Words by Rowan Chadwick, shots by Matt Curtis
Brewing your own beer is one of the world’s most rewarding hobbies. It requires just a little money, time, and space—and it lets you enjoy great beer with the added satisfaction and bragging rights of having made it yourself.
Beer is made from four basic ingredients:
- Water: Beer is mostly water. The relative hardness or softness of the water (i.e. its mineral content) is suited to different styles of beer. Seoul water is quite soft and well suited to extract brewing.
- Malt: Malt is grain, usually barley which has been sprouted and then dried.
- Hops: Hops are the flowers of a climbing vine. They’re like spices, used to season and bitter beer. They balance its malty sweetness and provide a distinctive aroma.
- Yeast: Yeast is actually fungus. It turns sugar into alcohol, creating CO2 and flavor compounds along the way.
Before we start, I’ll tackle the most common questions among non-brewers.
Can homebrew make me sick?
No. If you mess up, your beer might taste bad, but anything that could actually make you sick simply can’t survive inside beer. In medieval Europe, most people only drank beer, as the water made them ill but beer didn’t!
But homebrew can’t be as good as commercial beer, right?
Wrong! Because excellent ingredients are available to homebrewers today, we routinely make beer just as good as commercial beers. In fact, it’s pretty hard to make a beer worse than most mainstream commercial beers in Korea!
Okay, so how do you turn water, malt, hops and yeast into delicious cold beer?
There are five stages:
- Mash: Malt is soaked in hot water to release the sugars.
- Boil: The malt sugar solution is boiled with hops.
- Pitch: The solution is cooled and yeast is added to begin fermentation.
- Fermentation: The yeast ferments the sugars, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol.
- Packaging: The beer is bottled with a little sugar to provide the carbonation.
That’s quite simplified, of course. Let’s examine each step with a little more detail.
There are two basic types of homebrewing: all-grain and extract. In all-grain, you extract the sugars from the grain yourself. This method is more flexible but requires more time and equipment. Extract brewers skip this step by buying concentrated malt sugar, either as a thick liquid or a powder called dry malt extract.
Gear Up: The Equipment & Ingredients
This article will discuss the simpler “extract” method of brewing. To brew a batch of beer this way, you will need:
- A large pot (min. 10 liters/3 gallons)
- Two fermenting buckets
- An airlock
- An auto-siphon
- A hydrometer (optional)
- Enough bottles to hold 19 liters/5 gallons of beer
For the bottles, use flip-top (Grolsch style) or plastic screw top bottles: bottle cappers can be ordered from abroad but aren’t easy to get in Korea. Sanitizer can be brought from homebrew shops but a better option is to go to a pharmacy and get iodine (Povidone, “포비돈”). A mixture of 1.25ml Povidone to 1 liter of water will make a sanitizing solution which doesn’t need to be rinsed.
Pale ale (think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) is a good style for your first brew. It’s quick, easy to make and is probably the most popular style of craft beer right now. This recipe will take around one month to complete, though you’re only required to do any work at all on two days: the rest of the time, you can forget about the beer while the yeast does the work.
- 3kg/6.6 lb. dry malt extract.
- 84g/3oz Cascade hops – the classic American hop that gives Sierra Nevada and many other pale ales their distinctive flavor.
- One pack of Safale S-04 yeast – a good quality dry yeast, it is easy to use and reliable.
- 23 liters/5 gallons water – It’s best to use bottled water, but tap works provided it tastes okay and you boil it first.
- Step 1: Fill your pot about three-quarters full of water. Put it on the stove, turn the burner all the way up, and add half the malt extract. You’ve just made “wort” (unfermented beer).
- Step 2: As the wort begins to boil, add 28g/1 oz. of hops.
- Step 3: Continue boiling the wort for 45 minutes. Then add the rest of the malt extract and 28g/1oz of hops.
- Step 4: Continue boiling for fifteen minutes more.
- Step 5: Kill the heat and immediately add the remaining hops.
- Step 6: Cool the wort. (Put it in a sink full of cold water, or just leave outside on your balcony overnight with the lid firmly on.)
- Step 7: Sanitize your equipment. From this step on, everything that comes in contact with your wort/beer must be sanitized—that is, almost every microorganism on it must be killed. You can do this by swirling the iodine solution around inside containers, or immersing things in the solution. A minute’s contact is all it takes to kill the baddies.
- Step 8 Pour the cooled wort into the sanitized fermentation bucket. The yeast will want some oxygen when it gets added, so splash the wort into the bucket if you can.
- Step 9 Top up the fermenting bucket to 20 liters with cold water, again splashing to get some oxygen in there.
- Step 10: Carefully open your pack of yeast with sanitized scissors, sprinkle the yeast onto the wort, and seal the fermenting bucket.
- Step 11: Pour some soju into the airlock. Cheap alcohol like soju will kill any bugs that manage to get that far. Put the fermenting bucket somewhere cool (but not cold). Most yeasts are happiest between 17-20 °C (63-68 °F).
- Step 12: Within two weeks, your beer should finish fermenting. The best way to know when it’s done is to use a hydrometer. To do this, take a sample of beer and float the hydrometer in it. When you get the same reading three days in a row you can move on to bottling. If you don’t have a hydrometer you can just make sure you give it enough time—two weeks should be plenty.
Once your beer has finished fermenting, you need to bottle it with a little bit of sugar to provide carbonation. At this point, you don’t want to get oxygen into it, so we’ll use a siphon to put it in the bottles.
- Step 1: Sanitize all your equipment: bottles, caps, siphon etc…
- Step 2: Siphon the beer from the fermenting bucket to another fermenting bucket.
- Step 3: Boil 100g/3.5oz of sugar with a small amount of water for ten minutes. Then pour it into the beer, mixing gently but thoroughly.
- Step 4: Carefully siphon the beer into the bottles, leaving a small amount of space inside for each. Seal the bottles and put them somewhere dark and warm-ish for a few weeks.
Resist your urge to open them too soon. After about two more weeks, you can check a bottle. Just pop it into the fridge for a while, then open it up and try it. If it’s sweet and flat, the bottles need more time. If it’s fizzy and tastes good, congratulations! You’re a homebrewer! Enjoy.
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Find out more:
homebrewkorea.com The original English-language homebrewing site for Korea. We have a friendly and welcoming community with a lot of events and a wealth of Korea-specific knowledge.
howtobrew.com Probably the best website to get you started. Packed full of useful information to take from your first brew right up to formulating your own all-grain recipes.
basicbrewing.com These guys produce an excellent series of podcasts on all areas of brewing as well as several DVDs.
Facebook: There are several active groups including Homebrew Korea, Seoul Brew Club and Daejeon Brewers Guild.
The best way to get a feel for the hobby is probably to come to an event. We are a friendly group and you’ll get to try some great beer.
February 16th: Winter Beer Fest
We’ll be serving homebrews at Reilly’s Taphouse and other bars around Itaewon.
February 23rd: Brewers’ Throwdown
A homebrew contest to be held at Magpie Brewing in Haebangchon.
If all of this sounds like a little too much but you still really want to make your own booze, there is still hope for you. It’s called cider—no, not the sweet fizzy stuff. I’m talking hard, alcoholic cider. This has to be just about the easiest drink in the world to make.
- Step 1 Buy a large bottle of preservative-free apple juice. It can be any brand but it must be preservative-free.
- Step 2 Pour out a small glass of apple juice and drink it. (This is to make room!)
- Step 3 Sprinkle a little bit of Safale S-04 yeast (see the beer article) into the bottle.
- Step 4 Put the cap back on the apple juice bottle but don’t tighten it all the way. You need to let CO2 escape.
- Step 5 Leave the bottle somewhere cool but not cold for one week.
- Step 6 Transfer the cider to an empty soda bottle. Add a teaspoon of sugar and close the lid tightly.
- Step 7 Leave the bottle somewhere warm-ish for a week or until the bottle feels very firm.
- Step 8 Chill the cider and drink it.
If you prefer sweet cider you can mix it with a little apple juice right before drinking.
Thanks to Gord Sellar for his assistance in writing, to Matt Curtis for providing photos and to all the members of Homebrew Korea for their various contributions.
Rowan Chadwick started home brewing in early 2011 after getting fed up with Korean beer. With one taste of a wonderful homebrewed beer at a fermentation celebration, he realized that there were better options than commercial beer. He started brewing soon after and hasn’t looked back since. Rowan is from the UK and works as a teacher in Seoul.
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