Homemade Gift Series #4: Homemade Beer

I often brew homemade beer. It’s an enjoyable hobby that allows me to sometimes use items from my garden and gets me deeply in touch with the natural process of making a homecrafted beer. I have complete control over the ingredients and can make whatever variation seems good to me with whatever ingredients seem flavorful to me.

Plus, it makes a really cool gift for someone who appreciates a good homecrafted beer.

What follows is my procedure for making a simple homemade beer. I chose to base this batch on a kit, because kit brewing is without a doubt the easiest way for a newcomer to try out homebrewing.

Kit

A homebrew beer kit, like the one pictured above, can be purchased at your local homebrewer’s shop. Most cities with a population of 50,000 or more have one – the larger the city, the more likely it is that there will be multiple shops. Search around for them, visit a few shops, identify a beer kit you’d like to try, and don’t be afraid to shop around.

For this year’s Christmas beer, I chose to make a lighter beer with hints of coriander and orange. The kit came with a small amount of each – I chose to add a few coriander seeds on my own.

Contents of kit

A homebrew beer kit contains all of the liquid and solid ingredients you need for beermaking besides the water, the glass bottles, a pot to boil the beer in as you’re making it, and another container for the beer to ferment in. You’ll also need a small handheld device for putting the caps on the bottles.

How do you get those things? You can purchase the bottles or accumulate them on your own. You can use any large pot in your kitchen for the boiling. As for the rest…

Materials needed

… I recommend picking up a simple homebrewing equipment kit at that shop as well, especially if you’re thinking about brewing your own beer regularly. A kit usually includes a large bucket with a spigot near the bottom (with a tight-sealing lid that has a breathe hole), a small bubbler that allows gas to escape the bucket without exposing the beer to air as it is fermenting, a capping tool, and usually a piece of rubber hose to make the bottling easier.

We brew beer fairly often (a few batches a year), so we usually use a five gallon glass bottle for most of our fermenting needs. For beginners, it doesn’t make a big difference, but a glass bottle allows less gas to escape through the sides of the container.

Tea bag

The first thing to do is to sterilize everything you’re going to use to the best of your ability. We use an iodine-based solution for this cleaning – you can use bleach or whatever you choose.

The next thing you’ll do with your kit is fill a large pot with about two gallons of water and heat it to boiling. You’ll then make what I sarcastically call a “tea bag.”

The “tea bag” is simply a cheesecloth bag (usually included in the kit) that is wrapped around the dry grains used in beer making – wheat, oats, and various other things depending on the type of beer you’re making.

All you do is put those grains in the cheesecloth bag, tie the top, and put it in the boiling water for an hour or so (depending, again, on the specific grains – don’t worry, kits include an instruction sheet). You’ll usually end up with cloudy water.

Adding liquid malt

Once the “tea bag” is finished, you start adding other ingredients – liquid malt (shown above), dried malt powder, hops, coriander, and orange peel all go into the pot. This is stirred regularly and boiled for about fifty minutes.

Beer boiling

Looks yummy, doesn’t it?

Once the boiling is finished, you need to cool the hot beer rapidly. I do this by preparing an ice bath in my kitchen sink. I simply fill one of the basins with cold water, add a bunch of ice to it, and stick the whole boiling pot straight in there. The ice water on the outside of the container helps to cool down the beer rapidly (and rapid stirring helps, too).

Once the beer is down to about 80 F or so (35 C), just pour the contents of the pot straight into your fermenting bucket (make sure the spigot at the bottom is closed!). Add room temperature water until the bucket is full to the five gallon mark, then sprinkle some yeast on the surface and stir the yeast into the beer.

Bucket before lid

Once that’s done, put the lid on the bucket, put the bubbler on the lid, make sure there’s a bit of water in the bubbler, and wait.

Bucket with bubbler

After about 12 hours, you’ll start to see rapid bubbling in the bubbler. This will go on for a couple days, then slow down gradually until it appears not to be bubbling. You want the fermentation to stop before you add it to the bottles.

The way I do it is that I wait until it appears not to be bubbling any more. I then watch the bubbler for three minutes. If I see a bubble, I wait one more day and watch again. If I don’t see a bubble, I mark the calendar and bottle the beer three days later.

Bottling is also easy. Make sure the bottles are as clean as you possibly can (you’ll need roughly 50 bottles). As mentioned above, use bleach or an iodine solution and rinse the bottles thoroughly.

Next, mix the priming sugar with two cups of boiling water and boil the mix for a few minutes. This provides food for the remaining yeast to add carbonation to the beer – that wonderful bubbliness. Cool the priming sugar mix, then add it to the bucket and stir for a couple of minutes.

Then, simply fill up each bottle with the spigot. Go slowly and carefully – use the plastic tubing and pinch the tube to control the flow. You’ll want to leave an inch or so of air in the neck of the bottle. Put a cap on the top with the capper (in your kit) and you’ve got yourself a bottle of beer!

Finished six pack

Our coriander-orange beer is currently still fermenting, so the completed bottle pictures are of our previous batch, a hefeweizen.

For our own homebrew, we just reuse six pack boxes of other kinds of beer (in this case, Shiner Bock). We label the caps with a number to identify which beer is which.

Finished bottle

For our finished gift bottles, we’re planning on making custom labels of our own design.

What’s the cost of this? The initial equipment can cost $20 to $30, depending on availability in your area. Each kit costs about $25 and makes roughly eight six packs of bottled beer. Thus, if you’re just making one batch, it can be pricy, but if you’re going to make several, the initial equipment is prorated across all of your batches and the price becomes very reasonable, especially given the high quality of the beer you’re making.

I’m very serious about the quality of homebrewed beer. The three best beers I’ve ever had in my life were brewed in my own home. The freshness of the ingredients and the control you have over those ingredients allows you to make some incredibly good beer at a great price.

Even better, it makes a great gift.

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  1. Maureen says:

    Cheers!

  2. Tony says:

    Great post about a great hobby!

    Have you ever saved your spent grain and made bread with it? A friend of mine has tried it a few times with decent results.

    Also, prior to bottling, I usually just run my empty bottles through the dishwasher on a high heat setting with no detergent. Much easier than sanitizing bottles individually!

  3. Donna says:

    Great post and a fun idea…but what got me most excited was a peek at the baby!!! what a cutie!

  4. sm4k says:

    Dangit I JUST talked myself out of starting some home brewing the other day and now you post this.

  5. Adam says:

    My brother-in-law often brews beer. He does larger batches. I don’t like beer, but I use the grain he uses to make the beer in bread. It’s a wonderful addition to bread. (just to be clear, this is the spent grain)

  6. Lacubriousone says:

    How long does it need to be in the bottles before its ready?

    Do you refrigerate the beer immediately upon bottling?

  7. Nick says:

    My brother and I were just talking about doing this. How many tries did it take before you got beer that was “pretty good”?

  8. Lori says:

    My husband made a winter beer with orange and coriander in it many years ago when he was still a fairly new brewer. We hated it – it tasted medicinal. We thought he had done something wrong. BUT after it had aged (I am thinking like a couple months, this was long ago) it tasted great. So if you initially do not like the coriander beer, let it age a while, in the back of the refrigerator preferably, and then try it again. We have since found that some beers are better young, and others get better with time. The fun of homebrew!

  9. Jackie says:

    #4 beer is usually drinkable in 2-4 weeks with changes in flavor for several months. Don’t refrigerated immediately, it won’t carbonate at cold temperatures.

  10. Nikki says:

    Love this post – hubby & I were just planning our series of holiday gift beers! I grinned when I saw the title.
    Just a quick note – Trent suggests boiling your dry grains. Be careful with that, as raising the temps above 170 can leach harsher tannic flavors from the grain husks, leaving you with a little bit of an astringent taste (like sucking on a tea bag.) You probably won’t ruin your beer if you do, but you might have better beer if you just toss your grains into the cold water, then turn off the heat or turn it to low for 15-20 minutes when it reaches above 170 (roughly when the water starts steaming).
    One piece of gear that can make your life much easier for probably a cost of around $10 is a hydrometer – it measures how much sugar is in the beer when you start and much is left when you’re done, which means you don’t have to guess when it’s ready to bottle. When the hydrometer reading is the same for about 3 days, go ahead and bottle. Since beers can differ a ton in their fermentation times and characteristics, you can save yourself a few exploding bottle bombs this way! A plus is you can calculate your exact alcohol content as well.
    Good luck brewers, it’s a fun and rewarding hobby. Slainte.

  11. BradJPE says:

    Since most decent beers cost at least $1/bottle (standard bottle size), Wouldn’t you pretty much break even after the first batch? Seems like a great deal to me! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Scotty says:

    Being Canadian, I just can’t help myself – homebrew purfume would be taste better than American beer… And literally contain more Alcohol… :)

    But seriouinsly, Trent’s right, homebrew is usually excellent beer. If you live with a drive of a farming community or a farmers market, it gets even better because you can buy fresh barley and hops. I’m looking to get into it myself this winter.

  13. Roberta says:

    Even though I will never be ambitious enough to try to make beer, I LOVED reading this post, and appreciated the photos, as always. In honor of this worthy project, and because it’s Friday afternoon, I will make the short trip to my fridge and pull out a Guinness. Bottoms up, and TGIF.

  14. Michelle says:

    Trent, have you ever made root beer? We don’t drink beer, but LOVE root beer on tap at our favorite pizza place. Any insights into root beer?

  15. Leah says:

    We’ve got a little more equipment that makes life easier. Our hose for bottling has a nobber deal at the end, and beer only flows when you’re pushing the dealie against the bottom of the beer glass. We also do two different ferments — one in the plastic bucket and another in the carboy. I’m not sure of all the rules my boyfriend uses; he’s the brewmaster in the house. I do have two posts about it on my blog:

    Brewing
    Bottling

  16. SwingCheese says:

    Haha, Scotty! You make a compelling point. My husband and his brothers brew their own beer – we just celebrated Oktoberfest last weekend and had an Oktoberfest that one of them had made. Also, mead (honey wine) is a very easy thing to brew. And I’ve recently brewed a batch of wine, my first. It’s rewarding to be able to make your own drinks.

  17. Michele says:

    I just loved the picture of the baby sleeping while the beer is being made- great post, Trent! I’m going to our local Basin Brewery tomorrow to check out a beer brewing kit!

  18. Leah says:

    Roberta, making beer is SUPER easy. It mostly just takes patience. Hopefully, my comment will come out of moderation at some point — I’ve got more links to our beer making process.

    Michelle, you can definitely make root beer at home. There are kits for it. mmmm, root beer.

  19. Jason says:

    A Shiner family! I knew there was a reason I came to this site often :)

  20. skye says:

    Are you sure the baby is sleeping or did Trent put beer in his bottle? :) This image cracked me up!

  21. Stacy says:

    I’ve been wanting to try to make hard cider after seeing these posts on a favorite food blog of mine:

    http://thepauperedchef.com/2009/10/how-to-make-hard-apple-cider.html
    http://thepauperedchef.com/2009/11/the-final-word-for-now-on-homemade-hard-cider.html

    They just use the jugs of organic apple juice from whole foods to make the cider – it looks pretty easy, but I’ve never gotten around to trying it. It looks pretty cheap too – and it has much less stuff you have to buy than for beer.

  22. Jules says:

    I never really liked beer until I moved to Europe. I can’t handle more than a half a bottle at a time, but yeah, after having had some of the Good Stuff (my favorite is currently Kriek, a cherry beer), I don’t think I’ll ever willingly touch American swill again ;-)

  23. Bill says:

    Kit beer is better than store bought, but if you brew more than a couple of batches you should move on to all grain. It is much cheaper and the feel of doing the real old world process is fun. It is also cheaper to brew in larger batches, 10 gallons verses 5 gallons is very little difference.

    Skip bottling which is the worst part of brewing beer. Build a keg-orator. You can use the 5 gallon soda kegs.

    To save even more money, it is easy and very traditional to re-use the yeast, some brewery’s have the same yeast going back hundreds of years.

    It is also easy to grow hops, you don’t get much the first couple of years. By third year you start to get a good harvest.

  24. kristine says:

    OK, someone mentioned barley. Has anyone ever made barley pops? They are lollipops that use barley syrup instead of sugar. They are the most wonderful thing in the world; the flavor is rich and mellow. I can never find them anymore, and would love to make a batch for the holidays!

  25. kcli says:

    I always look forward to reading your daily blog and this one triggered a wonderful idea! Every so often my husband talks about giving home-brew a try. After reading about the process I know he’d love to receive a kit and supplies for a combined December b-day/Xmas gift! Bottoms up!!

    PS to all that follow Trent’s message…I am 50+ and throughout our marriage we have focused on simple needs/wants and were able to pay off our mortgage a decade ago. It’s amazing how a debt-free lifestyle also translates into endless opportunities. I know it’s hard to get there, but years later it will all be worth it. Hang in there (and continue reading Trent’s blog)!!!!

  26. Lisa says:

    I’ve made my own beer several times with great reviews! I’ve also made wine, which is what I usually make for gifts. Wine is somewhat simpler as there is less chance of spoilage due to the alcohol content. Wine also makes a great gift! :) Thanks for the post, I think it’s time to go buy a kit!

  27. Liz says:

    I’m sorry, but that adorable sleeping baby completely distracted me from this post. Cheers!

  28. SwingCheese says:

    Bill, you can also reuse grain, too. My husband recently made an ale, then a porter, then a stout using the same grains. As long as you move lightest to darkest, its fine. My bil has been reusing yeast, too. I didn’t realize that some brewers’ yeast goes back 100 years – that’s crazy!

  29. Wes says:

    A helpful hint for chilling the wort: If you’re doing an extract kit, then you are probably only boiling 2.5-3 gallons. Put the other 2-2.5 gallons of water in the fridge the night before, and add it to the wort immediately after the boil. It will bring your temp down dramatically, and may even replace an ice bath.

    I’ll have to second the suggestion of all-grain brewing. While you can certainly make excellent beer with kits, all-grain homebrew is often even better. After you get a couple of kits under your belt, get a book such as Palmer’s “How to Brew” (a must have, in my opinion) and start doing all-grain batches. This requires another investment in equipment (such as a mash tun and a wort chiller), but these items can easily be made with inexpensive materials by any amateur do-it-yourselfer (I’m not handy at all, but my gear works just as well as anything you could buy at a homebrew shop). All-grain brewing also takes several hours longer than kit brewing, but the extra investment in time is well worth the return in quality.

    Admittedly, the time and money I put into my homebrewing would not be cost effective for the casual beer drinker. However, as someone who used to go through about a six pack of not so cheap craft beer every two weeks, plus a couple of fairly expensive 22oz bottles of premium craft beer on the weekends, I can say the homebrewing has allowed me to enjoy more beer (about 1 bottle a day) of similar or greater quality for the same price as my old habit. Plus, half the reward of homebrewing is drinking something that represents a new skill I’ve learned. Cheers.

  30. Rabbot says:

    For homebrewed beer gifts, I recommend looking into custom bottlecaps, etc. Look at http://www.wildhopsprintshop.com for the best prices I know of.

  31. Owen says:

    Some additional tips. If you don’t plan to give as gifts then the kegerator is a good way to have beer to drink. For gifts you kind of need glass bottles though – just classier.

    If you don’t want to go to the expense of a kegerator and aren’t giving it away you can simplify everything considerably by reusing plastic soda or sparkling water bottles. They are easy to clean. All you have to do is retighten the plastic lids as tight as you can. Plus they don’t break if you drop them. And if you are going to a barbecue or potluck and want to bring some brew they are great because they won’t break and you can leave them behind without losing any precisou glass bottles.

    In answer to #5. You can make better than good beer the first time – even with a kit. Somewhere between try #1 and #4 or so you are likely to make a bad batch – either by killing the yeast with too much sterilization or by not sterilizing enough and getting something funky growing in the beer. But one bad batch is it – it teaches you to focus on that part of the process – which is the only truly critical part.

    It’s really fun and really easy.

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