I'm probably not the only one that brews beer on K5, and I'm sure there are more skilled brewers out there than I, but here's my intro to the process.
Materials : In traditional beer, there are four, and only four ingredients. These are malt, hops, water, and yeast.
Malt : This is partially germinated barley grain. The grain is wetted, allowed to barely sprout, and is then dried or roasted to stop the process. There are a variety of barley types that can be used, and there are a variety of ways that is can be malted. By altering germination time, drying time, and drying temperature, the flavor, color, and body properties of the malt can be varied. A brewer rarely uses one type of grain in a batch of beer.
The grains are crushed and then undergo mashing. Mashing is a process in which the brewer incubates the grains at varying temperatures, enticing the activity of different enzymes at different times to get the mash how they want it by varying the degree to which the components of the grain are broken down. This is an art form in itself, and we won't be fully covering it in the article, we're going to keep it simple. For the beginner, you can make use of extract. Extract is available in syrup and dried forms, and is simply grain that has been malted and mashed, then had most (or all) of the water removed. It is readily available at your local brewing supply store.
Now, some people are of the opinion that malt also encompasses other grains such as wheat, or even corn and rice. These people probably also think that McDonald's makes one fantastic burger. Wheat is fine in certain styles, but corn and rice are reserved for those special brews, such as Budweiser, Miller, and Urine.
Hops : If you made a beer from just malt, the result would probably be a sickly sweet concoction that is virtually undrinkable. Hops were originally used as a preservative agent, preventing that enemy of all beers, oxidation. They have the added benefit of bittering the beer, giving it the desired flavor. Hops start out as flowers, which are picked and dried. They are available as pellets, plugs, and loose hops. Each brewer will have his preferred type, depending on availability and taste. Loose hops often give the best flavor, but have a short shelf life. Plugs are intermediate, and pellets are highly compressed, have a longer shelf life, and are easier to use. I use loose hops if domestic, and pellets or plugs if imported.
There are many varieties of hops, each with its own distinct flavoring characteristics, and use in different styles of beer. One thing to look for is the alpha-acid content. This content dictates how bitter the hops are; the higher the number, the more bitter it is. Alpha acid content varies from crop to crop, and from source to source as well as among the different strains. Hops must be boiled to give proper flavor.
Water : This is often overlooked by the first-time brewer. The two common mistakes are using tap water or distilled water, to equally disastrous results. Tap water has chlorine in it, and often can be too "hard" or "soft", and can adversely affect the quality of the beer. Distilled water has no salts, and often results in "stuck" fermentation. Spring water is the best, but some really adventurous brewers make their own by adding salts to distilled water in an attempt to match water used at certain famous breweries. Tap water is OK, and can be used for beer, I just don't like to. Spring water (IMO) give better results. If you use tap water, and it is heavily chlorinated, heat it first to get the chlorine out.
Yeast : ah, the yeast. At this point, all we have is wort, the combination of the hops, water, and malt. This magical little fungus that turns syrupy wort into lovely beer by fermentation. Again, there is a wide variety of yeast available, in various strains in forms from dried packets to liquid culture. Liquid culture is a bit more difficult to work with, but it is worth the effort. I typically use yeast from Wyeast labs in Oregon.
Two 5 gallon glass carboys. This is like a water cooler container, but made of glass. Plastic is OK, but needs a bit more care for sterilization. I prefer glass. You will also need a bored stopper for the carboys; this is just a rubber stopper with a hole in it just a little smaller than the outside diameter of your tubing.
Some pliable plastic tubing, about 3-4 feet, ½ inch internal diameter
Siphoning apparatus : This will include a candy-cane shaped hard plastic tube and a shorter straight tube with a spring-release valve at the end (you can push it in to open it). These are your canes.
Bottles : Sam Adams bottles are just about perfect. You'll need a little more than 2 cases worth
Caps & a capper : The capper is a plastic or metal hand operated tool for capping your bottles
A large stockpot. Enamel-on-steel is the best, but a standard steel one works well, too. It needs to be big. The bigger, the better.
A funnel that fits into your carboy neck, and about 12" across at the top.
A stove. Gas is best. Electric works, but is harder to control.
A long handled spoon for stirring.
The day before, activate your yeast. The packets come as suspended yeast with a packet of growth media in the middle. You activate it by slapping it hard to burst the packet, mixing the yeast & media. The yeast is ready when it looks like the bag is about to explode.
Now for the sterilization. Be sure to do this thoroughly, both in sterilization and rinsing. Too little sterilization and you can get an "infected" beer. Although no known human pathogens can survive in beer, there are a lot of bacteria that will make it taste like old wet cardboard, sour milk or dirt. Also, sure that you get all the bleach out when you're done. The bleach will oxidize the beer, kill the yeast, and can make it taste like a swimming pool.
Fill your bathtub, or some other large container. Add in some bleach and put the bottles in, making sure they are completely filled. Toss in the tubing and the stopper as well. Let them soak for an hour or so and then dump the bleach out. Cover the opening with foil and set them aside; don't worry about rinsing yet. Rinse the tubing and the stopper generously and set aside.
Fill your carboys with bleach solution as well. Let it soak for about an hour and then rinse with tap water generously, at least 5-7 volumes. You want no bleach left. Cover with foil, and set aside.
Contradiction in Terms : The closest style would be an extra-special bitter (ESB). This is a high-gravity (lots of malt), heavily hopped beer, and is one of my favorite styles. It is also easy to make and requires the least time. (Sorry about the US units, but that's how it is sold here, and it's how I formulate my recipes. You can always convert the units, though)
You will need:
3 lbs Amber malt extract
5 lbs Light malt extract
2 oz Challenger hops (acid 8.4%)
1 oz Fuggles hops (acid 5.7%)
1 package British ale yeast (Wyeast 1098)
About 6 gallons of spring water
3/4c priming sugar (cheating a little)
Fill your stockpot about halfway with spring water and heat it. Slowly add the extract, stirring constantly. The extract will come in a can or a plastic bucket; it helps to soak the container in hot water before to loosen up the extract. Make sure the extract does not stay on the bottom, as it will burn.
Heat the water to boiling, watching carefully. This stuff will boil over very easily and make a huge mess, so be ready to shut off the gas at a moments notice. If you are using electrics, have potholders ready to get the pot off the element quickly.
Once it is at a rolling boil, add half of the Challenger, and set a timer for 15 minutes. Watch it now! Wort has a bad tendency to boil over when you add hops.
When the timer goes off, add the Fuggles and set the timer for 25 minutes. When that goes off, add the last of the Challenger and wait 10 minutes.
Now, take the stockpot off and put the lid on it. Set it in your sink in an ice water bath to cool.
Using the funnel, add about 3 gallons of water to your carboy. Once the wort has reached a manageable temperature (i.e., won't shatter the glass) pour it in, and let it splash around. At this point, oxygenated wort is good. Feel the side of the carboy. It should be comfortably warm, right at about body temperature. If touching it is even slightly uncomfortable, wait before proceeding.
Once it has cooled to about body temperature (37C / 98F), pitch the yeast. Open the packet and pour the slurry in. Fill the carboy with water to about 5 gallons.
Put the stopper in the top and push the tubing into the hole for a tight fit. Take the other end of the tubing and put it in a container of water. This acts as a poor man's valve, ensuring no exchange of air. You want the yeast to use up all the oxygen so they'll ferment.
Now wait about 4-5 days. There will be a lot of activity, foam will build and fall, there may be a mess. Make sure the temperature stays steady, don't put it in the garage. It's your baby. It likes stable temperature and darkness. A closet is perfect, just be sure to put a towel under it. Like any baby, it can make a mess.
Once the fermentation has slowed, transfer the beer to the other carboy by siphoning. Use the cane and tubing for this. Try to keep the tubing low in the accepting vessel, you don't want a lot of air exchange at this point. The secondary vessel is optional, but if you choose not to do it, go ahead and bottle your beer a week after pitching the yeast. Don't wait more than 10 days, or the yeast may start to lyse, and give your beer a metallic taste.
Set your valve up again and let that sit for another week to ten days.
Take the bottles that have been sitting and rinse them out. It should only take 1-2 volumes to do so at this point. Setting them aside like that for a few days has allowed the chlorine to evaporate away, and since they were covered, they should still be sterile. Once again, sterilize and rinse the hell out of your tubing and canes.
Fill a small saucepan with water and set it to boil. Add the priming sugar and boil it for 5 minutes (to sterilize). Let it cool and add it to the beer, mixing well with the hooked cane. This is the stuff that makes your beer fizzy.
Now siphon your beer into the bottles. Put the hooked cane into your carboy and attach the tubing to it. Attach the spring loaded cane to the other end. Pushing the cane into the bottom of the bottle opens the valve, filling the bottle. Fill each bottle and cap it quickly. Make sure the spring cane doesn't touch the floor; a good place to put it during capping is in the next bottle.
Set the bottles aside for about two weeks. Since this is live beer, with the yeast still in the bottle, it will get better with age, to a point. This is especially true of high gravity beers; I normally let stouts and porters age for several months before enjoying them. This one is good after a few weeks, though.
Pour the beer into a glass, don't drink it from the bottle. There is some yeast in the bottom, and if you drink it, people won't want to be around you. It can wreak havoc on some people's intestinal flora. It's not bad for you, in fact it is quite nutritious, it just gives some people really bad gas. And some people (like me) dislike the taste. Just pour it slowly, watching for the sediment to come up. You'll wind up leaving about a half inch in the bottom of the bottle.
This is my favorite extract-only beer, and it has a wide range of appeal. It also happens to be quite alcoholic, about 7% by volume. You can try more complicated brews, like partial and full mash techniques, and you'll certainly want to experiment with different grains, hops, yeast, and styles. This beer is an ale; lagers use different yeast and have some special techniques associated with their preparation. You may want to experiment there, as well.
For further reading, check out these books.