How to Brew Your Own Beer in College and Impress All Your Friends
Beer is often a staple in the college student’s diet, but you won’t find it anywhere on your school’s meal plan. That’s why you can find so many students knocking back Natty Light and PBR — it’s dirt cheap, priced perfectly for a college student’s budget of almost zero. But at some point, you may actually start to care about what you’re drinking and realize that low quality beers may allow you to have fun, but they taste pretty gross. And while craft beer is delicious and even good for your health, it may be out of reach for most college students’ budgets.
So what’s a beer-loving college student to do when fizzy water won’t cut it, but good beer is just too much to pay for? It’s time to take up the time honored art of homebrewing! Homebrewing is legal, fun, and perhaps best of all, cheap. If you can boil water and scrub pots, you can homebrew, and it’s fun to do it with your friends. Read on to find out how you can make your very own beer-and become the life of the party.
Extract or All Grain?
For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume you want to create your beer using malt extract (a concentration of what is created from mashing grain malt) rather than all grain. Commercial breweries and advanced homebrewers typically brew all grain, which allows for more control over the ingredients, process, and flavor; however, extract brewing is easier for beginners, and perhaps most importantly for college students, can be brewed on a stovetop and contained inside your dorm room. If you decide to move on to all grain brewing, it is cheaper, but you may have to brew outside and upgrade a few pieces of equipment.
What You’ll Need
Your first brew will be your most expensive one, because there’s equipment to buy. None of it is terribly expensive on its own, but there are several pieces, so you may want to spread your purchases out over a few weeks, or take on homebrewing as a group project with your friends– you know they’ll want to drink your beer anyway!
The basic equipment for extract homebrewing includes:
- Five gallon brewing kettle (you may already have one in your kitchen!)
- Long handled spoon (you may also already have one of these)
- Six gallon fermenting bucket with lid
- Six gallon bottling bucket with spigot
- Fermentation lock
- Siphon tubing
- Bottle filler
- Bottle brush
- Bottle capper
- Bottle caps
You can assemble these items on your own, but it’s simpler and more fool-proof to just purchase a beginner brewing kit. These are available from MoreBeer, Northern Brewer, DeFalco’s, and many other online homebrew supply retailers. Starter kits will typically run from $60 to $80, more if they include a recipe kit. You may also discover that there’s a homebrew shop in your college town, which is preferable to ordering online. Stop by the shop to not only pick up equipment and ingredients, but also sage advice from veteran brewers before you get started.
For simplicity’s sake, we recommend purchasing a recipe kit from your local homebrew store or a popular online homebrew retailer. MoreBeer features economical beer kits that serve beers for under 50 cents a beer. Most recipe kits can be picked up for $20 to $30 each. These kits will make five gallons of beer, plenty to keep your dorm’s minifridge overflowing with beer bottles for quite some time.
If you’d prefer to build your own recipe and buy individual ingredients, plenty of experimentation can be done. Hundreds of beer recipes from breweries and other homebrewers are available. You can find them in homebrew books, which can be checked out free from your local library, as well as online. RateBeer offers reader-submitted recipes, including many that are clones of popular craft beers made by commercial breweries.
Before you dive headfirst into brewing, you’ll need to take just a few more steps. Block out several hours of time to brew, and invite some friends to join you to hang out and help. Then clean all of the dirty dishes out of your sink and get started sanitizing your equipment. Sanitizing is not the most fun part of brewing, but it’s essential. Dirty brewing equipment can mean infected beer, which means undrinkable beer that gets poured down the drain. Don’t skip this important step, or you may be pouring out five gallons of hard work for your homies.
- Making Wort
It’s time to get brewing. Bring three gallons of water to boil in your brewpot, then turn off the heat and stir in your malt extract. Stir the mixture (now known as wort) to be sure the extract is completely dissolved and none of it is stuck to the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat back on and start boiling again, stirring regularly to avoid scorching.
- Adding Hops and Finishing the Boil
Hops are used for flavoring, aroma, and stability in beer, imparting the great bitter quality that is well loved in many beers. You will add your bittering hops to the boil after your malt extract is dissolved, and let your wort boil for an hour. If you have finishing hops for aroma, you’ll add them in the last 15 minutes of the boil.
- (Not) Boiling Over
Boilovers are a bitch to clean up and a waste of good wort. Remember, you just poured malt extract syrup into this mix — you do not want to scrub it off your stove once the boil is done. Stay close by, stir frequently, and always be at the ready to turn down the heat. Boilovers can happen in a matter of seconds.
- Cooling Down
With a fully boiled wort, you’re almost ready to let your beer sit and work its magic. But first, you have to cool it down to a temperature that’s low enough for yeast to thrive. Remember when you cleaned all your roommate’s dirty dishes out of your sink? It’s time to use it again. Fill it with ice water, then immerse your pot in the cold bath to bring the temperature down as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence here, as your wort is now susceptible to off flavors and contaminants, and will be until you pitch your yeast. Some homebrewers use an immersion wort chiller so speed up this process.
- Yeast Pitch
It’s time to prepare your beer for fermenting. You’ll pour your cooled wort into a fermentation bucket. Don’t worry about being careful, you want to make some splashes inside the bucket to add oxygen for yeast growth. At this time you’ll also add an additional two gallons of water to bring your total gallons to five. This water should be pre-boiled for sanitation, or you can purchase distilled water from the grocery store. You will also add your yeast, which begins the fermentation process. Without yeast, you have no alcohol, and your beer will be pretty boring, so don’t skip this step!
- Waiting…and Waiting
You should store your fermentation bucket in a secure location where it will be undisturbed and have stable temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees, possibly higher, but no higher than 80 degrees. Once you’ve found a location, insert your airlock. Let your beer sit in the fermenter for two weeks. You’ll notice bubbling in the airlock after about 24 hours, which will continue, but decrease over time.
While you’re waiting, drink some beer and collect bottles…you’re going to need them.
Carbonation and Storage
- Kegging or Bottling?
Some homebrewers work on a keg system. It’s significantly easier — all you have to do is fill kegs and maintain CO2. The hardest part of kegging is building (or buying) a kegerator. Kegerators are awesome, but we’re assuming you don’t have room for an extra fridge and empty keg storage. Plus, bottling means you can give away beer to your friends. But if you have the space and resources for a keg system, by all means go for it. You’ll save yourself the enormous hassle of bottling.
You’re almost ready to drink beer. Even if you didn’t have a friend over for brew day, now’s the time to call in a favor, because you will probably find yourself wishing you had a few extra hands while bottling.
You’ll need to wash your used bottles and bottle caps, then soak them in a sanitizing solution. A dishwasher will come in handy here — just pop your bottles in upside down. Some homebrewers use flip top (Grolsch) bottles so they don’t have to buy caps. Have a Grolsch party while you wait for your beer to finish fermenting, and resist the temptation to go wild and break the bottles — you need them! Don’t forget to sanitize your bottling bucket while you’re working on bottles and caps.
Prepare your priming sugar, which will give your beer carbonation in the bottle. You’ll boil 2/3 cup of cane sugar in two cups of water, then cool and add to your bottling bucket. You will then use your siphon to carefully move your beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, being careful not to splash. You’ll want to swirl the siphon hose as you add beer to the bucket to mix it with the priming solution.
If you haven’t already, go ahead and taste your beer. It will be flat without carbonation, but there it is…your first beer! Resist the urge to drink it all right now — it gets better.
Using the bottle filler attachment on your siphon, fill your bottles with beer, and cap them with your bottle capper — you’ll probably want to split this responsibility with a friend. Store your bottles in the dark at about 65-75 degrees for about two weeks, but feel free to open a bottle or two along the way to see how it’s coming along. You’ll notice more carbonation and better balance of flavors as it conditions.
Congratulations, you’ve just made beer! It’s time to throw a party, impress all your friends with your brewing prowess, and start planning your next brew!