How to Brew Beer at Home for Less than $50 in Equipment and $0.75 per Pint
Is it green to brew beer at home? It certainly is more economical! And for the beer enthusiast who happens to live near a homebrewer's supply store it can be more green... less total miles traveled for each bottle of finished beer and reused bottles. Plus you'll have a great addition to your compost pile that will usually spark it off into a steaming pile of earthy goodness.
However, the main benefit of brewing beer at home is that with a little luck and a little skill the exact ingredients and alcohol content will be known...with eve more luck it can even taste far better than any of the big three beers.
Before we start, there's a saying amongst beer brewers: "Beer/wine/mead is very simple, it's the brewer who makes it complicated"
So let's see how simple we can make brewing an all grain pale ale.
Equipment needed <$50
- Large 22 quart (5.5 gallon) stock pot w/lid - $10
- Antibacterial soap - $2
- 5-6 Gallon food grade plastic water container with optional dispensing spigot - $5
- 1 insulated 5 gallon "cooler" drink dispenser w/spigot - $20
- 5 gallon capactiy of old resealable bottles, beer bottles can be resealed with a new cap, wine bottles could work with some imagination. Flip top grolsch bottles are great. Even 2 liter pop bottles will work. - free (recycled from previous use preferrable)
- Stirring spoon - $1
- 2 Nylon mesh bags - $2
- Cork with 1 way air lock that fits your water container - $3
- 4 feet of 1/2" food grade plastic tubing - $2
- Candy or cooking thermometer - $2
Ingredients < $25
For a simple pale ale with a nice flavor try the following. More recipes can be found at beerrecipes.org .
- 6 lbs of Brittish 2 row pale malt - $2/lb
- 1 lb Brittish dark crystal malt - $2/lb
- 1 lb of dark brown sugar - $2
- 3 oz of Northern Brewer Hops - $7.50
- 1 packet of dry ale yeast - $1
- 5 gallons of clean/purified/filtered water - free (if you have a water purifier). This is the most important ingredient! Do not skimp out on it.
Total: $24.50 - 5 gallons = 40 pints for a costs of $0.61 per pint.
Step 1 - Cleaning
The most important ingredient in your final beer is the water you use. Likewise the most important step in the brewing process is ensuring the cleanliness of your brewing utensils. Think about it... you'll be ending up with 5 gallons of very sugary water at room temperature. Who including bugs, bacteria, amoebas and etc. doesn't like sugar?
Use very hot water, with your antibacterial soap and thoroughly clean every surface of every piece of equipment. Then rinse off with clean/filtered water.
Step 2 - Prepare the grains!
Usually the homebrew store which you purchased your grains from will have a grain crusher. Crushing the grains will help them to convert their starches to sugars in the next step. If they aren't crushed already find a way to crush them up... not too fine... but just enough to seperate the chaff from the kernel and perhaps split the grains in two.
Put the grains in one of the nylon mesh sacks. and put the sack in the 5 gallon "cooler".
Step 3 - Heat some water...
Heat 2 gallons of water up to about 170-175 degrees F.
Step 4 - Start the mash!
No not the monster mash... the conversion of grain starch to sugar mash! Pour the 2 gallons of 170 degree water into the cooler over the grains. Stir up the grains in the hot water. Measure the temperature... should be about 160 degrees.
This will be a single step infusion mash, the simplest of it's kind. Essentially at various water temperatures various enzyme reactions occur which turn grain starches (complex sugars) into simpler more yeast friendly sugars (like sucrose and fructose).
We want the temperature of the water to start at about 160 and to slowly drop to about 150 over the course of an hour.... our well insulated cooler helps accomplish this perfectly.
Step 5 - Keep the mash warm...
Heat up another half gallon to 175 degrees ... add it into the mash at about 40 mins in... stir up the grains in the mashing vessel (technically a "mash tun" if you want to use the beer-socially acceptable terminology)
Once added, heat up another 2.5 gallons of water to as close to boiling as you can get in the remaining 20 minutes of the mash time.
Step 6 - Retrieve the wort!
What Germans call wort we call "sugar water". Retrieve your 22 quart stock pot and empty (through the spigot) the grain-sugar infused water (aka wort) into it.
Step 7 - Mash out!
Add the 2.5 gallons of boiling or near boiling water to the grain-sugar extracting vessel (aka, mash tun, aka rubbermaid insulated "cooler"). Stir up the grains, and then let sit for about 10 minutes.
Empty the wort into the 22 quart stock pot with the rest of the grain-sugar water. Mix in your brown sugar now.
Step 8 - Boil 'dem hops
Hops give beer that "poppin'" bittersweet flavor. Bring the wort up to a boil. Boil 1 oz of hops for 45 minutes in a nylon bag. Add the second oz and boil for 15 minutes. Finally take the wort off the stove and steep the last oz for 10 minutes.
Remove the hops and put hops and grains in the compost. They will practicaly instantly decompose and set your compost pile nearly afire with happy little organisms sugaring out to their hearts content!
Step 9 - Cool it man...
Put your big pot of sugar water in the sink... fill the sink with ice and water. Stir a bit. Drain. Repeat 2 more times (~15 minutes total ought to work).
Step 10 - Pitch yeast...
Fill your fermentation vessel with the wort and cap off with an airlock (sanitize it first!). Let it cool until it's about 75-85 degrees.
Grab your dry yeast and fill a glass with some nice clean water and a tablespoon of sugar. Heat it up to about 95 degrees. Pour the yeast into the sugar water and let them rehydrate.
After 10 minutes they should have produced a nice little foam on top and they should be reawakened and hungry!
Pitch (aka, pour) the yeast into the fermentation vessel, aka the carboy.
Reseal with the cork and airlock.
Step 11 - Wait....
This truly is the very hardest part about brewing. Let your wort ferment for 2 weeks. If it's still bubbling after 2 weeks then give it longer (and likely bring your temperature up a few degrees).
After two weeks mix in 2/3 cup of sugar with your beer... stir well and pour into bottles and seal the bottles.
Store in a cool dark place for at least 2 more weeks (4-6 weeks is ideal).
Step 12 - Drink!
If after 6 weeks after your initial brew date you have any beer left then start drinking it... otherwise start another batch!