How to brew your own beer

This weekend I set in motion the brewing of 20 gallons of beer. That is 160 pints. The process took me less than an hour, the beer will be ready for bottling in seven to ten days and ready for drinking when I feel it is ready (probably another two weeks but it improves with age), and best of all it will have cost me 25p per pint. Some people make jam and preserves; I brew beer.

No, I am not planning the ultimate binge drink and only small parties are being planned over Christmas and New Year. Another point I have to make is that I, and others, will be drinking the final products well into 2011.

I started brewing my own beer many years ago, because I wanted to see if it was as awful as people had said. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that it was, in fact, very pleasant and, with a small investment, very easy to make.

These days brewing your own beer is not the domain of large red-cheeked, possibly bearded, men in chunky sweaters quoffing flagons of cloudy liquid giving off dubious aromas (the beer, not the men). Today, you can in time achieve a bespoke beer that suits your palette and can stand up, taste-wise, against quality (expensive) brews available in the shops.

I can put such a low price on the finished product because I have had the basic equipment for a long time, so all I am now paying for is a basic ‘kit’ plus sugar and water. But, the initial investment for the beginner need not break the bank if you keep things simple. That way, if you want to be more adventurous with preparation you can. Mine is a no nonsense, no boiling, no messing method where most of the work has been done for you and that suits me fine. Beginners brewing kits are available online, along with every conceivable piece of equipment and ingredients you could possible need.

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A typical beginners beer kit will include:

Beer fermenting bin 5g, 25 litres (ideally with a tap but these are not always available and would cost more)
Flexible syphon tubing
Plastic syphon pick-up tube
Syphon tap
Airlock grommet
Plastic bubbler airlock
Plastic beer paddle
Water treatment tablet with instructions
Beer fining sachet for 5 gallons
Glucose powder 1kg

All this should cost around £16 (prices can vary depending on what is supplied). After this all you will need is a beer kit, which gives you a tin of hopped malt extract and brewing yeast. Prices can vary from £9-22 (for 40 pints) according to your taste. After that you just need water and to follow the simple instructions.

The final piece of the jigsaw you will need is either a barrel or bottles to put the beer in. A barrel can be aesthetically pleasing but, if you are just starting up bottles may be a better choice. These are all available online.

Barrels: A 5 gallon barrel can cost between £25- 46

Glass bottles, with tops (and the equipment to put them on the bottles) are available but can be quite an investment, especially if you decide brewing your own is not for you. Glass bottles without tops are less than a £1 each for 500ml bottles but you will need a device for securing the tops, these cost around £16. A suitable alternative bottle option are plastic PET bottles, these are available to buy at less than £1 for 1000ml but used fizzy drinks/ water bottles can be used if sterilised first. (Remember barrels and bottles are reusable so that can spread the initial outlay if you continue).

Beer has been brewed for over 3000 years and the country house brewery is part of history, so it is nice to carry on a tradition that has given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. Once you have mastered the initial concept of brewing it can be rewarding to refine your method and experimenting to produce the type of individual beer, taste and strength you seek. But, as they say, please drink responsibly.

How to make beer

All the beer kits come with full instructions but here is what is involved in my beer brewing.

Make sure all equipment is clean and sterilized. You will have sterilizing solution/powder in the beginners’ kit but I have found the sterilizing solution used for baby equipment fine for the purpose. Just make sure things are rinsed.

Pour 1 kg of sugar or glucose solution into the fermenting bin. Start adding hot water (I use water straight from the hot tap) and stir the liquid at the same time. Add the tin of malt extract (keep this in a warm place before using as the syrup flows more freely when used) and keep stirring. Fill the tin with hot water and stir to dissolve the remaining syrup and add to bin. Keep stirring until sugar and syrup are dissolved. Start to add cold water when bin is half full, stir all the time. What you want to end up with is a warm solution. Fill to just below top of bin- leave about an inch depth at the top.

Sprinkle the yeast from the sachet supplied onto the solution. Close the lid, make sure it is shut tight. Place in a warm area. Fermentation may cause the lid to pop open so check every so often and reseal if needed.

Depending on warmth of area where beer is placed beer should be fermented in 7-10 days (check instructions on tin), add finings and allow beer to settle over a day at least (again, follow instructions supplied with your kit)

I tend to siphon off the fined beer into another 5 gallon vessel and give it a little longer to settle before bottling. In the beginning you may not have this option leave the beer longer so the sediment settles. If using a barrel siphon off the beer into the barrel and add a small wine glass of sugar (this will add the fizz). If bottling, add a teaspoon of sugar to each litre bottle.

Store in a cool, but not freezing, area. There will be a little sediment in the base of the barrel and bottles, this does not impair flavour but just be careful when pouring the bottles. The beer improves with age, and can be drunk for many months to come.