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Beer Brewing at Home

Believe it or not, you can make superb-tasting beers in your own home. In fact, you can create home brews that stand up very well against the best commercial products.

There are a number of excellent books and magazines on home brewing. Some are basically cookbooks that help you copy noteworthy commercial products. Others delve more deeply into the chemistry and theory of home brewing.

Home brewers fall into 2 camps, broadly speaking:

  • Whole-grain brewers "make it from scratch.". The standard batch in recipes is 5 gallons of beer, which yields just over 50 12-ounce bottles. A batch this size requires roughly 9 to 12 pounds of whole grains, which must be steeped in hot water to release their sugars. To do this correctly, you need a very large, unwieldy pot. You must monitor water temperatures precisely to get the desired result.
  • Extract brewers take a critical shortcut. "Extracts" are either dry (a sweet, flour-like powder, like the malt used in malted milk) or liquid (a sweet, thick syrup that comes in cans and has the consistency of molasses). The typical 5-gallon batch requires about 6 pounds of extract, which is about a gallon in volume. All this extract, in turn, needs to be dissolved and cooked in about 2.5 gallons of water. You can split this between 2 large-sized pots.

Extract brewers cannot entirely escape using whole grains. Most extract-based recipes will require them to steep about a pound of grains to get the proper flavors. Still, that is much easier to handle than the bulk involved in whole-grain brewing. Moreover, extract-based home brews can taste as fine as whole-grain beers.

There is another big divide in home brewing:

  • Ales are relatively easy to produce at home, since they ferment and age at room temperature.
  • Lagers require specialized refrigeration equipment, or especially cold cellars, since they must ferment and age at temperatures well below 50º F.

If you have a home brew supply shop near your home, or a home brewing club in your area, they can help you get started by showing you the ropes. The equipment that you need to get started is relatively inexpensive (roughly $100 or so) and does not require much space to store (the bulkiest items are

a pair of large glass carboys for fermentation and aging). Shops also do mail orders, so the absence of a nearby supplier should be no impediment. They also are expert at creating "kits" that include all the necessary ingredients to produce a given type of beer. Cheers!

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