Home brewing is the art of turning just about anything into something alcoholic. It's not just "the last resort of students who want to get hammered", though it can be used as such. It's quite fun, not to mention rewarding to make and bottle your own vintage. Personally, I prefer to brew wines made from various fruits and other substances rather than beers and their cousins. One of the easiest drinks to brew that pretty much always provides a quite palatable 10-13% wine is mead. If you're interested, check out my mead recipe (soon!). Distillation of homebrew is also fun.

Far from being undrinkable apart from by impoverished students, tramps and eccentrics, home brewed beer can appeal to the drinks connoisseur, equalling or exceeding the quality of what is available commercially. It's also a fun hobby, which gains many friends.


  • Get the co-operation, sympathy and/or support of your partner and flatmates.
  • You will need undisturbed space to keep the beer while it is fermenting, and for the bottles afterwards.
  • Start hoarding your empties! Whereas normally, you would be taking your bottles to the bottle bank, store them so that you will have something to put your beer into.
  • Patience. Beer is a living organism, it needs time to grow.
  • See also the list of equipment below.

Obtaining the ingredients

As with cookery, there are different levels of sophistication required depending on the starting point, and amount of preparation. It is as well to start with brew kits, to gain confidence and experience, then get some help or do some research to obtain different beer recipes.

  1. Brew kits. These are available from specialist stores, and available internationally via the Internet.

    Kits comprise of a can of wort concentrate (malt extract with hops already added), and a sachet of brewer's yeast. It is a good idea to study the recipe (or ask) before purchasing the kit. The best kits do not require additional sugar for the brew, nor contain non-malt sugars, such as invert sugar, molasses. Sugars add to the alcohol content, but not to the flavour, whereas malt does both.

  2. Malt extract brewing. Source your own hops, brewer's yeast and malt extract. You have much more control of the flavour as you are deciding the ingredients and quantities.

  3. Mash tun brewing. This is smellier, and requires considerably more effort than using malt extract, but afficionados will tell you that the results are worth it, usually turning their noses up at malt extract brews. This requires buying special equipment, which is available from suppliers to the micro brewery industry (malt mill, mash tun, sparging hose, wort cooler).


  • A large kettle. Typically, home brew batches start at 5 gallons. This is not such an issue for brew kits, as you only need to dissolve the wort concentrate, hence you don't need 5 gallons of boiling water.
  • A fermenting bin. These are available from the same outlets as beer kits. Needless to say, this needs to hold 5 gallons or whatever capacity you are brewing. Fermenting bins are usually fitted with a tap near the base. If this is not the case, you will need tubing with which to rack off the beer when it is ready for bottling. For brewing a lager, the yeast will sink to the bottom, so you are better off decanting from the top rather than using the tap off the base.
  • A hydrometer. Although not essential, this can give a measure of how the fermentation is progressing.
  • Sterilising vessel. A spare bath, water tank or disused fish tank is handy here. For the brewing process to work, it is vital that all utensils and other pieces of equipment that come into contact with the beer, are sterilised. Use a sterilising agent such as sodium metabisulphite or Chempro SDP, which are available from pharmacists and home brew suppliers.
  • Bottles or pressure barrel. When the primary fermentation process has finished, you will need enough bottles to hold the capacity of your brew. The bottles must be sterilised before putting the beer in for bottling. It is usual to add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar per pint to the bottle, to prime the secondary fermentation process. It is recommended only to use glass bottles, as plastic bottles may flavour the beer. Also note: you will be producing a bottle conditioned beer, and the same considerations apply when keeping and serving it.

    An alternative to bottles is a pressure barrel. This is useful when the ultimate results of the brew are to be consumed at a party. This is a plastic barrel available from the home brew supplier. Again this will require adding sugar to prime the secondary fermentation process.

  • Crown corker if using crown top bottles. Flip-top bottles, such as Grolsch is sold in work quite effectively, so if you save enough Grolsch style bottles, you will not need a crown corker.


The legality or otherwise of brewing beer at home varies between countries and states. It is worthwhile checking what the status is. In the UK, home brewing is 100% legal (distilling isn't), but the resulting product cannot be sold to members of the public, without incurring excise duty. People have found many ways around this, including forming a beer club, raffling the bottles (with 100% chance of winning) etc.

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