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Really, how do make beer?

Whether you are new to home brewing or a seasoned expert, having the correct beer making supplies will significantly impact your final product. The correct beer making supplies will also make the brewing process easier – they can help make sure brewing your own beer is fun and not a chore. AND, that is what this should be – FUN – Right?

For starters, this page is about the stuff that gets used up when you make beer. If you are looking for the hardware you use over and over, check out the beer making equipment page.

Really, how do make beer?

What Makes Beer?

Water  +   Sugar   +   Hops   +   Yeast   =   BEER

WATER

Let’s start with the ingredient that makes up more than 90% of beer – WATER. How important is the water you put in your beer? Very! But, don’t worry about it too much. (How did you like that answer?) Since water makes up so much of the volume of beer, it can affect the flavor. However, for a large majority of beer brewers out there, ordinary tap water is fine. If your water straight from the tap tastes okay, then it is okay to use it as one of your beer making supplies. Probably the biggest complaint most people have about their tap water is the chlorine taste and odor. This water is also fine to use for your beer. If it seems excessive, then let the water “air out” for a while, or better yet, boil the water before using.

If you do not like the taste of your tap water, then use your favorite bottled or filtered water. VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT use distilled water. Distilled water has so much stuff removed, like minerals, that help give a beer its flavor. Filtering your water with good counter-top or sink mounted filter will remove many bad flavors and odors, but will still keep the minerals for flavor. My tap water is a bit on the chlorine flavored side (okay, sometimes it’s more like pool water than tap water); so I filter my water. I have used the PUR counter-top water filter in the past with good results. But if you want ultra-clean water (with just the right touch of mineral flavor) for your beer I recommend using a reverse osmosis system.

For the brew master that wants to mimic the beers known for their water, a number of additives can be used to get that distinctive flavor. This is also a great way to create your own personalized flavor. Using this technique, you can start with distilled water and mix in the additives to get the flavor you want.

SUGAR

Sugar, or more specifically – fermentable sugar, is what eventually becomes the alcohol in beer (with a little help from the yeast). Once bottled, it is sugar (and yeast)that will give the beer carbonation. The most common form of sugar for making beer is malted barley – a naturally processed form of barley. The barley is also very important for the flavor of the beer. Other sugars can be used or obtained from corn, rice, wheat, rye, and other grains. These generally have less flavor than barley and can be used to lighten the flavor of beer. In a pinch, ordinary table sugar can be used; but, don’t consider this as one of your normal beer making supplies.

Most homebrewers will get their malted barley as part of a beer kit or as a malt extract. This is very convenient since the process of malting barley can be a bit of a pain. You can get the malt extract as a dry powder or you can get it as a syrup. If you are a true purist you can get the barley grain and malt the barley yourself. You may be able to get the barley milled for you or you can do it yourself with a grain mill.

Some beer recipes will also call for priming sugar or corn sugar.

However you get your barley malt or other sugar source, this is definitely part of your beer making supplies that you cannot do without.

HOPS

Hops are added to the beer mix mainly for flavor. Hops are bitter and will help balance out the sweetness from the malt. Hops also act as a natural preservative to keep the beer from spoiling and help keep a nice head on the beer. If you brew using a beer kit, the hops may have already been added. You can also get the hops separately. They will usually come as pellets which is a processed form that helps keep them from spoiling and makes them easier to use.

Just a note – hops are not a necessary part of your beer making supplies. You can make beer without hops. However, you are probably used to drinking beers with a hop flavor, so you will probably want to add some. Experiment with how much and which kind. The alpha acid content listed with each type of hop is its bittering potential – the higher the content the greater the potential.

YEAST

The final ingredient needed for making beer is yeast. It is the yeast that converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide (which is what will carbonate the beer in the bottle). Any kind of yeast will do this with sugar. However, each different kind of yeast imparts a certain flavor on the brew. Most wild yeast will make for a very unpleasant beer. Don’t just use any kind of yeast. There is special yeast cultured just for making beer (as well as special yeast for wine and bread making as well). Beer yeast comes in two forms: ale yeast and lager yeast.

As with the other beer making supplies, there is a large selection of yeasts to choose from. Like the malt extract, you can get dry yeast as well as liquid yeast. Each one will give the final brew a different flavor. Most kits will come with the yeast. Yeast is a must have in your beer making supplies.

Other beer making supplies

There are a number of other beer making supplies that can be used to make your beer. You may want to add flavoring to your beer such as spice flavors or fruit flavors.

Don’t forget bottles, bottle caps, and labels.