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




Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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    44 Discussions

    This video helps a lot too

    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.

    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.


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

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

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

    2 replies

    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.

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

    4 replies

     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?