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Beer is the most consumed alcoholic drink in the United States, and it occupies the largest portion of the nation’s alcoholic beverage market.
Despite its popularity, many craft beer enthusiasts need the homebrewing science explained to make their first batch of beer.
According to a survey conducted a few years ago, 94% of all the breweries in the world manufactures craft beer. So, if you’re considering brewing beer at home, you’ll first have to understand the basics of the science behind it.
Although the homebrewing process is not necessarily complicated, it is certainly nuanced, as the mineral properties of the water, type of hop, or the duration of the fermentation process can all affect the taste and quality of the final product.
So, in this article, we’ve covered the basic concepts of homebrewing science that will help you fully grasp how beer is made.
The List of Beer Ingredients
You need just four ingredients to start making beer, but you should bear in mind that the exact list of ingredients depends on the style of beer you want to make.
So, let’s take a look at the general categories of ingredients you’ll need to get to make craft beer.
- Water – More than 90% of beer is water, so it is hardly surprising that the properties of the water you use affect the quality of the beer. Hence, you can expect different outcomes when you use soft and hard water.
- Barley malt – How strong the craft beer you make depends on the amount of barley malt you add to it. Some versions of barley malt can contain wheat, rice, or corn as they have a high concentration of starch.
- Hops – The beer’s famously bitter taste comes from the hops. What’s more, each hop type gives the beer a different taste which leaves plenty of room for experimentation during the homebrewing process.
- Yeast – Dry or fluid yeast is used to ferment wort and turn its sugars into alcohol.
Please read our guide to homebrewing ingredients for more information about the different hops varieties or grain types.
Types of Brewing Processes
The combination of water and barley malt forms the bases of a beer called wort, and there are three different versions of barley malt you can choose from.
So, the exact steps of the brewing process depend on the barley malt you use to make a batch of beer.
- Extract – Although it can involve using small amounts of grain to create wort, this brewing process is almost entirely based on producing wort from liquid or dry grain extracts. It is also the least complicated brewing process that is best suited for novice beer brewers.
- Partial mash – Similar to extract brewing processes that include mixing the grain extracts and actual grains, the partial or mini-mash method is based on combining malt extracts with grain. Beer bases created with this technique allow for a variety of flavors and levels of quality.
- All-grain – This is the most complicated brewing process that requires you to extract sugars directly from the grain. Even though it demands more skill, equipment, and time than other brewing processes, the all-grain brewing method is also more rewarding than any other way of creating wort.
The Initial Stages of the Homebrewing Process
The goal of the homebrewing process is to combine glucose, ethanol, and carbon dioxide successfully.
To accomplish this, you need to go through several separate stages that span over the course of several days or weeks, depending on the type of brewing process you choose.
- Mashing – Mixing the barley malt with grains such as rye, corn, sorghum, or wheat and stepping them in hot water is also known as mashing. The purpose of this step, called germination, is to break down the starch these grains contain and activate the protease and amylase enzymes.
These enzymes turn starch into fermentable sugars and peptides used later in the brewing process to create alcohol.
You can either heat all grains at once or boil a portion of the grains and then add it back to the mash. Keep in mind that water quality, stirring frequency, and the mash temperature can affect the quality of the mesh.
- Lautering – Lautering is a substep of the mashing process during which wort is separated from the grain. The purpose of lautering is to release the sugars that may still be trapped in the grain after the mashing process into the wort. This is usually accomplished by pouring boiled water over the grains to extract all sugars from them.
- Boiling – Wort you extracted from the mesh contains enzymes, and it is generally unstable, which is why you need to boil it for approximately one hour. During this time, you should gradually introduce hops into the wort to add bitterness to a sweet liquid. Hops are also a natural preservative that produces a healthy fermentation environment by eliminating bacteria.
What to After Brewing
Once you’re done with preparing wort, you should take the first steps towards fermenting your beer. This process starts immediately after you finished boiling the wort, as you have to decrease its temperature as quickly as possible.
- Cooling down the wort – It is vital to reduce the wort’s temperature from approximately 212F, which should be its boiling temperature to 70 F within 20 to 30 minutes. Most novice brewers use ice baths for this purpose, but they are not always effective, especially if you’re making a large batch. Even though they can be expensive, wort chillers are a great investment because they can cool down the wort quickly.
- Placing the wort into a fermentation bucket – Once the wort has spent while at room temperature, you can start transferring it into the fermentation bucket. The liquid should remain in this vessel as you prepare it for the fermentation process.
- Measuring the wort’s gravity – The easiest way to measure the gravity of the original wort and its alcohol content is to use a hydrometer. Acquiring the original gravity of your brew will enable you to compare it with the final gravity measured after fermentation.
- Pitching – The process of introducing yeast into the wort is also known as pitching. You need to ensure that the dry or liquid yeast you add to the wort is healthy to avoid contamination that can ruin the entire batch. It is recommended to leave the yeast for a few hours at room temperature before introducing it into the wort.
The Importance of the Fermentation
Fermentation is the essential step in every homebrewing process that determines the quality of the final product.
During this stage, the yeasts you introduced into the wort during the pitching process ferment or transform sugars the wort contains into carbon dioxide and alcohol.
Fermentation can occur in one or two stages, depending on the style of beer you want to make.
- Primary fermentation – At this stage, you’ve already completed all steps of the homebrewing process that require your full attention. To commence the primary fermentation, you have to install an airlock on the fermentation bucket and place it in a warm room. Maintain the room temperature around 70F because low temperatures slow down the fermentation process.
- Secondary fermentation – The primary fermentation stage lasts between several days and a few weeks, just once you notice that the wort is no longer bubbling, you should decide if you want to move the wort into a secondary fermentation bucket. The second stage of the fermentation process is not mandatory, but it allows you to turn complex sugars into alcohol.
The process of transferring beer from the primary to the secondary fermentation bucket is called racking. This process is highly sensitive, and you shouldn’t attempt to go through it if you’re not familiar with all steps you need to take to complete it.
Once the beer is transferred, you can either leave it for an additional week to ferment, or you can add hops to it in case you want to increase the bitterness level or tweak its aroma.
You should take the final gravity reading at the end of the secondary fermentation stage and compare it with pre-fermentation results to assess the effectiveness of the fermentation process.
Bottling a Beer Batch
The last step you need to take during the homebrewing process is to move the beer from the fermentation bucket into bottles. Optionally, you can choose to store your beer in a keg because it is easier.
Regardless of which option you opt for, the first thing you will have to do is sanitize all the equipment you’ll be using.
Afterward, you should put the priming sugar into the bucket into which you’ll move the beer from the primary or secondary fermenting bucket.
Proceed to attach the tube you’ll use to pour the beer into bottles to the spigot on the bottling bucket and attach the bottle filler to the other end of the tube.
Start filling bottles with beer, ensure that they’re closed properly and leave them in a dark and cold storage space for approximately two weeks.
During this time, the priming sugar will turn into carbon dioxide and carbonate the beer. You don’t have to add sugar carbonation to the beer if you decide to store it in a keg because you’ll use a CO2 cylinder for carbonation purposes.
The Most Important Things to Consider While Homebrewing Beer
Every decision you make during the homebrewing process can affect the quality of the final product.
Craft beer recipes offer a general set of instructions on the type of brewing process or the ingredients you should choose, but they also leave a lot of room for interpretation.
That’s why you may experience a steep learning curve while making your first batch of beer, as the secret to delicious beer is hidden in the details.
We’ve shortlisted some of the factors that might make it easier to navigate the homebrewing process.
Clean Your Equipment
Some beer enthusiasts would go as far as to say that the key to making good craft beer is sanitation because contact with bacteria can ruin the entire batch.
Hence, the containers you use to boil and stir the wort and fermentation buckets have to be sterilized before use.
Siphoning equipment, bottles, and kegs must also be cleaned properly before they contact the beer.
It is also important to protect the wort from environmental bacteria during the fermentation process because they can foster the development of harmful bacteria.
In addition, every piece of equipment needs to be cleaned thoroughly after you’re done using it.
Choose the Preferred Brewing Method
The method you choose to extract wort from the barley malt will determine which equipment you have to use. Extract brewing is the simplest method, as you have to add the malt or dry extract to the water and boil it for 60 to 90 minutes.
On the other hand, the all-grain approach can be overwhelming for a novice brewer because it involves crushing the grains and extracting additional sugars through the lautering process.
So, if you opt for the extract brewing method, you won’t have to go through so many steps, but the range of flavors you can get will be limited.
Try out Different Hops
Introducing hops into the wort at different stages of the homebrewing process will enable you to fine-tune the bitterness level or add aroma. There are 80 types of hops to choose from, including the Agnus, Bramling Cross, or Ella hops.
Beer companies develop new hops breeds frequently, increasing the range of hops varieties you can use during the homebrewing process.
Moreover, each type has different properties, which means that the taste of your craft beer largely depends on the hops you choose.
Finding out as much as you can about the variety hops you want to use to produce craft beer will enable you to know how your beer will taste.
Primary vs Secondary Fermentation
Racking beer into the secondary fermentation bucket is not the mandatory step of the fermentation process.
In fact, it may even be an unnecessary risk since you can end up ruining the entire batch if you make a mistake while moving the beer from one container to another.
However, secondary fermentation provides the opportunity to smooth out the beer’s flavor and improve its clarity.
The step might be unnecessary if you’re new to the homebrewing world, but it is something you should consider once you develop your beer brewing skills.
Decide How You Want to Store the Beer
Bottling or kegging are the two storage options you have at your disposal, and you should pick the one that best fits your needs.
For instance, you’ll get at least 48 12-ounce bottles from a 5-gallon beer batch, so you have to make sure that you have enough space to store so many bottles in your home.
A keg can help you solve this storage problem, but you’re going to need a CO2 cylinder to carbonize the beer.So, before you start making a batch of beer, you have to figure out the best way to store it.
The Advantages of Learning the Homebrewing Science
You Can Make Different Styles of Beer
With enough practice, you can learn how to make virtually any beer style you like. In time, you’ll be able to perfect the taste of the beer you’re producing by experimenting with different ingredient ratios and implementing new steps.
You Can Start Your Own Brand of Craft Beer
As you polish your beer brewing skills, you will have the opportunity to run your own microbrewery and start supplying bars and different venues with your brand of beer.
This will enable you to develop innovative brewing techniques and turn a hobby into a profitable business.
Complete Creative Freedom
Learning how to brew your beer and becoming more confident with each step of the process enables you to make creative decisions that will improve the taste and quality of your beer.
Mastering the all-grain brewing process or dry hopping the beer will widen the range of flavors you can get
Homebrewing Equipment is Affordable
You don’t have to make large investments to start homebrewing.
Most of the equipment you need to make your first batch of beer is affordable, and you can even get a homebrewing kit that contains all the ingredients and equipment you need to make craft beer.
The Disadvantages of Learning Homebrewing Science
Mastering the Homebrewing Process Takes Years
Reading a few books and making several batches of craft beer is enough to learn the basics of the homebrewing process, but becoming a master brewer requires years of dedication and a strong passion for making high-quality beer.
Even a Small Mistake Can Ruin the Entire Batch of Beer
Forgetting to sanitize the equipment, interrupting the fermentation process too early, or adding too many hops are some of the most common mistakes that can destroy the batch you were making.
That’s why you have to pay attention to every detail through all stages of the homebrewing process.
Top 4 Homebrew Recipes
The best way to test your theoretical knowledge of the beer brewing process is to use it in practice but to do that; you’ll need a homebrew recipe.
Getting a homebrewing kit is a great option if you have never tried to brew beer before because they contain the equipment you’re going to need, a recipe, and the ingredients for a particular style of beer.
More experienced brewers who already have homebrewing equipment can try experimenting with different recipes. We’ve selected a few of the most popular craft beer recipes you can homebrew at home, so let’s take a closer look at them.
McSpoon’s Scotch Ale
Developed by Phil Clark Jr, the McSpoon’s Scotch Ale recipe is a treat for fans of strong beer. This beer should have 9.5% of alcohol by volume when ready for consummation, and its final gravity should be 1,030.
This is an extract recipe, so creating wort shouldn’t be too difficult, as you have to steep the grains for half an hour before starting the boiling phase.
The fermentation process for McSpoon’s Scotch Ale lasts for six weeks, and during that time, you’ll have to prime it with honey.
You can read the entire recipe at this link
You can choose between extract and all-grain versions of the Belgian Saison recipe depending on your homebrewing skills.
With 5.3% of alcohol, the beer is neither too mild nor too strong, while the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast gives it a recognizable flavor.
You’ll also need access to Sorachi Ace Hops, 11lbs of Belgian Pilsner Malt, and Acidulated Malt if you want to make the all-grain version of the beer.
Although brewing this beer isn’t overly complicated, finding all the ingredients might be challenging.
You can read the entire recipe at this link
Mikey Sunshine Berliner Weisse
A distinctively bright color, low bitterness level, and alcohol percentage are some of the key characteristics of the Mickey Sunshine Berliner Weisse recipe.
To make 5 gallons of this sour ale, you have to acquire 3.5lbs of German pilsner malt and the same amount of white-wheat malt.
You’re also going to need half a pound of rice hulls, 0.75 ounces of 6.5% AA Hallertauer hops, and two packs of Lactobacillus yeast.
Keep in mind that this is an all-grain recipe that requires close attention to detail during all stages of the homebrewing process.
You can read the entire recipe at this link
Moderately strong and very bitter is the best way to describe the American IPA recipe, as this beer contains 7.5% of alcohol and its IBU rating is between 80 and 100. challenge.
Its taste is achieved by combining Columbus, Chinook, Citra, Cascade, and Centennial hops during different homebrewing processes.
Optionally, you can replace these hops with the combination of Warrior, Simcoe, and Amarillo hops if you want to try a different aroma.
You can read the entire recipe at this link
Frequently Asked Questions About the Homebrewing Science
Question: Is Homebrewing Legal in the United States?
Answer: Yes, it is; homebrewing was legalized on the federal level in 1978, but states were in charge of implementing the law.Alabama and Mississippi allowed beer brewing at home in 2013, making homebrewing legal in all 50 states.
Question: Are Homebrewing Ingredients Hard to Find?
Answer: Although most ingredients you need to make beer at home are easily accessible, some varieties of hops and types of yeast are hard to come by.
Question: How Soon Can I Drink Homebrewed Beer?
Answer: The duration of the phase beer fermentation beer depends on the recipe, and it varies between Usually a few days and six weeks.
Once the beer is fermented and bottled, you have to wait for two more weeks until the beer is fully carbonized and ready to drink.
Question: Should I Aerate the Wort?
Yes, introducing oxygen to the wort will make the beer better, but only if you do so after the wort is cooled properly.
Final Thoughts: Becoming a Master of Homebrewing
Homebrewing is an exact science with clearly defined steps for each step of the process, but it is also an art because the taste and quality of the final product depends on the brewer’s instincts.
So, learning how to complete all stages of the homebrewing process won’t take you long, as you have to figure out how to extract wort from the malt and ferment the beer.
Mastering the details of the beer brewing process takes years of trial and error, as well as an impressive level of dedication to perfecting your homebrewing skills.
Trying out different craft beer recipes is the best way to develop your skills and discover how to use the ingredients to get the flavor you want.
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