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Home brewing relates to the brewing of beer, wine, cider and other beverages, both alcoholic as well as non-alcoholic, through fermentation on a small scale as a hobby for personal consumption. While legality of home brewing varies from country to country, most permit home brewing, some countries limiting the quantity brewed by individuals and even fewer countries permitting distillation of hard alcohol.
People homebrew for a variety of reasons. Home brewing is usually cheaper than buying commercially comparable beverages; it may allow people to regulate recipes to their very own tastes (creating beverages that are unavailable on the open market, or low-ethanol beverages which may contain fewer calories and thus be less-fattening); or people may enjoy entering homebrew competitions. From time to time referred to as "craft brewing", home brewing has developed a variety of home brewing clubs and competitions.
Alcohol has been brewed domestically throughout its 7,000-year history beginning in Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. Understanding of brewing beer and wine was passed on from the Egyptians to the Greeks and eventually to the Romans. Mass production of brewed beverages began in the 1,700’s with the industrial revolution. New innovations, like thermometers and hydrometers, allowed increases in efficiency. French microbiologist Louis Pasteur explained the role of yeast in fermentation in 1857, enabling brewers to develop strains of yeast with desirable properties (conversion efficiency, capability to handle elevated alcohol content).
Home brewing kits come in many different types and from many different manufacturers. A local homebrew store may create some of their own kits by packaging materials together. Most kits come with a full set of instructions for brewing. These instructions, sometimes called recipes, may vary widely in the amount of instruction given. For instance, many all-grain kits assume a familiarity with the brewing process and so may give fewer specific instructions on the general process. Many advanced brewers prefer to design and perfect their own recipes rather than buy kits. Kits may or may not include yeast.
For brewers with equipment and knowledge about the brewing process, all-grain kits include all the ingredients necessary to create homebrew from beginning to end. Most kits include grain and hops, some kits may also include yeast. A full set of instructions is generally included. What sets these kits apart from others is the inclusion of milled malted grain which must first undergo a mash to extract the sugars, this combination of liquid and sugars is known as wort and is necessary for fermentation. A full boil of the wort is then required, with one or more hop additions at different times depending on style.
Some kits contain a concentrated malt extract rather than grain. Malt extract can be either dry or in a syrupy, liquid form. A few advanced kits may also come with a small amount of milled, malted grain that must be steeped with the wort before boiling. A grain bag is usually included to facilitate this process. These additional grains help add different character to the beer so that a single extract can be used to brew several varieties of beer. A full boil is required, with hop additions at different times depending on style.
Sometimes known as beer in a can, no-boil and hopped wort, these beer kits contain liquid malt extract that has already been boiled with hops to introduce bitterness and flavour. Pre-hopped kits simplify the brewing process by removing the need to add hops at specific times during the boil. Some kits may not require a boil at all, though this may increase the risk of off flavours in the resulting beer due to contamination from bacteria and wild yeasts. While some feel the quality of beer from these kits can be on par with commercial beer or homebrew made from other methods, others feel that pre-hopped extract provides hop bitterness with little flavour and bouquet.
Brewing in a bag (BIAB) is a technique developed in Australia. The main pioneer and continuing authority on this method is Patrick Hollingdale. The hallmarks of pure BIAB are a single brewing vessel, a fine mesh bag to hold the grist (crushed malt/grain) and a single heat source. The bag, usually made of nylon or fashioned out of a finely woven material lines the brewing pot which contains all the water needed for the brew. This water is heated to strike temperature and then the grist is added. A simultaneous mash and sparge then occur for approx. 90 minutes. After the mashing/sparging period the grain bag, holding the spent grains, is removed (lautering) and then the all-grain brewing process proceeds as normal: boiling, cooling, pitching and fermenting. Traditional mashing methods require three vessels and, at least, two heat sources. Brew in a bag has revolutionised home all-grain brewing as batch sizes of 9L (2.5 Gal) through to 45.5L (12 US Gal) of wort into fermenter are easily employed without any compromising on quality or versatility.