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Week 02: Ninety-Nine Problems But a Beer Ain't One

Getting started: Four Different Ways to Brew at Home


This week we will discuss how to get started in homebrewing. Many of you have probably seen various homebrewing kits at local retail stores; the most popular one being the Mr. Beer Kit that you can virtually find everywhere. Beer kits are the simplest way to brew a beer, but two of the main components in beer (malts and hops) are already pre-made and ready to use. While simple, this method is often considered a novelty above anything else and limits the brewer on the use of ingredients and range of flavors. To those really looking to dive into brewing it yourself, here is a brief description of various homebrewing methods to help you find the right level for you. Visit your local homebrew shop or try one online to help you get started. 

I. Extract Brewing: Extract brewing is the most basic level of brewing at home and is the most popular with the beginning brewer. In this method, the process of mashing grains is removed and is replaced with a ready-made liquid malt extract. This extract is a highly concentrated form of wort made on an industrial scale. In extract brewing, hops are added as the wort boils. The wort is cooled, yeast is pitched, and transferred into fermenters.

II. Partial Mash: Partial Mash brewing lies between entry-level extract brewing and transitioning to all-grain. This intermediate method uses liquid malt extract and supplements it with specialty grains that are needed to bump the fermentable sugars to the right level. This is achieved by boiling the wort and adding a grain bag containing the grains you need for your recipe. This option is useful for brewers who are not yet ready to convert to the all-grain method and is helpful for those who are yet to make the investment in a more elaborate homebrew system.

III. Brew in a Bag: Brew in a Bag falls under the all-grain umbrella as it moves you from using a concentrated malt extract to creating your own wort. Using a grain bag in your brew pot, much like the partial mash method, BIAB requires little equipment and is particularly efficient for those brewing on their kitchen stove-top. Once the wort is created (mashed in via a steeping method), the grain bag is removed and the wort is treated in the traditional fashion (adding the hops, cooling the wort, and adding yeast before putting it away to ferment). This is an ideal method for those with space limitations but who want more control of their recipes. 

IV. All-Grain: Brewing in the all-grain method is the staple of the advanced homebrewer. In this method, milled grains are mashed in via the infusion method. This is a more complex method that requires more equipment, a developed recipe, and much more attention to detail. The mashing process is accomplished by heating water to specific target temperatures and mixing in your grains (making sure to leave your mash to convert all those wonderful sugars). After 45 minutes, sparge your mash with additional hot water to extract the sweet magical wort. The rest of the process follows similarly to the ones above -- bringing the wort back to a boil, adding your hops, cooling, then adding yeast. For a guide on what tools you will need to brew all-agrain, reference this. Highly recommended: Using a beer recipe software to help you understand how to develop your own recipes (i.e: BeerSmith). 

Already a seasoned brewer? How did you get your start? Stay tuned until next week for more homebrew tips and troubleshooting. Happy Brewing!


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