When it comes to frequently asked questions about home brewing, there are no “one-size-fits-all” answers, as each brewer has a unique situation. Here are some generalizations you may find useful.

What is the best way to get into home brewing? What will I need to get started?
Your local home brew/home wine making retailer is the best source of information, equipment and ingredients for your first few batches. Generally, they will have at least a basic starter package that will ease you in to the process, and will be there with advice and answers, to help insure good results the first, and hopefully, every time. They will be able to advise you as to whether or not you really need that cool looking gadget or not- there are lots of toys, but you do not necessarily need them all…
What does it cost to brew my own beer? Will it be more or less expensive than buying it at the store?
Your initial investment may be $90-$100 for a starter package with equipment and ingredients for your first batch. This will yield about two cases of premium beer. So if you only brew once, you will have paid about $50 per case of beer. However, your second batch, depending on the style or recipe you choose, may cost as little as $20 to $35. Do the math- at $25 per batch, you have paid $12.50 per case, for something equivalent to (usually better than) a commercial beer costing twice as much. Your equipment kit can pay for itself in two or three batches. There is no price you can put on the satisfaction of having made a beer better than you could buy. And the expressions of disbelief and joy on your friends faces when they first try the best beer they have ever had? Priceless…
What is malt and what does it do? Are there different varieties? If so, what do the differences mean to the end product?
Malt, or malted barley, provides the fermentable sugars, flavor, body and color components for your beer. Some brewers prefer to start from the malted barley grain (“all grain brewers”), while others prefer to save time and buy a commercially prepared malt extract, either as a thick syrup or in a dried powder form. This malt is used as the basis for any given recipe – think of it as making bread – the malt is the flour for our liquid bread.
What are hops and what is their purpose? Are there different varieties? If so, what do the differences mean to the end product?
Hops are perennial vines. It is the flowers, or cones (they look like little green pine cones) that are used in the brewing process. Hops do many things for your beer. They provide bitterness to balance the sweetness of the malt. They provide flavor and aroma, some head retention qualities, and act as a preservative for your beer. There are many varieties of hops which have been bred and developed for various qualities. Some are very bitter, so the brewer does not need as much to provide a certain level of balance. Some are renowned for their particular flavor or aromatic quality. Think of hops as the spices used in cooking your beer. The most common form that home brewers use are pelletized – chopped up and compressed into small pellets – making them easier to store and measure. Whole leaf hops are also used, but take up much more space, and tend to oxidize faster.
What are the grains used for? Are there different varieties and if so, what do the differences mean to the end product?
Barley is the most commonly used grain in the brewing process, though wheat is also used. Grains provide the fermentable components, as well as flavor and color. Depending on how the grain is malted and processed, the various (infinite) styles of beer are simply the product of different combinations of grains. For example, barley that has been malted can then be brought to very high temperatures and nearly burnt. Called “Black Patent” malt, this in tiny amounts can cause a reddish color in the final beer, while used in larger amounts will contribute a darker color and richer flavor associated with brown ales, porters and stouts, respectively. There are many ways to treat malted barley, which will affect the final product. Consider these to be the artists’ palette of colors and flavors in your finished masterpiece. Other grains can be used in small amounts in your beer also. Oatmeal in a stout can provide a creamy texture, while rice or corn will lighten the body or color of your beer.
What does yeast contribute to the brewing process? Does it make a difference whether dry or liquid is used?
Yeast eats sugars derived from the malts in the wort (unfermented beer.) The yeast’s waste products just happen to be Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which gives us fizz, and ethanol (alcohol) which gives us buzz. There are many strains of yeast which will each contribute different characteristics to a beer. Liquid yeast cultures are available which will provide very unique properties to your beer, but may cost a bit more and may not be stored for as long as dry cultures. There have been great advances in dry yeast selection and production, with some very popular strains being made available in the more stable dry form.
Is water quality a factor? Hard vs. soft water or pH factor come into play - do I need distilled water?
Water makes up most of your beer, so plays an important part. Do not use distilled water! Yeast require certain minerals to work their magic efficiently – distilled water has none. The rule of thumb is that if your water tastes good,  it should make good beer. If you have contamination or other issues, bottled water can be used. Hardness will affect the final product. Traditionally, ales have been made with harder water and pilsners/lagers are made with softer. pH can be
adjusted if necessary.
What should I expect during the fermentation process? Are there different types of fermentation - if so, how do they differ?
You should expect to see your airlock bubbling away for a few days as it vents CO2 from the fermenter. There should be a thick foamy layer on top of your “Proto-beer”, sometimes greenish in color from the hops. This will settle after a few days, but will leave a ring around your fermenter. You might notice a yeasty or bready aroma coming from the airlock. If your hearing is really good, you might hear your fermenter fizz from the CO2 being produced. When activity stops, you should be ready to bottle or keg, or rack (siphon) to a secondary fermenter.
How long do I have to wait before the bottling or kegging phase?
Many factors will influence fermentation time. The style of beer, malt content, strain and freshness of yeast, and temperature all play a part in the process. As a rule, the more malt, older yeast and lower temperature, the longer fermentation will take. Generally, primary fermentation may take two days to a week. It is a good idea to give the beer a full week (even if fermentation stopped after three days) before bottling/kegging, to allow for the yeast to settle. A secondary fermenter can be used for a few
weeks to allow more sedimentation to occur also, to get less sediment in bottles or kegs.
What is the purpose of priming?
Priming is the process of adding a small amount (usually 3/4cup or 5 ounces) of corn sugar to the batch at bottling time. Once sealed or capped, the bottles are held for a week at
fermentation temperature. This sugar will be fermented in the bottle and will provide carbonation to the beer. This will produce a small layer of sediment in each bottle, which is why the finished product should be poured (decanted) into a glass, to leave the yeast behind. In a kegging system, priming can be eliminated, as the beer can be force carbonated.
What are the differences to consider between bottling vs. kegging?
Packaging affects presentation, storage, portability, and consumption. The down side to bottling is: cleaning all of the bottles, the sediment can be disturbed during transit and worst of all, if you give samples out, you often don’t get them back, or they don’t get rinsed and you don’t want them back. The down side to kegging is the initial expense of the equipment.
What is the cause of under carbonation? And on the flip side, over carbonation?
Low carbonation is most often caused by cooling the freshly bottled beer too soon. It takes 7 to 10 days at fermentation temperature (65-70 deg.F) to fully carbonate. Sometimes brewers are sampling while they are bottling, and can forget to add the priming sugar. Also, if a brewer ends up with more than five gallons, then 5 oz. of corn sugar is not quite enough. High carbonation, the potentially messier situation, is most often caused by bottling a batch that has not yet finished fermenting. Following the directions that come with a hydrometer, and following a recipe’s guidelines will help make sure this is not an issue.
How do I measure the amount of alcohol in the beer?
You can calculate the alcohol content using a hydrometer by measuring the specific gravity (or the potential alcohol scale) both before and after the fermentation. The difference between these two readings gives you alcohol content.

Goods for what ales ya!