Home Brewing for Beginners: Expert Advice to Get Started

Maybe you’ve heard horror stories about a beer project gone wrong or been unfortunate enough to taste a buddy’s failed attempt at an IPA. When home brewing goes wrong, it goes really wrong. This doesn’t mean homemade beer has to pale in comparison to your favorite craft brews, just that you need to treat the process like science. The details really do matter.

Lucky for you, we were able to convince some of the best brewers and other professionals in the business to share their top tips to get started. Cheers to home brewing done right.

mug of beer sitting on a wooden counter in low lighting

Mug of beer on a counter | Source: iStock

Concentrate on the living critters: people and yeast. Your brew buddies will provide knowledge, support, and criticism that will advance you skills and understanding much more quickly than a book and a lonely kitchen ever could. As far as yeast goes, make sure your source is fresh and you feed it properly before pitching, because all of your efforts are at risk if you don’t take care to keep the yeast healthy and its environment sanitary.

Bill Covaleski, co-founder and brewmaster at Victory Brewing Company in Downington, Penn.

$100 and one weekend day, and you’re brewing. It’s that simple. Read as much as you can, but hands-on experience is the best teacher.

Most home-brew shops have a starter kit with a glass carboy, a bottling bucket, a siphon, and a malt extract kit. All you need to do is add water and boil. After a few batches, you’ll learn what different temperatures do for fermentation and all about the endless options of yeast and hops.

Keep a log book of everything you do on a brew day: times, temperatures, grains, amounts. The more notes, the better. I started 2½ years ago and I still go back to my log book for information on beers I still have, and for ideas for new brews.

Chris Hilliard, home brewer and chef at the Loft at Midnight Sun Brewing Company in Anchorage, Alaska

opening a pack of pellet hots for home brewing

Packet of pellet hops for home brewing | Source: iStock

Getting into home brewing can be as easy or as complicated as you’d like it to be. A number of homebrew supply websites typically offer a variety of starter kits, which come with the basic equipment you’ll need as well as a recipe kit with step-by-step instructions. If you’re lucky enough to have a homebrew supply store nearby, go in and have a chat with them. Most home brewers are more than happy to talk about the process.

Knowing what you’re doing is key to making something worth drinking. Educate yourself either by purchasing one of the many beginner homebrew books or visit HomeBrewTalk.com, an excellent website with tons of information for people looking to get into the hobby.

Patrick Chavanelle, brewer at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine

  1. Brew early, brew often
  2. Take rigorous notes
  3. Cleanliness is next to godlinessRelax.
  4. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew!

Shane Welch, co-founder of Sixpoint Brewery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

First, I would encourage new home brewers to seek out their local homebrew club and attend meetings. Experienced members can be very helpful resources regarding brewing practices and ingredients. And don’t shy away from asking for feedback about your beers from both homebrew club members as well as professional brewers. It’s also a good idea to focus on improving one style batch over batch, and to try to initially stick with styles that aren’t too dominated by one flavor. This can really help you master a style and pinpoint any deficiencies with your brewing process and equipment.

Florian Kuplent, brewmaster at Urban Chestnut Brewery in St. Louis

Focus on the basics when you start home brewing. A lot of new brewers want to jump into brewing complex, all-grain recipes, but it’s incredibly important to master your cleaning and sanitation practices before investing too much time, energy, and money. Once you’re confident that you can ferment and package clean beer, make the move to a more advanced system and recipes.

Along those same lines, start out with simple recipes when you first start, too. You can hide a lot of brewing flaws in a whiskey barrel-aged imperial stout with chocolate and chile peppers, but you don’t learn much about your brewing prowess in doing so. Start out with a pale ale or a wheat beer. Those are fairly transparent styles that will give you a good idea if you’re controlling your process enough to avoid off flavors or fermentation flaws.

Jeremy Danner, ambassador brewer at Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Mo.

close-up shot of wort ready to be fermented

Wort ready to ferment for a batch of beer | Source: iStock

Being thoroughly clean and using enough healthy yeast to properly ferment your beer are the most important parts to making great beer at home. Once you have those bases covered, brew the beers that keep you motivated to make your next beer. Home brewing should be fun!

Patrick Rue, Master Cicerone and CEO and Founder of The Bruery in Placentia, Calif.

Start small and borrow from home brewer friends and contact as many pro brewers as you can. They love talking and sharing, or at least most of them. It’s kind of bragging rights, too.

Don’t sweat expensive stainless equipment at first. Just a pot and a stove or propane turkey burner. Start with extract and you can do grain in a bag if you like as well. Use your sink with ice to cool down the pot.

Get a bucket or glass carboy to ferment it. I recommend a glass carboy. They’re more expensive, $35 or more, but you can watch the fermentation and settling. Glass is easier to clean and also won’t harbor any unwanted bacteria or yeast from a scratch like plastic does.

Fermentation is the key. Understanding fermentation is, to me, the most critical part in the overall process. Then of course, just being 100% clean and sanitary.

Karl Spiesman, owner and brewer at Brick and Barrel in Cleveland

The best tip I would give to first-time home brewers is to be very compulsive with cleaning. A sanitized setup from brewing to bottling is critical to ensure your beer will have the best taste possible. All of the other factors, such as recipe formulation, refining the brewing process and efficiency, and choosing the right ingredients are all secondary. All of these factors mentioned are worthless if your beer is exposed to bacteria or other nasty microbes.

Once you have cleaning at the top of your priority with every part of the brewing and bottling process, you’re sure to enjoy the journey you’re about to embark on as the beers will only get better with time and practice.

Quintin Cole, co-owner of Vice District Brewing in Chicago

Follow Christine on Twitter @christineskopec

More from Culture Cheat Sheet: