Homebrewing 101

A buzz brewing at SFU

One of SFU’s best-kept secrets is its beer culture. Ever since SFU’s S.F. Brew club defeated UBC’s brUBC at the first Annual University Home Brew Awards back in 2013, we’ve been a force to be reckoned with in the beermaking game.

Featuring not only brewing courses, but a Craft Beer and Brewing Essentials certificate available for the keen beer enthusiast, it’s no wonder S.F. Brew earned Best in Show for their beer, Hoparella. Though the club is no longer active, they may one day return.

Maybe you’re not on campus a lot this semester, and can’t justify the commute to the mountain for a beer class — don’t fret! There are other learning opportunities around town. We are, after all, living in a bustling craft beer metropolis. The Vancouver Homebrewers Association and the Campaign for Real Ale Society of British Columbia both offer membership programs, with cheap rates and plenty of experience and knowledge to share.

Recently, some of SFU’s most entrepreneurial students have been capitalizing off the buzz around homebrewing. If you love beer, but not all the mess and waiting around of homebrewing, never fear. Sit tight with your store-bought beer until 2017, when the automatic homebrew machine Brewstr will hit the shelves. Think Keurig, but for beer. Designed by SFU students Ryan Lymburner, Kavi Sekhon, Derek Muxworthy, Karan Thakur, Jordan Sciberras, and Jeremy Thompson, SFU continues to make waves in the craft beer scene.

How is beer brewed?

The first step is “mashing” where hot water is mixed with  the “grist” (milled grain). During the mashing, the starches are converted to sugars and then the “wort” (the sweet resulting liquid) is drained off the grains. The wort is boiled for a while, concentrating the sugars and other non-water components. Hops are added during the boil for bitterness, flavour, and aroma. Longer boiled hops equal a more bitter and less flavourful and aromatic brew.

Then the hopped wort is cooled and yeast is added to begin the fermentation process. The yeast consume the sugar, converting it into carbon dioxide and ethanol in the process. Once the fermentation is complete the yeast settles, allowing the beer to clear. Then it’s bottled, and bam — delicious. And you can do this whole science-y process yourself at home.

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Local trends

Last year, sours were big. I couldn’t go anywhere in the city where my server wasn’t trying to tempt me with one. This year, it doesn’t seem like there’s one genre that takes the cake. At least, not yet.

Instead, brewers seem to be going for whatever brews float their boat. Steamworks has their farmhouse wheat ale out, combining citrus and spice in a hoppier-than-it-should-be end product. It’s a refreshing way to kick back at the end of a long day.

Meanwhile, Moody Ales has gone for exciting over refreshing with their 2016 bourbon barrel-aged Russian Imperial stout. An easy sip, this almost pitch-black beer is big on bubbles and flavour. The aroma is rich in oak, bourbon, and molasses with a hint of toffee. Thick, creamy, and balanced, this experiment turned out well.

In East Van, Bomber Brewing and Doans have teamed up to create the living skies rye pilsner, with big rye spice flavour. It’s a good call on a warm summer day — or any day at all, really. Nicely balanced with big body and notes of lemon and grapefruit, it’s an easy-drinking beer with a hoppy finish.

Last year was the summer of the sour, but they’re not completely extinct this year. Parallel 49 Brewing has a Bodhisattva dry hopped sour ale, and it’s actually pretty sweet for a sour. The big tropical fruit flavours balance the sourness, and the big hops round out the experience. It’s a good introductory sour if you weren’t around last year, or if you know someone who just turned of age.

What you’ll need and where to find it

Almost every budding brewer in my life swears by Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies at 835 E. Hastings Street. They’ve got everything a young brewmaster needs, from equipment to ingredients to friendly advice and know-how. Another good store is Centennial Homebrewing Supplies at 2985 Rupert Street. They also host a good selection of everything from hops and malts to kits and sanitizers. There are others, of course, but these two are the ones I hear the most about.

You’re going to need a lot of equipment. But the good news is you probably have at least a few  of these items already. You can buy the rest at a store, or I have a couple of tricks if you don’t mind getting a little dirty and putting a little elbow grease into it.

Big stockpot. The bigger the pot, the more beer you can brew. Eight quarts is the absolute minimum, while 12 quarts is perfect for a gallon of beer (almost four litres). If you don’t have one, and you can’t really afford one, try thrift stores or any restaurant closing its doors. They may sell a good pot at a steal because they’re going out of business.

Long spoon. It’s got to be long enough to comfortably reach the bottom of your brew pot, and shouldn’t be wooden if you can manage it. Sterilization is key to brewing, and wood and other rough surfaces can become a veritable breeding ground for bacteria.

Scale. If you can steal one from your parents, go for it. An electric one is best, especially with the tare feature. You just need something basic that can measure grams and ounces, and be accurate for one-gram increments.

Thermometer. A digital thermometer or candy thermometer are your best options, as you need something fast yet accurate. Do not use a meat thermometer — you’re not cooking a roast.

Sanitizer. One jug will last eons. Everything needs to be clean and sterilized if you want delicious beer.

Strainer and colander. Each should be able to hold about five quarts, or be approximately 10 inches in diameter. The colander should be metal, the strainer non-melting plastic at the minimum. You can use the colander to keep your malt from burning on the bottom of your pot. Thrift stores have great deals on these items.

Hydrometer and hydrometer tube. The hydrometer measures a liquid’s density, allowing you to know how much sugar is present before and after fermentation, and thus, what your beer’s alcohol content is. You may also want a hydrometer tube or test jar. It makes it easier to measure gravity, rather than letting the hydrometer bobble freely in your pot. Try buying one off a rebellious teenager in a high school chemistry class — it looks a lot like a graduated cylinder.

Bucket. As big a bucket as you have beer. Make sure it has a lid. You can get big 20 litre ones from restaurants if you ask nicely.

Airlock. This spiral tube of magic (well, sanitized liquid if it’s a bubbler) must have a rubber stopper on the end, and fit into the hole in the middle of the lid of your fermentation bucket. If you adopted a bucket, you’ll need to cut this hole yourself.

Jug. Preferably glass, preferably tinted to keep the UV rays out of your brew. This acts as a secondary fermenter and you need to make sure there’s a hole in the jug’s stopper for the airlock.

Plastic tubing and clamp. This will act as your siphon. It’s all you need, but other options make your life easier if you can spend the money. A racking cane prevents sediment from being stirred up in the fermenter, a bottling wand (or bottle filler) regulates the beer flow so none of it gets wasted between bottles, or an auto-siphon if you’re feeling fancy.

Bottle capper. The butterfly type is the easiest and least expensive capper to use. Highly recommend.

Bottle caps. Sorry folks, but you’ve got to use new bottle caps with every brew. Luckily they’re cheap. Pro tip: you can buy them in different colours if you’re doing multiple brews at once.

Beer bottles. You can buy these, sure, but you can also just drink your store-bought beer and clean out the bottles you get — you’ll need a bottle cleaner if you go for this option. Avoid twist-tops: tinted glass is preferred and recommended.

Ingredients. Quantities and types will vary according to recipe — and don’t worry, we have a recipe to tempt you. Generally you’ll need water, yeast, hops, malt(s), and corn sugar. Put your yeast in the fridge, starch in an airtight container, and hops in the freezer immediately after acquiring them. Liquid yeast left out at room temperature can take a turn for the worse in a mere couple of days.

Optional: Brew bag. Made of a material similar to linen, this mesh bag acts as a lining for your brew pot to aid in lifting out your malt without taking too much liquid with it. That stuff’s precious.

An easy-drinking summer recipe to get you started

(Plus, it’s a little fancy to impress your friends!)

The American Homebrewers Association shared this gem of a recipe, the lampo bianco white lightning Belgian ale.

You will need:

  • 3.5 lb (1.6 kg) | US two-row or pils malt
  • 4.0 lb (1.8 kg) | Malted wheat
  • 0.5 lb (227 g) | Flaked oats
  • 0.2 oz (8 g) | Chinook 11 percent a.a. (60 min)
  • 0.35 oz (10 g) | Simcoe 12 percent a.a. (10 min)
  • 0.5 oz (14 g) | Columbus 12 percent a.a. (0 min)
  • 0.4 oz (12 g) | Indian coriander (2 min)
  • 0.07 oz (2 g) | Cardamon whole pod (2 min)
  • 3 g | Dried ginger (2 min)
  • Zest of half a lemon (2 min)
  • 46 oz (1.4 litre) | Muscat grape juice concentrate
  • Belgian wit ale yeast (WLP550 or Wyeast 3944 or 3942)


Do a mash with all the ingredients except for the yeast and Muscat grape juice, for 60 minutes at 154°F (68°C). Then mash out. Boil for 60 minutes before adding Muscat grape juice concentrate to the fermenter at the end of the primary. Ferment at 75–78°F (24–26°C). This recipe will make about five gallons of beer.