How to Brew Your Own Beer (in an Apartment)
Home Brewing in a Tiny Home
Interested in home brewing but concerned because your home is a small apartment? Don't be dissuaded from trying it out: If you have a shower, a stove and a closet, you can brew. To prove it, here's a walkthrough of my own brewing day, in my Brooklyn apartment. First of all, visit a brew store (in person or online) and pick up a starter kit, so you have everything you need. That includes a carboy (a glass version of the jug that goes in a water cooler), the various tools and cleaning supplies, a five gallon pot and six gallon bucket, and more. For this brew, my friend Griffin and I went with a Petite Saison d'Ete from Northern Brewer. Note that the times and temperatures I use here are specific to this brew, so make sure to follow the specific directions for the beer of your choice. The idea here is to help you the trickier elements of brewing that the instructions gloss over or don't mention at all.
Prepare the Wort
Fill your big pot with two and a half gallons of water. It will take a while for your stove top to get it to 170° Fahrenheit, so do this first. As it's heating, pour the grains into the mesh bag, tie off the top, and put it in the water. Think of it like a giant cup of tea. Once the water reaches the requisite temperature, take the grains out. Now you can call it wort.
Clean Your Equipment
Just about everything you use for brewing needs to be sanitized; cleansing powder should be part of your starter kit. Add warm water to the bucket (or a pot) and a few spoonfuls of the powder. You can dunk the smaller items in here. Sanitizing the carboy is trickier. To fill it, we placed the funnel in its mouth and placed it under the shower. Then we threw in some powder, laid it on its side and rolled it back and forth, swishing the water around. Remember that it's wet and heavy, so be very careful doing this.
Adding Malt and Hops
This step will differ for each kind of brew. Our Saison d'Ete included a small jug of Pilsen malt syrup and three kinds of hops, added to the wort over the course of an hour and ten minutes.
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Cool the Wort
Once all the hops and malt have been in the wort for the prescribed time, the next step is to cool the mixture to 100 degrees as quickly as possible. Without a sizeable freezer or fancy equipment (like a wort chiller), this is tricky. Griffin and I bought four bags of ice and added them to a tub of cold water. We took the pot off the stove and hustled it over to the bathroom. It still took longer than is ideal, but it cooled pretty quickly.
Get It in the Carboy
First, add two gallons of cold water to the carboy. Since the five gallon container was much too high for our faucet, we filled it using the spray head, which was just long enough to reach. Option B is to place it back under the shower, though this is the less messy method. Then we popped the funnel into the mouth of the carboy and carefully poured in the wort from the pot, leaving the sludge at the bottom in the pot. Since the mixture was bit shy of the five gallon mark, we added a bit more cold water.
Shake It Up
Pop the seal in the fermenter (that's the carboy) and shake it back and forth to aerate the wort. We just rocked it back on forth on the ground to avoid the risk of catastrophic back injury. Then break out the hydrometer and measure the specific gravity; write it down. This will let you determine the alcohol percentage of your brew later on.
Add the Yeast
Once the temperature of the wort drops to 78°, add the yeast (make sure you sanitized the pack and the scissors you use to open it). Seal the fermenter, and insert the airlock (with about a tablespoon of water in it). The airlock will let air out but not in as the wort ferments.
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Place the carboy in a cool, dark spot. We put the carboy on my rolling desk chair and wheeled it over to the closet. It's not particularly cool, but at least it's dark, and the best we've got. We had to take out a shelf to fit it in there. Over the next two weeks, the wort will ferment.
Watch out for Disaster
As I was eating breakfast the day after our brew session, I heard a popping noise. I opened the closet and found the airlock on the floor and foam pouring out of the carboy. The "sediment" had clogged the airlock. As air couldn't escape, the pressure in the carboy built into it literally blew its top. After hopping on a few brewing forums for advice, I cleaned out the airlock and re-sanitized it and the stopper. Once the foam stopped pouring out, I resealed the carboy. Now I'm periodically checking to make sure the lock doesn't clog up again. So far, so good, and no long-term damage done.
Our five gallons of beer will fill around 50 12oz bottles. Instead of buying empty beer bottles, we've been holding onto those we've already emptied. Note that only pry-off, not twist-off, bottles will work. We'll host a beer potluck (everyone brings a six pack of their favorite beer) before bottling day, to get us to 50, as we're currently a bit short.
Around two weeks after brewing day, the active fermentation will cease. Now it's time to get it in bottles. Per your brew kit's instructions, mix a priming solution, made up of water and priming sugar. Make sure you sanitize all the bottling equipment, including the bottles and caps! Bring the priming mixture to a boil and pour it in the bottling bucket, then add the fermented wort. Put the bucket on a chair or table (so gravity helps), and siphon the beer into the bottles; cap them using a crimper. Over the next two weeks, the beer will carbonate. Count down to drinking day, and enjoy!