Learn To Brew
Brewing beer can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. There really are only four ingredients and four steps to learn. As you advance in your skill and knowledge, you can layer in complexity and never get bored with the hobby. With a few ingredients, a few supplies, and a keen eye toward cleanliness, anyone can brew great beer at home.
1. Ingredients + Recipe
You start with the basic four: water, malts, hops, and yeast. All varieties of beer can be made from just these four. You don't need any other ingredients to make great beer at home.
2. The Mash
Combine your milled grains with water at 152 degrees for 60 minutes. Basically, you're making a hot grain tea. Remove your grains at the end, and you have your wort (pronounced "wert").
3. The Boil
Now bring that wort to a vigorous boil. Start your 60-minute timer and add your hops at different intervals. Earlier hops will bitter the beer; later hops contribute flavor and aroma.
Once you're done with the boil, all you have to do is quickly get your hot liquid down to room temperature. Then put it in a big jug and pitch the yeast. Wait a few weeks. Done. Beer.
Below is a visual list of the basic equipment you'll need to brew your own beer. It may look intimidating, but trust us, most of these items are inexpensive and easy to use. You'll also need some other items like pots, measuring cups, and common kitchen tools, but if you are human at all, you probably already have these things. We offer all this equipment and a few more advanced tools in our homebrew supply store. And, of course, we're available anytime to answer questions. (Click on the images below for names and descriptions.)
Beer is made with four basic ingredients: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The main contributor to the variety of styles and tastes of beer is the type of yeast used in the fermentation process. The main ingredient in all recipes is water, and, great news, water is (mostly) free. You can use the water right out of your tap. The other three ingredients are all available at the Black Sands supply store. We can help you gather the right quantities and types of grains and hops to make any style of beer. We carry a variety of domestic, international, and even Bay Area yeast strains that will get you the exact flavor you have in mind.
The basic building block of life also makes up about 90% of any beer you make at home, drink from a brewery, or buy at the store. Some brewers use additives to fine-tune the acidity or the hardness of their water, but most of the time, water straight from the tap is perfectly fine for use in homebrewing
These grains are where beer derives its sugars and enzymes. The malted barley you buy from the homebrew supply store will be milled (cracked) for you. Milling exposes the starches from the grain. Soaking these starches in hot water during the mash stage converts them into sugars, which the yeast eats to make alcohol.
Hops add a lot to beer. Depending on when you add them during the boil stage, hops add bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Hops are also a natural preservative, which is why brewers first used them. Different types of hops are better at different things. Some are more for bittering; others are better for aroma.
Yeast is the magic ingredient. This little asexual, unicellular fungi is what turns essentially sugar water into beloved beer. Yeast is a living organism that feeds on sugar. As it metabolizes different types of sugars, yeast creates alcohol and carbon dioxide. It's what gives beer the kick and the fizz.
The brew sheet is where you capture your brew day information, document your recipe, process, measurements and notes you take along the way. You can use the Black Sands brew sheet to plan out your recipe or grab one of our many recipes available for download or at the homebrew store. If you’ve never used a brew sheet before, here are a few tips.
05 BREWING INSTRUCTIONS
We're about to take you step by step through a typical brew day. If you follow these instructions and sanitize often, you can make great beer at home.
These instructions are for first-time brewers. They follow a partial mash recipe, which includes some specialty grains that need to be milled, but gets most of its sugars from malt extract.
*If for some reason your beer is not fantastic, come see us at Black Sands. We'll help you figure out why and share tips for better homebrewing in the future.
NOTE: Read all the way through these instructions before starting. There are many overlapping steps or things that need to start early. Many steps should be immediately sequential, so your beer has limited exposure to open air and bacteria. That being said, don’t worry and have fun!
Preparation (before brewing)
- Brush-clean and wash your primary fermenter, kettle pot, rubber stopper, and one of the air locks with sanitizer.
- If you don’t have a wort chiller, you'll need to make ice or buy it from the store for the ice bath. Buy 3 standard-size bags of ice.
- Remove yeast from the refrigerator 3-6 hours before using.
The Mash (about 1 hour)
- Put 3 gallons of water (tap water is fine) into your kettle.
- Add any water-treatment additives like gypsum into the cold water.
- Empty the cracked grains into a cheese cloth, tie a knot in it, and put it into the pot.
- Heat the water and grain bag to about 155 degrees F without the lid on the pot. Be careful not to let the water boil.
- Once you reach 155 degrees, remove the pot from the heat.
- Cover with the lid and let sit for 40 minutes. Do not remove the lid. The goal is to keep a consistent temperature.
- After 40 minutes, remove the lid. Dip the grain bag in and out of the pot 10 times, then throw out the grain bag. You now have the wort.
The Boil (about 1.5 hours)
- With the lid off, turn the heat back on and bring the wort to 200 degrees F.
- Once you reach 200 degrees F, turn off the burner, and add all of the malt extract. Stir well to dissolve the extract into your wort.
- Bring the malted wort back to a rolling boil and start your 60-minute timer. Stir occasionally to ensure the malt doesn’t collect and burn at the bottom of the kettle.
- Add the first addition of hops and stir well. This is your 60-minute hops addition from the recipe sheet. (60 minutes means 60 minutes left of the boil.)
- Add the other hops at the intervals outlined on the recipe sheet.
- After 60 minutes, turn off the heat and cover the pot with the lid. Add any hops that are for the 0 minute addition (not dry hops!)
The Chill (about 1 hour)
- Fill a large bucket (a bathtub works just fine) with cold water and dump in your ice.
- Put the cover on your kettle and put it in the ice bath for 35-45 minutes, until the entire mixture reaches 70 degrees F. If you own a wort chiller, you can use that instead of the ice bath.
- Prepare your primary fermentation vessel (plastic bucket or carboy) by sanitizing it. Remove the kettle from the ice bath and place it next to your primary fermenter.
- Fill the primary fermenter with 3 gallons of room-temperature water.
- Pour 2/3 of wort from your cooled kettle into the primary fermenter. Pitch your yeast into the fermenter, then pour the remaining 1/3 of the wort over the yeast and secure the lid on the primary fermenter.
- Place the primary fermenter somewhere that has a steady temperature. (68-74 degrees for ales)
- Plan to transfer into secondary fermentation in about 6 days.
- Wash the 1/2-inch siphon tube, carboy (secondary fermenter), rubber stopper, and air lock.
- Take the primary fermenter out of storage and place it on an elevated surface for an hour or two to let it settle.
- Place the carboy below the elevated primary fermenter on the floor.
- Soak the end of the larger siphon tube in hot water to loosen and sanitize it, then put it on to the primary fermenter spigot.
- Drain the contents of the primary fermenter into the carboy without splashing. You don't want to aerate the beer, so siphon it gently.
- Once the beer transfer is complete, make any dry hop additions from your recipe. Sanitize the hop package, cut, and just pour in the hops.
- Cap the carboy with the rubber stopper and air lock, then put the carboy in a dark place that maintains about 68-74 degrees F.
- Let it sit for 10-20 days before bottling.
- The day before bottling, make sure you have about 55 clean, 12-oz. bottles (or 30 22-oz. bottles).
- On bottling day, sanitize the bottles by soaking them in your sanitizer solution for about 60 seconds.
- Boil one cup of water, dissolve dextrose into it, and pour into fermenter.
- If you're using carbonation drops, just place one or two in each bottle.
- Set up your auto siphon to rest just above the trube (collection of sediment at the bottom of the fermenter), with the plastic tubing attached, and the bottle filler at the other end.
- Start the auto siphon by pushing and pulling a few times with the bottle filler pressed down into a bottle. This will start the auto siphon. Releasing the pressure on the bottle filler will stop the flow, but keep the siphon working.
- Fill each bottle to the top. Removing the bottle filler will leave about 1 inch of air inside each bottle. This is what you want.
- Sanitize your bottle caps by soaking them in sanitizer for about 60 seconds.
- Place caps on each of your filled bottles. Use the bottle capper to press them down and secure on to each bottle.
- Place your bottles in a dark, room-temperature place. Wait about 10-14 days for them to naturally carbonate.
- Place bottles in the fridge for about 2 days before drinking.
ENJOY! (Open bottles to enjoy)
06 Frequently Asked Questions
We are straight nerds about homebrewing. You have questions, we have answers. Here are a few common ones:
Oh crap! Why is this crazy goo coming out of the top of my fermenter!?
That's just activity, son! Your yeast is strong. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it's quite good. It means your yeast is very active in the fermenter. The risk here is that, with all that goo coming out of your airlock, you're in danger of contamination.
We suggest you replace your air-lock and install a blowoff tube: Fill a container (an empty growler works well) about half full with cold water. Mix in a few drops of sanitization solution. Clean and sanitize one of your siphon tubes and a new rubber stopper. Put the tube in the rubber stopper and place the other end under the water that has sanitization solution mixed in. Now, remove the airlock and put the rubber stopper in its place. Now, you have an airtight rubber stopper on the top of your fermenter with a tube coming out of it leading into your jug of sanitizer. This will allow the yeast goo (AKA krausen) to blow off without letting any air or contaminants get to your beer. Eventually, when fermentation slows down, you can re-install a clean/sanitized airlock if you'd like.
Wait, is this legal? Will I get arrested?
Yes, don't worry. Homebrewing is completely legal, although, up until 1978, it wasn't. Nowadays, by U.S. federal law, an individual can brew 100 gallons of beer a year. As a household, you can brew up to 200 gallons per year. This is pretty hard to accomplish if you are brewing 5-gallon batches. So brew often, oh great ones!
The homebrewing is also subject to the laws of individual states. Now, thanks to the great efforts of the American Homebrewers Association (AHA), homebrewing is legal in all 50 states! So raise a glass of homebrew to honor their victory! (P.S. No one in the United States has been arrested or fined for homebrewing in over 20 years.)
How long does it take?
Roughly speaking, from start to finish, brewing beer takes about 4 weeks. Here is the great part, though: 95 percent of that time just takes patience. It only takes 4-5 hours to brew and rack your beer into the fermenter. Fermentation takes the longest, but that's where all the greatness happens. For a typical homebrew, you'll want to ferment anywhere from 2-3 weeks. Times vary depending on the type of beer and the temperature at which you are fermenting. Bottle conditioning will take another 1.5 to 2 weeks. You can absolutely have drinkable homebrew in less than 4 weeks. Hell, we've made it in 2. Keep in mind, though, that the longer you wait, the better it'll taste.
How much space do I need to brew?
The short answer is, whatever size kitchen, garage, or back yard you have. Hey, we've seen people brew in miniature NYC apartments. We've also seen full-on, three-tier systems in backyards and garages. No matter what you have, it can be done. That said, you'll need access to good, clean water, and a heat source, to brew beer.
I just finished brewing, and my beer looks all murky. What's the deal?
Don't worry. This is normal. After you transfer your wort into the fermenter, there are a lot of proteins, hops, and other elements that get transferred from the boil kettle into the carboy. Once you pitch your yeast, your beer will still look very cloudy for a few days up to a week. Once fermentation slows down, all the particles will start to cling together and fall to the bottom, leaving your beer nice and clear. Like in most cases with homebrew, just wait a little longer and it'll all work itself out.
How do I know when my beer is done fermenting?
The quick way to tell if you're done fermenting is to check whether there are bubbles forming in your air lock or blow-off tube. If yes, then the beer is still fermenting, and you should check back in a few days or a week. Even if you have one bubble every 20 or 30 seconds, it's still fermenting. The other way to tell if your beer is ready to move to the next step is to take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Has it reached your target FG? If yes, then you can pretty safely move to your next step. A basic rule of thumb is to check the gravity of your beer three days in a row. If it reads the same number all three days, it's safe to say you can move on. Typically, it's ok to let a beer sit in primary fermentation up to four weeks without any worry, as long as it doesn't heat up over 72 degrees.
I've only been brewing extract beers. How do I move into all-grain brewing?
All-grain brewing is fun and easy. The main difference is that you'll need to buy more malted barley and make a bigger mash to get all the sugar that the extract would otherwise provide. With extract, you're abbreviating the "mash" step. Stop in the shop, and we'll be happy to walk you through the all-grain brewing process. The best part is we have all those fancy grains, and you'll be brewing all-grain beers in no time!