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How Long Does It Take To Brew Beer?

This is another common question from those that are trying to get into brewing. I usually get questions like “How long does it take to brew beer?” or “Is brewing my own beer going to take a long time?” Basically the same question.

The real answer is…it depends. In another post I wrote about the different methods of brewing your own brews. In that post I describe the 3 basic methods.

  • Extract Brewing

  • Partial Mash Brewing

  • Full Mash Brewing

They all have their pluses and minuses but the biggest difference is time. The fastest method is and to be honest, the best method for newHow Long Does It Take To Brew Beer brewers. Why? Because with extract brewing all the hard work is done. The boiling, the hop addition, and the additional flavoring have been done prior to the going into the can. You don’t even have to bring the batch to a boil. Only hot enough to melt the syrup and sterilize the wort. (Wort is just a fancy traditional way of saying, not beer yet. It’s what will turn into beer after fermentation) Which is about 160F. Once you melt the syrup you transfer to your fermentor, and go. Total time for something like the Coopers Real Ale is about an hour of touch time, 1 week of fermenting, and 4 weeks of bottle aging. Badda bing, badda boom and you got yourself 3 to 5 gallons of some tasty beer! (3 gallons if you just use the can. 5 if you add additional sugar.)

Whenever I try and get the feet wet of new brewers I always start here. As you move to the different methods you learn more techniques, build on your experience and, the best part, the beer only gets better and better.

So the next time you think to yourself…”Self, how long does it take to brew beer?” tell yourself “Not long enough to not try it!”

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Understanding the Different Ways to Brew Beer at Home

Brewing beer at home can be a daunting task if you don’t know what is available to you. Yes there are different methods and they range from very easy to very complicated. The key is to understanding what methods of brewing are available to you and which will be best for you to brew beer at home.

In general, there are three basic methods.

Each one has a difficulty level and of course there are different degrees of difficulty that exist in each one. Let’s take a look at each one and I will point out the basic difficulty, cost and benefits for each when wanting to brew beer at home.

Brewing – Difficulty Level: EASY    Cost: $

Ways to Brew Beer at Home - extract brewing

Extract brewing is one of the simplest and easiest ways to brew beer at home. This is because most of the work has been done for you. All the fermentable sugars have been extracted from grains and the hops have been added to the sugar so all you have to really do is boil the extract (usually in syrup form) to sterilize the liquid and them ferment. These kits usually come with dry yeast that you put into the liquid once you cool and transfer to a bucket for fermenting. If you have heard of Mr. Beer kits then you know about extract brewing. Another great benefit is you can get extract kits in all sizes. Ranging from a manageable 2 gallon batch all the way up to 6 gallon batches.

So what do you need for equipment?

  • A pot for boiling -12 Qt will work for most
  • A food grade bucket with air tight lid and air lock– 3 to 5 gallons (size is dependent on the final batch)
  • Bottles (Either plastic or glass)

What is the process for extract brewing?

As stated before this is by far the easiest. The total touch time is about an hour and cleanup is very easy. The steps to extract brew are:

  1. Add required to water to pot and begin to heat up the water
  2. As the water is heating up open can of extract and pour into water. Bring to a boil.
  3. Boil for 30 minutes
  4. Pour into bucket and let cool to 75F
  5. Put in yeast, place cover on bucket, and air lock and let ferment for 7 to 14 days
  6. After fermenting is complete – stir in small amount of sugar, bottle and let age for 14 to 30 days in cool dark place.
  7. Drink and enjoy!

So, as you can see, there is not much to it. As with everything there are pros and cons to this method but depending on level of involvement you want to and overall investment this is the simplest and easiest way to brew beer at home.

PROS: CONS:
  • Very Easy
  • Recipe is Predetermined (Difficult to tweak)
  • Low Investment
  • Ingredients Can Be Expensive
  • Touch Time is Low
 

 

Partial Extract Brewing – Difficulty Level: MEDIUM    Cost:$$

Ways to Brew Beer at Home - partial mashPartial extract brewing is what it sounds like. You use a liquid or powder malt to make up the majority of the fermentable and add specialty grains and hops. This adds extra steps to the process, adds time and some additional equipment. There is also a much more involved recipe. This is the instructions for the grain bill and hop timing. To tweak the recipe or create a particular style you use the crushed grains to add the color and flavor. You also use separate hops in the boil to determine the hop profile with can be aroma and bitterness. And finally, you use specific yeast to create a flavor profile through fermentation. The advantage of a partial extract brew is the grain steeping is fairly easy and done on a very small scale as compared to a full mash. It’s amazing how little specialty grains you need to determine the flavor and color profile. Where the complication comes in is temperature and timing. In order to extract the flavor, color and sugars you have to bring them to a certain temperature (around 154F) and the grains need to sit in that temperature for a period of time.

So what do you need for equipment?

  • A pot for boiling -12 Qt will work for most
  • A food grade bucket with air tight lid and air lock– 3 to 5 gallons (size is dependent on the final batch)
  • A smaller pot for grains
  • Muslim bag or cheese cloth
  • Thermometer
  • Thick towel or cooler
  • Bottles (Either plastic or glass)

What is the process for a partial extract brewing?

Because you are now using grains and hops this adds a few more steps to the process. The total touch time is about 1 to 2 hours and cleanup is a little more but still easy. The steps to do a partial extract brew are:

  1. Prepare specialty grains by placing them into a muslin bag or wrap in cheese cloth and make a loose satchel.
  2. Start water by adding a couple of quarts of water to a small pot. Bring up to 155F.
  3. Take off heat, wrap pot in a blanket or add water to a cooler. Place bag of grains in water and cover. Let sit for 30 to 45 minutes.
  4. Add required to water to the large pot and begin to heat up the water
  5. As the water is heating up add extract into water. Bring to a boil.
  6. Pull grain bag out of the pot or cooler and let all liquid drain. Add liquid to large pot.
  7. Boil as the recipe calls for and add hops to boil at the times instructed.
  8. Pour into bucket and let cool to 75F
  9. Put in yeast, place cover on bucket, and air lock and let ferment for 7 to 14 days
  10. After fermenting is complete – stir in small amount of sugar, bottle and let age for 14 to 30 days in cool dark place.
  11. Drink and enjoy!

If you do a quick comparison the differences from extract brewing are small but involved. This greatly adds to the time and does add a few more pieces of equipment to complete. The biggest benefit is the flexibility and your options in types and styles of beers available to go up exponentially. While this may not be the easiest way to brew beer at home it is the best of both worlds. A fair majority of home brewers use this method because of it.

PROS: CONS:
  • A ton of options in styles and types of beer
  • Adds significant time
  • Flexibility to tweak recipes to suit taste
  • Brewing process is a little more complicated
  • You get a better beer in the end
  • Requires more equipment

 

Full Mash Brewing – Difficulty Level: HIGH   Cost: $$$

Ways to Brew Beer at Home - full mash Full mash brewing is by far the most complicated and difficult way to brew. It requires a few special pieces of equipment and the process is very long. You have to carefully control water temperature for the conversion of starch in the grain to sugars and this can take some time. Also, the sparging process is a slow and careful process so as to extract all the sugars from the grain bed while trying not to pull bitter tannins. This is obviously a complicated that is not well suited to brew beer at home. So why would someone do it this way? Well, there are a few reasons. One reason is final product cost. If you factor out the cost of equipment the raw materials are very cheap when buying in bulk. Your total cost can be a third of what it cost you to extract brew.  Another reason is control. By full grain mashing you have absolute control of the final product. You can determine the final outcome by monitoring the whole process. And probably the biggest reason…pride. It’s not the easiest way to brew beer at home but it is the most rewarding. This process is well of 9000 years old. Being able to say you brew as other brewmasters have been doing for eons does come with a certain badge of honor.

So what do you need for equipment?

  • A pot for boiling –This general needs to be full size. Usually 26 quarts or larger.
  • A mash tun – This is a large vessel that has a false bottom and a port at the bottom for drawing off the wort
  • A food grade bucket with air tight lid and air lock– 3 to 5 gallons (While you can use a bucket most use glass or stainless steel fermentors when you get to this level.)
  • Muslim bag or cheese cloth – Typically used for hops
  • Thermometer
  • Hydrometer – used to measure starch conversion
  • Thick towel or cooler
  • Bottles (Usually 5 gallon kegs at this level)

What is the process for a partial extract brewing?

Because you are now using grains and hops this adds a few more steps to the process. The total touch time is about 1 to 2 hours and cleanup is a little more but still easy. The steps to do a partial extract brew are:

  1. Prepare grains by crushing and placing them in the mash tun.
  2. Bring water required up to strike water temperature. Usually calculated but generally around 165F.
  3. Pour half of the water into mash tun and stir thoroughly to make sure all grains are wet.
  4. Wrap mash tun in thermal blanket and let sit for 60 to 90 minutes for starch conversion.
  5. After conversion is complete slowly open bottom port on mash tun and let drain into boil pot.
  6. Take remaining water and trickle of top of grain bed to rinse out remaining sugar. (can take up to 3 or 4 hrs)
  7. Once sparge is complete bring liquid to boil.
  8. Boil liquid for the time the recipe calls for and add hops to boil at the times instructed.
  9. Pour into fermentor and let cool to 75F
  10. Put in yeast, place cover on bucket, and air lock and let ferment for 7 to 14 days
  11. After fermenting is complete – stir in small amount of sugar, bottle and let age for 14 to 30 days in cool dark place.
  12. Drink and enjoy!

Again, if you do a comparison, the amount of steps is not greatly increased, but these are also greatly simplified for illustration. The truth of the matter is the care that is needed and the significant time adder really makes this a long process that has complicated steps that must be followed in the right order. It’s not unusually for a brew day to take the entire morning and afternoon. Then there is the cleanup. Just bear in mind it takes time, commitment and desire to produce the best possible beer to get to this method. Not all who brew go to this extreme. It really is the final stop on one’s brewing journey but not a required one.

PROS: CONS:
  • Absolute and total control of the process
  • Very time intensive
  • Very cost effective for ingredients
  • Attention to detail is required
  • Taking part in an age old tradition
  • Significant cost adder for special equipment
 
  • Complex process

 

As you can see there are big differences in the methods used to brew beer at home. All these methods are ones, which if you decide this is the hobby you love, you will do. However, it’s not a requirement. The biggest thing about home brewing is doing something you love and being proud you made it. I know tons of people who have been extract brewing for years and see no reason to move on…and that’s OK! Find the method that works for you and start there. Even if you find out you don’t like doing it at least you can say you tried and you’ll have a great story to tell while lifting up a brew with friends and saying

“I brew beer at home! CHEERS!”