If you like beer and want to take it up a notch, here’s a beginner’s guide to brewing your own beer at home. Beer connoisseurs, time to take up a new hobby! Plus, it makes for really cool house gifts.
I employed the expertise of friend and home brewer Justin Fischer to show us the process from start to finish. There’s also a list of equipment you’d need to get started and where you can get them.
How To Make Your Own Beer in Shanghai
Written by Justin Fischer
Brewing your own beer is an excellent way to stretch your drinking dollar. In these “special times” it also limits your exposure to drunken strangers who may or may not regularly wash their hands for the full prescribed 20 seconds. Win-win! It’s also easier to do than you think. Home brew guru Mike Scherretz of My Homebrew Shop shared with me a simple recipe that is perfect for beginners. Here is everything you need to know.
• 23L bottled water (¥60) – A brand like Nongfu Springs will work. If you have enough space in your refrigerator, chill 13.5L of it overnight. If you have a proper water filtration system installed, that works too.
• 2.72kg light dried malt extract (¥165)
• 85g hops (¥60)
• 1 packet of ale yeast, like Safale US-05 (¥35)
• 120g dextrose (¥10 / 500g) Regular table sugar also works
• 1 large pot (at least 30L) (about ¥300)
• 2 fermenter buckets (¥100 each)
• 2 airlocks (¥5 each)
• 1 racking cane (¥70-80)
• 1 bottle filler (¥50–70)
• Bottles (¥1.5–2.5 each) enough to hold 19 liters of beer
• Bottle caps (¥12 / 100 pieces)
• Capping tool (¥90-100)
• Hydrometer (¥40-50)
• Kitchen thermometer (¥20-70)
• Sanitizer, Star San brand (from ¥70)
• Slotted spoon
Everything listed above can be ordered on Taobao or through My Home Brew Shop (WeChat ID: Mike-Homebrew). General kitchen utensils, like the pot, thermometer, etc. can be found at Ikea.
Boil Water & Sanitize Equipment
Bring 9.5 liters of water to a boil in a large pot. While you wait, start sanitizing the equipment.
Fill up one of the fermenter buckets with 19 liters of tap water (no need for bottled water here) and add the sanitizer (28g per 19 liters of water). Put the lid on tight, cover the airlock hole with your thumb, and move the whole bucket around for about a minute. This ensures the sanitizer touches every surface inside. After that, remove the lid and drop in everything you are using that will touch the beer (see above). Just to be safe, shove the lid of the fermenter in there too.
Once the water achieves a rolling boil, add 57g of hops. Let them boil for 20 minutes.
What hops you use is completely up to you. There are countless varieties, and each has its unique aromatics and flavor profile and degree of bitterness. I’m using whole-leaf Willamette hops, which will give the beer a bitter, spicy backbone.
Add Malt Extract
After the hops have boiled for 20 minutes, add the malt extract. Simply pour the powder in and stir until it’s dissolved. Let it boil for another 20 minutes.
Drain Fermenter Bucket
Start draining the sanitizer from the fermenter bucket. I recommend putting the bucket at the edge of the kitchen sink and letting the sanitizer flow out of the spigot (the tap) for a while. That part needs to be sanitized, too. It’s also good to set aside a portion of the sanitizer in a bowl. It can serve as a reservoir for holding any tools you need to keep clean.
The sanitizer may leave behind a foam residue in the fermenter. Try and shake as much of this out as you can, but don’t sweat it if some suds remain. Star San’s active ingredient is phosphoric acid. They put that stuff in Coca-Cola. You won’t die.
Transfer Wort To Fermenter
By now you’ve reached a total boil time of 40 minutes. Turn off the stove. It’s time to transfer the wort (combination of water, hops, and malt) to the fermenter. First, fill the fermenter with 11.5 liters of that water that has been chilled overnight. Then carefully pour the wort into the fermenter.
You may want to pour the wort through a strainer to catch the hop debris. Be sure to sanitize that too.
Test Specific Gravity
Fill the graduated cylinder. I usually take a sample from the spigot at the bottom. Put that in the refrigerator and allow it to cool to 20ºC. To measure specific gravity, drop in the hydrometer. Give it a little spin as it floats. This will cast off any bubbles that stick to it, making it easier to get a clear reading.
Take a reading from just below the meniscus. For this beer, it should be at around 1.050. This is the OG, or Original Gravity. Jot that number down somewhere. You’ll need it later to calculate the ABV of the beer.
Pitch The Yeast
Allow the wort to cool down to 20ºC. Yeast is sensitive to temperature. If added when the wort is too hot, you risk killing it or promoting off-flavors and aromas. Cover the fermenter bucket in the meantime. This will prevent any contaminants from getting in. When the wort is 20ºC, open the yeast packet and sprinkle the contents in. Seal the fermenter. Fill the airlock with some of the sanitizer.
Install it on the fermenter’s lid, and store it in a dark place where the temperature remains around 20ºC.
Then, you wait…
Secondary Fermentation & Dry Hopping
Seven days later, it’s now time to empty the contents.
Sanitize the other bucket and airlock along with the racking cane (a siphon).
Using the racking cane, transfer the beer from the original bucket to the newly sanitized one. You’ll see that a layer of sediment has formed at the bottom of the primary fermenter. Leave as much of that behind as possible—siphon it off with as little sediment as possible. It’s easier to siphon by placing the fermenter bucket on a higher surface and the empty bucket on a lower surface.
After siphoning off as much as possible, drop 28g of hops into the beer. This is called “dry-hopping” and results in more intense hop aromas and flavors. For this step, I’m using Amarillo hop pellets for their notes of lemon and grapefruit.
Finally, seal up the bucket, install the airlock, and clean the primary bucket.
Bottle the beer
It should take about 14 days for the beer to completely ferment. Then, it’s time to bottle. Once again, fill that other empty bucket with sanitizer. Use it to sanitize the bottles as well. Submerge as many as you can, making sure each bottle gets filled. Let them soak in the solution for at least 10 minutes. Remove the bottles, and shake out as much of the suds as possible. Do this in batches. Then sanitize the racking cane, bottle filler, and slotted spoon. Set aside some sanitizer in a bowl to soak the bottle caps in it.
While the equipment sanitizes, boil 125g of bottled water for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and dissolve 120g of dextrose or table sugar in it, and let it cool to room temperature.
Drain the sanitizer. This is now the bottling bucket. Take another sample for the hydrometer first before siphoning the beer into it. The yeast has consumed the sugars, leaving behind alcohol, making the liquid less dense, so the specific gravity should have decreased to around 1.010. This is the FG, or Final Gravity. You can now use the OG and the FG to calculate the beer’s ABV, or alcohol percentage. Here is the formula:
How To Calculate ABV of Beer
ABV=(OG – FG) x 131.25
My beer had an OG of 1.050 and an FG 1.012, resulting in an ABV of 4.99%. Perfect!
Once the sugar solution has cooled, add it to the beer and stir it thoroughly with the slotted spoon. This will carbonate the beer by feeding the last remnants of living yeast in the sealed bottles.
Attach the bottle filler to the spigot. Open the spigot and insert the bottle filler into a bottle, pressing down to release the spring-loaded mechanism.
The beer will begin to flow into the bottle. Don’t fill the bottle all the way to the top. Leave some clearance. Place a cap on top. Crimp its edges with the capper. Repeat.
The beer will take about a week to carbonate. Its flavor will improve even more after a few weeks of conditioning within the bottle. I seldom wait that long, though. I’m not that picky.
And here is what the finished product looks like:
There’s the initial cost of brewing beer, but once you have all the equipment, you can save a bit of money and drink a good beer. Plus, brewing beer is considered a life skill, right?
Cost & Yield
For the above brewing session
Initial cost of equipment: ¥700-¥1,000
Cost of ingredients: about ¥300
Amount of time spent: 5+ hours over 3 days (brewing, secondary fermentation, bottling)
Days before you can drink the beer: 21 days
Bottles/liters yielded: 19 liters or about 55 bottles of beer (330ml)
Get equipment from My Homebrew Shop (WeChat: Mike-Homebrew), Ikea or Taobao.