Although its consumption is rarely academic, beer is, in its most basic sense, scientific. There are many books and a number of scientific studies about the complex chemical reactions that occur to produce the "magical blend of barley hops and delicious alcohol" as it is so eloquently described by Will Ferrell in the Bud Light commercials. It might have been the science, along with the ability to be creative, and most of all, a love of beer that led me to begin home-brewing my own beer. This hobby has turned out to be an incredible way to both experiment with, and learn about, all aspects of beer.

Unlike the home distillation of hard alcohol, which has been illegal since prohibition, the brewing of beer in one's home is a perfectly legal and widely-practiced hobby?and not one that is outside the realm of possibility for college students. A basic group of tools, a large pot, a stove, a few ingredients, and some time are all that are needed for incredible beer, regardless of where you are.

Contrary to popular belief, home-brewing is not an incredibly economical way to make or drink beer. Its true merits are for those who enjoy good beer, because it can cost just about as much per beer as a Bud Light, but it tastes as good as a Geary's, Dogfishead, or other similarly priced craft beers.

There is a level of control that one can exercise over the beer. You can experiment with a seemingly endless combination of hops, malt, grains, yeast, and flavorings to produce new beer flavors and styles, an enticing prospect for a beer-loving science nerd such as myself. The following is by no means an exhaustive guide of how to brew your own beer; rather it is a look at the basics. For anyone who is tempted, I would recommend contacting me or purchasing a home brew book to learn what you are about to get yourself into (and yes, this is something you will want to get into).

The real cost in home brewing lies in the brewing equipment. The basics can be attained for around $60-$80 from a brewing supply store. These include a large metal pot, a 6.5-gallon and a five-gallon plastic bucket with tight fitting lids, an airlock (that fits into a rubber gasket in the lid of the plastic bucket and allows gas out and no air in), a long 1/4 foot tube for siphoning beer between buckets and into bottles (more on this later), 50 to 60 reusable glass bottles (not the kind with screw tops), bottle caps, a bottle capper, a thermometer, and some sort of sanitizing solution. While many of these items are available at hardware stores, they do need to be food-grade, and the most economical way is still to buy a bare-bones kit from a homebrew store or online. The best bets at Bowdoin include a trip to the Hop Shop in Gray, or ordering online from

Once the brewing equipment has been attained, the next step is the selection of the ingredients, which are available in many forms. The average home brewer will usually choose between pre-made wort, hopped malt or a full all-malt brew kit. The all-malt kit is best suited for a second or third batch, but it involves all the major steps of basic home-brewing, so I will address it first. These kits come with one or two cans of malt, adjunct grains, hops, yeast and often priming sugar and bottle caps as well. Confused? Read on.

In full-scale beer brewing, many of the flavors and colors, and all of the sugars that will be converted into alcohol are attained by malting barley, a process that allows the grain to germinate and create enzymes required to break down the grain's starches into simpler sugars to be used in yeast metabolism (creation of alcohol). This grain is then crushed and subjected to different temperatures of hot water to extract the ideal amount of sugar and flavor.

Unfortunately, this process is quite complex and time-consuming (only advanced home-brewers use such techniques). Luckily for the amateurs, there are companies that extract the sugars for us and boil it down into liquid or dry forms known as malt extract. When home brewing, we need only pour this molasses-like liquid or sugar-like solid into water, boil it for an hour, and we then have true wort (unfermented beer). This malt is available in a variety of styles, ranging from wheat to light to dark, depending on the beer. In addition to the malt, adjunct grains are also used. They are roasted and cracked grains steeped to make a 'beer tea' before the malt is added, giving the beer specific colors, flavors and body. Examples of this are crystal grains used in many pale ales and the dark and smoky roasted barley used to give stouts and porters their dark rich color and body.

Hops are almost always added for their embittering and flavoring capabilities, and the wide variety available allows for a good deal of experimentation. Some beers like India Pale Ale rely on these hops to define their flavor, while other beers such as stouts only use them lightly to offset some of the sweetness of the malt. By adding the selected hops at different times throughout the boil, brewers can extract different amounts of bitter acids, flavor and aroma character.

Once the malt, water, grain and hop mixture has boiled for an hour, it is cooled to 70 Celsius, and yeast is added and mixed in. Dried yeast remains the easiest to use. There is an increasing amount of liquid yeast strains available that are harder to work with but produce a better beer. This wort/yeast mixture is covered with a lid and airlock, and the process of primary fermentation should run for seven to 10 days at around 60 to 70 degrees Celsius. Here, the yeast begins to multiply, and once it uses all of the oxygen in the headspace of the fermentation bucket, it begins to convert the sugars in the wort into ethanol. The airlock allows the carbon dioxide gas that is also produced to exit the bucket without allowing any oxygen in.

After primary fermentation is complete the beer is "racked" (moved) away from the yeast that has accumulated on the bottom of the bucket into a secondary fermenter (or straight to bottles if speed is desired instead of flavor). It can mellow for a week to more than a month, depending on the beer. From here, a solution of dextrose, a simple and easily metabolized sugar, is added to the beer, and it is immediately bottled in 50 to 60 clean reusable bottles and capped. This sugar is quickly taken up by the yeast in the solution, which converts it to carbon dioxide gas. Because the beer is now sealed in bottles, this gas builds up pressure and naturally carbonates the beer. In two weeks or so, the beer is fully carbonated and ready to be refrigerated and enjoyed.

Home-brewed beer takes slightly more time and effort than a trip to the store, but it is an experience. The science, creativity and magic behind the brewing process is complex and mystifying, and the basics I have provided are merely an overview. Besides, what other hobby leaves you with two cases of beer?