It's fun, it's easy, and did I mention that it's a lot easier than I first expected?
The only hard part is all the stupid terminology.
Here's a basic rundown, and what I've brewed so far.
You get a food-grade 5 gallon plastic bucket with a hole drilled in the top for the airlock, and another food-grade plastic bucket with a spiggot in the bottom to make bottling the stuff easier when it's time for that.
(optional but recomended: a 5 gallon glass carboy (aka. water cooler bottle) for doing the second stage of the fermentation in.)
An airlock with a rubber stopper, to keep outside air from getting in the beer.
And you'll need sterilizing stuff. Can use bleach, or an iodine solution (which is easier and less likely to throw off taste).
You can buy all this at ANY brewing store, and brewing stores are a lot more common than you'd think. there's like 5 that I've found already in/around boston.
Beer consists of basically three things:
Malt: sugary extract from malted grains, usually barley. Ferments into alcohol, and adds darkness/thickness/sweetness.
Hops: flowery buds from hops plants, give beer the acidity, aroma, hops flavor, and bitterness.
Yeast: causes the fermentation. different strains cause very different flavors to develop.
Easiest way to do this is to buy your malt pre-extracted in cans. (LME: Liquid Malt Extract)
Downside, more expensive and slightly less tasty.
Alternative: do the extraction yourself. It's complicated and you need lots of space and equipment, aka. don't live in an apartment.
So for an all LME brew, here's the process.
step one: sterilize everything that will touch the beer (except the brew pot, that'll sterilize through heat in the boiling).
total time: 1 hour of boiling.
Boil 1.5-2.5 gallons of water.
Add the LME, add some hops, start the 1hr timer.
these hops will boil so long, that all they'll add is the bitterness. (bittering hops)
Near the end (last 5-10 mins) add more hops
these hops will add flavor and scent, and the oil aids in head retention. (finishing hops)
at one hour, take off heat, and stick the pot in a bath of ice water, being careful not to contaminate the brew, which is called the Wort.
Cool it down to 100-120 degrees F.
Put 2-3 gallons of water in the brewing bucket, and add the coolish wort, straining out the hops.
Fill the bucket up to 5-5.5 gallons with more water.
Add yeast (making sure the temperature is 115f or less, or you'll just kill the yeast)/
Slap on lid and airlock.
Slosh it around to disolve in some oxygen for the yeasties.
stick in a closet for 1-3 weeks.
After it's all brewed and not fermenting any longer (no bubbles coming out of airlock) you bottle it with a little corn sugar, let it carbonate (wait a week or two), then drink it. (see the end for bottling process.)
Here's the three brews I've done so far.
2 cans (7lbs) Dark LME
3 ounces of some kind of hops
Edme ale yeast
straight forward recipe, came as a kit so I don't know what the hops were.
Hops were split up, 1.5oz for bittering, 1.5oz for finishing.
Made a nice tasty dark ale with some hoppiness to it.
Witbier (based off a Sellis White clone recipe)
7lbs Wheat LME (called for John Bull, but they only had Coopers)
1lb flaked oats (you soak these in 155F degree water for 30 mins, then brew with that water)
1.5oz Styrian Goldings hops (full hour)
1oz Bitter Orange peel (last 15 mins)
1tsp Ground Corriander (last 5 mins)
Wyeast #3944, belgian wit yeast
Easy to brew, it's called a mini-mash brew style. You soak the loose grains for 30 mins in 155(ish) degree water, then remove the grains, pour warm water through them to get the last bits of tasty into the pot, and brew with the soaking and the runoff water. It adds a lot to the flavor without adding the complication of all-loose-grain brewing.
This beer came out really bitter, due to the fact that i didn't get the orange peel out at the end of the boil, but left it in while I was cooling the wort. Still quite drinkable though, but it should have been better damnit.
7lbs Light LME (John Bull brand)
1lb Munich Malt
3/4 lb Crystal 20L malt
1/8 lb Crystal 70L malt (the different crystals are the same malt, just malted different strengths. the higher number, the stronger. I actually brewed with 1/4 lb of 120L because they were out of these two types.)
1oz Perle Hops (1hr)
1oz Hallertau hops (25 mins)
1oz Hallertau hops (15 mins)
Wyeast 1007, German Ale (calls for Wyeast 2124 or Whitelabs WLP820)
Same technique as the above brew, should be pretty tasty.
I substituted different crystal malt at the instruction of the guy who works at the shop, and I'm doing it as an Ale instead of a Lager, so it's a different recipe altogether.
The difference between an ale and a lager.
Ale's are brewed at room temperature (62f-75f), and the yeast ferments on the top of the brew.
Lagers are brewed at colder temps (45f-55f), and the yeast ferments on the bottom of the brew.
It's also a different kind of yeast.
A traditional Oktoberfest beer is a Lager, but I don't have the capacity to brew a lager due to the temp constraints, so I did it as an ale instead.
The glass carboy, if you've got one, is used for the secondary fermentation.
Once the brewing slows down to a bubble a minute or so, you siphon off the beer into the glass carboy, and then put an airlock back on. Leave it in there for about 2 weeks or so. This gets the beer off of the silt sitting at the bottom of the bucket, which will help the beer mellow out a bit, clarify a bit, and just generally give you a better flavor in the end.
Bottling: you disolve 5oz (3/4 cup) dry corn sugar in a little water, and put that in the bottom of the bottling bucket. Siphon the beer into this bucket, and make sure it's nice and stired up.
(The sugar gives the yeast a little kick in the bottles, causing them to ferment again, giving off CO2, carbonating the beer. Too much sugar and you could explode the bottles, so don't mess with that amount.)
Next, siphon (or use the spiggot if you have one) the beer into bottles, cap them, and store them upright for 2 weeks.