Guide: Making your First Beer – The Easy Way

Easy Guide: Making Your First Beer Picture

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Requirements
  3. Brewing Process
  4. Bottling

This guide will show you from start to finish how to homebrew using malt extract. You can follow these instructions with pretty much any extract recipe, we will be brewing an American IPA, the ingredients are included.

Whilst it is possible, in theory, to jump right into more advanced techniques, the vast majority of homebrewers begin brewing with malt extract and some steeped grains. It’s easier, less laborious, and allows you to get some batches under your belt before moving on to the harder methods. Your start-up gear will advance with your techniques, all you really need to start is a good size brew kettle. The small pot suggested here (5 gallons/20 L or slightly less) is not usually good enough for mashed beers where the entire volume of the wort needs to be boiled. So you either need to come up with a smaller pot to tide you through or step up and buy a 7- to 10-gallon/25- to 40-L pot.

There are two broad varieties of extracts used by homebrewers, dried malt extract (DME) and liquid malt extract (LME). Using one or the other is down to personal preference and it is rather straightforward to substitute one for the other in a recipe. When buying malt extract, there are often a number of choices based on “colour.” The common options are “light” or “dark,” but you can sometimes find extracts labelled as “amber”, “gold” or “extra dark.” If the recipe you are following does not state which colour to use, you can generally presume that the recipe means light malt extract.

Converting a recipe (optional)

Any recipe which you find either online or in a book can be converted from all-grain to extract or from dried to liquid extract (or vice versa).

When a recipe uses DME, you will require around 20% more LME to achieve the same results.

All-grain brewers measure their efficiency at extracting starches from the grain, and then in changing these starches into sugars. This measurement is known as brew-house efficiency. When a recipe is printed in a book or posted online there are presumptions about the brewer’s efficiency—most commonly the brew-house efficiency is assumed to be 65 percent.

In the case of brew-house efficiency being 65 percent, one pound of grain needs to be replaced with around 0.6 lbs. of DME, or 0.75 lbs. of LME.

It is also worth keeping in mind that liquid extracts usually come in “hopped” or “unhopped” varieties. If the package does not specify one way or the other, you can go ahead and assume that it is the unhopped variety. You will find that most recipes ask for unhopped malt extract.

Ingredients for your first brew:

The recipe we will be using is for an American style IPA. It’s heavy on hop character, enjoying hops often used in West Coast beers. It utilises characteristically clean yeast which allows the hop favour to dominate, but hints of grapefruit and a full floral aroma follow.

  • 4.2kg Pale LME or 3.5 kg of Pale DME
  • 0.5kg of Caramel/Crystal Malt (40 Lovibond)
  • 30g of Simcoe Hops (60 minute boil)
  • 30g of Amarillo Gold Hops (15 minute boil)
  • 30g of Amarillo Gold Hops (fame out)
  • Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast

(Original Gravity = 1.067. Final Gravity Estimate = 1.016. International Bitterness Units (IBU) = 56.3)

Ensure you have the following, along with a stove to heat the kettle:

  • A sizeable stainless-steel cooking pot or enamelled canning kettle. You cannot go below a 3.5 gallon/ 13 L vessel; 5 gallon/ 19 L is advised.
  • A 6-gallon/25-L glass carboy. Note: The size advised here is larger than the usual which is provided in startup kits. A useful tip is to add 5 gallons/19 L of liquid to your vessel and marking where the liquid rises to as a way of determining volume.
  • A long metal/plastic spoon.
  • A racking cane with 3 feet/1 m length of food-grade vinyl hose with a shutoff clip.
  • Three nylon/cheesecloth grain/hop boiling bags.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting products— non-caustic alkaline cleaner and an acid sanitizer.
  • Aluminium foil or an airlock with stopper which fits the carboy neck.
  • A 1-gallon/4-L food-grade plastic bucket/ tub which can be used to soak the hose and other small parts. Whilst brewing, fill it with water and the recommended amount of sanitizer.
  • A hydrometer to gauge the beer’s original and finishing gravity and to monitor progress.

Optional, but recommended:

    • A wort chiller
    • Some form of temperature control, this is dependent on where you live and what time of year it is. This batch should be fermented around 58°F/14°C and 72°F/22°C for optimal results.
    • Racking cane  (a piece of rigid plastic tube that is attached to your siphon hose)
    • Auto siphon – An alternative to a racking cane is an auto-siphon. It allows you to easily start a siphon.
    • Bottle brush – To clean your bottles

For Bottling:

  • Sufficient bottle caps for just over two cases
  • Bottle-filler accessory for hose
  • A 5-gallon/19-L food-grade plastic bucket, preferably with a spigot close to the bottom. You will be unable to use the same bucket that you used as a fermenter as you will need to siphon the beer from the fermenter into this bucket.
  • Clean, capable, non-twist-off bottles or swingtops (be sure the gaskets are flexible and not compressed). It takes fifty-three 12-oz/thirty-eight 0.5-L for 5 gallons/19 L
  • Bottle capper

Extract Plus Steeped-Grain Procedure

Step 1. The Yeast

Depending on the kind of yeast that you are using, you may need to start preparing your yeast a few days before the brew day. There are two kinds of yeast that you will find, liquid and dry. If you are using dry yeast, the process is straight forward and all you need to do is sprinkle the yeast into about a cup of warm water 15–20 minutes before you pitch the yeast into your wort.

However, if you are using liquid yeast it is likely that you make a starter a few days ahead of time. Instructions on how to make a starter can be found in our yeast section, but it basically involves pitching the yeast into a small volume of wort. This wort is almost always made using malt extract, regardless of if you are brewing an all-grain beer. There are two main advantages to using a starter. Firstly, the yeast begins to reproduce; this means you will be able to pitch a greater amount of yeast than you would otherwise. Second, it ensures that the yeast is viable. Both go a long way toward an active and healthy fermentation.

Step 2. Cleaning

Homebrew sessions always begin and finish in the same way, with cleaning. Whilst I understand that it is everyone’s least favourite parts, it could be considered one of the most important. The whole process of brewing is designed to create the ideal environment for brewing yeast to flourish, and this means that wild yeast and bacteria will flourish too. The way to stop this is with careful and thorough cleaning and sanitization.

At the beginning, ensure that all of your equipment has been cleaned and rinsed of any soap deposits which can remain. With new equipment the main concern is removing the oils and solvents left over from the assembly process, in addition to any dirt and dust that the equipment could have picked up during transportation. With old equipment, you want to ensure that the old brew doesn’t find its way into the new one.

Sanitization begins with cleaning. You can soak your equipment in the sanitizer of your choice for as many hours as you like, and it count for nothing if you don’t begin with clean equipment. Bacteria and wild yeast can avoid the sanitizer by hiding underneath dirt and grime, only to come back to haunt you later on. If all of your equipment is completely clean at the beginning of the brewing process, it will make the process much smoother moving forward.

Once you are sure that your equipment is clean it is time to think about sanitization. Before the boil, your equipment just needs to be clean, because the heat of the boiling process will sanitize the wort. It only takes around 15 minutes of boiling to achieve the required level of sanitization; this means anything which comes into contact with the wort when there is less than 15 minutes of boiling left must be sanitized.

If you are using a commercial sanitizer, follow the manufacturer’s instructions. The great part about many commercial sanitizers sold to be used by homebrewers is that they are “no-rinse” sanitizers; meaning that you can allow an object with sanitizer on it to come into contact with the wort/beer. It won’t affect the flavour or its ability to ferment.

It is recommended that you take a spare 5-gallon bucket and half fill it with sanitizer. This is a great place to place equipment when you are not using it. For instance, after you stir the wort it’s likely that you will want to put your stirring spoon down. Placing it into the bucket of sanitizer is an ideal place to leave it, along with siphon hoses, airlocks, and pretty much anything else that will fit in the bucket of sanitizer.

If you do not have a commercial sanitizer, it is possible to use household bleach. Bleach is a powerful sanitizer and a little will go a very long way. Generally, one teaspoon of bleach mixed with one gallon of water will do the trick. Although bleach is a powerful sanitizer, there are two potential disadvantages. Firstly, bleach has the potential to cause a medicinal flavour in beer. As such it is suggested that you rinse off any item which has been sanitized with bleach before it touches your wort/beer, and unless you are rinsing with boiled water, rinsing has the potential to reintroduce contaminants. The other is that bleach can corrode stainless steel, obviously if you are not using stainless steel this is not an issue, but still something to keep in mind.

Brewing Sanitizing Picture


Step 3. Using Specialty Grains

If your kit or recipe uses specialty grains, you’ll need to steep these in hot water before you can use them. More kits and recipes use specialty grains than do not. While it is an extra step in the procedure, it is pretty much as simple as making a cup of tea.

Begin by bringing about 2.5 gallons of water to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76°C).

As your water is coming to temperature, you need to establish if the grains have been crushed or not. This is easy to tell simply by looking, if the barley grains are whole and round, they have not been crushed. If they are broken up into pieces, then they have been crushed. It is understandably easier if the grains have been pre-crushed, and the majority of homebrew outlets will give you the option to have them crushed or not. If you’re given the option, we recommend having them crushed.

Beer Grains Crushing Picture

If they have not been crushed, take the grain and put it into a plastic bag (a large re-sealable bag is ideal) and go over it with a rolling pin. Whilst you will not attain the same results as with a grain mill, you can achieve satisfactory results using this method. You want to ensure that the grains have been cracked open.

Bagging Beer Malt Picture

Once you have crushed grains, insert the crushed grain into either a nylon mesh or muslin bag. Once the water has reached 76°C, take the water off the heat and place the bag with the grains in into the water. Let it steep for 20 minutes—exactly like making tea— and then remove the grains from the water. You will observe during this part of the process that the water starts to absorb some of the colour of the grain.

Beer Color Change Picture


Step 4. Starting the Boil

Once the specialty grains are removed, bring the water to a boil and add around a pound of extract for each gallon of water that you are boiling. When using extracts there is no requirement to do a full boil, or to boil all of the extract for a full hour, something you would do when brewing all-grain. The manufacturer which created the extract went to all of the trouble of performing a full boil prior to reducing the wort to extract just for you. Although you can boil the full amount should you wish to, and you will find plenty of recipes that call for a full boil, despite it not being necessary. Boiling the full amount of extracts can cause some darkening of the wort and can also affect the final flavour of the beer. This is only really a concern when producing beer which is light in both flavour and colour.

Adding Beer Extract Picture

Something to keep in mind: when boiling wort, there is always the possibility of a boilover. This is easy to avoid and can be done so by routinely stirring the wort. Boilovers are very messy. The wort is extremely sweet and sticky and if a boilover happens, you guessed it; your stove will become a sticky mess. Boilovers are most likely to happen when the wort initially comes to a boil and when you add anything to the boiling wort such as hops.

Step 5. Add the Bittering Hops

Different characteristics are obtained from hops depending on when they are added to the wort. Hops which are used for their bitter characteristic are put into the wort at the start of the boil and are often boiled for 60 minutes. Other hops are added towards the end of the boil to add aroma and flavour characteristics. You can add the hops directly to the wort.

Your recipe should denote which hops are going to be used for bittering. It is possible that the same variety of hop or multiple types of hops will be used for both bittering and flavour/aroma additions, if this is the case your recipe will tell you the how much needs to be added at the start of the boil. If you are following the IPA recipe, you should add the 30g of Simcoe hops now.

Step 6. Add the Flavour Hops & Remaining Extract

After 45 minutes (15 minutes left on the boil) has passed you then add the hops that have been chosen for their flavour characteristics. Similar to the bittering hops, they are added directly to the boiling wort. Any leftover extract should be added, and boiled for a full 15 minutes. In our IPA recipe, you will want to add 30g of Amarillo hops and the remaining malt extract.

Step 7. Ending the Boil/Adding Aroma Hops

Once 60 minutes has passed you can remove the wort from heat and bring the boil to an end. Some recipes call for a third hop addition, with hops which have been selected for their aroma characteristics; again, these are added directly to the wort. In our West Coast IPA recipe above, you would add the remaining Amarillo Hops.

You may wonder why the hops do not need to be sanitized, as they are being added to the wort after the boil has been finished. The reason behind this is that hops have a natural antibacterial quality to them. Historically they have been used to preserve the beer, as such they can be added to the wort without worry. That being said, everything else that touches the wort from this point on must be sanitized, this includes the spoon used to stir the wort.

Step 8. Chill

Once the boil is over, you will want to cool down the wort down as fast as possible. The quickest way to do this is to put the pot into an ice bath. You can do this in your sink, or if the pot doesn’t fit in your sink you can use a bathtub or a large plastic storage container.

Beer Brewing Chilling Picture

Brewing Chiller Picture

As mentioned earlier, you want to bring the temperature of the wort down as quickly as possible. A mixture of ice and water is more efficient at cooling the pot than ice alone. Your aim is to get the temperature down to 20°C, if not lower. (Remember to sanitize your thermometer!).

Alternatively, you could use a submersion chiller. Submersion chillers comprise of a coil of copper pipe which is submerged in the wort. Cold water is run through the pipe quickly and efficiently cooling the wort down.

Step 9. Pitch the Yeast

As soon as the temperature of the wort has reached 20°C or below, it is time to add the yeast to the wort. Decant the yeast straight into the wort and stir. If you are using a starter, you can add the whole starter, or if the starter has dropped, you can decant the liquid off of the yeast and pitch only the yeast.

Step 10. Finishing Off

At this point, the brewing process is finished! It’s time to let the yeast do its job and ferment the beer. If your fermentation vessel is a bucket, pour the wort into your sanitized bucket so that it splashes around a bit. This is the only time that you want the brew to be aerated, yeast requires oxygen and by causing the wort to splash you are providing it with just that.

Beer Aerating Picture

If you are using a glass (or plastic) carboy, the opening is not large enough to pour in the wort; as such you will need to siphon the wort into the carboy. (Again, ensure that the siphon hose and the carboy have been sanitized.) Once the wort is in the carboy, cap off the top of the carboy using a rubber stopper. To aerate it, tilt the carboy on its side (see picture below) and rock the carboy back and forth forcefully for around 5 minutes.

Beer Aerating Hand Picture

The last step is to add water to the fermentation vessel to reach a total of 5 gallons of wort. The process began by bringing around 2.5 gallons of water to a boil, keep in mind that you will have lost some volume to evaporation. As we’re just homebrewing you can add water directly from your sink (although there is a slight concern of contamination). You can do this step as part of the chilling phase. Adding cold water will reduce the temperature of the wort down.

If your fermenting vessel is a plastic bucket, you can simply put the lid on the bucket and put the bucket away in a cool environment for the next two weeks while fermentation takes place. If are using a basic equipment kit, the bucket lids often have a hole in it for you to place an airlock. Either way is good. If you are using a plastic/glass carboy, you need to use an airlock with a rubber stopper. Add a small volume of water or sanitizer in the airlock to prevent air and bacteria from making its way down into the brew.

Fermentation usually takes at least two weeks to complete. There is nothing more to do now except wait and clean your equipment.

Bottling Procedure

Once fermentation has finished, it is time to start bottling up your beer. You want to ensure that fermentation has completely finished; otherwise you’ll find problems later on as a result of over-carbonated beer. Ideally, hydrometer readings are taken towards the end of fermentation, over a number of a few days to ensure that the reading has stabilized; getting the same reading three days in a row usually means that you are good to go. If you’re lacking a hydrometer you should absolutely wait a full two weeks prior to bottling. While this is not fool-proof, you can be pretty sure that fermentation has finished.

This stage comprises of not only getting your beer into bottles, but also the addition of a small amount of sugar. The residual yeast in the beer will consume this addition sugar and create CO2. As the bottle is capped, the CO2 cannot escape, instead it dissolves into the beer, creating carbonation.

The equipment needed to bottle was covered earlier.

Step 1. Clean & Sanitize

As we stated earlier, most activities begin with cleaning and sanitizing your gear. You need to ensure that your buckets, hoses, bottle fillers, racking canes, bottles, and caps are all clean and sanitized.

If you’re reusing bottles, it is a good idea to begin the cleaning procedure a couple of days in advance. Immerse the bottles in a sodium precarbonate cleaner such as OxiClean or PBW for one or two days. Doing so will get rid of most dirt and beer deposits without needing to manually scrub the interior of the bottles, it also has the additional benefit of making the labels easy to remove. It is recommended that you use one scoop of OxiClean in a large rubbish can filled with about 15 gallons of water. If space is an issue, you can also do multiple, smaller batches in an extra bucket.

Begin the sanitization by filling your bottling bucket half full with a sanitizer solution. Toss and rinse the bottling bucket with this solution, and then pour the sanitizer into another, empty bucket. You will now sanitize the rest of your equipment and keep it in the solution in the spare bucket until you are ready to use it.

You will need to sanitize your bottle too. This can be done bottle by bottle or all sanitized in advance. If you are sanitizing as you go, immerse a number of bottles in the bucket of sanitizer and leave them there until you need them. As you take one bottle out to fill with beer, replace it with another. If you choose to sanitize all of your bottles in prior to filling, cover each one with a piece of sanitized aluminium foil until required. Take off the foil right before you fill the bottle. The later method is often the easier option if bottling alone.

The simplest thing to do with bottle caps is to just soak them in a bowl of sanitizer. Some resources recommend boiling the caps for 10 to 15 minutes and letting them to cool as you bottle. This does work, but it can damage the lining of the bottle caps, thus preventing them from sealing the bottle correctly.

Beer Bottling Picture


Step 2. Preparing Your Priming Sugar

Priming sugar is added in order to carbonate your beer. Though the majority of the yeast has fallen out of suspension (you should be able to see it in the upper layers of the sediment at the bottom of your fermentation vessel), there is a fair amount remaining in the beer. As stated, this remaining yeast will consume the priming sugar to create CO2, the sealed cap stop the CO2 from escaping. Over a number of days the CO2 dissipates into the beer, forming carbonation.

In general, you will want to use around 115g of corn sugar per 5 gallons of beer. You should measure this out to make sure you have the correct amount. It is also possible to use dried malt extract instead, by using approximately 280g per 5 gallons. The advantage of using corn sugar is that it will carbonate the beer quicker than using malt extract. Corn sugar usually takes two weeks to appropriately carbonate your beer, while malt extract can take twice as long.

You should definitely keep in mind that this is just a general guideline. Different styles require different levels of carbonation. Nevertheless, using 115gs of corn sugar will place you in the middle of the different carbonation levels.

Regardless of if you are using corn sugar or malt extract, bring 240ml of water to a boil, and dissolve the priming sugar into it. Boil for 5–10 minutes and let it cool down as you prepare to rack your beer.

Priming Sugar Picture


Step 3. Racking

To summarise, racking is the process of shifting your beer from one container to another. When racking for the purpose of bottling you are extracting your beer from the sediment at the bottom of your fermenting vessel. If you’ve used a clear vessel as your fermenter you should be able to see sediment at the bottom.

The key to this step is to extract as much beer as you can, without disturbing the sediment, and such preventing the sediment from entering your bottling bucket. A racking cane is great because it does just that, they have a piece of plastic on one end which raises the end of the cane off the bottom and therefore out of the sediment. The opposite end of the cane is joined to a hose which completes the siphon.

Because the siphon functions using gravity alone, you will need to set the fermentation vessel up higher than the bottling bucket. A popular technique is to put the fermentation vessel on a counter or tabletop, and put the bottling bucket on the floor. If you have bottling bucket with a spigot on it, the spigot will probably protrude from below the bottom of the bucket, but it can be rotated up so that the bucket can rest evenly on the floor. It is important that siphon hose can reach to the bottom of the bottling bucket, this prevents splashing which will aerate the beer. Aerating the beer is something you want to avoid at all costs at this point, air will oxidise the beer, causing it to go stale much faster.

There are numerous methods to get the siphon going. If you have an auto-siphon, follow the instructions which accompanied it. If you do not have an auto-siphon you will have to start it manually. For understandable sanitation reasons, it is not a good idea to use your mouth. Fill the siphon hose with water and pinch off the lower end, preventing water from flowing out. Position the racking cane end into the beer and gently lower the siphon hose end into the bottling bucket and allow the water to flow. The flowing water will cause the siphon to start. It is OK to use tap water for this, however some people use either boiled water or sanitizer.

As the siphon begins, add the priming sugar that you made earlier to the bottling bucket. The force of the beer being siphoned into the bottling bucket will mix in the priming sugar. Don’t forget to keep the end of the siphon hose immersed as much as possible to prevent aeration. Once all of the beer has been siphoned into the bottling bucket, you will need to stir the beer with a clean and sanitized spoon to make sure that the priming sugar has been fully mixed with the beer.

Step 4. Bottling

Once you have racked the brew from the fermentation vessel to the bottling bucket, you will want to transfer the bottling bucket to a table or other raised surface. Turn the spigot so that it is facing downwards, hanging off the side of the surface it is on. Fasten your bottle filler to the spigot with a short piece of hose.

Beer Siphon Picture

Grab your first clean and sanitized bottle and lower the bottle filler in the bottle so that the tip of the bottle filler is pressing against the bottle bottom. Switch the bottling bucket spigot on so that beer starts to enter the bottle. Once the level of beer approaches the mouth of the bottle, pull the bottle slightly down, causing the bottle filler to lift off of the bottom; this will stop beer flowing into the bottle. Switch the bottling bucket spigot off, and remove the bottle filler from the bottle. While the bottle filler was submerged in the bottle, it was displacing a small amount of beer. Now it has been removed, the level of the beer in the bottle should fall to about halfway down the neck of the bottle.

Filling Beer Bottle Picture


Step 5. Capping

After you’ve filled a half a dozen bottles or so, you can begin to cap them. There are two kinds of cappers available, bench cappers and wing cappers. The majority of basic brewing kits come with a wing capper. Position a bottle cap on top of the bottle, and lower the capper on top. Gently push the “wings” of the capper down. As the wings move down, the capper will grip the neck of the bottle and tuck the cap onto the crown top. If you are using a bench capper, begin by placing the bottle on the base of the capper and a cap on top of the bottle. As you push the lever down, the capping mechanism falls and pushes the cap onto the bottle. Bench cappers are usually adjustable, meaning you can cap different sized bottles.

Step 6. Waiting & Cleaning

You’re nearly done! Once you have capped the whole batch, there is nothing to do apart from move the filled bottles to an area which is dark and out of the way, clean your equipment, and wait. Resting at room temperature, it should take about two weeks for your beer to appropriately carbonate. You should not store the uncarbonated beer in a refrigerator. While your beer will carbonate at lower temperatures, it will take much longer.

Step 7. Serving!

Once two weeks has passed, your beer will be ready to serve. It is not advised to drink homebrew (or any other bottle-conditioned beer) out of the bottle. At the base of each bottle-conditioned beer is a deposit of yeast. When you serve a homebrew, gently pour the beer from the bottle, try not to upset the yeast sediment at the bottom.

If you do get yeast into the glass it is still fine to drink, but most people try to avoid it. Firstly, it can be rather unattractive, it often looks like gobs of goo which float in the beer and some people may not want to drink the beer. Too much yeast in the glass can also affect the taste, often providing an intense bread flavour.

Cheers! 🙂