If you'd like to drink great beer, more healthy and delicious, there is a chance for you: make your own beer. Do you think it is too hard? Then you're wrong. Of course, it wouldn't be piece of cake, but it is rather interesting. Remember: if you do not fully understand something do not let it worry you unduly. You do not need to understand the science of brewing in order to produce good beer, in the same way that you do not need to know the chemical reactions that take place when baking a cake.
However, there are three (or four) different methods of home brewing, and before going any further it is important that the beginner gets it clear in his mind the differences between the three (or four) different techniques.
Home brewing methods
The primary ingredient of beer, apart from water, is malted barley; often simply called malt. The malted barley provides complex sugars that are fermented into alcohol and provides the malty flavour and body of a beer. Hops are used in small quantities to provide a balancing bitterness and a hoppy aroma.
Home brewers can either buy the malt as grain and brew fully-mashed beers from this; or he can buy malt extract, a gooey syrup that comes in cans, or he can use a beer kit. Malt extract is sometimes incorrectly referred to simply as malt and this leads to untold confusion for the novice home brewer. Malt is malted barley and is supplied as grain. However, malt extract is a viscous syrup that is made from malted barley in a factory and which saves the home brewer the trouble of performing the time consuming extraction process, known as mashing.
This leads to three fundamental home brewing methods: brewing from beer kits, brewing from malt extract, and brewing from grain. Of these, brewing from a beer kit is by far the quickest and easiest method and employs the minimum of equipment. Brewing from grain (mashing) is the most difficult method, is more time consuming, and requires more equipment than the other methods. Brewing from malt-extract is about half-way between the two.
The absolute beginner is advised to begin with beer kits, progress to malt extract brewing, and then on to full mashing should he/she desire. That way experience and technique is acquired in easy steps and the necessary additional equipment can be gradually obtained in a financially painless manner, as one progresses.
Beer kits are ready formulated beer concentrates supplied in a can. They contain blends of various malt extracts and hops in a ready-to-use form. They are the most popular and by far the easiest way to make beer at home. A beer kit can be made up in about half an hour and requires an absolute minimum of equipment. A brewing bin, a cask, a siphon tube, and possibly forty one-pint bottles are all that are required; although a thermometer and hydrometer would also be useful. Domestic equipment can be pressed into service for any of the other bits and bobs that may be required.
Beer kits provide an easy and financially painless introduction to home brewing. A beginner would be well advised to learn the fundamentals of brewing by using these even if he does intend to progress to brewing using more advanced methods. A major advantage of beer kits is that a prolonged and vigorous boil is not required, therefore the need to acquire a boiler of some sort is eliminated, and other members of the family will not complain about the smell of boiling hops. No weighing or proportioning of ingredients are required, making kits the ultimate in convenience.
Malt extract brewing - no mash
Malt extract syrup is a convenience tool which enables a brewer to brew from scratch to specific recipes. It is not as difficult as the partial-mash or full-mash methods described below, and not as time consuming. It is more flexible than using a kit. Malt extract is used instead of malted barley grain, and it therefore knocks several hours off the brewing process. A malt extract beer can be prepared in about two and a half hours, but most of that time is occupied with the hop boil which can be left to get on with itself. Malt extract will produce convenient, palatable beers, but the beers will not compete against a full-mash beer in a competition. With this simple method no mash is required; all of the ingredients are simply boiled vigorously for an hour and a half and then strained into the fermentation bin. Unfortunately, when brewing by this method, one is restricted to using certain ingredients. Apart from malt extract, only those ingredients which do not need to be mashed can be used, namely crystal malt, black malt and roast barley. The complete range of brewing sugars and syrups can also be used. Despite the restrictions, almost every type of beer can still be brewed using this basic method. It is necessary to acquire a brewing boiler or a largish vessel in which to perform the boiling operation.
Malt extract brewing - partial mash
This is a more advanced method of brewing from malt extract, which is a bit more difficult, but enables the complete range of brewing ingredients to be employed. A special type of malt extract is available, known as diastatic malt extract, which contains the diastatic enzymes necessary to convert certain brewing adjuncts, such as wheat flour, flaked barley, flaked wheat, torrefied barley, etc into fermentable sugars. In a full mash these enzymes are normally contributed by the pale malt grain, which the malt extract replaces. Partial mashing is simpler than full mashing; no mash tun is required and all of the ingredients can be contained in the boiler. The boiler temperature is raised to 67°C and held there for 45 minutes before being raised to the boil.
Fully mashed beers
When we brew a fully mashed beer we produce the fermentable sugars from crushed malted barley grain. Mashing from grain requires more equipment than extract brewing; a mash tun, or at least a grain bag will be required. It also requires more care, attention and skill. There is more opportunity for a mistake to be made, and it will take about a day to prepare a brew. Nevertheless it is well worth the effort. Only by brewing from grain can the best quality beers be produced. Mashing produces distinctive, quality beers, and is the only technique which gives the brewer complete and flexible control over his product.
Finding your way around
The biggest difficulty for the absolute beginner, when using a comprehensive books, is knowing which chapters are relevant to his chosen brewing method and which ones are not. For instance, information on mashing and sparging is irrelevant for people brewing from kits or from malt extract. The information on water treatment is only applicable to "mashers", and even then is optional. It is not necessary to treat the water to produce acceptable beers.
Each basic brewing method: brewing from kits, brewing from malt extract, and brewing from grain (mashing) has its own rules and instructions for brewing using that method. The beginner is advised to look straight for the information relevant to his chosen brewing method and begin there. Don't mix up different facts, rules and methods - it would not help. It can only bewilder you.
So, good luck with brewing at home. Wait for more articles and advice on our website.