Home-Brewing Beer: 4 Essential Tips to Get Started

Glass of beer with foamy head on countertop.

Home-brewing is one of those hobbies that begins with curious interest and quickly becomes an obsession — the fun kind, of course.

The only things that can slow a home brew master’s enthusiasm are overwhelm induced by jargon and brewing technicality or a lack of budget for the right equipment. Sadly, this article won’t help with your budget. But it will demystify some of the terms and early steps required to get started.

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Keep reading and in a few minutes you’ll hopefully feel smarter and more prepared to start brewing your own beer at home.

Glass of beer with foamy head on countertop.
©BlogChef.

“Brewing is a process that requires time and cannot be rushed. From the initial boil to the fermentation and bottling, each step takes time and rushing any part of it can lead to disappointing results. It’s important to remember that good things come to those who wait, and this is especially true in brewing.”

Gabrielle Marie Yap, CarnivoreStyle

1. Start with a SMaSH beer

Since you’re early in your brewing career, begin with Single Malt and Single Hop (SMaSH) beer. Making this simple beer style should help you better understand fundamental brewing principles and the nuances of different ingredients.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Choose ingredients. Select one type of malt and one variety of hop. Less is more at this stage. A simple formula like this gives you the chance to appreciate what each ingredient brings to your brew.
  2. Brew with purpose. You may want to showcase your hop or your malt. Or maybe you want to produce a lower cost brew. Whatever your goal is, jot it down and take notes on your process and the results.  
  3. Experiment. You may not get it right the first time. That’s normal. Keep tweaking things until you achieve the goal. Have fun with this process. (I do this regularly with cooking. I’ve made curried butternut squash soup twice in the last two weeks trying to get it just right.)

Don’t underestimate the value of patient exploration in creating stellar SMaSH and more complex beers. You’ll teach yourself the science and art of brewing along the way. If you need more guidance, see this guide to SMaSH beers from Getollie.com.

2. Get the right equipment

“If you’re brewing on a budget, you don’t need a lot of expensive equipment to get started. The absolute minimum you’d need is a large pot for boiling your ingredients, a fermenter for the fermentation process, an airlock to allow gases to escape during fermentation, a thermometer to monitor the temperature, and a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of your brew.”

Gabrielle Marie Yap, CarnivoreStyle

Jump onto Google and ask what equipment you need to brew beer and you’re sure to be overwhelmed. Fortunately, you really don’t need a crazy long list of stuff just yet. Focus on the basics for now. The right equipment for your first setup includes:

  • Brewing kettle: A must-have to start with. Opt for one made from stainless steel as it will be corrosion-resistant and easy to clean.
  • Fermenter: Basic plastic buckets or carboys are fine at this stage. Choose something sturdy and airtight.
  • Airlock and Bung: The airlock lets carbon dioxide escape from your fermenter but prevents air from getting in. This keeps the fermenter from exploding and also prevents contamination from bacteria or dust. A bung is a stopper that holds your airlock in place.
  • Thermometer and hydrometer: These tools monitor temperature and sugar levels, which are both critical aspects of quality brewing.  

Finally, resist the urge to splurge on the most expensive equipment. The most important ingredient in beer-making is not the hardware. It’s your passion for the process.

3. Master the sanitization process

Your sanitization process can make or break your beer quality. Follow these steps to get it right:

  1. Use chemicals. Invest in food-grade sanitizers like StarSan. They’re safe to use and effective at killing unwanted bacteria.
  2. Clean all tools. Anything that comes into contact with your brew after boiling must be sanitized. That includes transfer tubes, fermenters, airlocks, and bungs.
  3. Remember your hands. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water.

It may feel tedious to keep every spoon, tube, and jug sterile, but not doing so can invite unwanted microbes to ruin a batch that would have otherwise been delicious.

4. Know your ABV calcs

You want to know the alcohol content of your beer for two reasons. One, the ABV quantifies the beer’s strength and character. And two, it’s a fun talking point when you introduce your creation to friends and family.

Here’s how to calculate ABV:

  1. Use a hydrometer. A hydrometer measures the relative density or ‘gravity’ of liquids. You’ll measure the beer’s original gravity before you ferment and then the final gravity after fermentation.
  2. Do the math: Subtract the final reading from the original one. That gives you the apparent attenuation. Multiply that number by 131.25 to get to the ABV.

Note that typical home-brews have ABVs between 4% and 6%. Higher ABVs are associated with longer fermenting times which allow for richer, more complex flavors to develop. Enough said there — I’m guessing you’re already familiar with what beer tastes like and how that relates to ABV.

Keep learning and experimenting

While nothing replaces hands-on experimentation with ingredients and your brewing process, there is always more to learn from others. Try joining online forums — there are lots of them — and recruit friends and family to help out. I’m sure they’d love to be tasters if nothing else.

Brewing is a technical and creative enterprise. Make it a social one too and you might have yourself a lifelong hobby.