In 1978, Jimmy Carter signed a bill that legalized home brewing in the United States. Many argue that this action alone transformed the United States, over just a few decades, from one of the worst producers of beer in the world to the one of the best, especially of craft beer.
Home-brewed beer is often exceptional. Because you normally deal in batches of five to six gallons, you can give each brew more attention and detail than even a microbrewery has the time or ability to do. And you can experiment. At the worst, you might end up with a bad-tasting beer; it’s nearly impossible to make anything dangerous to your health.
Home-brewed beer is no more difficult than baking sourdough bread. If you can follow instructions, and assemble a few of the right tools, you can brew at home. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian is perhaps the best book on the subject, offering not only simple beginning brews, but also novice and expert methods and recipes. If you prefer your advice dished up live, there are groups that meet, chat and share knowledge; check out the Tucson Homebrew Club.
It is always great to start brewing with someone who already knows how, and usually a brewer doesn’t mind having you help, as in the process of brewing, two sets of hands are better than one.
Although there are many recipes and styles of beer, the brewing process generally consists of four basic stages:
Brewing: The actual brewing starts when you boil grains, usually barley, in water. The boiling process extracts the flavor from the ingredients (grains, hops, and whatever other ingredients you may add) and also sterilizes your wort, what brewers call the product you end up with prior to adding yeast.
Fermentation: After the wort has cooled, it is siphoned into a glass vessel (called a carboy) that will omit oxygen. This is when the yeast is “pitched” or added to the wort. Often, after a few weeks, the fermenting liquid may be siphoned into another carboy, leaving behind the senescent yeast cells that collect on the bottom.
Bottling and secondary fermentation: When the fermentation process is more or less finished in the carboy, the mixture is mixed with “priming” sugars and bottled.
Aging: The added sugars will reinvigorate the yeast in the bottle. Because the bottles are sealed, and no gasses can escape, the beer becomes carbonated. After a few weeks, your beer is ready for drinking.