Home-brewing often intimidates beginners. But it’s a lot easier than you think. Traditionally, home-brewers have used a lot of bulky gear, like giant pots and glass carboys. If you live in a one-bedroom, have an electric stove that won’t boil large quantities of water, or simply don’t want to buy a ton of gear, this can be a turnoff. Fortunately, you can make great beer at home in tiny batches using one-gallon apple-juice-style jugs and common kitchen equipment. CHOW.com’s recipe for a one-gallon batch of standard American ale doesn’t skimp on authenticity: It teaches you how to brew beer using real grains rather than malt extracts, for instance. But the beer is made and served right out of the jug—no bottles needed. It’s the perfect size to take to a party and say, “Hey! I made this myself!”
How long it will take: six hours of active brewing time, plus three and a half weeks of fermentation before it’s ready to drink.
Note: You may get “attitude” from other home-brewers and home-brew shop owners who ask why in the world you’re going to all that trouble just to brew one gallon of beer. “It’ll take the same amount of time to brew three to five gallons of beer as it does to make one gallon,” they may say. They’re right. But you have your reasons, so tell them to go drink a beer and chill out.
Here’s how to brew small-batch beer:
Assemble your equipment (see the ingredient list here
Put the malt grains into the large nylon grain bag. Do not tie off the top of the bag.
In the stockpot, heat two gallons of water over high heat on the stove to 156 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the water reaches 156 degrees, turn off the heat and slowly lower the grain bag into the pot. Use the binder clips to affix the bag to the handles of the pot so it doesn’t completely fall in. Gently stir the grains in their bag with the wooden spoon for two or three minutes to make sure that there are no clumps. Avoid splashing the liquid as you stir: Splashing will oxidize your beer, which you don’t want at this point.
Take the temperature of the mixture using your thermometer. It should be around 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s OK if it’s plus or minus a couple of degrees, but anything more than that should be corrected by adding cold water, two cups at a time, if it’s too hot, or by turning the burner back on to the lowest setting and stirring constantly if it’s too cold.
Once you’ve verified that the temperature is within a couple degrees of 150, make sure the heat is turned off, cover the mixture with a tightfitting lid, and set your kitchen timer for 60 minutes.
After 60 minutes, remove the lid and lift the grain bag entirely out of the liquid, known as the wort. Hold the grain bag over the pot and let the wort in the bag drain back into the pot. Once all of the liquid has drained out of the bag, set it aside. You have collected all the sugar from the grains and they are no longer needed.
Put the hops into the small linen bag, then tie it off.
Bring the wort to a full boil and add the hops bag to the pot. Set the kitchen timer for 60 minutes. Do not cover the pot; covering would cause the beer to develop off flavors. When the wort comes to a boil, it will get foamy. If it threatens to boil over, skim off the foam with a spoon until it recedes.
While you’re waiting for the boil to finish, clean and sanitize anything that will come into contact with the beer, to prevent contamination. This includes the two jugs, the aluminum foil squares, the funnel, and the thermometer. To do this, first wash all the items with the cleaner, then sanitize them with the sanitizer, per the containers’ instructions. You can also fill a spray bottle with the sanitizer to spray onto the smaller items, such as the aluminum foil and thermometer, to make the process easier.
When five to ten minutes are left in the boil, prepare an ice bath in the sink. When the full hour is up, turn off the heat and move the pot into the ice bath. The wort needs to be cooled to 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point your beer is at risk of being contaminated. Make sure that any equipment it comes into contact with has been sanitized. For instance, before you take its temperature, sanitize the thermometer (see the previous step).
When the wort has cooled to 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, use the sanitized funnel to pour it into the sanitized jugs. Equally divide the wort between the two jugs so that there is plenty of room in each for the beer to foam up during fermentation.
Shake up the vial of yeast, open it, and carefully pour a quarter of it into each of the two jugs. Save the remaining half vial for future brewing.
Cover the jugs with the sanitized foil squares, pressing them down to make caps. Store the jugs in a dark place at room temperature, in the range of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, for 10 days. Do not put the original plastic caps or any other tightfitting lids onto the jugs at this point. Carbonation will build up during this initial fermentation, and the jugs will explode if you cap them off. Check on the beer after a day or two; you should see a layer of foam on the top. This is a sign of healthy fermentation. If it never happens, something went wrong. You’ll need to pour the beer out and start over.
After ten days, the beer is ready for what’s called bottle conditioning. This is the step in which the beer gets carbonated. Boil a 1/2 cup water with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a pot to create a “priming sugar” for the yeast to act upon. Let it cool.
Once the sugar-water mixture has cooled completely, pour the beer from both jugs into a large sanitized bowl with the sugar water, leaving the scummy residue at the bottom of the jugs behind. Using a sanitized spoon, gently stir the contents of the bowl to mix the sugar water and beer.
Thoroughly clean one of the jugs, making sure all the sediment is gone. (You may need to put some cleaner with water in the jug and let it sit for a few minutes, then shake it up, to loosen the scum line around the inside. Then discard the cleaner and water mixture.) Sanitize the jug and its original cap, as well as your funnel.
Pour the beer into the sanitized jug using the sanitized funnel, tightly screw the original cap on (the heavy fermentation is over, so the jug is no longer at risk of exploding), and set the beer in a dark place at room temperature for at least 14 days. After 14 days at room temperature it will be carbonated and ready to drink.
Chill, serve, and enjoy!