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Brewing Basics

Diving in to the Home Brew Hobby

Since the dawn of agriculture, people have been brewing beer in the comfort of their own homes. From women in the colonial times and our Nation's founding fathers to today's leadership and the famous White House Honey Ale, home brewing is a deeply rooted hobby in the United States.

Today, the American Home Brewer's Association estimates there are nearly 1.2 million enthusiasts who brew beer from the comfort of their home at least once a year. Recognizing that today's home brewers are tomorrow's brewers, we continually dedicate ourselves to providing the highest quality hop products to brewers of any size.

If you're just getting started in the hobby, great! We're excited you have chosen to pursue the art of brewing and hope you find this page to be a great resource. While you're here, browse the FAQ's to learn more about the process or dive right in and visit our store locator page to find an authorized Hopunion home brew retailer near you!


  • How long does it take?

    From start to finish, brewing a batch of beer takes approximately 4 weeks.

    • Brewing - 2-3 hours
    • Fermentation - 1-3 weeks
    • Bottling - about an hour
    • Bottle Conditioning - 2-4 weeks

    Drink and enjoy!
  • What type of equipment do I need?

    In order to get started, you'll want to make sure that you have the following items on hand. If you don't already have these at home, they can be purchased individually, or in a starter kit, at your local home brew supply store.

    The Essentials

    • Stove and running water (or additional heat source)
    • 1.5-5 gallon boil pot (the bigger the better)
    • Plastic or metal stirring spoon (again, the bigger the better)
    • Can opener
    • Strainer
    • Measuring cup
    • Small bowl (for measuring yeast)
    • Food-grade plastic bucket with tight fitting lid (or glass carboy)
    • Air lock
    • Thermometer (calibrated to withstand high heat)
    • Racking cane
    • Bottling bucket with spigot at bottom
    • Bottle filler
    • Bottle cleaning brush
    • Bottles
    • Bottle caps
    • Bottle capper
    • Unscented dish cleaner
    • Sanitizer (bleach with rinse or no-rinse sanitizer)

    Intermediate Equipment
    • Steeping bag
    • Immersion chiller
    • Scale
    • Hydrometer

    Advanced Equipement
    • Sparge pot
    • Pitcher
    • Secondary fermenter
    • Refractometer
    • Blow off system
    • BIAB bag
    • Mash tun
    • Fermentation chamber
    • Kegging system
  • What ingredients do I need?

    We like to encourage creativity during the brewing process. While craft brewers have been known to experiment with some pretty outrageous additives (herbs, spices, fruit, flowers, fish oil and more), there are really only 4 main ingredients you'll need: water, malt, yeast and of course...HOPS!

    Water

    • The best advice we can give to home brewers is know your water! Comprising 90-95% of beer, water is the most critical ingredient. Because minerals can affect the starch conversion of the mash and over chlorinated tap water can produce off flavors, it is essential to understand 3 main aspects:
      • Pre-treatment of off-odors and flavors
      • Mineral additions to enhance the flavor of the beer
      • Necessary mineral levels for good fermentation


    Malt & Malt Extract

    • Malt extract is made from malted barley or malted wheat and allows home brewers to skip the commercial brewing procedure known as mashing. It is the concentrated sugars extracted from brewing-grade malted barley that brewer's yeast consumes to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide (a process known as fermentation)
    • Malt extract comes in various forms, so when purchasing your ingredients, be sure to know your style of beer so that you can purchase the appropriate color of extract.
    • Although it is not required, specialty malts can be added to your home brew to create different styles of beers.You can also avoid using extracts by mashing malted, base grains (all-grain brewing).


    Yeast

    • Brewer's yeast (genus: Saccharomyces) is an essential ingredient in the brewing process because it makes beer by converting sugars from the malt or malt extract into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
    • In addition to alcohol and CO2, different yeasts can product other compounds such as esters, fusel alcohols, ketones and various phenolics and fatty acids. All things considered, the type of yeast used is one of the biggest differentiating factors between beer styles.
    • Brewer's yeast is usually classified into 2 major categories: ale and lager, and sold in two forms: dried and liquid.
      • Ale yeast is a top fermenting yeast that ferments at warmer temperatures (60-85°F) and typically produces very fruity flavors.
      • Lager yeast is a bottom fermenting yeast that ferments at cooler temperatures (as low as 40°F), producing neutral flavors and aromas.


    Hops

    • Hops are the "spice of beer."  They are female flowers from the plant, humulus lupulus. Hops can be purchased as either whole flowers (raw hops) or pellets and contribute bitterness, flavor and aroma to beer. With more than 120 varieties available, there is a hop variety for every flavor and style. We encourage you to be creative, but be aware that certain hops are often used for specific styles of beer.
    • Hops are generally classified into two main categories: alpha and aroma. Some varieties feature characteristics of both, earning dual purpose status.
      • High alpha, bittering hops, are added early in the boil process and provide bitterness to help balance the sweetness from the malt. The boil cuases a chemical change, isomerzation, to occur, allowing the non-bitter, insoluble resins of the female hop cones to become highly bitter and dissolve into the wort.
      • Dual purpose hops, or flavor hops, can be added in the middle of the boil to contribute both bitterness and flavor.
      • Aroma hops, or finishing hops are added near the end of the oil and contribute flavor or aroma to the beer. Dry hopping (adding hops directly to the fermenter after fermentation is complete) will provide additional flavor and strong aroma.
    • Hops are typically available to home brewers in two forms: whole and pellet. Each form has its own pros and cons, so we encourage you to make yourself familiar with both and then choose what works best for your and brews.


  • Can I add additional ingredients to my beer?

    Absolutely!

    Although the four essential ingredients in beer making are water, malt, yeast and hops, the options and opportunities to incorporate unique ingredients into your beer are endless!

    In the craft industry, artisan brewers pride themselves on creating innovative beers with unique, non-traditional ingredients. While fresh fruits and spices are a common, more bizarre ingredients such as licorice, herbs and chili peppers have been making their way into mainstream beers. The sum of these ingredients not only inspire diversity within the industry, they endow each beer with unique, and often unexpected, flavor profiles. 

    While the question addresses whether or not you CAN add additional ingredients to your beer, it doesn't mean you SHOULD. On a macro level, many industrial breweries are criticized for their use of additional grains and sugars (known as adjuncts) to cut costs. In addition to adjuncts, there are chemical additives and preservatives, including more than 50 antioxidants, foam enhancers and enzymes. These ingredients are all permitted under US law, however, most small brewers in the craft industry pride themselves are staying true to the nature of the tradition of beer, excluding any type of additives and preservatives.

    In your next brew, we encourage you to embrace the spirit of craft and explore ingredients that cater to your palette, whether they be traditional or on the leading edge.
  • Where can I find a good recipe?

    As a home brewer, you are free to brew whatever style of beer you want, whenever you want.

    With that said, there are some recipes that lend themselves to beginning brewers. An excellent resource is the American Homebrewers Association. They have three recommendations for brand new brewers including a German-style Wheat Beer (Weizen), Phil Keener's Belgian Dubble, and a Polka Dot Pilsner, in addition to beer recipes for any beer style and experience level.

    You can check out websites like Brewtoad, Brew Your Own, and HomeBrewTalk.com for more great home brew recipe suggestions. There are plenty of websites devoted to home brewing recipes so get out and explore!

  • What much beer will be produced from one recipe?

    The great thing about home brewing is that it can be customized for almost any batch size. Typically, home brew batches range from 5-10 gallons (with 5 being the most popular), however, many brewers enjoy small batch brewing producing 1 gallon at a time. Our best advice is to find what works best for you and then make sure that you have the equipment and ingredients to accommodate both the recipe and the batch size.

    For the math fans, here's the breakdown on how much beer will be produced per gallon. 1 gallon = 128 ounces = 10 2/3 beers (12 oz serving size)