How to start homebrewing

Homebrewer and Beer Hawk's beer buyer Mark James explains the options open to a new homebrewer

So you’re ready to scratch the itch and brew your first beer at home? Perhaps you dipped your toe with one of the fantastic Brooklyn Brew Shop kits which we featured in the previous issue of Hoptical?

Either way, standing resolute with mash paddle (or oversized spoon) in hand, it can still be a little daunting when faced with the plethora of methods, equipment and beer styles that make up the homebrewing world.

Three approaches of varying complexity are open to the beer enthusiast planning their first batch at home, and all the recipes found in books or the internet will fall into one of them.

EXTRACT BREWING
The first option – and the one which I chose years ago when I first fired up my giant stockpot –

How to start homebrewing

Homebrewer and Beer Hawk's beer buyer Mark James explains the options open to a new homebrewer

So you’re ready to scratch the itch and brew your first beer at home? Perhaps you dipped your toe with one of the fantastic Brooklyn Brew Shop kits which we featured in the previous issue of Hoptical?

Either way, standing resolute with mash paddle (or oversized spoon) in hand, it can still be a little daunting when faced with the plethora of methods, equipment and beer styles that make up the homebrewing world.

Three approaches of varying complexity are open to the beer enthusiast planning their first batch at home, and all the recipes found in books or the internet will fall into one of them.

EXTRACT BREWING
The first option – and the one which I chose years ago when I first fired up my giant stockpot – bypasses the mashing process and uses malt extract to create wort. Malt extract comes either as large tins of sticky syrup, or as a dried powder also called spraymalt (formed by spraying liquid wort through a fine nozzle into a hot chamber, where it solidifies and drifts to the floor). Besides being the least daunting of options open to a newcomer and requiring the fewest pieces of equipment, leaving the extraction of barley’s fine sugars in the hands of professionals is by no means a bad idea. Award-winning homebrews have indeed been made using only malt extract.


PARTIAL MASH
The second avenue is a hybrid method straddling two schools of homebrewing, whereby an intrepid brewer uses malt extract to create a hot kettle of wort as before, then soaks a bag of speciality grains in the liquid – much like a giant teabag in the world’s biggest cuppa.

"Award-winning homebrews have beer made using only malt extract"

By steeping speciality grains in this way we can impart the characteristics of darker malts, caramelised malts, or even utilise wheat, rye or oats to add complexity to our brew. This method of using a base wort of malt extract and steeping speciality grains is known as “partial mash brewing”. A great advantage of extract and partial mash brewing is that they can be done in one pot on the stovetop in a manageable, concentrated volume which is then topped up with water in the fermenter.

ALL GRAIN
That third avenue of homebrewing, however, is the craft to which most initiates eventually aspire: ‘all grain brewing’. Here brewers start from scratch, with nothing but a big ol’ bag of malted barley and an often ramshackle assortment of DIY equipment. Base pale malts, speciality malts, and anything else fermentable are soaked in hot water, drained and then rinsed, and only then does the all grain brewer have
his wort.

More can go wrong, and it’s certainly more time consuming, but choosing to control this first step is an oft-irresistible conclusion to the decision to brew beer at home. There are many different ways to brew all grain, from holes drilled in plastic buckets to gleaming chrome automatons of the future, and the diversity of methods and home setups is all part of the fun of homebrewing.