If you are new to home-brewing here is a basic guide.
The first thing you need is grain. Barley is most commonly used but corn and wheat can be used as well.
My local brew store carries about 20 types of malted and roasted barleys. Each one lends a different body and flavor to the beer.
Malted and roasted barleys come in a variety of styles. These styles are usually broken down by location-related beer style. The main ones are Belgian, German, Canadian, Domestic (United States), and British.
Caramel and crystal malts of various types also lend different flavors and colors to beer. Flaked corn, wheat, and oats are used in some beer varieties.
These grains are usually ground up a bit so that they release their sugars and flavors when steeped in water. You can make beer using these specialty grains as a base (called ‘all-grain brewing’) but it is more work than using less of these grains and adding malt extracts. Some brewers insist on all grain since it is ‘purer’. I have been using a combination of specialty grains and extracts and getting very nice results.
Malt extracts. Malt extracts come in either a powdered or liquid form. The dry form is purer but the liquid form dissolves more easily in your wort. I personally like the dry because I like the process of standing over the stove, slowly dissolving it, while smelling the nice roasted barley smell. If you are buying from mail-order, the dry malt weighs less so it may be cheaper to ship.
These malts come in a few varieties.
- Pilsen Malt. This is a dry malt that is great for light ales or lagers or pilsners.
- Light Malt. This also works well with a variety of brews and is less dry than the pilsen malt.
- Dark Malt. As the name suggests, this is good for darker beers such as porters. It has a richer flavor.
You can also get wheat malt that is used for making Hefeweizens or other wheat-based beer.
Malt extracts do not look like the specialty grains described above. Dry malts look like a refined powder. The liquid looks like thick maple syrup.
The second major ingredient in beer is hops. Hops come in a variety of forms. The most common are loose and pellets. I use pellets because my local store carries them and they work great.
Brewers yeast comes in both dried (powdered) and liquid form. I have used both but like the liquid better. The type of yeast you use is dictated by what type of beer you want to brew and it does have a significant impact on the flavor. I like lighter flavored beers so tend to go with German Ale, Kolsch, California Ale, Cream Ale, and Pale Ale yeasts. I use yeasts from White Labs. They have a great website, which is listed on the blogroll.
Finally, the water. I use tap water. Depending on where you live, you might want to buy spring water or boil your water before use. In the US, most tap water is fine for brewing.