When I make beer I like to follow a set of steps to make sure that I don't forget anything. I put this list together as a reference while I'm brewing. This article assumes that you have all the ingredients and tools to brew. Usually the ingredients are put together in a kit. Let's get started.
Any imperfections or bacteria will destroy the taste of beer, and you'll probably will not know it for the duration of the brew. Make sure anything that touches the non-boiling beer is sanitized. This cannot be stressed enough. I use Star San, but there are others. They don't require rinsing off, and actually discourage it so follow the instructions. Sanitizing the brew pot is unnecessary, as the boiling water creates the sanitation needed. What I like to do is make the sanitizing solution in my fermenter and then fill up a spray bottle with it. Lay out some aluminum foil and place the tools on it. Spray them down with the sanitizing solution and let them dry out.
Beer is as good as the water it is made in. If tap water is used to make beer then it should be boiled for 20 minutes or so to remove the chlorine and soften the water a bit. Generally, distilled or RO water shouldn't be used because the minerals in the water can be important.
Sometimes specialty grains are used to create the base flavor. If you don't have specialty grains then move on to the boil step. Otherwise, put the grains into a steeping bag, and heat the water to 155 degrees. Place the grains into the water, and keep them there for 30-45 minutes just like making a tea. Don't squeeze the bag because unwanted tannins will be released from the bag. While the grains are steeping prep the remaining ingredients. Once the 30-45 minutes is up take out the bag. Take it off the heat in order to prevent a boil over when putting in the malt and also burning the malt on the bottom of the pot.
Now slowly add the malt extract to the pot. Sometimes the malt is liquid, and sometimes it is in a powder form. If it is liquid it's helpful to run the container under warm water first so it pours easier. Now put it back on the heat and bring it to a boil. BE CAREFUL. As it comes to a boil it will foam up and try to boil over creating a huge mess. Fanning the pot and reducing the heat once boiling helps as well.
Now set a timer for 60 minutes. This is where the bittering hops is added. The packages usually have a time on them (60 minutes, 15 minutes, etc). Hops get added at the time LEFT on the timer. So if the package says 15 minutes that means add 15 minutes until the boil is done. At the end of the timer, take the pot off the heat.
Generally, the wort should be cooled as soon as possible. If you have a wort chiller put it in the boiling pot about 10 to 15 minutes before it is done. If you don't have one put ice in the bathtub with water to help cool the wort quickly. Right when the boil finishes turn on the wort chiller or place the pot in the ice tub. Once your beer reaches room temperature it's time for the fermenting step.
This is the only time that you want oxygen mixed into the beer is when you first start the ferment. Pour the beer into your sanitized fermenting bucket or carboy. Top off the bucket with water to get it to the five gallons. Sprinkle the yeast into the container. Give it the final shake mixing the yeast all up and add oxygen to it. Now insert the fermenting cab and place it in a cool dark place.
I keg instead of bottling simply because I keep a tap in the dining room. Make up some more sanitizer to sanitize the keg. Then pressurize the keg, and run some sanitizer through the lines as well.