You boil malt extract and hops for 60 minutes. You cool this, splash it around to add air, and pitch yeast. Ferment in a cool, 60-70°F area, usually in a basement. After fermentation is done, siphon to a bottling bucket, add priming sugar and bottle. The bottles age for 2-4 weeks, develop carbonation and the beer is ready to drink. It's that easy!
Sanitation. Anything that comes in contact with the boiled wort (beer before it's fermented is wort) after cooling below 140°F *MUST* be sanitized. This means the fermenter, the airlock, anything that is put in the cool fermenter. If you don't do this, you can brew cider tasting beer or worse, it may be undrinkable. To sanitize, mix one TBS of ordinary plain old bleach to a couple of gals of water. Rinse this around the fermenter and soak the airlock and any accessories in this. Rinse the fermenter with hot water, if desired - it won't hurt. You don't want to be able to smell bleach in the fermenter before the beer goes in. When you bottle, be sure to sanitize all of this stuff too.
The easiest way to make good beer is to use Dry Malt Extract (DME). It's easier to mix in the kettle and makes better tasting beer. If you can't get this, use the lightest unhopped liquid extract, like Alexander's or Munton and Fison. Use good hops, too! They should be packaged well, if you can smell them through the package, it's not well sealed. Hop plugs are excellent and easy to use and store well in the freezer.
To add color and flavor to the beer, crush a small amount (1/2 pound) of crystal malt and steep it in the brew water as it heats up. Strain this out before the water gets too hot - say around 170-180°F. You will have an amber tea at this point. Bring the water to a boil. Turn off the burner and carefully stir in the extract. BE SURE TO STIR, do not burn this stuff! Also, it may be helpful to pour dry malt extract into a bowl and add it to the kettle from there. The steam rising from the kettle has a tendency to cause dry extract to clump and stick to its package - a real pain when pouring it in from a plastic bag! Bring the kettle gently back to a boil and watch for boil overs - the stuff will want to boil over when it comes to a boil. Once boiling, add your bittering hops. It's best not to cover the pot during the boil - your beer will taste much better if you don't. At the end of your one-hour boil, toss in the aroma hops, and cover the pot.
Now, you need to chill this! One of the easiest ways is a water bath. A deep kitchen sink or laundry tub will do; your bathtub can be used as well. Ice added to the water bath helps. Be sure to cover the pot while it is cooling as this is the phase during which your brew is most susceptible to any nasty bugs lurking about. Move the pot around in the water bath every once in a while to help it cool faster. Once it is cool, combine it with boiled and cooled water to fill the fermenter to your desired volume. Tap water can be used, but this may cause bacteria problems, that's why boiling the water is a good idea. Or, bottled water can be used. Usually you boil about 2.5-3 gallons of wort and adds 2-3 gallons of water to this. It all depends on the brew kettle size - and this is one case where bigger is better!
Basic Pale Ale Recipe
Yeast is one of the most crucial areas of brewing, after all no brewer makes beer, yeast does!
Liquid yeast is 10,000 times better than dry, really. Depending on where you are, liquid yeast can be had in different forms. The most commonly available are Wyeast and Yeast Labs/The Yeast Culture Kit Company.
Wyeast package is packaged in "smack packs". These are a package within a package; one containing the yeast culture, the other a nutrient wort. The inner package is "popped" to allow the two to mix, activating the yeast - kind of like a mini starter. After "popping", a Wyeast package will be ready to use in 1-2 days. You can use it as is once it swells up, but it is even better to make a small yeast starter of boiled malt extract and water. By making a starter, you are adding a small ferment to a bigger sugar source, your beer. This will go a long way to making better beer.
Yeast Labs and Yeast Culture Kit Company provides yeast in 45 ml vials. These must be pitched to a starter to provide adequate healthy yeast to your fermenter.
To make a starter: several days prior to brewing, boil the extract and water, about 1.5 Qts. Let cool, splash to add air, then add your package or vial of yeast to this, you may want to use a container different from the pot you mixed up the starter in to "ferment" this. Cover with foil or an airlock and let ferment, about 2-5 days. Add this to the wort on brew day and you will have happy ferments forever. There are many yeast strains on the market, stick with ale strains until you get experienced.
If you like aromatic beers like Sierra Nevada Pale ale, add another one ounce of cascades to the fermenter after it has fermented for 4-5 days. Let sit a few more days on the hops before bottling. This is called "dry hopping". Dont bottle if the airlock is still bubbling a lot.
Sanitize everything. Siphon the beer to the bottling bucket, leave the yeast behind in the fermenter. Add 1/2-3/4 cup boiled and cooled sugar water. You can use regular table sugar, yeast doesnt care. 1/2 cup for less carb, 3/4 for a lot of carbonation. It helps to put the sugar water in the bottom of the bucket then siphon (rack) the beer on top. Carefully fill the sanitized bottles to within 1/2 to 1 inch of the top and cap. DO NOT SPLASH OR AERATE THE BEER IN ANY WAY AFTER YEAST HAS BEEN PITCHED!!! If you add air to beer containing alcohol, it will oxidize the alcohol into nasty tasting aldehydes and this is very bad. Siphon gently! Store the bottles in a 60-75°F room for a few weeks, then chill and enjoy!