Introduction: How to Make Beer (Cheaply, Simply): Step-By-Step Guide

Picture of How to Make Beer (Cheaply, Simply): Step-By-Step Guide

This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics.

When it comes to beer, there's no lack of selection—despite Bud and Coors—for most beer-selling stores in the U.S. About 8.6 million barrels of craft beer were sold in 2008, and the number of artisanal beer suppliers in the U.S. is growing. With all this choice, you'd think fewer people would be brewing at home, right? Not exactly. Instead, the opposite seems to be trueestimates show that home brewing is on the rise in the U.S. And with good reason. DIY home brewing (after you get the equipment) is cheap. More than that, brewing your own is more satisfying than paying for another round. Next time you crack open a cold one—strained, heated and brewed by your own hand you'll understand. In this story, we walk through the steps to make a Belgian white ale. Ingredients and steps vary for different kinds of beer, but the basics are all here. Cheers.

Step 1: Make the Starter Wort

Picture of Make the Starter Wort

This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics.

Yeast is an essential part of the beer process. These fungi feast on sugars, making alcohol as they go. The more yeast cells at work, the better the job they do at making alcohol. In this first step of the beer-making process, the yeast cells get a head start, hungrily dividing and populating as they feast on dry malt extract.

2 quarts water
6 ounces dry malt extract
1 package instant starter wort

First, heat the water and malt to a boil for 10 minutes and then cool to 60 degrees F. You can check the temperature with a thermometer or by rule of thumb (it should be about room temperature).

Sanitize the gallon container with a no-rinse sterilizer or by following the manufacturer's instructions. Then, pitch the yeast by tossing in around 33 billion yeast cells (numbers depend on your starter kit) into the 60-degree wort. Cover the starter wort and put aside. Make sure the container is not airtight (aluminum foil will do the job).

Step 2: Make the Mash

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This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics.

Making a mash is not always necessaryyou can brew a perfectly good lager or ale with prepackaged malt extract. But for this recipe, we're going all out, with an all-grain beer we extract the sugars from the grain ourselves. The recipe we're following is for a beer in the Belgian white or "wit" sytle. It's called "Wit Ginger, Not Mary Ann," and was published by the esteemed beer-brewing magazine, Zymurgy.

11 pounds of grain
11 quarts of water

Our grains include 5 pounds Belgian pilsner malt, 4.5 pounds of German wheat malt, 1.0 pound of flaked oats, and 0.5 pounds of caramel pils malt.

Take the mash (all the ingredients above in a pot) and bring it up to 150 degrees F, keeping it at that exact temperature for 1 hour.

Test the mash: The point of mashing is to turn starches in the grain into sugars and extract them into a sweet liquor. After 1 hour, you want to make sure this process has taken place. Take out a spoonful of the water and grain mix and place a drop of iodine in it. The murky brown iodine will change to black in the presence of starchthis means you need to do some more mashing. If there's enough sugar, the color will remain the same.

Step 3: Straining and Sparging

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This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics

Step 3: Straining and Sparging
Pour the mash into a lauter tun, a big strainer used for separation of the extracted wort, to drain the sweet liquor from the grain. For our budget lauter tun, we drilled 1/8-inch holes into one 5-gallon bucket and placed this strainer on top of another 5-gallon bucket.

Capture the runoff liquor in your brewpot. This liquor is called the first runnings. Once all the liquor has run off, heat the rest of the water1/2 gallon per pound of grain at 180 degrees F (according to this recipe)over the grain in the lauter tun. Again capture the runoff (second runnings) in the brewpot.

The sweet liquor in the brewpot is now what's known as a wort, and it's ready to boil.

Step 4: The Boil

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This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics

Step 4: The Boil

1 ounce 4.8 percent alpha-acid Styrian Goldings hops
1/2 teaspoon of ginger
1 cinnamon stick

It's time to raise the wort to a vigorous boil. The boil kills offending bacteria or wild yeast and releases DMS, a chemical byproduct of heating that gives a flavor akin to sweet corn. During this process, watch carefully, as the wort is prone to boil over, resulting in a sticky mess that makes for a tough cleanup.

As soon as a boil is reached add the hops to the wort and continue to boil for 60 minutes. Hops added at this point in the process give beer its bitterness, because of the alpha acids that are extracted. Since Belgian wits aren't terribly bitter, our recipe called for just 1 ounce of 4.8 percent alpha-acid Styrian Goldings hops (the higher the percentage of alpha acids the more bitter the hops). In most beer recipes another addition of hops is made 2 to 5 minutes from before the end of the boil to give flavor and aroma. Our recipe forgoes these additions—wheat beers are light on the hop flavor—but it does call for an addition of 1/2 teaspoon of ginger and a cinnamon stick 5 minutes before the end of the boil.

Step 5: Cool the Beer and Pitch the Yeast

Picture of Cool the Beer and Pitch the Yeast

This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics

Step 5: Cool the Beer and Pitch the Yeast

Boiling wort should be cooled as quickly as possible since the cooling period is the time when the beer is most vulnerable to microorganisms present in the air. Cooling can be achieved with a wort chiller, like the one pictured here, or by dipping the brewpot into a sink full of ice water. Do not add ice directly to the beer.

The beer should be cooled to 68 degrees F, strained and transferred to a sanitized carboy, where the beer will stay through its first few days of fermentation.

Affix a blowoff tube to the top of the carboy—the other end of it should be placed under a couple inches of water to seal it from the outside environment while the carbon dioxide escapes. You'll start to see a vigorous fermentation at anywhere from 8 to 26 hours into the process.

After one week, visible fermentation will have subsided and the wort should be transferred (via a siphon) to another sanitized container. Our recipe called for the addition of a vanilla bean at this stage. Two weeks after this transfer the beer should be bottled.

Step 6: Bottling

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This instructables was first published in Popular Mechanics

Step 6: Bottling

First things first, everything the beer touches (bucket, siphon, bottling wand, bottles) should be sanitized before you begin the bottling process. Don't slack off here, else your beer could pick up flavors you don't want.

Take 3/4 cup of corn sugar and boil it for 15 minutes in a pint of water. Cool the sugar water and add it to the bottom of a bottling bucket. Then transfer the beer to this bucket. The sugar water gives the yeast something to eat while inside the sealed bottle for a final stage of fermentation, where the beer gets its characteristic bubbles. After two weeks at room temperature, the beer should be fully carbonated and ready to be drink.


keithmaillasse (author)2016-04-11

This video helps a lot too

mikeread (author)2009-10-26

If i make a batch of this how much will it cost (per quart if you could)?

discontinuuity (author)mikeread2009-10-27

When I make homebrew it usually costs about $1 US per 12 ounce beer.  You can spend more or less depending on what kind of quality you want.

DonaldJ3 (author)discontinuuity2015-12-15

That's not very cheap if you ask me.

teradon (author)discontinuuity2009-10-27

If you can't make your beer for less that buying it (about $.83/bottle), then it is not cheap beer.   I would like to see a way to make it from cheap bulk ingredients, rather than buying high priced ingredients from brewing shops.  Wheat and barley grain can be gotten very cheaply from feed stores.

Also I would like to see the price per bottle cited in this article, and a source for the "cheap" beer ingredients.   I would like to see 20-30 cents per bottle as a goal.

Yes, I know it is "better" beer, but I want it cheap.


danb35 (author)teradon2011-02-21

If you buy a "kit" containing malt extract from, say, Midwest Supplies (a fairly popular and well-regarded online/mail-order homebrew shop, at, you'll make 5 gallons of a very similar beer (Belgian Wit style, though you'd have to come up with your own ginger) for $29.  That works out to $0.55 per 12-ounce bottle.  The process will be quite a bit less involved than the all-grain method posted here, but the cost per bottle will be higher.

If you buy an all-grain kit from the same source, it will cost $23, for $0.43/bottle.  That's just over half the cost you cite for buying it.

If you follow this recipe, and buy your grains and other ingredients from Midwest, you'd pay $7.50 for 5 lb. of Pilsner malt, $5.50 for 5 lb. of pale wheat malt (and have half a pound left over), $1.25 for a pound of flaked oats, and $0.75 for the caramel malt.  Total of $15 for the grain.  Add another $2 for the hops and another $3 or so for yeast (depending on the exact variety, which I didn't see specified), and you're at $20 even plus a stick of cinnamon and a half teaspoon of ginger.  That comes to $0.37/bottle.

Of course, if you buy in larger quantities (as you suggest), the price per bottle goes down--but even for a 5-gallon batch, it's quite a bit less than buying the beer pre-made, at least if you ignore your time and the cost of equipment.

tashiandmo (author)teradon2009-10-28

Brewing requires malted grains, not just regular grains from the feedstore.  I've heard of some feedstores being able to order malted barley from their suppliers, but very few if any carry it.  Unless you're willing to buy more than 2000 lbs at a time, the cheapest you're going to find malted barley is about $30/ 50lb bag.  Unless you live close enough to a malt distributor to be able to pick it up, the shipping costs can be a real killer.  Some homebrewing clubs have enough members that they get low rates and cheap freight by buying full pallets of malt.

If you drink mass produced lagers, brewing your own beer won't save you any money.  If you drink craft beers at $6-$10 per sixpack, or $3-$10 per 22oz bomber, then brewing could save you a little money.  I buy my grains and hops in bulk, and re-pitch my yeast 7-8 times.  Most of the beers I brew are higher gravity and highly hopped, so even buying in bulk it costs about $0.75 -$0.95 per 12 oz beer.  The rare times I brew more standard beers, it runs about $0.55 per bottle.  I really think that's close to as cheap as it gets for brewing at home.  It also took me a long time and many batches before I found suppliers and developed a system that allows me to be this cost effective.

If cost is your main concern, the mass produced swill at your local liquor store is cheaper and much less work.  The amazing beers and great fun to be had brewing at home are worth the cost and effort for me, but probably not for someone just looking to save some money.

beavercleaver (author)tashiandmo2010-12-18

I agree, brewing your own is about the fun of doing it. If you want a cheap buzz, wine is probably the easiest and cheapest to make by volume. I even believe there is an instructable for stove top schnapps that only involves 1 big pot with a wok filled with ice that collects the alcohol as it boils and drips off the bottom into a waiting jar.

beavercleaver (author)teradon2010-12-18

The only way to accomplish that goal is through bulk purchasing of ingredients. Search for brewing clubs that are near your home, or even online, ingredients could be bought in large quantities and then shipped to a central location for division.

uglymike (author)teradon2009-10-29

I've been brewing for about 10 years, but I brew using malt extracts (skipping the first three steps of this instructable) and I usually spend from $30 - $40 for a 5 gallon batch (good for about 2 cases of finished beer)  so about $15 - $20 a case.  Local prices vary, but this places it at a very reasonable cost, and considerable less than buying a 6-pack of a decent microbrew.  The hardest part is a month or more to enjoy your beer.

el greeno (author)2015-06-08

In step 5, you forgot to mention adding the starter wort before moving to the carboy.

rmarsh (author)2011-07-20


driesyo (author)2009-10-26

beer need to be yeasting for 3 weeks not 2 that expresions the flaver 
and extands the life  

cygyfish (author)driesyo2009-11-11

Need is pretty subjective.  Fermentation times are dependent upon a multitude of factors including beer style, tempature, yeast strain, gravity, etc.

One of my beers ferments for 1 week only and is bottled.  It has a LOT of flavor and extending the life is no big deal around my house.

I do have other beers that will use a primary, secondary and a tertiary fermentation and will be in fermentors for up to 5 weeks and then many months aging.

beavercleaver (author)cygyfish2010-12-18

The only way to extend the life of a beer at my house would be to hide it from me.

malexander (author)2009-10-29

I have a sensitivity to wheat. How easy is it to make/purchase a mash without any wheat products?

tashiandmo (author)malexander2009-10-30

Most beer recipe's only use various barley malts, and no wheat. 

WoundedEgo (author)tashiandmo2009-11-05

Mexican Chicha is made with corn.

And, of course, wine is made with fruit.

EmmettO (author)WoundedEgo2009-11-11

 Where can I obtain this Chicha?

thejazzer (author)EmmettO2010-01-03

 Chicha is made by chewing the grain (corn) and spitting it out so the enzyme in human saliva will turn the carbohydrates in to sugar. Are you sure you want to try it?

beavercleaver (author)thejazzer2010-12-18

Brewmasters, a new show just out and filmed at the Fish Head Brewery has a episode dedicated to the making of Chicha. I have a weak stomach and could never swallow something made with my own fermented saliva, but they had 30 employees chewing and spitting into a bucket to make this stuff.

discontinuuity (author)thejazzer2010-03-18

It's typically cooked afterwards, so there's no bacteria from the spit.  Still a little gross.

EmmettO (author)malexander2009-10-30

Redbridge is a beer made from amaranth and is gluten free. You could either buy that or try to make this recipe with amaranth. I was thinking of trying to follow the recipe with rice. . . just because I'd like to try that. I wonder if without the hops it would be like Sake and what it would taste like with the hops. If it would taste like beer at that point. I'd like to try it one day when I get the time both ways.

I could probably just make one big batch until the "add hops" step.

Maybe it would be awful, maybe it would be really good. Who knows until you try!

beavercleaver (author)EmmettO2010-12-18

Budweiser uses rice in their beer, gives it a clean refreshing flavor.

discontinuuity (author)EmmettO2010-03-18

I think amaranth is more commonly called sorghum molasses, and can be found at most homebrew stores.

cygyfish (author)EmmettO2009-11-11

No to be too technical but beer without hops is not beer.  Could call it a fermented malt beverage or an Ale but not beer.

A fermented beverage using all or mostly rice with no hops would be rice wine or Sake.

discontinuuity (author)cygyfish2010-03-18

Lots of herbs and spices were used to make beer before hops were commonplace.  Check out for info about ancient European beers. 

But if you're definition of beer is the Reinheitsgebot, then I suppose you're right.

EmmettO (author)cygyfish2009-11-11

I understand, I'm just saying I'd like to try it. Right after I finish renovating my house, finish that webapp I've been working on, learn to program my Arduino, try glassblowing, improve my wax molding skills for metalcasting, finish building my workshop, make a wood fired pizza oven. . . am I forgetting anything?

Redbridge is amaranth and hops. Its gluten free because amaranth and hops don't have gluten, it's the wheat or barley that contain the gluten. I'd like to try fermenting a Sake like substance weather it's beer or not. Just because.

Romanader (author)EmmettO2009-11-18

You sir are a very busy man. You totally belong here at Instructables! It's good to see people with broad horizons.

cygyfish (author)malexander2009-11-11

This style uses wheat in the grain bill but most beer recipes use only barley (and occasionally rice, rye, corn or oats.)

Phillip Gross (author)2010-04-19

Does anybody know how much water to add to a bushel of malt

kempoka8h (author)2010-03-31

I use hop flavored malt extract, commonly available in the local grocery stores. Out of one $6.75 can, I can usually make about 18 to 20 liters of beer. I fortify it with a little corn sugar, and use readily available lager yeast. Sometimes, I'll also add a little bulgar wheat, oatmeal or rice... or sometimes a little of all of it, as well as a few raisins! It fermentsfor 8 or 9 days, then I prime the botles with a little sugar (either a cinnamon drop or a lemon drop per bottle), then bottle it. A week or two later, it's ready to chill and drink - and it is fantastic! Paired up with my homemade sourdough bread, it's a really yummy combination!

jolosantana (author)2010-01-26

I like this page. i am from Puerto Rico and I want to open a new beer company in here. We have just one kind of local beer in here and i want to know where I can find information to open and buy all the materias that I need. We have a lotsof beers here from the world but we have just one local beer and I want to make one and open a new company for this industry. Any help is apreciate.......

21bose (author)2009-11-05

Im not completely sure on this step on what you mean by capturing the first runnings? i thought you just strained all the grain out of the mixture?

richarpo (author)2009-10-31

The advantage of brewing your own is that you can put lots of hops in, so that it has plenty of flavour. The mass-market brewers would not do that because they are catering to the market that just wants beer to taste like water so you can drink it without noticing anything.

Bartboy (author)2009-10-31

I did this once for a school project, I got 99%

Yerboogieman (author)2009-10-29

We just made a bunch of beer. We bottled a case on Sunday.

Rahere (author)2009-10-29

Living in Brussels, the home of the geuze beer this aims at, they actually do pretty much the opposite: it's a natural ferment from the local airborne yeasts. Takes a bit longer though, a couple of weeks - naturally, you're better off just downwind from the brewery.

t.rohner (author)Rahere2009-10-29


The author was talking about wit beer, not geuze. Something like "Hoegaarden Wit", where they add coriander and bitter orange peels.
It is fermented with yeast in large amounts and later a lactobacter culture is added. This gives it the refreshing sourness. "Berliner Weisse" is fermented the same way.

Geuze is a blend of lambic beers in different states of maturation.
And you are right, the lambics are fermented with natural airborne yeast / bacteria in the Senne valley near Brussels. (I wouldn't try this at home, except i'd live there.)

I have brewed some 400 batches (50l / 15gal) in the last 10 years.  All made with yeast, like the author suggests. (We are using dry yeasts for some beers with very good results, but the selection is much smaller.)

driesyo (author)Rahere2009-10-29

its tru i sad it bi4you belgium 4 life (usa to)

EagleScout2007 (author)2009-10-29

I think some people got up on the wrong side of the bed this week. This man is just giving you ideas and you're picking him to pieces. If you don't like the article, go away.
Thank you for your hard work showing people that appreciate your work how to brew beer. I have been considering it for my husband.
Take care and again, thank you!

Weissensteinburg (author)2009-10-25

Are you the author of the original version in popular mechanics? If not, have you gotten permission from them?

Just an FYI, it's illegal to copy it over, even though you gave credit.

lemonie (author)Weissensteinburg2009-10-26

If you look at the original article it is credited to Tyghe Trimble and Chris Pagnotta. I'd say that tyghe is one of those people.


Weissensteinburg (author)lemonie2009-10-26

Ah, good observation! Interesting name, too.

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