I was first introduced to the world of home brewing in my friend’s hatchback during my junior year of high school. As we drove to the diner, I heard a glass clink underneath my seat. A large, clear bottle containing a cloudy, orange-yellow liquid was rolling around the car.
After a second or two of horror, I ruled out the possibility of urine. The guy was weird, but not that weird. Also, urine doesn’t usually have cloves floating in it.
“Dude, what is that?” I asked.
“Oh, I made some mead,” he stated nonchalantly.
“Mead? Like, Beowulf, medieval shit? You made it?”
“Yeah man. You should try it. Watch for cops though.”
After a hesitant sniff, a brief consideration of various open container laws, and ample assurance that I would not, in fact, go blind from the stuff, curiosity overpowered my better judgement and I did. It was sweet. It was alcoholic. It was pretty good.
The coolest thing about homebrewing is that it’s actually surprisingly easy. You get some equipment, brew for 2 or 3 hours (during much of which the process doesn’t have to be supervised), and let it chill out for a couple weeks. Then you bottle it, wait another couple weeks, et voila! You’ve got your very own beer. Most homebrew batches are five gallons, so you get between 40 and 50 bottles, too. And it’s pretty educational: you learn a lot about different types of beer by making them.
Anyway, my brewing buddy and I recently started a batch, and I documented the process for your viewing pleasure.
The Equipment: Homebrewing involves a few different pieces of equipment, so I’ve compiled them here for your ease of use.
- Carboy: a large glass bottle, pictured below. Mine is 6 gallons, which works nicely for 5-gallon batches (due to the krausen, which I’ll explain shortly). If you have a 5-gallon one for a 5-gallon batch, you’ll need to set up a blowoff system for the krausen, which can marginally improve the taste of the batch. This is apparently not very hard, but it’s beyond my experience.
- Carboy #2: for Step 11. 5 gallons. Can be plastic.
- Siphon: food-grade tubing plus an auto-siphon, which allows you to pump. Make sure the tubing fits the auto-siphon.
- Pot: Metal. 5 gallons.
- Floating thermometer.
- Bleach or some other sanitizing agent for homebrewers like Starsan.
- 40-50 empty bottles. You can buy empty bottles from homebrew stores, buy returned ones from liquor stores, or just wash well and reuse ones you’ve emptied. Good for the environment, man. Just make sure they’re not the twist-off kind — you can’t cap those properly.
- Bottle caps to match.
- A bottle capper. There are tabletop ones and cheaper handheld ones like the one I use.
- One-way airlock + drilled stopper. Make sure the stopper is the correct size for the carboy.
- Grain bag. Keeps the hops and the grains out of your wort.
- Spring-tip bottle filler. Makes bottling so much cleaner and easier.
- Specific gravity meter. Taking measurements with this before and after fermentation allows you to determine the final alcohol content of the batch.
- Carboy brush. Sometimes hard-to-clean deposits get stuck in the carboy. You don’t want those in there.
Step 1: Sanitize.
This is probably the most important part of homebrewing. If your equipment isn’t clean, you risk introducing bacteria into your brew, which will make it taste gross. (Never fear though, the pH and alcohol content of the resulting beer renders it inhospitable to pathogens, so it really is just the bad taste.) Throw a little Clorox into your carboy (the big glass guy), pump it through your siphon, let it sit a few minutes, then rinse a couple times and you’re good to go. While you’re at it, mark off 5 gallons on the carboy. Measure it out with a Nalgene or something, then mark the water level. You’ll need this later. Note the duct tape in the picture above.