So you already know that you love beer. You used to drink swill, and now you drink the good stuff. It has gotten to the point where you can hardly find anything that exciting to drink when you go the bar or even in some liquor stores. It is time to take your beer passion to the next level. It is time to engage in the hobby of homebrewing.
Brewing beer at home is a fun and rewarding hobby that anyone can do. It is an ancient combination of art and science, and it brings together creative elements, process-oriented methods, and of course drinking beer. You get to create your favorite beverage from scratch and enjoy the fruits of your own labor (or is it the grains of your own labors?). Perhaps better yet, you get to share the results with all your friends. You may even end up being the de-facto beer supplier for your crew.
There are several ways to make beer. Simplest is Mr. Beer (or similar). This is not worth it, unless you want to make a crappy version of Budweiser. Next is extract brewing. This is a good entry point for most people. After that, you may progress to all-grain brewing. That gets a little more elaborate and allows for a lot more involvement in the entire process. That is beyond the scope of this article.
Extract brewing involves making beer from malt extract. Basically malt extract is concentrated syrup made from malted barley, the main grain that creates the fermentable sugars that yeast consume to make alcohol and carbon dioxide. All you have to do is dilute the extract to the strength you want, boil it with some hops, and ferment it. Easy.
This is the first installment in a series of posts which will guide you through your first batch of extract beer and give you some resources for personal advancement further into the world of brewing your own beer. Today I’ll introduce the equipment you’ll need and discuss a few options on how to get it.
Before you can make any beer at all, you will need equipment. Most people will buy their equipment from a homebrew supply retailer. Look up homebrew supply in your phone book or online, and see if you are lucky enough to have a local homebrew shop (LHBS). Most people have one within a reasonable distance. But don’t fear, even if you don’t have a LHBS, you can still get stuff online
The basic equipment kit you can get at a homebrew supply retailer contains a couple buckets to be used as fermenters, a bottle caper, a hydrometer, maybe a thermometer, and some other tubes and stuff you’ll need along the way. For example, check out the kits Northern Brewer offers.You may also be resourceful and use things like Craigslist or Freecycle to get used stuff cheaper. Just be careful with used stuff – it should be pretty clean, because you don’t want anything infected. Glass items, bottle cappers, unused bottle caps, and cleaning tools are all pretty safe bets. Plastic fermenters, siphon tubing, and the like are a bit more risky.
You also need a big stock pot to use as a brew kettle to boil the sauce that will become your beer (we call it wort – pronounced “wert” – I didn’t make it up, don’t ask me). A lot of people like to use expensive stainless steel stock pots, but I like my 30-quart aluminum turkey fryer. I got it at Home Depot, and it came with a propane burner and cost less than most 20-quart stainless steel pots you could find (which don’t come with burners). Even better, the 30-quart turkey fryer will last you a long time, even taking you into all-grain brewing if you decide to go there.
Propane burners heat wort a lot more quickly and you won’t have to cook indoors on the stove. Wort is pretty smelly and the smell can stick around the house for a while. Most wives and children don’t like that. Plus most stoves are slow to heat up that much liquid. But you will have to observe propane safety, as you really don’t want to inhale propane exhaust (contains carbon monoxide). Also be careful because boiling wort gives off a lot of moisture above the kettle. It has been known to damage sheetrock ceilings of garages.
You will also eventually need bottles. You can buy clean ones at the LHBS. I call this the boring way, but I did it at first – it may be boring, but it is easy. The more fun way is that you can buy full ones at the liquor store and drink the contents and wash and reuse them. Just make sure you thoroughly rinse them out right away. You can soak them in dish soap or oxy clean solution for a half hour or so to help remove the labels. I started with a combination of the boring and the fun method, and now I have a lot of empty bottles so I just reuse my own bottles.
It might take you a little while to get this equipment together. I’ll give it a chance to sink in with you, and in the mean time I’ll write the next segment on raw materials and brewing procedures. If you need more help or advice, there are abundant resources online and in print for your reading pleasure. How To Brew, by John Palmer is a classic, and it is available free online, or you can buy a hard copy. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian is also well regarded. Charlie is a big part of the American Homebrewer’s Association and the Brewer’s Association. You can also chat online at Northern Brewer or Homebrew Talk, or any one of many other online homebrew forums. If you look around, there are a lot of local homebrew clubs – check to see if there’s one in your area. Finally, I can always stop by and get hands-on with your brewing.
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