There are 3 different ways in which you can brew your own beer: extract brewing, partial-mash brewing and all-grain brewing. Each has their own advantages. Below is a review of each method. They are listed in order from easy-peasy to the most involved. See which one is right for you!
This is the simplest form of homebrewing. It is the ideal brewing method for a beginning homebrewer. A minimal amount of time and effort is needed and only the very basic homebrewing equipment is needed.
A typical extract beer recipe will call for malt extract in either syrup or powder form, hops, beer yeast and corn sugar (dextrose). In many instances the hops will already be incorporated into the malt extract as an oil, so the only homebrewing ingredients you will need to deal with is the beer yeast and corn sugar.
When extract brewing, the malt extract is boiled in 2 or 3 gallons of water for a set amount of time. Hops are added during the boil, if necessary. The mix (now called a beer wort) is cooled down, and more water is added to bring the volume up to the total batch size, usually 5 gallons. The beer yeast is added and the wort is allowed to ferment.
Partial-mash brewing is great for someone who wants to get there hands a little more dirty than just extract brewing. Partial-mash brewing is similar to extract brewing, except for the addition of some malted barley grains. These grains are known as specialty grains.
The partial-mash directions will instruct you to steep the grains in hot water before adding the malt extract. Everything else continues on just the same as when extract brewing: boil in the hops; allow to cool; top-up with water to 5 gallons; then allow to ferment with the addition of a beer yeast.
There is a huge variety of partial-mash ingredient kits available for producing a wide array of beers. These kits come with all the homebrewing ingredients mention above, pre-measured and with complete directions and beer recipe.
Just as the name sounds, all-grain brewing is brewing without any malt extracts. All the fermentable sugars are coming from malted barley grains, not malt extract. This type of brewing requires more time and a little more skill, so it is not recommended for the first-time brewer.
It also requires more homebrewing equipment. This is mostly due to the fact that your are now typically dealing with anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds of barley grains, instead of one or two cans of malt extract. It also has to do with the fact that you need to heat the entire 5 gallons of water when all-grain brewing, so larger brew pots are required.
Instead of steeping the grains, as in a partial-mash, you are actually mashing the grains. What this means is that you are not only heating up the crush barley to extract flavor, body and aroma as before, you are also allowing the starches in the malted barley break down to a fermentable sugar. This is something that happens naturally when the mash is heated up to the proper temperature.
The hot wort is then drained through the spent grains — a process known as lautering — and then more hot water is drain through the spent grain as well — a process known as sparging. All these steps need additional homebrewing equipment to help you along the way.