There’s nothing like kicking back and cracking open a cool, refreshing beer after a long day. It’s a great way to wind down and put your worries behind you—at least for a little while. And what better beer to enjoy than one you brewed yourself?
I got into home brewing through working for Edmonton Brewery Tours. After touring the local breweries and seeing what went into making beer, I was curious to try it out for myself. I found a starter kit at Chapters for a decent price and rang in the new year by brewing my first beer, a Jalapeño Saison.
After that, I was addicted. With brewing, I get to play mad scientist or alchemist, standing over my boiling concoction—and the best part is that I get beer at the end.
Brewing your own beer might seem intimidating at first, but the process is actually quite simple. At its core it’s very similar to making porridge.
Really, there are only four main ingredients that go into every beer on the market, from Lucky Lager to Erdinger Dunkel – Grain, hops, water, and yeast. What sets one beer apart from another, however, is the choice of grains and hops used in the brew.
The first step in the brewing process is called “the mash” and this is where those porridge-making skills come in handy. Hot water is mixed with the malt and left to sit for an hour. This causes enzymes in the grain to break down the starches and convert them to sugars, which will be later converted into the alcohol we all know and love.
After the mash has sat, the liquid left over is separated from the grain, collected, and more hot water is passed through the grain (called sparging) to get as much of the sugar out as possible. The liquid, called wort, is what will eventually become beer. The wort is then boiled, and hops are added at different points to achieve different flavours. Hops are added at the beginning of the boil to bitter the beer, otherwise beer would be extremely sweet. Hops can also be added mid-boil for more bitter and a hoppy flavour, or late in the boil for more aroma.
Once the boil is complete, it’s time to add or “pitch” the yeast and begin the fermentation process. The yeast will eat the sugar and convert it into two things—carbon dioxide and alcohol. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing the constant bubble of a fermenting beer.
All that’s left after fermentation is to carbonate the beer, because no one likes flat beer. There are two ways to go about carbonating beer—bottle conditioning or kegging. For the most part, beginner brewers will bottle condition because it requires much less equipment, and it’s easier to crack a bottle then set up a whole keg system. To condition your bottles all you need to do is add a little extra sugar to the fermented wort, then put it into sealed bottles and wait a couple more weeks. Left over yeast still floating in the beer will ferment the added sugar, creating more alcohol and carbon dioxide, but since the carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, it re-absorbs into the beer and carbonates it. After a couple weeks, the beer is bubbly and ready to go.
There are a lot of other things to experiment with after you’re comfortable with the basics, like yeast starters, secondary fermentations, and the addition of other flavours, but at the end it’s all based on the same process. See. It’s really not all that frightening, is it?