As a total newbie to the topic I recently had the chance to be the fly on the wall with some experts of homebrewing. The surprise: producing beer was much easier than I would have thought. If you want to learn it too, read this blog article and find out how to make beer. This is a step-by-step craft beer guide with pictures, which guides you through the whole process.
As a copywriter for a world-leading company which supplies measuring technology to the beer industry, I read and write about beer brewing every day – from highly industrialized processes and applications to work at the smallest hobby breweries. The paradox was: I had never brewed beer myself. A situation that could not remain unchanged.
So when I decided to learn how to make beer, I turned to the most profound expert: Gebhard Sauseng, product developer, industry expert, and walking encyclopedia for all things beer at our company, Anton Paar. Apart from having contributed to our world-leading measuring systems for more than 30 years, he has also started as a hobby brewer himself. He allowed me to visit him at his home in the South of Austria on brew day to grant me valuable insights so I could write:
How to make beer – the beginner’s craft beer guide
Here’s what you need.
First and foremost: Time. Haste makes waste (they say – and it’s true). Plan 1 day for the actual brewing and 3 to 5 weeks for fermentation and maturation of your beer.
Second: Waste makes waste (I say). Therefore, put emphasis on good quality when purchasing your ingredients:
- A mix of ground malted grains (or malted grains and your own grinder)
- Drinking water
Third: Equipment. Prepare your setting before you start so you won’t get stressed with shifting things during the brewing process. This is the basic equipment you should have:
- Recipe/brewing protocol
- Brew kettle
- High voltage power outlet
- Big wooden spoon
- Food-safe barrels
- Glass bottles
- Funnels in different sizes
- Measuring device to determine your wort extract/alcohol content (e.g. this one).
The most important things are a good recipe (some of which you can find here) and the right grain mix and hops type for it.
Also consider the kind of water you are using. If you live in an area with extremely chalky water or your tap water is chlorinated, this will affect the taste of your beer (most likely in a negative way). One solution might be bottled water. For tips and tricks like this, it’s also handy to look into brewing blogs and forums – you can find some of the most useful ones here.
If you are all set and have weighed out your ingredients according to your recipe, you can start your brew day, where you will learn how to make beer. Brewing can take up to 8 hours so it might be a good idea to get up early (my alarm went off at 6 in the morning, but it was worth it). I documented all the steps of brewing with pictures so you should get a good overview of how to make beer. Let’s start:
Craft beer guide: 8 steps to mastering your first brew day
You can either buy your grain mix already grinded or you can grind it yourself. If you decide to do so, make sure that it’s only coarsely ground (like you can see in the picture). The kernels should break up to let the starch out, but there should be no floury parts.
You can build your own DIY (do it yourself) grinder with a crushing mill and anything that has a rotary motor. Gebhard used a percussion drill (which I thought was a pretty cool idea) and it works fine. However, this is only recommended if you are familiar with handling electrics.
Your recipe will tell you how much water you need for every brewing step that involves water as well as how long the different temperature phases have to be. For mashing, pour the required amount of water in the brew kettle and heat to starting temperature. If your brew kettle has temperature regulation and can be programmed, you can set all the temperatures and running times for the rests.
Place the sieve in the brew kettle as required (that might depend on the kettle brand you are using) and pour the malted grain into the sieve.
Stir well, then start the temperature run. If your brew kettle is not programmable: Heat and leave at required temperatures by manually operating the brew kettle.
Ten minutes after mashing in you should do a pH test. The value should be between pH 5.3 and pH 5.5; if it isn’t you can take countermeasures like adding some lactic acid (80 %).
Stir the mash in-between rests so the grain and water mix well.
Before the last rest you should do an iodine test. This will make the leftover starch visible. If the color stays light, that’s fine; if it looks like the picture, it’s not. In this case you should prolong the penultimate rest at 73 °C.
When all the rests are finished, you can perform a first measurement of your wort if you like. It will show you the extract of your wort at this point in the brewing process – a first orientation for how much your original extract will be later on. Also, if something went wrong while mashing, e.g. too much starch is left over and was not turned into sugar, then you can see this in the extract value.
This is what we got at this point for our wheat beer:
Lautering more or less means separating the liquid from the solids. You can either let the wort drain from the sieve into the brew kettle or rinse your mash so all the wort is flushed out of the draff that you put away later. We chose the second option.
Slowly take out the sieve and keep it a few inches above the wort. Gebhard installed a mini crane with a wire rope on his patio for this purpose and it came in very handy when lifting the heavy sieve full of damp grain.
Pour the required water amount over the draff bit by bit. Always let a bit of water drip through until the draff doesn’t “swim” in water and then pour in more water.
When lautering is finished, you can measure the wort again to keep track of your extract value.
This is what the draff looks like after lautering:
You can put it in the organic waste or, if you are a fan of re-using, you can give it to a farmer nearby to feed e.g. his cows and chickens.
Tip: If you have any questions about measuring equipment for homebrewing,
If you started your brew day as an early bird, this step might – practically – come up around noon. So as soon as you are done with setting up the brew kettle and wort, this means: Lunch! But first, the setup:
During lautering, the wort will have cooled down a little. Now you have to heat it up again to 100 °C with the hood put on the brew kettle. The hood should have an opening to let the steam out. While the brew kettle heats, you can dedicate yourself to one of the most important parts of brewing: hops.
Take the hops out of the package and weigh them out according to your recipe. Usually there will be two hoppings during the boiling, so you will get two different portions.
Add the first portion of hops and stir it in; then cook the wort for the time given in your recipe. Set an alarm so you don’t miss the right time for the second hopping.
In industrial brewing, there are special “whirlpools” where trub is separated by centrifugal force. You can do it manually if you stir the wort strongly in one direction until you see a vortex. The trub will be sucked to the center of the brew kettle. If you put the cooling coil above the center when cooling it will “catch” the trub in the center so it stays in the brew kettle when you pour out the wort. I’ll show you how it looks in the following steps.
Because we are now approaching the time to add yeast, we need to cool down the wort. The reason is that yeast is not a plant, but a living being which does not survive in very hot surroundings. In order to make our yeast feel nice and cozy (so it will give its best to transform our wort to beer), a temperature of about 15 °C to 20 °C is best for top-fermented beers.
To speed up the cooling, use a cooling coil.
For this method you need a water outlet to pump cold water through the coil, and a drain to lead the “waste” water away.
Cover the brew kettle during this procedure to prevent insects falling into the wort – this could “infect” your beer with e.g. lactic acid bacteria that would destroy the beer’s taste.
Now is the right time to measure and determine the “Original Extract” of your brew. Based on this value, further parameters (e.g. alcohol during and after fermentation) can be calculated. We note: The question of how to make beer is also a question of precise measurement.
Don’t take the sample for this measurement out of the barrel, take it out of the brew kettle so you really measure only your wort, no yeast. This time, filter your sample before measuring it. A standard coffee filter should be good enough for that.
Fermentation is the process that transforms wort into beer. The detailed chemical procedures are, though fascinating, a whole branch of chemical science on their own, so we will focus on the hands-on you have to do to get your beer.
Tip: Prepare your barrel(s) first so you don’t waste time afterwards, when wort and yeast are ready.
Mix the yeast with water according to your recipe. To save time, you can already do this while the wort is cooling down.
Let the mixture rest to activate the yeast. Detailed instructions might depend on the kind of yeast you are using and are often given on the package. At the end of the activation, add a teaspoon of sugar if needed.
Pour the yeast into the barrel(s) you prepared.
Put a funnel with a fine-mesh sieve on your barrel(s). Open the outlet of the brew kettle and let the wort slowly run into the barrel.
This is how the trub will look like when the brew kettle is almost empty – safely locked in the center of the cooling coil.
When the barrel(s) are filled, whisk the liquid to blend the yeast with the wort and to aerate the wort before fermentation starts. Then firmly close the barrel(s) with an airlock.
Here you go: Brewing is done and the question of how to make beer is almost entirely answered! Now the fermentation starts.
Let your beer ferment in a dark place, according to your recipe. The ambient temperature should be approximately 20 °C for top fermentation or 12 °C for bottom fermentation.
Check the decreasing apparent extract on a daily basis by taking a few mL of the sample out of the spigot of the barrel. If the apparent extract does not change anymore (e.g. after 7 to 14 days) you can calculate the amount of sugar for priming. If you don’t want to do this manually you can use this calculator to help you. The sugar has to be dissolved and carefully mixed with the fermented beer before you fill it into the glass bottles.
The secondary fermentation will take place in the closed glass bottles and generates the desired CO₂ content for your beer. Finally, let the beer mature for 2 to 3 weeks at preferably low temperatures (e.g. 4 °C) and reward yourself with the first sip of your own home-made beer.
Keep in touch
I hope this guide was helpful for you.
If you have any further questions on how to make beer or If you would like to share your own brewing experience – feel free to leave me a comment below!