Craft brewing is big business. Sure, domestic beers like Budweiser and Coors make up a large percentage of beer profits, but the craft brewing scene has been growing tremendously during the past few years. According to brewersassociation.org, craft brewers sold an estimated 13,000,000 barrels of beer in 2012, up from 11,000,000 in 2011. This increase shows a demand for technique, craft and ingenuity among the beer-drinking public.
In fact, craft beer can be made at home with the simplest of tools and minimal investment. Instead of falling victim to high prices for a six pack of your favorite libation, why not make it yourself with the added benefit of a job well done?
You will need just a few supplies to get started. Many companies offer beer starter kits that can get you off and running. Depending on your need, kits range from $30-$500. Homebrewing.org offers a range of start up kits and advice for beginners. Most kits are equipped with a primary fermenter, bottling bucket, hydrometer and test jar, twin lever capper, airlock and thermometer. Be sure that you have your own 3-5 gallon stock pot, as it will be necessary to the process, and many manufacturers of beginner’s kits do not include these in the package. As a cautionary note, make sure to constantly restock o-rings, as proper sealing in between stages determines the quality of your brews. With time, natural degradation makes your original seals less effective.
The most important ingredient to the brewing process is yeast. Yeast is a type of fungus that consumes sugar to create the waste products of carbon dioxide and alcohol. Thus, making beer is a natural process that requires only minimal manipulation. If set up correctly, yeast will do all the hard work for you. Different types of yeast result in different flavors with two main varieties: top fermenting yeast and bottom fermenting yeast. Top fermenting yeasts yields ales and stouts, while bottom fermenting yeast creates lagers and steam beers.
How to Brew
Once your supplies are in order, you can get to brewing. The basic brewing process requires only a few steps. First, you must steep whichever grains you choose for flavor and color. Then, you add malt sugar and hops to the mix and boil your solution. These sugars are what the yeast will consume to create alcohol. Allow these combined ingredients to cool before adding the yeast and transferring to a fermenter. Within 1-2 weeks, you will have a delicious craft brew made at home.
The final step is bottling and needs to be handled with care in order to avoid contamination. Most starter kits come with the tools you need to bottle your beer. Just remember: you must sanitize your bottles before you transfer your fermented brew to avoid ruining your entire batch. Finally, once your beer is bottled, store at room temperature for 2-3 weeks before you crack one open to enjoy.
The Gift of Brewing
With the holidays upon us, home brews make excellent gifts, and certainly provide a creative alternative to the usual offerings of mason jars filled with hot chocolate mix. The satisfaction of creating your own unique brews is sure to keep you experimenting for years to come.