Making Your First Beer With Malt Extract and Whole Hops

Welcome Homebrewer

Making Beer

This is where we progress from making the occasional beer kit to creating our own beer. If you have never made beer before, getting started can seem daunting. However, it is a simple process which is enjoyable and satisfying so why not give it a try. If you are wondering whether it’s worth the effort then just hear me out and I’ll do my best to convince you brewing is something you should start doing as soon as possible.

Why You Should Bother Brewing

Home Brewing

If I told you, “You can make a beer just as good, if not even better than one you can buy in a shop” would you believe me? Perhaps not. Trust me when I say it’s not only possible to do this, but it’s also much more satisfying to brew your own beer than buy it and cheaper too!

You may know nothing about beer for the moment, that’s fine. Before I made my first beer I didn’t even know what was in it. It’s safe to say, like most hobbies,  there is a learning curve, be it football, surfing or knitting, the first time you try something it’s often not easy, and can even be bewildering. Let’s face it though part of the joy of any activity comes from overcoming these challenges when they arise.

Let’s Get Brewing

This guide is here to try and give you a good understanding of what beer is and how it is easily made at a small scale from the comfort of your home.

I hope it will give you the confidence to make one of the recipes at the end of this section and you realise your inner brewer, building upon these techniques to create your own beers for future years to come.

To begin with we will cover the basics of what goes into beer, what equipment you need to make it and how you make it. At the end I have provided a  couple of recipes to choose from. So pick a beer style you like and give brewing a try!

The Brewing Process In A Nutshell

To provide a grounding in the process of brewing I’m going to explain how beer is made in a brewery. You might think making beer in a brewery is not the same as making it at home, but I assurel you, it really is!

Brewing your own beer puts you in the exact same position as the head brewer of your favourite commercial brewery, you decide on what ingredients go into it, you put them together and process them with your brewing equipment. The only difference is you get to keep all the beer at the end and you don’t have to please anyones tastes apart from your own.

So here is what happens:

You take a few agricultural ingredients, one is the cereal grain barley, the other hops. This is the basis of most modern beers, alongside water which is fundamental to all beer as you’ll see later.

The grain is malted by people called maltsters before it arrives at the brewery. Malting changes the properties of the grain unlocking starches that are required for the brewing process. The grains can be toasted to varying degrees which will affect the colour and flavour of the beer. Almost all breweries won’t malt grain themselves so don’t be too concerned if you don’t fully understand the process right now.

The brewery takes the malted grain, crushes it and then steeps it in water inside a vessel called a Mash Tun. This process allows enzymes, which naturally occur in the barley, to break down the starches into simple sugars (vital for making alcohol) all the while releasing malty, sweet flavours.

After steeping in the mash tun the grains are rinsed with more water and the sweet malty liquid (called Wort) is moved into a separate vessel to be boiled. The boiler is called a “Copper” or a “Kettle” and boiling is necessary to extract the flavours of our next ingredient, Hops.

Once the “Wort” is boiling hops are added. The boiling of the hops releases a bitter acid from them and also some aromatic compounds. The whole boiling process lasts around 60-90 minutes and hops are added at various stages throughout the boil. Adding hops early in the boil provides more bitterness, whereas adding hops later in the boil provides more aroma and flavour qualities.

The Brewing Process

Here’s An Overview

The Grains Are Crushed ➤ The Grains Are Steeped ➤ They Are Drained and Rinsed ➤ The Resulting Liquid Is Boiled ➤ Hops Are Added At Beginning ➤ They Are Also Added Around 30 – 60 Minutes Later ➤ The Liquid (Wort) Is Cooled ➤ Yeast Is Added ➤ The Beer Ferments and Alcohol Is Made ➤ The Beer Is Bottled ➤ You Open Your Beer And Enjoy

Malt Extract

If you have ever visited a brewery the first thing that will hit you is the smell- A thick, sweet, malty smell that will have you salivating instantly. Well that same smell is what will be filling your nostrils when you start brewing your beer.

When we looked at the brewing process we covered the steeping of the grains in the mash tun, this period, called mashing, is one you can bypass by using malt extract.

Mashing is a process which takes time and extra equipment so removing this process by using malt extract instead is often desirable. There are many commercial breweries and brewpubs that use malt extract, rather than choosing to mash grain in a mash tun themselves, for the very fact it saves time and provides consistent results every time.

Malt extract is made by soaking and rinsing malted barley, a process called mashing, that can take a couple of hours, to create a concentrated sweet liquid. Using malt extract saves you the time and expense of doing this yourself and will make the brewing process easier with less technical difficulties. Perhaps preferable for a first time brewer!

When buying malt extract for creating your own recipes it is a good idea to ensure you are purchasing unhopped malt extract because we will be adding our own hops during the brewing process. It also comes in two forms:

Dry Malt Extract (DME)

or

Liquid Malt Extract (LME)

Either variety are fine for our purposes and can be used interchangeably simply by following the guidlines below:

How can I convert liquid malt extract (LME) to dry malt extract (DME)?

Liquid malt extracts are roughly 20% water so 1kg of liquid is the same as 800g of dry malt extract. If you want to convert a recipe that list LME then multiply the amount by 0.8 to achieve the amount of DME required. If your recipe list dry then divide the amount by 0.8 to reach the amount of liquid extract needed. For example

3kg of LME = 3 x 0.8 = 2.4kg of DME

3kg of DME = 3 / 0.8 = 3.75kg of LME

Hops

hops

Hops are the next ingredient you need for your beer. They are in fact small flowers that grow on hop vines. Hops balance out the sweet maltiness from the grain with bitterness.Without hops your brew will taste more like ovaltine than beer.

Boiling hops during the brewing process causes them to release bitter compounds called alpha acids. These alpha acids provide bitterness to balance the beer and stop it from being way too sweet and cloying. There are also other compounds present in the hops, these compounds provide aroma and flavour to beer  and can range from piney, earthy, spicey to citrusy and floral.

Even though they provide so much of the taste we associate with beer all of the hops actually get filtered out. In essence using hops is a bit like making tea.

Some beers use small amounts of hops just to balance the sweet and bitter, other beers use a lot to add a whole new flavour in itself. There are quite a few hop varieties with each having their own unique aromas and characters.

Right now hoppy beers are riding a wave of popularity, people can’t get enough of them in their beer and on this website you can find a recipe to brew a beer that showcases some of the wonderful flavours you can achieve with them.

Yeast

Without yeast there is no beer, it makes alcohol and produces the carbon dioxide that carbonates the beer after brewing, you owe it to yourself and your beer to know how it works and how to look after it.

The yeast used for making beer is brewers yeast and there are many strains available. Yeast is not an ingredient to skimp on, bakers yeast whilst it would technically ferment some of the sugars, won’t make a good beer.

Fermentation is a process that takes time and, most of all, your patience. If you set up the ideal conditions for your yeast, a sweet delicious wort with plenty of nutrients, the yeast thrive. They reproduce and eat their way through the sugars and during the process produce alcohol. It’s just not beer without yeast. Yeast are also used in many other applications of food production as well. Different yeast strains specialise according to their environment.

A sugar filled wort with nutrients that come from the malted grains combined with the correct temperature is the perfect environment for yeast, the better quality conditions and ingredients will mean the yeast is a lot more effective at converting sugars to alcohol and produces desirable flavours too.

Generally there are two main strains of yeast; ale yeast and lager yeast. Ale yeast are what’s called a top fermenting yeast and work well in warm temperatures between roughly 16°C – 22°C, lager yeasts are bottom fermenting yeasts and work best in cool temperatures 7°C – 13°C.

Water

Water is one of the most important ingredients in beer and has a major impact on the final batch. It is also one of the more complex aspects of brewing, so much so that a whole book could be written on the subject so what I want to do here is give you an introduction without being too technical and give you a few tips that will make you better beer without much extra work.

I could start by saying about breweries like Burton are famous because of their water or that Pilsner being made from soft water is why you get crisp, pale lager but we know this already. What most people don’t consider is the water they home brew their beer with.

I am not going to go deep into the chemistry of water and talk about the different elements here but I will do in the future. All I want to do here is give you one or two things you can do straight away and end up brewing better beer.

Tip 1: If you don’t drink your tap water, don’t brew beer with it. This goes without saying to be honest. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water on it’s own then it’s going to make your beer worse. I have, on many occasions bought bottled water and I’m not advising you go an buy 25 litres of Evian here, I mean the super saver supermarket own brand stuff. Just try it once and see if it works for you.

Tip 2: If you are using tap water then make sure you get rid of the chlorine. The thing with chlorine is it makes your tap water safe to drink because bacteria cannot survive alongside it. However your bacteria won’t survive in your beer either, one because everything is sanitized and boiled and two because of the alcohol. The chlorine in tap water will react with phenols (aromatic compounds) in the malt to make chlorophenols and give you a taste reminiscent of band-aids or plasters.

To get rid of chlorine in your tap water there are a couple of easy solutions. The easiest is to use a carbon block water filter that filters water through the tap (rather than by the jug). This will remove any chlorine present in the water. The other thing you could do is  to add a campden tablet. 1 tablet will remove any chlorine in 20 gallons of water so is a fairly cost effective way to go about it. Lastly you can boil water to remove chlorine which is simple, but in my eyes the most effort.

Brew Day Gear

Probably the biggest hurdle when it comes to getting started brewing is getting all the equipment needed to actually start brewing in the first place. It can seem like a lot of money to part with to begin. But to be honest if you were to go out and buy the amount of beer you can make in just one batch you’ll see it isn’t all that expensive.

Some equipment is used to actually brew the beer, some equipment is used whilst the beer is fermenting and other tools are required for bottling. Really the amount of stuff you need is not a lot although it may look it on paper. Once you have invested in it though, most things last for years and the more beer you make the better return you get on this initial investment.

Large Pot (ideally 12+ litres)

The bigger the better really, the larger the pot the more you can boil. This may be the biggest investment.

Thermometer

A thermometer really is essential, you can’t measure temperature accurately without one and they are cheap. A regular spirit thermometer is ideal, if you want to get fancy then you could invest in a digital thermometer which tend to be easier to read.

Hydrometer

A hydrometer allows you to measure the amount of sugar in the wort and after fermentation find out how much alcohol is present in the beer. Check out this article on using a hydrometer to find out how it works. Even if you don’t want to know how much alcohol is in your brew, you’ll need a hydrometer to indicate when fermentation is over so don’t tell yourself you don’t need one.

Sanitiser

Keeping any bacteria away from your precious beer is probably the most important thing to keep in mind. If you don’t sanitise your equipment properly the beer could go sour and taste horrible, nobody wants that! In the next section cleaning and sanitising is covered in more depth so be sure to read through before you go and buy anything.

Jug

A simple jug that you can measure quantities with as well as move liquid about with.

Muslin Bags

These muslin bags cost next to nothing and are ideal for steeping your grains and boiling your hops in. They mean you can just pull the grains or hops right out and not have to mess around straining or sieving anything out of the wort. Your homebrew supplier will usually have muslin bags or something similar that are suitable for this purpose and are usually pretty inexpensive.

Fermenting Bin

If you are brewing 21 – 25 litre batches you’ll need a 30 litre fermenting bin to ferment the beer in. The extra headspace allows room for the krausen, or yeast to froth up, preventing any overflow. Obviously if you plan to brew smaller quantities then a smaller fermenting vessel will suffice, just bear in mind most beer kits and recipes are around 5 gallons or 22 litres.

Syphon tubing

It is never a good idea to pour beer from one vessel to another even in small amounts. Once the beer is fermented introducing oxygen is an easy way to introduce off-flavours that are undesirable. Aerating the beer, by pouring it, once it’s fermented will oxidise it and make it taste like sherry at best or wet cardboard at worst, also introducing all that air is a good way to introduce bacteria that can spoil the beer.

A simple plastic tube can be used to move beer around without introducing air and is pretty inexpensive. A guide on how to syphon can be found here.

Large spoon

This is a simple piece of equipment but you will make a mess without it. It doesn’t matter if you are making beer kits or if you brew all grain, you’ll need to stir large amounts of liquid that is often fairly deep. A long handled plastic spoon that can be sanitised is fine, if the handle is too short you won’t reach the bottom of your large pots or fermenting bins.

Bottling Day Equipment

Once your beer is ready to bottled you will need to package it, here is what you’ll need on hand on bottling day

Sanitiser

As mentioned above, sanitising everything that will contact your beer is one of the most important aspects of brewing. Spend some money on proper sanitizing chemicals and do it as per the instructions.

Bottling bucket

A bottling bucket is not strictly necessary but is a huge help when it comes to bottling your beer. A bottling bucket is basically a fermenting bin with a tap at the bottom. When it comes to bottling your beer you will syphon your fermented beer out of the fermenting vessel into the bottling bucket and in the process leave behind all the old yeast. Now when you bottle you will have a lot less sediment in the bottles and a handy spigot to fill the bottles from. A bottling wand as explained further down can attach to the spigot and make bottling even easier.

Bottles

You’ve brewed the beer so now you need something to put it in. Bottles are the easiest option to begin with. You could opt to buy them from your local home brew shop, either glass or plastic will be fine as long as they hold pressure. My preference is to reuse bottles from beers you buy at the shops. Pretty much any beer bottle is suitable as long as it has a crown cap. Once it’s finished rinse it out and store them up until you have enough for your brew.

Bottle caps

If you plan to reuse glass bottles then you will need to cap them once they are filled. Crown caps are the same as the caps used by commercial breweries, they are supplied by home brew shops and are splayed out. You sit the cap on the bottle of beer and use a capper to fit the cap which makes the whole thing airtight and seals the beer.

Bottle Capper

A capper is a piece of equipment to properly seal the beers. As mentioned above the caps come with the edges splayed out. A bottle capper or crown capper simply pushes the splayed edges around the opening of the bottle and seals it. A variety of options are available from devices that use a hammer with to bench mounted cappers. The best to start with in my opinion is a plier type capper as pictured, these are pretty cheap and will seal thousands of beers without deteriorating.

Syphon Tubing with Racking Cane

As I said before, you should never pour beer- always syphon to avoid introducing oxygen. A racking cane is a rigid tube that attaches to the end of the syphon tubing, the end of the racking cane has a cap to ensure the end of the syphon sits above the sediment and doesn’t pull any up into the bottling bucket.

Bottling Wand

A bottling wand is truly a godsend when it comes to bottling day, if you can get one then consider it. You can attach the bottling wand to the end of the syphon tubing or even to the bottling bucket. You then insert the bottling wand into the bottle when it hits the bottom it starts the syphon and fills the bottle. When the bottles full you simply pull the wand up from the bottom of the bottle and it immediately stops syphoning.

This means you aren’t fiddling around with stopping and starting the syphon with beer splashing all over the kitchen flow, instead you can rattle through the bottling process much quicker and tidier.