While it's not as easy or as cheap as making toilet wine, brewing your own beer can be a fun, rewarding and educational experience. Because beer has a lower alcohol content than wine, it is more sensitive to contamination and not as cheap for volume of alcohol per dollar spent.
Home brewing first became legal during the Carter Administration, in 1978, but it took the leadership of UC Davis brewing science professor Michael Lewis to get home brewing off the ground. This also contributed to the vast numbers of microbrews available in the US.
There is a local homebrew club, called the Greenbelt Brewers Association. It is a fun group that likes to drink and/or brew beer, and are happy to help with any questions about beer, brewing, equipment, ingredients, what have you. The general area covered is from Fairfield to Davis and Sacramento (along the Interstate 80 greenbelt/corridor, more or less). Currently they hold monthly meetings at the Sudwerk on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:30PM.
Learning to brew
The university offers courses in beer brewing for students and a different course for nonstudents through University Extension. You can also check out Shields Library's section on beer brewing or ask ArlenAbraham.
To get pointers or learn from local brewers, check out the local homebrew club, Greenbelt Brewers Association.
The Davis Food Co-op now has most supplies you'll need to start home brewing (except for 5 gallon pots).
The second-closest homebrew shop to Davis is Brewmeister in west sac which is off of Harbor Blvd. All-right selection and they have very competitive prices.
The Woodland Homebrew Supply opened in 2011, providing easy access to ingredients and equipment. They also offer homebrewing classes taught by the owner/brewer, who is an American Brewers Guild graduate and has over a decade of experience. (closed) Another homebrew shop is Brew Ferment Distill (BFD) in Sacramento. Prices are pretty high but the selection is okay (also closed)
If you are up for a drive to Folsom (about 25 minutes), try the Folsom Brewmeister. They offer a full range of beer and wine making supplies and equipment, have a super friendly and knowledgeable staff (the owner is an American Brewers Guild Graduate). They also offer classes on weekends ranging from beginner to expert.
Some staff at The Original Homebrew Outlet in Sacramento are awful. Avoid this place if at all possible. Expect to spend in the neighborhood of $200 on your first five gallon (54 12 oz bottles) batch of beer plus equipment. Subsequent batches will be around $25. (also closed!)
Another homebrew store that's within car distance of Davis is MoreBeer!, in Concord. You can visit in person, and/or you can order online. I found them to be very helpful, and they have great, active online forums.
To brew, you're going to need to get some equipment, the bare minimum being:
- 5 gallon pot — must be stainless steel or enamelware
- 5 gallon glass carboy or food grade plastic bucket
- carboy brush
- bottle capper (no, putting the beer in plastic coke bottles and screwing the lid on real tight will not work)
- bottle caps
- ingredients kit (available at Homebrew Outlet and comes with complete brewing instructions)
- brewing yeast (you could use baking yeast, but that's gross) — also available at the Homebrew Outlet
- some tubing
- iodophore solution - for sterilizing the equipment
- stainless steel or food grade plastic spoon (will be used to stir 3-5 gallons of boiling water)
- racking cane
- secondary carboy
- wort (pronounced wert) chiller
- bottle filler — not as complicated as it sounds. actually $2 piece of plastic.
- Advising your roommates ahead of time. They may not appreciate a huge, smelly mess, the smell of bleach used to sterilize bottles, the resulting spill, a locked off closet, and then a filled fridge (especially if the beer doesn't come out as one would wish). Seriously.
- A friend or roommate with a less discerning taste for beer willing to make your bad batches disappear.
All temps given in degrees Fahrenheit, instructions may vary based on ingredient kit.
Rule #1: sanitation. Everything that touches the beer after the boil must be sterile. Failure to do so will result in foul tasting beer. Follow directions on iodophore bottle for sanitation.
Get about three gallons of water or so up to 155, seep the grains in a clean sock or grain bag for 30 mins.
Remove grain bag, bring water to full boil
Remove kettle from heat, add malt extract. Make sure all of the extract is dissolved before returning kettle to heat.
After about 5 minutes, add boiling hops. Note that if the water line is close to the lip of the pot, you may want to turn off the heat so the wort doesn't boil over.
Add Irish moss
Add finishing hops after 45 mins. Remove from heat 10 mins later. IMPORTANT: Once the boil is over, everything that touches the beer must be STERILE.
Cool wort using wort chiller or bathtub full of ice.
When wort reaches 75-80, remove chiller, whirlpool wort to get the trub (solids and crap) into a cone in the center and being siphoning into your fermentation vessel. At this point, you can pitch the yeast.
cap it with an airlock and wait a week or so
transfer from primary to secondary fermenters. wait another week or so.
go to a taqueria and ask if you can have any bottles. i've had the most luck with El Mariachi. Don't bother with the Jarito's or Dos Equis bottles, they don't cap well. Also, as a general rule, don't use bottles with screw off caps, they don't seal very well.
clean the bottles in a dishwasher with no soap.
add priming sugar to beer
transfer beer from secondary fermenter to bottles, place cap on lid
wait 15 mins for the headspace to fill with CO2 (optional), then cap
wait a week or so, drink beer
If you are looking for more information on how to brew beer then try the The Brew Wiki
If you don't like beer (God forbid!) you could try making wine. If you're just after beer, you can find cheap beer around town.