Homebrewers make up a sizable chunk of the craft beer community.
Drinking beer is a great way to appreciate the efforts of a brewer, and if you have also gone through the process of making your own beer, you can really appreciate all of the hard work, design, and cleaning required to produce and serve an awesome brew. My husband and I have been homebrewing for about seven years, and have grown from a $100 bare-bones kit using an extract syrup to a jet burner and all fresh grains.
Here's a quick run-through of brewing a beer. Please don't take this as the end-all-be-all of homebrewing. Everyone has different equipment and processes, but the basics are the same, so take this as an example of one brew day from one homebrewer.
Inside a homebrewer's brew day
We made a recipe for a porter for a friend's wedding in October. This means we decided what grains, hops, and yeast to use, and in what quantities. We used BeerSmith, a program that helps you make the recipe, know how long to boil, when to add your hops, etc., to get something sessionable (5 percent or lower).
First up: Mix all the grains needed for your recipe and crack them to allow the hot water to enter and access the starches to turn them into sugar, which is later eaten by yeast to make beer. Cracking also creates a physical filtering layer from the grain husks, so you don't get particulates on your wort, but you do get your sugar. Win-win.
Next, heat the water needed for your recipe to the temperature needed, then "mash in" -- a.k.a. add grains -- to the water for them to steep at the correct temperature to bring out the sugars needed for your beer. Stir the grains to eliminate any clumps until you get a nice oatmeal going. Let this sit for however long your recipe states. Part of this process is called "sparging," where you add more hot water at different stages, to further elicit sugar from the grains.
Now that your sugar is pulled out of your grain, drain this liquid, called "wort," and discard your grain husks. You can cook with these grains, such as making dog treats, or you can compost them.
Here's the fun part, and the hot part. Boil your wort and at specific times and temperatures, add your hops. Hops added earlier in the boil will provide more bitterness to balance the sugar from the grains, and hops added later in the boil will provide more aroma.
You can check your gravity at multiple points in the brew process; after the initial steeping and draining of the grains, after the sparge, and after the boil. The gravity is the sugar content of the wort. The "original gravity" is checked after the boil, to see your sugar content prior to fermentation. After your wort is made into beer, you can check the "final gravity," and using these two numbers, you can estimate the alcohol content of your beer.
Now all of your ingredients have been boiled, they're sanitized. While it's not pictured here, there's a lot of cleaning and -- even more important -- sanitizing in brewing. Anything your wort touches after the boil must be sanitized. After sanitizing our immersion chiller, we chill our wort to an appropriate temperature to add the yeast.
Bonus: This is what happens when you fill the carboy with the wort, and the foam left from the sanitizing solution is pushed out. We call it a Starsan cheeto, though generically it's called a sanitizing snake.
Now your liquid goes into your fermentation vessel, and you add your yeast. Up until this point, you've only had wort, a sugary-soup. Now that you add yeast, you start to get beer! Your yeast will eat the sugars in the wort and produce CO2 and alcohol.
In about two weeks, you’ll be ready to bottle or keg, though you can also let it condition longer. This brew took a little over four hours, from start (milling the grains) to finish (pitching the yeast).