How To Brew the Best IPA at Home (Step-by-Step)
Brewing the perfect India Pale Ale (IPA) is a rewarding experience; however, it can also be daunting. With all the different hops, malts, and yeasts available, it can be hard to know where to start. Fortunately, brewing an IPA at home doesn’t have to be complicated.
To brew the best IPA at home, decide how you want your brew to turn out then choose the appropriate hop variety, malt type, and brewing technique. The most important aspect of brewing an IPA is choosing the right ingredients.
This step-by-step guide will teach you how to brew the best IPA at home. From selecting the right hops and malts to following the fermentation process, this article will help you make a delicious IPA in the comfort of your home. Let’s get started.
1. Decide Which IPA Flavor To Aim For
Although all IPAs have a distinguishing bitter taste, there is a huge difference in flavor across varieties, and the flavor you want should form the basis of your brewing process. Choose one among the following:
While IPA style is a matter of personal preference, it’s also influenced by ingredient availability. However, the ingredients for most IPA brewing styles and flavors are readily available, and you likely won’t have to worry about this.
To master your grasp of IPA styles and flavors, I recommend reading through the 2015 BJCP style guide. Below are some of the common IPA styles:
- American IPA. This beer is moderately strong, bitter, and hoppy, and has the appearance of light amber to medium gold with a healthy amount of white. If an IPA doesn’t match this description, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) classifies it as a specialty IPA.
- Belgian IPA. This IPA style is characterized by its strong, complex aromatic profile and a balance between fruity esters and phenols from yeast fermentation. It also has a high level of carbonation that accentuates the aroma and flavor.
- Black/ Brown IPA. This IPA style is characterized by its roasted malt character, ranging from chocolate to coffee and espresso. It also has a moderate hop bitterness and flavor. The color of this beer ranges from deep brown to black.
- Red IPA/White IPA. Red IPA combines the standard American IPA with dark or medium crystal malts to give the beer a dark fruit toasty flavor. On the other hand, White IPA is brewed with malted wheat, which gives it a light golden color. It has a fruity aroma from the hops but less bitterness than the traditional IPA.
- Rye IPA. Rye IPA is known for its spicy, earthy flavor and aroma. The use of rye malt gives this beer a dry finish with a medium to high hop bitterness. Rye IPAs are perfect for those who enjoy their brews with an extra kick.
- English IPA. This style holds on to the standard hop aroma of standard IPA but features a more pronounced malt content. The most common malt used here is pale ale malt.
- Double IPA. Double IPAs are simply stronger versions of the IPAS discussed above. Due to higher hops concentrations, these typically have an Alcohol by Volume (ABV) of 9%.
2. Get the Right Ingredients
The quality of your IPA boils down to the quality and quantity of ingredients you use and how you blend them. Below are the ingredients explored in detail.
Hops are the most important ingredient when it comes to IPA brewing. They determine the flavor and bitterness of your IPA brew.
If you want bitterness, look for the following:
Try the meridian hop, linalool, nerol, or El-dorado for aromas. For a beginner trying out that classic standard American IPA character, cascade or Simcoe should be your choice.
Yeast is a major determinant of the aroma of your IPA. You should be careful when selecting the yeast to use as this decision can make or break your IPA.
Opt for American or English ale yeast if you want a fruity, hoppy character. A clean finish is achieved using an Irish Ale yeast or a larger strain.
Ale yeasts work well in temperatures between (18-22°C or 64-71°F) and produce the slightly fruity characteristics you find in many ales.
For the standard American IPA, go for one of the following:
- Wyeast American Ale 1056
- SafAle US-05
- White Labs WLP001
Also, you need to be careful with the malt. Malt is used to make wort, the foundation of most fermented beers. This is a major determinant of the color and taste of your IPA. IPA color ranges between light red and pale straw.
For your classic American recipe, use 2-row pale malt plus a half to a whole pound of crystal malt. For the crystal malt, I recommend crystal 10, which, combined with the 2-row pale malt, will give a good balance between bitter and sweet.
However, for the classic American IPA, keep the crystal malts below 5% of the total hops to prevent your beer from getting too roasty.
This guide is for the classic Single Malt and Single Hop (SMaSH) American IPA. I settled for this IPA since it is easy to brew for a beginner. Here are some things to note when brewing:
- Expect your beer to be between burnt gold and orange-tinted copper in color when making an American IPA. Be sure to look for a clear or white head unless you choose to dry-hop it or serve unfiltered.
- The aroma of your American IPA brewed using our recipe will be malty grain- mild citrus. This is what you expect when you use the Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast on malt.
- Expect a light bitterness with a roasty malt taste. Some roasty malt notes will linger in the aftertaste, but this will not be too harsh to swallow.
Recipe for a Single Malt and Single Hop (SMaSH)
A Single Malt and Single Hop (SMaSH) beer is a simple but flavorful beer that showcases the characteristics of a particular malt and hops variety.
To brew a SMaSH beer, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 6 pounds of pale ale malt
- 1 ounce of a specific hop variety (such as Cascade, Centennial, or Citra)
- 1 packet of dry yeast (such as Safale US-05 or Wyeast 1056)
- 1 cup of corn sugar (for bottling)
- A mash tun and a boiling kettle
First-wort hopping (FWH) refers to the addition of finishing hops to the boiling kettle as the wort is being transferred from the mash turn to the boiling kettle. The temperatures in the boiling kettle release important resins and oils in the hops into the wort.
The Whirlfloc tablet is used as a clarifier in all kinds of grain brewing. These tablets, a blend of Irish moss and purified carrageenan, precipitate haze, causing glucans and proteins and resulting in a clearer beer.
Please read our basic beer brewing guide for the basics of the brewing process.
3. Follow the Brewing Process
To start, you should clean the mash tun and boiling kettle, which will help prevent bacteria from getting into your brew. Next, follow the steps below to safely brew beer at home.
Fill Your Kettle
- Add 15 quarts (17 liters) of tap water to your boiling kettle
- Heat to 164°F (73.3°C) for 3 minutes
- Add this to your mash tun
Though tap water works fine, you can splurge and go for filtered or bottled water. The impurities in tap water may affect the taste and quality of your beer.
- Mash in slowly
- Add 12 pounds of malt to the mash tun and stir well to prevent clumping.
- Let the mash settle for an hour, keeping temperatures at 152°F (66.7°C). Here is a good guide to whole-grain brewing that you should consider reading to get this first step right. A mistake here can compromise the quality of your IPA.
- As your mash settles in the tun, add about 8.4 quarts (9.5 liters) of tap water into your boiling kettle and heat to 202°F (94.4°C).
- Mash out by adding the 8.4 quarts (9.5 liters) of water at 202°F (94.4°C) to the mash tun. This should equalize the mash tun temperatures to about 168°F (75.6°C).
- Leave the mash at this mash-out temperature of 168°F for about 15 minutes.
- As you wait for these 15 minutes to lapse, add 2.8 gallons (12.7 liters) of tap water to your boiling kettle and heat it to 172°F (77.8°C).
- When 15 minutes have elapsed, pour out the wort and then put it back into the mash tun. Repeat this procedure severally to ensure that your wort is completely free of grain particles.
First Wort Hopping
- Drain your mash tun into the boiling kettle, sparging with your 2.8 gallons (12.7 liters) of 172°F (77.8°C) water.
- Once the kettle is full, add your first Hops (1 ounce or 30 ml Mosaic hops, 12.3% AA).
- Record the pre-boil gravity and add the other 1 1/2 ounces (44 ml) of Mosaic hops, 12.3% AA.
- Immediately after adding the hops, start boiling.
- After 10 minutes of boiling, add the 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) Wyeast yeast nutrient blend.
- After 15 minutes of boiling, add the other 1 1/2 ounces (44 ml) of Mosaic hops, 12.3% AA, and the Whirlfloc tablet.
- Once the wort has boiled for 60 minutes, cool it and move it to a sterilized container with an airlock.
Shake or use an oxygenating stone to aerate the wort.
If you use an oxygenating stone, be sure to place it at the bottom of your fermenter. Use an airlock if you use a fermenter that doesn’t have one built in.
Add the yeast to your wort and maintain a temperature between 66°F and 70°F (19°C and 21°C). The addition of yeast in wort essentially gives you beer.
However, it is not ready yet and still has to be fermented.
- Check your beer gravity and if it is close to your target gravity, transfer it to a second clean carboy with dry hops.
- Let your beer sit and age for 5-6 days in a sanitized hop sack. This will give the beer time to cool and condition.
Store the Beer
Add the right amount of dextrose to get you to 2.6 volumes and bottle or keg your beer. Ensure that your bottles or Keg are clean.
Here is a guide to bottle cleaning at home to avoid contamination.
4. Enjoy Your Beer
Enjoy your homemade American IPA at home with friends or alone. It is perfect for those hot summer days when you want something cold and refreshing. You can also enter your beer in a homebrew competition to see how it stacks up against other amateurs.
Important Tips for a Quality American IPA
If you’re looking for a delicious, high-quality American IPA, you need to know a few important tips.
You may expect to get this recipe right with the first attempt but it’s usual for beginners to get something wrong.
Experimenting several times will improve your brewing and help you come up with the perfect brew. Your first brew will probably taste like lawn grass but do not give up yet. Keep on trying.
Use Hop Syringes
You can use hops syringes to avoid adding vegetal matter to your brewing kettle. Hops syringes also come in handy for double IPAs.
They enable you to double-bitter your IPA without excessive amounts of actual hops, which would add too much hops material into your kettle, impacting the color and feel of your IPA beer.
Hop extraction is not easy, and I recommend you buy ready-made hop extracts in syringes.
Consider Hops Alternatives
You can also consider switching hops with alternatives. These can be:
- Juniper berries
- Tea leaves
However, as a beginner, you better stick to Hops for its ease of use.
Stick to Simpler Recipes
Stick to simpler recipes first before you advance to the more complex recipes. Do not be carried away by the promise of great flavors. Stick to Single Malt and Single Hop beers at first.
Take time to master the art with simpler IPA recipes. This will give you time to understand what ingredients you need in the brewing process.
Tossing a few ounces of this and a few ponds of the other will most likely get your beer muddled since you are a beginner.
Research Extensively on the Internet
You’ll get many important hacks at every step. Dig deeper into each step above and see how the pros go about it. The Internet is a great place to learn the basics of beer brewing.
Many sites offer recipes and tutorials on making beer at home. These sites also provide tips on improving your skills as a brewer.
Be Wary of Contaminated Beer
Although the likelihood of microorganisms surviving in beer is minimal, there are chances that your beer conditioning and storage conditions will contaminate your IPA beer.
Some signs of contaminated beer are:
- A beer that tastes worse with time.
- Slimy strands in beer.
- Mold forming on top of a beer.
- Foaming bottles.
- A horrendous smell.
Do not consume beer when you notice any of these signs. To avoid contamination, always clean your equipment and sanitize it when possible.
Don’t Aerate Hot Wort
Be careful not to aerate your hot wort. Aeration of hot wort increases the generation of dimethyl sulfide by the yeast. This agent is a dangerous toxin when ingested in large amounts. Bacteria in your IPA can also lead to flavor changes.
Making the best IPA at home should not be difficult. However, it might take some experimenting to get the recipe right. My SMaSH recipe and hints that I have provided will get you started.
Research extensively on brewing hacks, and you will become a master brewer sooner than you could imagine. However, be careful at all times because contamination can be lethal.
Clean up and sanitize all equipment before each brew. Finally, start with simple recipes before advancing to the more complex ones.