If you are looking into brewing your own beer, you most likely have tons of questions about the brewing process. I remember when I was first starting out the very first question I had was “how long does it take to brew beer?” This is a very reasonable question for a beginner to have. However, the answer to this question is not so straightforward. The actual beer brewing process usually takes between two to six hours, but you do not have a finished product after this process. The beer must first go through several fermentation phases before it is ready for consumption. So, after you brew the beer it can take around six weeks before you can even drink the beer.
The beer brewing process can be divided up into four different parts: the brew day, primary fermentation, secondary fermentation, and bottle conditioning.
The brew day is the shortest, yet most labor-intensive part of the beer making process. It is called brew day, because many homebrewers set aside a whole day for this part of the process. This step usually takes between two to six hours, the amount of time it takes depends on many factors. Some beers have many intricate steps, while others are very basic. Another factor that will impact your brew time is your brewing experience. When you are first starting out your brew days may take a little longer than expected. However, once you start to get experience, your brew time will start to decrease. Eventually, you’ll be a professional and have your brewing day routine down to a science!
Once you finish brewing your beer the next step is the primary fermentation phase. This initial fermentation takes anywhere from one to two weeks for it to be completed. This is the part of the brewing process where the alcohol is being formed. The yeast added in the previous stage is converting the sugars in the wort to alcohol. This addition of yeast to the fermenter is called pitching the yeast. At the beginning of this stage the fermentation vessel will be very active. There will be a lot of bubbling and you should see some activity in the airlock. After several days it will start to die down. Even though you can’t see any visible fermentation there are still changes occurring, so let the beer set for another couple days.
After the primary fermentation is complete the next step is secondary fermentation. It’s typically recommended to leave the beer in secondary fermentation for around two weeks. Don’t get worried if you don’t see anything occurring like you did during the primary fermentation. The changes are not as visible during this stage but that does not mean it is any less important. The yeast is now making some
finishing touches resulting in a better tasting beer. The yeast and any other leftover sediment from the brew starts to fall down to the bottom which can be separated before bottling making the final product a clearer beer.
Beer fermenting in a carboy
The final fermentation phase occurs in the bottles. After the beer is bottled and the priming sugar is added the bottles should be stored in a dark environment at room temperature for two weeks. During this phase the beer is becoming carbonated. The remaining yeast in the beer converts the sugar to carbon dioxide which pressurizes the bottle and carbonates the beer. This pressurization is why it is important not to overfill your bottles. If you overfill them, the pressure will be too great for the bottles to handle causing them to explode. Make sure you fill them properly otherwise all your hard work will go to waste. Once they are done bottle conditioning the next step is put them in your refrigerator to chill them for future drinking!
How to Tell if Beer is Done Fermenting
The only way to tell if your beer is done fermenting is through the use of a hydrometer. The hydrometer is a device used to measure specific gravity, or the density of the liquid compared to the density of water. Once you believe your beer is finished, all you need to do is take a couple of hydrometer readings over the next few days. If the results are all the same then the beer is finished fermenting. If there is some variation between the results you should give the beer some more time to finish fermenting.
Tips to Reduce the Time it Takes
For the brew day there are several ways you can reduce the time needed for the brewing process. One piece of advice is to read the recipe before you start brewing. Don’t go into the brew blind, read the recipes ahead of time so you know what to expect. This tip also overlaps with the next one which is make sure you have all the supplies and you are completely set up before you start brewing. I’d recommend using a checklist when first starting out so you won’t forget anything. If during the middle of the brew you realize you are missing your airlock and have to go searching for it, that will add some un-necessary extra time. Finally, as stated earlier, practice makes perfect. Once you start to gain homebrewing experience you will naturally reduce the time it takes due to your familiarity with the process and all the steps involved.
Regarding the fermentation processes there is not much you can do to reduce the time required. One way that may lead to reduced fermentation times is using a different type of yeast. Using fresh dry yeast will lead to a quicker fermentation period. Liquid yeasts usually go slow and steady while fermenting the beer and take a little bit longer than the dried variety. Even though it is slower, liquid yeast does have its benefits. The main ones being the amount of variety in yeast strains and the ability to create a yeast starter. Another way you can reduce fermentation time is based on the type of beer you are fermenting. Beers like IPA’s take less time to ferment compared to lagers and ales. This doesn’t mean you should strictly brew IPA’s, even though you prefer drinking lagers. It is just another factor to consider while you are choosing what to brew.
Unfortunately, there is no exact timeline for the homebrewing process as there are many factors that go into how long it takes. However, on average you are looking at no less than five weeks until you can drink your finished product. As you become more experienced the time required on brew day will decrease and depending the type of beer and the yeast used will affect the fermentation times. Even though homebrewing does not provide any immediate gratification, the wait for the final homebrewed beer is completely worth it!