in mind. As a homebrewer, your beer will tend to stay close to home, so usually there isn’t much to think about. When you take your brew to a different audience, it’s best to do a bit of research. I like to brew for parties and other festivities; it pushes me into thinking about the beer I’m making in a different light, from the point of view of a drinker. Those who are involved in competitive brewing have to take into account the judges, who have particular likes and dislikes.

The Learning Curve

The main aim of a new homebrewer is to get everything set up and running in order to start brewing exceptionally delicious beers as soon as possible, which is achievable. We are fortunate enough to have numerous ways of making beer, ranging from the mega simple to crazy complicated. With the correct gear and skill, an experienced brewer can manipulate each detail, no matter how small, of the brewing process and make beers which are on a par with any in the world. Beginners relinquish some control and accept the limits but get speed and simplicity, perfect for learning about the general brewing process.

The common stage of events is to first understand the basics, then as your confidence grows, move on to more complex brewing techniques which give more power to the brewer. The majority of homebrewers begin brewing with an extract method, integrating steeped grains. It’s a straight forward technique which takes merely 2 to 3 hours and involves a small amount equipment and space. For these reasons, lots of people will only use this method of making beer and wrongly or rightly, never feel the need to make brewing any more complicated.

However, this method definitely has its limitations. Without mashing—the cooking process which breaks down malt starches into sugars—the brewer is greatly dependent on the malt producer and is limited to crushed grains, such as caramel malt. In addition, not all beer styles can be produced using this procedure.

The next step up from extract brewing utilizes a mini mash of specialty grain, providing the brewer with many more options in the recipe. This process requires the same time and temperature profile— typically an hour at 150°F/66°C—as a complete brew, but the mash is restricted to a fraction of the recipe, and malt extract makes up the bulk of the base. It adds about an hour to the brew session but allows you to use nearly any kind of specialty malts for a far larger range of possible beers. This method needs a small, insulated vessel with a false bottom or screen in order to remove the liquid from the solids when finished. As in the extract-plus-steeped-grain method, the full volume of the wort need not be boiled.

The largest step up is to go full grain. This provides you with the most power over your recipe, the same power that the largest commercial breweries have, and allows you to create completely unique forms of any beer style on Earth. The main problem is that a little more equipment is required; a kettle with the capability of boiling the full volume of the wort and a mash tun which is normally twice the volume of the brew. Arrangements for mashing go from mega simple to brain surgery complicated. For lots of home brewers, fashioning the equipment themselves is just as fun as brewing. With that said, simple equipment in the hands of a skilled brewer can often produce beer just as great as the most intricate and costly system. The other investment you have to bear in mind, is time. A typical 5-gallon/19-L batch of fully mashed beer usually takes around 4 and 6 hours; larger batches take even longer.

These three methods normally characterise the common progression a brewer takes, as they gain more confidence and want to experiment with their brew more and more. A brewer may begin with extract and a little caramel malt, change to mini mashes, and then once enough time has passed, make the jump to full mashes. With that said, some people do start by start mashing right away; others are completely content using extract and some specialty grains and never jump from that. It’s a down to an individual’s choice; you don’t have to choose straight away. Most of the recipes here can be brewed with either an all-grain mash or an extract method.

Extract Brewing Overview

Extract Brewing Overview

The extract and steeped grains process is a simple 2 to 3-hour extract method that requires a small amount of equipment and space.

I highly advise joining a local home brewing club in your area. There are hundreds of them around the country, and communities without a thriving club are becoming rarer. Homebrew clubs have some of the most welcoming, helpful, and enthusiastic members when it comes to brewing that you will find; a precious font of knowledge. Being linked to a home brew club will absolutely advance your beer and your brewing technique.

Participating in brewing competitions and judging them is another way to advance your brewing. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not a competitive person; each beer you submit will receive a thorough judging form filled out by two or three judges, which will supply constructive feedback that is worth more than the cost of entry. Becoming a judge provides an understanding of different beer styles and their flavours in a way which is virtually impossible to achieve any other way.

I believe it is important to preserve a joyful and relaxed attitude when it comes to home brewing. A lot of people become infatuated with the different technical aspects of brewing, and soon brewing becomes a frustrating chore as a pose to a fun hobby. Always keep the big picture in mind. Beer is about enjoyment, sharing, and joy. Watching as someone tries your experimental brew and break into a wide smile is something really amazing.