How to Brew Beer: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

Brewing beer has been said to be part science and part art.

There is a precise and calculated aspect to the process but at the same time the “rules” and any possible confines can be hazy, presenting grounds for personal interpretation and the creation of a truly unique beer. Sounds like it could be difficult, right? Well, it’s not.

Brewing beer really comes down to a simple process that has roots as far back as 12,000 years. You essentially heat water and grain (and/or extract from grain), boil the mixture with hops, cool the mixture, ferment the mixture using yeast and then carbonate. Easy enough, right?

Well, now we’ll go into a little bit more depth within each step.

1. Cleaning & Sanitizing

Once you have all of the necessary equipment, the first step isn’t actually brewing at all.

First, you’ll need to thoroughly clean and sanitize ALL of your equipment. This step is crucial. Do not take any shortcuts here.

Absolutely anything that will come in contact with your beer during the brewing process should be properly cleaned using an unscented mild detergent, then sanitized using a solution that is approved for sanitation, such as Five Star Star-San. I would recommend no-rinse varieties, as they simplify the process while remaining effective.

Once you’ve properly cleaned and sanitized your equipment, it’s time to get brewing!

2. The Brew

The brew is the step that requires the most direct attention from you for an extended period of time. This is due to the importance of having to follow a strict timeline and closely monitor the brewing process as it proceeds. This step actually consists of a few sub-processes, including mashing, lautering and boiling, all of which are equally important.

Doing your absolute best to get everything right during this time is critical to the overall quality of your beer in the end. These critical brewing steps will form the base of your finished product. If you mess something up, it will undoubtedly have an effect down the line.

Keep in mind: As you learn how to brew beer at home, you will get it wrong the first few times. Do not let this discourage or demoralize you. It is important for you to understand that this is part of the learning curve, and everyone will make mistakes along the way. Take notes, recognize the mistakes and use these as learning experiences.

3 Brewing Methods To Choose From

There are three main methods for brewing: Extract, partial mash and all-grain. As the naming would suggest, the methods mainly differ in how the base of the beer is created, among other aspects.

  • Extract Brewing:
    Extract brewing simply uses extracts from the grains, whether in dry or liquid form, or a mixture of both, to form the base of the beer, known as “wort”. Extract brewing can also include the use of small quantities of grain to add depth to the beer, but overall the process requires less equipment, space and time, making it perfect for those brand new to homebrewing as well as novice and intermediate homebrewers. Though, even as some brewers learn and progress they choose to continue to employ extract brewing methods simply for the convenience factor.
  • Partial Mash:
    Partial mash, also known as “mini-mash”, brewing involves the use of malt extract as well as grain. The combination of both provides increased possibilities in the creation of the flavor, body, appearance and overall quality of your beer. This is a great second step for those that have successfully brewed with extract-only techniques, have a solid understanding of the process but want to take things further. At the same time, it doesn’t require much more time, equipment or space than extract-only brewing making the transition an easy one.
  • All-Grain Brewing:
    Last but definitely not least is all-grain brewing. This is the purest form of brewing beer but requires more equipment and space (and subsequently, a greater financial investment), more time and an advanced knowledge of the brewing process. All-grain brewing does not use any malt extracts, so all sugars are pulled solely from the grains, which also provides complete freedom when creating your brew. In turn, it can also create more opportunities for mistakes to be made. All-grain brewing is only for the experienced brewer that has a solid understanding of the homebrewing process.

3. Steps In the Brewing Process

Now that you know the ways by which you can brew, let’s run through the steps.

The Mash

The first step of brewing beer is the mash, or mashing.

The mash is the process of activating enzymes in the grain to change starches into sugar, ultimately providing the necessary “food” for the yeast. It will also create the base for the color, body and overall flavor of your beer.

Mashing is somewhat similar to steeping tea. You will immerse your grain bill in hot water, allowing the heat to gently break down starches and activate the important enzymes within the grain that, ultimately, leads to those starches being converted to fermentable sugars. A few important things to be mindful of for the mash are water quality, temperature and stirring.

Lautering

The next step is lautering, which is the process of separating the wort from the grain.

The purpose is to remove sugars that may be trapped within the grain following the mash. The reason for doing this is to get the biggest bang for your buck. As previously mentioned, sugar is what feeds the yeast, ultimately converting into alcohol and making beer just that instead of non-alcoholic sugar water – the more food for the yeast, the greater the potential for successful fermentation.

Lautering can be completed by various methods dependent on the type of brewing, but regardless of which method is used it will almost always involve a step called “sparging”. Sparging involves heating water in a separate container to a higher temperature than that of the mash, then pouring the heated water over the grain to “rinse” it of any remaining sugars. In more advanced brewing, this can involve extra equipment but follows the same general principle.

The Boil

The boil can sometimes be confused with the mash, but they are actually two very different processes.

The mash, which converts starches into sugars, does not actually do so at a boiling temperature. However, the boil is appropriately named. The temperature is much higher than that of the mash (around 212°F depending upon altitude) and occurs over a longer period of time.

The purpose of the boil is to destroy remaining unwanted enzymes, remove harmful oxygen and to stabilize the wort by lowering pH, ultimately creating the perfect environment for the addition of hops.

Hops are a key ingredient in beer making and can be used in many different ways to achieve an even wider range of desired effects. Though, no matter what you’re looking for in the end, hops provide balance to the beer by adding bitterness to counteract the sweetness of the grain. During the boil, hops can also be added at later increments to add flavor and aroma to the beer.

Hops also serve as a natural preservative that can protect the beer from bacteria and other potential infections. In all, the boil should create a healthy environment in which fermentation can successfully take place.