How to make your own beer

It goes without saying that South Africans love their beer and that we have a great beer culture.

In fact, many “beer-philes” have turned this appreciation into a pastime and are fermenting their preferred beer from the ease of their homes.

Being the country’s leading brewer, SAB has over a century of brewing knowledge and is only too happy to share some guidelines for those who wish to try their hand at home brewing.

Whilst we can’t assure that you will become a home-brewing expert overnight, SAB’s brew master Danie Odendaal will motivate you with his rigid commitment to brewing brilliance and help kick-start your home brewing journey.

There are two easy ways of brewing – by using a brew kit or “brew in a bag”. Both approaches use the same tools and are a great way to start your new interest of making beer.

Beer kit
The beer kit is the most stress-free way to try your hand at brewing because basically another brewer does all the work and you start with a concentrated syrup of malt goodness. For first time brewers, we would recommend beginning with the beer kit, which can be bought online or at trustworthy home brew shops.

It is a “paint by numbers” system that directs you through the “make your beer” procedure and importantly, guarantees you work efficiently and in a sanitary environment. If your beer is undrinkable, you have not worked cleanly enough and should perhaps practice more before trying to attempt a brew in a bag. 

Tools for your brew

  • 15 to 20 L pot
  • A thermometer – not mercury
  • White 25 L plastic fermenting bucket
    • This can be bought from a local brew shop and comes with a tap and a fermentation lock (also known as a bubbler)
    • Otherwise a normal bucket can be bought from a plastic shop and you will need to make your own fermentation lock
    • TIP: This is a fermenter, guarantee it is not used for anything else
  • Sterilising liquid – follow your local brew shop recommendation
    • Attempt to stay away from bleach
  • Brew bag – a material, mesh bag in which crushed grains will be placed
    • Again, this can be bought from a local brew shop or can be made
    • For home-made, visit a local fabric shop and select a decent quality, netted curtain that will fit the brewing pot easily
  • 2 x cases of glass beer bottles
  • Caps – to fit on top of your bottles
  • Capper – the device used to secure your caps onto your bottles
  • 1.5m clear plastic tubing for filling the bottles

For the first 20 L brew, let’s make an all malt, easy, English pale ale.  Once you are happy with the basic brewing steps, you can experiment with the diverse raw materials, hops etc.

Ingredients for your all malt, easy, English pale ale

Obtainable from a local brew shop, you will need:

  • 2.9 kg pale malt – if possible, get the brew shop to grind it for you as this will save you the work later
  • 250 grams crystal malt or similar – get this milled as well
  • Fermentis SO4 English ale yeast – this is a very good yeast that does not need a starter to be made, which streamlines your brewing day
  • 15 grams Type 90 hop pellets Southern Promise Hop variety – this hop is very inexpensive
    • If this hop is not offered, ask the brew shop owner to propose a replacement
  • One whirlfloc tablet – helps clarify your boiled wort (the sweet liquid of ground malt or other grain before fermentation)

Now let’s get started.

Let’s start mashing

  1. Add 12 L of tap water to your pot and heat up to 68°C. Check with your thermometer that you do not exceed 68°C and try to sustain this temperature throughout your brewing procedure
  2. Line the pot with your brew bag and fold the top over the edges of the pot. If you are using gas, be cautious not to set your bag on fire
  3. Take your crushed malt and combine it into the water with a mixing spoon (a clean one from the kitchen will do). This is called mashing in your brew
  4. After all the malt is mashed into the pot, ensure the temperature is still at 68°C
  5. Now let the natural malt enzymes do their job for 60 minutes while checking the temperature from time to time.  Stir the mash whenever you change your temperature, or else give your mash a stir about every 8-10 minutes
  6. With a teaspoon, taste your mash throughout this process and over the 60 minutes, you will notice how the sweetness increases

Let’s start lautering (a German brewing term for liquid solid separation)

  1. After the 60 minute process, collect your bag at the top and slowly raise it out of the pot and allow the liquid to drain from the bag. This sweet liquid is the wort
  2. Wash the grains with 23 L of heated water from a kettle (the temperature should be between 68°C and 78°C). Just let the water run over your grain and straight into your pot. It is important to note, this process takes your entire water content to 14 L
  3. Toss the grains away. If you have a compost heap, throw them onto the heap

Boiling the wort

  1. Place your pot of sweet wort to boil for 60 minutes. Be cautious it does not over boil because once a rolling boil has been attained, this can easily occur
  2. Do not cover the pot – reason being is you want to improve the taste of your beer by driving off volatiles during the boil process
  3. After 40 minutes of boiling you can add 15 g of hops. It is best to switch off the temperature before you do this because the addition can easily prompt an over boil
  4. Boil for a further 20 minutes to extract your hop bitterness and smell
  5. 5 min before the end of 60 minute boil, add the whirl floc tablet
  6. At the end of the boiling process, turn the temperature off and stir the pot to create a whirlpool result
  7. Let the pot stand for 10 minutes

Preparing your fermenter

After the boiling process, you need to employ your finest surgical theatre impression. This is where it can go all wrong and a microorganism (other than your brewing yeast) can spoil your hard work.

  1. Clean your fermenter with a soft brush and dish washing liquid/unscented liquid soap. Wash the inside first then the outside. Wash first then sterilise (you cannot disinfect filth). Don’t forget to wash the bucket lid. Do not scrub with a wired or coarse sponge or brush because germs will grow in the scratched grooves
  2. Now add your disinfecting liquid, close the bucket and shake the bucket to guarantee the disinfecting liquid comes in contact with the whole bucket. TIP: Shake occasionally at the start of the boiling process to get the most out of the disinfecting result
  3. Crack the bucket lid open (do not remove) and drain the liquid. Take some partially chilled boiled water (500 ml to 1 L) and add to the bucket, close the lid and shake. Drain this rinsed water by cracking the lid once more. Most disinfecting solutions have an undesirable outcome on your beer flavour so rinsing well is vital

Filling your fermenter

Now that your fermenter is clean, how do you cool the warm wort that ended boiling 10 minutes ago? There are immersion (dunking) or counter-flow chillers you may want to invest in but for now try the following:

  1. Take a cooler-box large enough for the fermenter to stand in
  2. This brew is a 20 L recipe of which we have 14 L already. Add another 7 LB of previously boiled water to your fermenter. Do not worry about the additional 1 L because you will lose between 800ml to 1 L during the boiling process
  3. When you remove the lid to add the water, it is vital that your hands are clean. Also, do not place the lid with its clean side onto the table
  4. After you have added the water, put the lid back on and place into the cooler-box. Pack ice around the bucket until the cooler-box is full
  5. The faster you can get this done, the better because you need to cool your brew down as fast as possible once it is added
  6. Once the boiled pot has been standing for 10 minutes, add its contents to the waiting fermenter. The hop and denatured proteins form a light brown-greenish sediment called trub.  When transferring the wort into your fermenter be cautious not to transfer this trub sediment into your fermenter.  Rather sacrifice some of the liquid in the kettle to ensure minimum trub gets into your fermenter.  I normally brew 2 L more than I need to ensure I can leave this volume at the end thus guaranteeing maximum sediment retention at the end of my kettle to Fermenter transfer. TIP: Cleanliness again, wash hands before removing the lid and tipping. Remember the clean side of the lid must not touch the table top
  7. Replace the lid and guarantee it is somewhat cracked, to allow for any cooling shrinkage

Pitching the yeast

  1. Disinfect your thermometer and then check the temperature is below 24°C before you can pitch your yeast
  2. You can use an inexpensive bottle of vodka to help disinfect the yeast packet before opening it. Do the same with the scissors
  3. Crack the lid and lightly sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the wort in the fermenter and firmly close the lid again. TIP: Cleanliness again when handling the lid. A little bit of vodka on your hands cannot hurt and you can even put it in a spray bottle. If a drop or two makes its way into your brew, no harm will be done
  4. Now that the yeast is pitched with the lid on tight, place the fermenter bucket somewhere cool and wait. After 24 hours, you should see the ferment airlock bubbling and by the seventh day, it should have stopped. If the bucket lid is not airtight, the ferment lock will not work

Bottling your beer

Prepare for bottling

  1. After a week when there is no activity happening around the airlock, your beer is ready for bottling
  2. Disinfect your bottles. 20 L of beer will need approximately 24 x 750ml beer bottles. Plastic beer bottles can also be used and are available from a local brew shop
  3. To supply carbonation to your beer, you need to prime the bottle first. This is done with sugar or dried malt extract. For simplicity, stick to sugar. You will need an almost level teaspoon per bottle to give enough carbonation. A sanitised funnel should help the carbonation too. Do not add too much sugar otherwise your bottles will burst. Disinfect your bottle caps in some vodka or disinfecting liquid
  4. All equipment must be disinfected before transferring the beer to the bottles
  5. Attach your disinfected clear plastic tubing to your sterile fermenter tap. Make sure your bottles are carefully washed before you use them. This is the worst part of the job but if not done correctly, it can ruin all your hard work. Tip: Ask the brew shop about the several aides that can make the task easier
  6. Fill your bottles one by one. Tip: Ask the brew shop about the spring loaded bottle filler attachment, which are cheap and work like a charm, but you can make do without one
  7. Cap the bottle with a bottle capper
  8. Repeat this step until all your bottles are capped

Wait – you cannot drink your beer yet

You need to age your beer before you can drink it.  The reason for this is that the sugar will ferment in a sealed bottle and produce an ever so slight increase in alcohol but most significantly, increase the carbon dioxide. This carbon dioxide will dissolve into the beer and give it some great natural carbonation. This process is called bottle conditioning.

  1. Store the bottles at room temperature for a minimum of a week, preferably two. 
  2. Only then, can the bottles be refrigerated, ready for drinking.
  3. Now enjoy your beer.

The last tip: When you pour your beer, leave a little bit in the bottle because the residue has a yeast taste. You have bottle conditioned your beer after all.

Remember, practice makes perfect.

Once you have brewed your own beer a couple of times, you will be more confident to experiment with different ingredients, formulas, aromas and smells. 

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