Ready to Brew Your First Beer?
So you’ve read our Introduction to Homebrewing and you are ready to make the plunge and start making your first batch of beer. How do you start? This article will help get you going.
There are many different approaches to brewing beer. You could easily invest $100’s in equipment and ingredients and then not have a clue how to use all of it and end up making a bad batch of beer. Or you might find out that you don’t like homebrewing and you will have wasted a lot of money on equipment you’ll never use again.
Trust me, while the process may seem simple, when you are just starting you have a lot to learn. So, just like most things, you are better off learning to walk before you run. The homebrewing equivalent of walking is the Mr. Beer kit.
Numerous homebrewers have been introduced to the hobby thorough Mr. Beer, including me. While the beers you make using this starter kit won’t be world class, you can make some good beer with it. On top of that, it doesn’t require a huge investment to get started, so if you decide you don’t like homebrewing, you aren’t out a lot of money.
In my opinion, the best way for you to get started in homebrewing is to buy yourself a Mr. Beer kit and get brewing.
What do you need to buy to get started homebrewing?
You have a couple Mr. Beer Kit options to choose from. The kit you should pick depends on how you want to package your finished beer. When you brew your first batch with Mr. Beer you essentially have two options for packaging your beer. You can use glass bottles or you can use plastic PET bottles, similar to soda bottles.
If you want to bottle in plastic PET bottles, buy the Mr. Beer Premium kit, which will include the plastic bottles and caps you will need. I also recommend that you buy some Cooper’s Carbonation Drops or something similar like the Fizz Drops from Northern Brewer. These drops will come in really handy when it comes time to bottle and carbonate your beer. You can get these from your local homebrew shop or from several online retailers. You don’ t actually need these drops to carbonate your beer, but I recommend you use them. I’ll discuss the reasons why later in this article.
If you want to bottle in glass bottles, start with the Mr. Beer Deluxe kit. In addition to the kit, you’ll also need bottles, a bottle capper, some bottle caps, and the Cooper’s Carbonation Drops.
When using glass bottles, you don’t need to buy bottles. You can simply reuse bottles from the beer you drink. For best results, don’t use twist off bottles, as they are much harder to reseal with a capper. Use bottles that you have to open with a bottle opener. Brown bottles are preferred over green or clear bottles as brown bottles provide better from light which can cause skunking.
To save bottles for brewing, simply rinse the empty bottle several times with some hot water and let it dry. Try to get all the moisture out of the bottom of the bottle to prevent mold from growing (Related: 3D Printed Bottle Drying Rack). For one Mr. Beer batch you’ll need approximately 20 to 22 12-ounce bottles. If you want, you can also use 22-ounce bottles, in which case you would need about 12 of them.
Bottle cappers and bottle caps can be purchased from your local homebrew store when you purchase the carbonation drops. There are a few different options for each, but while you are getting started, feel free to buy the cheapest capper and caps.
The Brew Day
For your brew day, you’ll need a few items that you should already have around the house, in addition to the ingredients and equipment that came with your kit. You’ll need a can opener, a plastic or metal spoon, and a stock pot. Don’t use a wooden spoon, as those can be more difficult to sanitize than a plastic or metal spoon, and sanitization is critical to making good beer.
When it comes time to brew your first batch, you’ll more or less want to follow the instructions included in your kit, with one notable exception. If your kit comes with a packet labeled ‘booster,’ I don’t recommend you use this. In my experience, the booster can lead to off flavors in your finished beer. In place of the booster, use the same weight of dry malt extract or 1.2 times the weight of liquid malt extract, either of which can be purchased from your local homebrew store or online. Most Mr. Beer kits you will find these days will be all-malt kits without this ‘booster’ pack. If your kit is an all-malt kit you don’t need to worry about this.
After you add your wort to your fermenter, make sure the wort is cool before you add any yeast. You want your wort to be around 66F to 70F for best results, assuming you are brewing an ale. If you add your yeast when the wort is too hot you run the risk of killing your yeast. Even if you don’t kill the yeast, the high fermentation temperatures can add some funny flavors to your beer that you won’t like.
Fermenting your First Beer
When you are fermenting your beer you want to make sure you keep the temperature as constant as you can. Temperature swings of a couple degrees won’t ruin your beer, but large temperature swings can have an impact. If possible keep your fermenter tucked away in a basement or a closet where the temperature should remain constant. Keeping light away is also a good idea as too much light exposure can result in skunky beer.
While you are getting started, I recommend you let your beer ferment for at least 14 days before you bottle it. If you bottle too soon while it is still fermenting, you run the risk of creating exploding bottle bombs due to the pressure build up from the CO2 given off during fermentation. Better safe than sorry on this one. In addition to preventing bottle bombs, most homebrew improves after a few weeks of aging, so a little extra time in the fermenter isn’t a bad thing. Once the yeast have finished fermenting they essentially go to sleep and fall to the bottom of the fermenter, in a process called flocculation. This process doesn’t happen rapidly though, so more time in the fermenter will allow more yeast to drop out of your beer, giving you a clearer finished product.
Bottling and Carbonating your Beer
After 14 days or so, you should be ready to bottle your beer. Before you start bottling, you should look at your beer for active signs of fermentation. If you see any bubbles coming out of your beer, it is likely still fermenting, so let it go another week before you bottle.
To start the bottling process, you need to make sure your bottles are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. Follow the instructions on the sanitizer that came with your kit. In order to carbonate your beer you need to add what is called priming sugar. This priming sugar is consumed by the yeast remaining in your beer, giving off carbon dioxide. With your bottles capped, this carbon dioxide has no place to go, so pressure builds up and your beer gets carbonated.
The easiest way to carbonate your beer is to use Cooper’s carbonation drops or a similar product. These are sugar tablets that contain just the right amount of sugar to carbonate your beer to an acceptable level. There are other carbonation tabs on the market, but I have found the Cooper’s drops to be the best.
Your kit instructions may tell you to add certain amounts of table sugar to your bottles, but I don’t recommend this. It is very difficult to precisely measure the right amount of table sugar for each bottle, and you may end up with some bottles that are over carbonated, and some that are under carbonated. Using the carbonation drops will help you achieve consistent levels of carbonation in all your bottles.
If you are bottling in 12-ounce bottles use one of the Cooper’s carbonation drops per bottle, or use two drops if you are bottling in 22-ounce bottles. After you have capped the bottles, place them in a safe warm place for carbonation.
Aging and Drinking Your First Batch of Homebrew
Carbonation in the bottles will take about two or three weeks. During this time you want to store the bottles in a place that has a temperature of about 70F to allow the yeast to ferment the priming sugar and carbonate your beer.
After two or three weeks have passed, chill your beer in a refrigerator. Once the beer is cold, pop the cap and pour your first homebrew into a pint glass. Your bottle will have some yeast in the bottom, so be careful when pouring the last little bit to avoid dumping the yeast into your glass. The yeast won’t hurt you, but you’ll likely prefer the taste of the beer without the yeast in it.
That’s it! Congratulations, you’ve now made your first batch of beer! Nothing to it, right? I hope you’ve found the process fun, and the beer tasty. If you ran into a few problems along the way, don’t worry too much about it. The brewing process is generally pretty forgiving, and almost all new brewers run into some problems on the first few batches. Don’t be discouraged by this. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of great tasting homebrew!
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