I started brewing beer over a year ago and, for some reason, I haven't blogged about it. Which is funny, since beer and homebrewing have become popular keywords for my web searches over the past year. And, yes, that pic above is one of my home-made brews.

This started because I was an at an after-Christmas sale at my local hardware store, and oogled their 1 gal brew kits but decided that I didn't have the time nor the clearance from my wife to do it. When I got home, my wife presented me with a late Christmas present – a Mr Beer kit with an American ale. I made it that night and honestly haven't looked back. Since then I bought 3 of the kits from the hardware store when they got on lower and lower clearance and that is what I generally brew from. They are only one gallon and Mr Beer is 2. One gallon is easy to make and cleanup after, though I still use my Mr Beer fermenter to help me with bottling (a "bottling bucket" in homebrew terms). Though I may make use the Mr Beer for 2 gallons of my Christmas beer this year.

Brewing your own beer is a funny thing… it's decidedly slow by our modern standards, but no technology can speed up the process. Certainly technology can (and does) make it easier for you, but fermentation is fermentation. It will take weeks, not hours, before you can taste the fruits (or hops or esters, what you will). The yeast does has the yeast does.

I've make quite a few beers in the last year or so. Most OK, one was outstanding (my Christmas beer) and one was so bad I just poured it out. I found out later it got infected by a foreign yeast and that made it taste horrible. Why? Because I didn't clean my siphon out when I was testing it. That brings up the most important thing about homebrewing – it's all a learning process.

You can learn a lot by reading and researching the forums but, ultimately, it comes down to your setup and equipment. I only do 1-2 gallon brews and I boil my wort on my kitchen stove. I have different problems and advantages that someone brewing 5 gallons (like they have to do it outside, they deal with more grain, but they make a lot more than 4-5 750ml bottles at a time). And my equipment and setup is different than another small-batch brewer, so any kind of idea they may have I have to think about how to add it to my arsenal. So there is a lot of trial and error involved, even if you think you have it all figured out.

I'd love to step you through how I brew my beer but I basically follow the excellent directions in BeerCraftr's How-To Guide with a few changes. I found BeerCraftr to be a tremendous resource and I can't thank Joseph enough. My changes are:

  • The Mash After removing the bag of grains, I put them in colander in it's own separate clean pot, and take a few coffee cups of the wort and pour it over the bags a few times. This is called sparging or lautering. This may not seem like a big deal with my 1 gallon batches but since I've been doing it, the flavor of my beer has gotten better.

  • Bottling Hours before bottling, I boil some water and put the amount of sugar I need in a coffee cup and pour the water in it with a spoon. Every once in a while, I give it a stir with the spoon. This is less trouble than measuring each tab of sugar for each bottle. How do it do this?

  • Bottling After I have my fermenter ready, my bottles sanitized, and sugar dissolved, I pour the sugar water into my sanitized Mr Beer and then siphon the beer from the fermenter into the Mr Beer. I wait a minute or two for the sugar to spread out through the beer and then use the spigot to fill each bottle with beer. Easy-peasy.

  • Bottle Conditioning I've found 4 weeks isn't enough time to leave it in bottle. I've found I don't get enough carbonation with it that long, or flavor. I have a Belgian Wit on Month 4 on the counter and it's just starting to be good. Maybe it's because of the temperature in my house, etc, but just doesn't work.

Lastly – the best change I ever did in my homebrew experiments is to change my sanitizer to Star San. My beer came out better, and it actually carbonated. It seems pricey but a little bit goes a long way. I make a gallon and keep it in a glass jar for a few months and just re-use it. Worth the effort and don't fear the foam! (because, yes, it does foam. a lot).