A guide to home brewing: how to make your own beer and wine

Ally Head
Photo credit: John Peabody - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

So, you’re keen to try your hand at home brewing? Did you know that making your own wine and beer at home may have begun as early as 7,000 BC? That’s what engravings on ancient Chinese artefacts suggest. Homemade alcoholic beverages were made by fermenting hawthorns, grapes, honey and rice and, as time’s gone on, brewing has continued to be a way for people to enjoy their favourite drinks without having to buy at higher prices.

“Making booze at home offered bang for your buck. Generally speaking, the overall quality of the product was less important than the alcoholic hit it provided for mere pennies”, says Claire Russell, co-founder of Home Brewtique, a small batch home brewing kits company.

But home brewing has come a long way since then, evolving and expanding to offer new and exciting opportunities for beer and wine fans eager to get inventive from home. “In recent years as the landscape has changed, so too has the quality and opportunity for at home brewing. With beer, we’re no longer confined to a ‘dilute and ferment’ style of brewing, using mass produced tins of sticky extract. Plus, the rise of boutique craft breweries across the globe inspires you to taste new styles and replicate some of these flavours in your own kitchens,” shares Claire. In other words, home brewing has become a bit of an artisanal pursuit.

With 187,000,000 Google pages covering the topic, from what kit you’ll need, to step-by-step how to guides, it can feel like a bit of a minefield, so we’re here with everything you need to know. Whether you’re a beer lover or more of a wine connoisseur, we spoke to two of the industry’s most prominent experts to make sure you’ve got the best of both worlds.

Why should you start home brewing?

For the creativity, exploration and fun, says Claire. “A large part of the joy of home brewing is the creative process and what you can learn from it. Mistakes are an important element and, ultimately, make you a better brewer, as you understand the consequences of your errors.”

Howard Smith, co-founder of urban winery Renegade London, agrees. “People who love food learn how to cook. You’ll learn more about wine, beer and home brewing in a week of making it than you will in three years of learning about how to taste it.”

He explains that the process of actually learning to make anything, especially wine or beer, teaches you invaluable lessons about the important minute details of the brewing process. Take different yeast strains, for example—“they make a monumental difference to the final product, and yet they’re never talked about”, shares Howard.

Simply put, clue yourself up on the science of wine and beer fermentation and you’ll enter a whole new world of learning and understanding.

How to home brew beer: your complete guide

Now is the perfect opportunity to give home brewing a go—you’ve likely got a fair few weeks at home on the cards, and so also have more time for creative and productive at-home activities.

What you’ll need to get started:

Home brewing beer kit

Claire recommends using an All-Grain Starter Kit, like the ones sold on Home Brewtique. “These provide the equipment you’ll need, plus a raw ingredient recipe that has been tried and tested.”

You can, of course, order kit on your own, but Claire advises that using one that’s organised by brewers for you will help to give you the confidence to know that if you follow the process, the result should be successful. If you’re keen to source all equipment yourself, you’ll need the following:

  • An extra large pot (ideally aluminium or stainless steel, BPA chemical free and with a wide mouth. Some call this the ‘brewpot’)
  • A bottling bucket or two (to assist you in bottling your beer—plastic buckets will do)
  • A funnel (as above)
  • An elasticated top to fit over your pot rim while brewing (to allow the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation to escape and prevent airborne chemicals from entering)
  • Some new or recycled beer bottles (Home Brewtique recommends 12 x 330ml)
  • Your ingredients (more on this later)
  • Bottle caps
  • A capper

Not essential but recommended:

  • A brew bag, to keep your ingredients in
  • A measuring cup
  • A large spoon for stirring
  • A large strainer

Home brewing beer ingredients

Depending on what type of beer you’d like to make and what flavour you’re after, you can experiment with a whole heap of ingredients, but the basic bits you’ll need are:

  • Crushed malted grains (but you can also use malted grains, dried malt extract or liquid extract)
  • Sugar
  • Hops (ideally pellets or whole flower hops, called ‘leaf’ hops)
  • Brewing yeast (dry yeast is easiest to use for beginner brewers)

It’s also worth investing in the right sanitising products here. So much of home brewing is about making sure the right bacteria stays in the pot and the wrong bacteria stays out.

Home brewing beer instructions

The six main basic steps are simple, says Claire.

  1. CLEAN - Sterilise all of the equipment you’ll be using.
  2. MASH - Steep some crushed malted grains in water for an hour at around 65-69°C.
  3. BOIL - Remove the grains and boil the sugar water (now called wort) for an hour, adding your hops at certain points.
  4. CHILL - Cool your wort and transfer to a fermenter.
  5. FERMENT - Add the yeast and leave to ferment for 10-14 days.
  6. CARBONATE - Add your brewer’s sugar and transfer your beer into bottles.
  7. DRINK - After another two weeks, pop the bottles in the fridge to chill.

And enjoy!

How to home brew wine: your complete guide

Next up: your guide to home brewing wine. As a longstanding wine expert and founder of one of London’s only urban wineries, Howard knows a lot about wine. He says it’s important to remember here that you’ll be able to make a ‘wine’ from basically any fruit with a high enough sugar percentage—think plums, blackberries and damsons. This is because the fermentation process takes natural sugars and allows the yeast to turn that sugar into carbon dioxide, alcohol and heat.

While some experts do advise giving it a go, he’s firm in his stance that making traditional wine from grapes in the UK isn’t the best idea. “Do try your hand at making ‘wine’ from other fruit, as you’ll learn so much about the fermentation process, but I wouldn’t advise trying with British grapes. The type you get in shops and supermarkets here are nothing like the grapes that would make wine—they’re generally about flavour and sweetness, not about structure, acidity and tannins”, he explains.

What you’ll need to get started:

Home brewing wine kit

Similarly to home brewing beer, Howard recommends investing in an at-home brew kit for peace of mind, more than anything.

However, as a basic rule of thumb for if you’d like to order your own kit, you’ll need the following:

  • Two buckets
  • Two lids with grommets
  • Two airlocks
  • A glass thermometer
  • A syphon set
  • A hydrometer
  • Wine corks
  • Shrink capsules
  • Wine bottles

Not essential but recommended:

  • An auto corker

Home brewing wine ingredients

  1. Freshly squeezed juice from whatever fruit you choose to make wine from
  2. Sugar (honey, brown or white sugar will work)
  3. Wine yeast (baker’s yeast will yield a cloudier wine)
  4. Water

Some experts will recommend you add chemicals such as Campden tablets to slow oxidation, alongside other things like yeast nutrients, enzymes, tannins, acids and other extras, but these are not essential and certainly not necessary for a first timer winemaker.

Home brewing wine instructions

The basic equation is as follows, shares Howard: sugar turns into alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat. “Whether you’re making wine out of plums, raspberries, damsons or anything, really, it’s the same process. The yeast eats the sugar and creates alcohol for you.”

He goes on to add that you can do your wine fermentation one of two ways: either by adding pre-bought yeast, or wild fermenting. If you decide to add yeast, there are lots of brewer’s yeasts and wine yeasts that you can buy and order online.

Or, if you decide to wild ferment, you use whatever yeasts are on the skins of the fruits or in the air at the start of fermentation. “We do that a lot as a winery as the flavours you get through wild fermentation are often a lot more complex and interesting”, shares Howard. However, he notes here that if you’re a home brewer or a winemaker, it’s a risky way to brew as the yeasts aren’t as strong and so tend to stop working after a while.

  1. CLEAN - Wash and sterilize everything you’ll be using for your brewing process. This is important to rid of unwanted bacteria that could make the wine ferment fail.
  2. PREPARE - Squeeze the juice from your fruit into your pot, and then add your water and yeast sachet.
  3. FERMENT - Cover your pot with a cloth and leave your mix to ferment for anywhere between a week and 10 days. During this time, the yeast will slowly turn both the fruit juice and sugar into alcohol. Don’t worry about bubbles coming through the airlock here—this is the carbon dioxide escaping.
  4. STRAIN - After your fermentation period, strain your wine to get rid of any froth and scum that has built up.
  5. RACKING - Now it’s time to separate the wine from as much sediment as possible. The best way to do this is to run your liquid through a funnel several times across a week or so, transferring into different airtight containers each time. By the end, you ideally want your wine to run ‘clear’, aka without sediment.
  6. MATURE - Leave your wine to mature for any length of time between four weeks and 12 months.

7 top tips for ensuring a successful home brew

So you’ve read the instructions and invested in (what you think is) the right kit. But before you start, glance over Claire and Howard’s top tips for newbie brewers.

Store your products correctly

When you’ve finished your brew, make sure you get rid of all the oxygen and store the fermented product in an airtight, sealed container. “Oxygen is the enemy of all alcoholic beverages under about 30 per cent”, Howard shares. Note here—it’ll turn to vinegar, otherwise.

Read the instructions

Hear, hear. “Check and double check that you have everything you need and inspect your equipment. Nothing can be more frustrating than getting part way through your brew only to discover that your fermenter is cracked, or your yeast is missing”, says Claire.

Watch the temperature

Be mindful of where you’re leaving your brew to ferment, Howard warns, as fermentation needs stable temperatures. “Anything above about 15 degrees is good for wine-based products.”

Try and try again

You know, like the old nursery rhyme about not succeeding. Practice makes perfect, in this instance, and a little patience goes a long way. Claire shares: “Brew a few times to understand the process and to know your own equipment. Gradually you will feel confident to make tweaks and changes to the recipe, eventually even creating your own recipes”.

Take notes

Not necessarily every time you brew, but a record of what worked (and didn’t) will only inform your brewing process over time. “If your timings were a little off or your temperatures were a little wrong, note it down and learn from the mistake for next time. With every brew, you’ll get better at controlling these elements”, Claire reassures.

Be careful of hygiene

In all types of drinks fermentation, hygiene is key, Howard says. “You’ve really got to make sure your fermentation tank or bottle is as clean as possible—ideally sterilize it”, he adds.

Enjoy yourself

Perhaps the most important part - enjoy yourself. The process is supposed to be fun and all-grain brewing can be surprisingly forgiving.

Ready? Set? Brew.

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Photo credit: Hearst Owned

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