How to brew your own craft beer

How to brew your own craft beer

Welcome to our latest beer instalment from our resident beer expert, Natalie. This week she is giving you some golden advice on how to brew your own craft beer at home. Demi-johns at the ready …then lets begin.

Hey, have you ever said to yourself, as you were sat with a cold brew in hand, “HEY, why don’t they make ‘XYZ’ flavoured beer? They should do that. I bet I could do that!” Then welcome my friend, to the weird community that is, Home Brewing and Craft Beer. 

So here’s the thing. I could totally get into all the gritty details of brewing. But really. I have a 300 word column and I sure as heck am not gonna waste all that space on SCIENCE! Plus, you can make the art of brewing beer as simple or as complicated as you want. I suggest going online and finding a Home Brew Supply shop (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) and asking all the questions or go to a reputable online (or *gasp* In Real Life) booksellers and find a book relating to home brewing. I’ll give you a list at the end of the article to help you out. Don’t say I never gave you nuthin’.

I will however summarize for you the basics behind how beer/wine/alcohol happens.

You take a sugar liquid (malted barley juice [wort], pressed grape juice [must], corn mush [mash]) you give that liquid to a happy little organism called yeast, the yeast eat the sugars and create alcohol. In the case of beer, we use malted grain (usually barley) and by adding hot water and science we’re able to extract the sugars from the starchy grain. This liquid is called wort and it’s a super sweet liquid which has all the nutrients for yeast to thrive. The wort is boiled (to concentrate it AND to make it sterile so only the bugs we put in it will take hold) we add hops and other random things in order to make it “our beer”. We’ll chill it down and then add our little yeasties and give them a bit of privacy plus an amount of time to chow down. Afterwhich our barley juice is now tepid un-carbonated beer. Huzzah! We have Alcohol! Eventually we make this beer fizzy and then we drink it. I’ll get into all of that later. 

homebrew books for craft beerI realize this seems super easy, and to a point it really is, the difficulty comes in when you factor all the types of malts, hops, yeast strains, temperatures, water types, natural occurring wild yeasts/bacterias, an individual’s tastes and sanitation. Read those books I’ll recommend and you’ll see just how geeky you can really go when making beer. 

I subscribe to a much more laissez faire approach when it comes to brewing. Don’t get me wrong, I am still clean, tidy, and sanitary. I just happen to look at it the same way I do when it comes to raising my kid. We’ve been making beer (and babies) for eons. You just gotta do what feels right and what works for you. You can get as technical as you want and research and test and experiment to your heart’s desire. Or you can be like me, take notes on what you did, cross your fingers and just go with it. I have always been a learn by doing type person (translation: I am okay with failure as long you learn something). So for now I make recipes, brew them, and tweak them when they aren’t quite right (much to the amusement of my Ginger Beer Teacher [he’s a ginger, he’s not teaching me to make ginger beer, although he could I guess]).

Here we’re making a Brown Ale. We’re using a technique called Brew in a Bag. So obviously the beer is called Brown Bag Brown Ale. Get it? This way of brewing is pretty easy because you’re basically making a giant pot of tea which you can do in 1 to 5 gallons batches. 

Get your books ready so you can learn more about all the steps pictured below.

Step one: Get yo’ s*** together!

Just like cooking, you need to get your ingredients and equipment ready so you aren’t running around the kitchen like a headless chicken. Trust me. It’s far less messy this way. I am going to assume that when you do your own first batch you’ll have all the correct equipment to fit your recipe size so I’m not going to give you all the measurements of items used here. 

how to brew your craft beer - essential tools for the brew

[Top: Milled Grain, Hops, Calcium Chloride, Gypsum]  [Middle: Brew Bag, Floating Thermometer, Hydrometer, Dried Ale Yeast, Three Piece Airlock, Bung (stopper)]  [Bottom: Hydrometer Test Tube]

how to brew your craft beer - essential tools for the brew - pans

[Clockwise from top left: Glass Carboy, Sanitiser (we’re using a spray bottle with Star San), Digital Scale, Pot Lid, Pot, Water]

Measure out the required amount of water. There are formulas to use to calculate the amount of water needed for a brew. I use a free calculator on this website, it’s pretty helpful. There is a lot of important things regarding water to note, but as I said, I am far less geeky over this right now. The Ginger Beer Teacher is much more nerdy about water, so he used a program to calculate the amount of reverse osmosis water PLUS water from the tap PLUS additional water salts (Calcium Chloride in this case) in order to optimise the Ph levels. Heat your mash water (again, more formulas are required, to capture the best sugary essence of your malts you need a certain temperature, generally this temp is around 148-152 f but that is dependant on taste, preference, and beer style) as you can see our water is at 160 f. After mashing in, with our slightly under room temperature malts, we were able to acheive the perfect mash temp. Get in! At this point we placed the mashing vessel in a warm oven to maintain the temperature for an hour. It’s very important now to get yourself a glass of beer and watch some questionable telly. VERY. IMPORTANT.

Clockwise from left: Mash Water, Mashing In, Mash Temp at 148 (SPOT ON!)

After an hour of Archer and two glasses of sweet sweet booze we pulled the mash pot out of the oven. Step three with brew in a bag is called Lautering, fancy name for draining. See, it IS like brewing a big pot of tea! All the sweet liquid that is left in your pot is called wort. This gets boiled for an hour (start your timer once “hot break” occurs [hot break is when the proteins coagulate it’ll look a bit like eggy soup]). Hops are added dependant on preference, generally there is a first hop addition just after the hot break, this is the bittering addition. There are middle additions and flameout additions which add more aroma and less bittering. After the boil it’s time to chill. Not you! You have THINGS to do! BEER to make! You need to cool your hot wort down! For larger batches you can use an immersion chiller or a plate chiller. For this teeny batch a sink of cold water worked a treat. It’s worth noting that before boiling the wort nothing needs to be sanitsed, CLEAN yes, sanitised no. However, AFTER the boil, you will need to sanitise any item that comes into contact with the wort.

(Anti-clockwise from top left: Lautering, Boiling Wort just prior to Hot Break, Just Chillin’ in the Sink)

Once the wort is chilled to around 78 f an Original Gravity check is done. The Hydrometer measures the density of liquid, density based on sugars, so the higher the gravity reading the more sugar. The higher the sugar content the higher the potential for alcohol content (mmmm alcohol). At this point the wort needs some aeration because yeast are aerobic organisms, no they don’t sweat to the oldies, but they do need oxygen to do their thing. Adding oxygen to small batches is as easy as transferring to your fermentation vessle from a slight height. We poured into a large measuring cup and then into the glass carboy, there was enough agitation from this transfer to give the little beasties plenty of air. Then you pitch the yeast, which is to say, you add the yeast and pop on the bung and air lock and Bob’s your uncle. Well, really you need to wait about 2 weeks before this mess turns to beer, and THEN you need to bottle it… But that’s for another article.

(Clockwise from top left: OG Reading of 1.050, Transferring Wort, Aerating Wort, Pitching Yeast) 

More things to note: Write down your OG so when you bottle your beer in 2-3 weeks you can compare the OG to your FG (final gravity), then use this to estimate the ABV (alcohol by volume). Also you need to fill your airlock with sanitiser or VODKA to the max fill line, this allows the CO2 created by the yeasties to escape but keeps all other little beasties OUT of your vulnerable beer.

The last step on brew day is the worst. Cleaning. You have to tidy up all your mess or else your housemates or family or partners will be most displeased. I DID warn you, brewing is mostly cleaning. Okay, the TRUE last step is to go out with friends and drink beer that you didn’t slave over. You earned it!


Research Cider and Beer (and wine [not pictured])

Bantam Cider, Wunderkind. Cider from Massachusetts with local apples and flower blossom honey. The gentle sparkle matches with the cold prickle of honey. It’s as good (but different entirely) as the stuff back home in Britain! 

Jester King Brewery, Noble King. Farmehouse Ale with Wild Texas yeast AND Brettanomyces added. Funky and sour with delightfuly light hoppiness. Yum, more please! Also, how ace is their art?!

Leoness Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. Pilfered from my dad’s wine cellar after we finished brewing. This was past it’s best date really. It was mustier than it should be and a lot of the roundness had smoothed out to nothing. But you know, it was better than paying for wine elsewhere. 

research cider (Bantam) and beer (Jester King) plus Archer, because when one makes beer you have a lot of down time in between steps. 

Recommended Reading

How to Brew, John Palmer

Radical Brewing, Randy Mosher

Experimental Homebrewing, Drew Beechum and Denny Conn

More about Natalie

10373074_10152640411075115_2212059960748907531_oShe is a homebrewer. She write sometimes too.  She mostly just sits in a corner and broods. Much like a cat. So in this the first of her ramblings here on Rothfink we would like to welcome here to the Rothfink stable. If you’re still reading then here is a bit more gumph for you:

I am American (not sure if that translates at all via my writing [and you Brits say we don’t understand sarcasm]), I started homebrewing in November of 2013. Since that time I have acquired a job in a delightful craft brewery in Pomona [Sanctum Brewing Company], I am now on the board for the Maltose Falcons Homebrewing Society (the oldest homebrewing club in America), I have an oft ignored blog where I chronicle my journey from noob to not-so-noob, and I have somehow wrangled myself into the position of writing for you lovely folks. Not bad for a crazy single mum, eh?

All of the opinions and tastebuds included here are my own and I would suggest taking my views with a grain of salt or better yet, form your own perception through careful “research“.

Check out Natalie at her blog at or check out Sanctum Brewing.