Homebrewing beer

What you need to get started with Homebrewing

So part of my mission as Blaster Brewmaster is to bring the gaming and homebrewing community together. There’s some overlap in both areas, but I feel like there’s room for a closer connection. Therefor I try to drum up interest by making a combined channel on both topics and this wordpress.

One of then questions I get asked is “what do I need to start homebrewing?” There are several articles on this topic and plenty of kits available, but I feel like there are some fundamental aspects that are not really covered in these. I think the quickest thing to turn a person away from homebrewing is not cost, but rather the potential of immediate failure. So let’s talk about this. What do you need to start homebrewing, and what should you spend a little extra on to raise your chance of victory?

*Authors note 01/06/16* additionally, I want to point to John Palmer’s “how to brew” website as this and his book are among the top resources for homebrewers across the US. I’ll also point to some links from there too. Specifically this section covers some of the basic equipment you need for brewing. My article is meant more as adding on to that some things and equipment I think will be additionally helpful.

Getting started – The Bare Minimum

Before we get started, I’d like to suggest some supplemental reading. This is a bit of self promotion here, but I’ve also written a article titled “Top ten tips for beginning homebrewers“. If you’ve read this and are still interested in homebrewing, I highly recommend reading that article prior to starting homebrewing. This’ll raise your chances of success even higher and get you out the door at full steam.

 

Now then, what do we need to get started with homebrewing? Well first, let’s establish that the basic beginning method is extract, partial boil, meaning you steep grains in hot water in half the batch size for thirty minutes and then fill out the rest with condensed wort blended into the liquid before boil. Let’s make a quick list:

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We will need:

  • A kettle or “brewpot” large enough to hold our wort (
  • A food grade safe fermentation vessel
  • An airlock that will release gas while not letting air in w/ a rubber bung to fit in the top and close it tight (for plastic buckets, drill a hole in the lid)
  • Long heat resistant spoon for stirring
  • A hydrometer or refractometer to measure sugar levels
  • A auto-siphon and food grade hose (optional but highly recommended. There are ways to siphon w/o the autosiphon but I’d highly suggest against using your mouth for the potential of contaminating the beer)
  • A second “bottling bucket” with a spigot (optional, but suggested for bottling beer)
  • A thermometer
  • a bottling wand and food grade hose
  • a bottle cleaning brush
  • a bottle capper
  • Bottles (5 gallon batch – 640 ounces. you need 54 12 ounce bottles, 29 22 ounce bottles, or somewhere in between. Get brown, no twist off. You can recycle here, you don’t have to buy new bottles all the time.)
  • Cleaning and Sanitizing solutions
  • ingredients

This is pretty much the basics for what you need. So to start, you can do this on almost any scale, but the standard is 5 gallon batches. So your brewpot should be at least 5 gallons (Most people start with partial boil batches, where you brew in 2-3 gallons then dilute in the remaining volume of water. If you expect to upgrade to full boils you may want to go for an 8-10 gallon kettle), and you have a several choices in terms of your fermentation vessel. But the standard choices are between plastic food grade buckets and Glass carboys. My personal preference is plastic buckets for two reasons: they are opaque so UV light doesn’t get in and turn your beer into skunky beer, and if you drop them, they don’t shatter and turn your hand into a shredded horror fest. But that does not mean there aren’t positives of the glass carboy. The main benefit is being able to visibly see the fermentation activity and monitor it’s health, and it’s more scratch resistant and less air permeable.

Most homebrew stores sell almost all of these things together in a kit, save for the brewpot, thermometer, and ingredients. For example, Atlantic Brew Supply (My favorite local homebrew store) sells said kit for $67.99. a 5 Gallon kettle (large enough for partial boils but not full boils) goes for $31.75(Disclaimer: I am not employed by nor receive compensation for my endorsement of Atlantic Brew Supply. As mentioned I like them very much, but I do feel like disclosing that I am good friends with a lot of their staff and am in works on producing a podcast in association with a few of their staff members)

Current total: $99.74

Finally, the recipes. You can get a number of recipe kits from any homebrew store, for example Atlantic Homebrew Supply and Midwest Supplies. I may also throw a few recipes up and will append this later, but my advice: start with a basic Ale recipe. Lagering requires a lot more tools and time, so if you start with a light to medium color, not super hoppy beer with no extra additions such as fruit and abv under 7%, you won’t have to worry as much about learning extra processes or spending more time aging the beer.

Current total: $130-140

Suggested equipment – optional but highly recommended

So there’s a few things I haven’t covered and a few extras that can make a huge difference in your beer. Let’s talk about them.

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Thermometer: I excluded talking about this for a reason. At the very base a simple high temperature floating thermometer is all you’d need, but you can get a number of thermometers to do the job. The main reason you need this is for your steeping grains to make sure you’re keeping it in the right temperature range. My recommendation? A cable probe meat thermometer. But when you get one, specifically get one that’s water safe, preferably with a rubber encasing around the cable. This one is currently $18.89 with prime shipping.

An alternative suggestion by /u/chino_brews is the thermoworks pocket rt600c. When asked why he preffered this one over my recommendations he said

The one I recommended is cheap (often $16-19 delivered), has +/- 0.9°C accuracy, 5-6 second read time (in reality, about 2 seconds most of the time), and is ip67 waterproof.

Current total: $150-160

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Tub/Tote: One of the least discussed items that I think you should start out with these days is a large tub or tote. Why? Thermodynamics. The best way to get your beer good and consistent is to control your fermentation temperature  throughout the process and keep it at a steady and controlled temperature (this temperature is dependent on the yeas and style, but for alot of ales the general range is 66-72 F). So get yourself a tub or tote (at least 18 gallons I’d suggest and sturdy) and fill it partially with water, preferably enough so that when your fermenter is placed in it that it comes up to the 5 gallon marker. So why water? As the fermentation begins the beer will raise in temperature the first few days, up to 10 F higher than room temperature. If it’s sitting in a bath of water though the fermenter will exchange the heat with the water and allow for better regulation of the beer temperature. You can also place ice in the water to help cool down the beer and have a pretty good idea that the beer temperature will be matching that water temperature. I’d stick with at least Rubbermade here. This one is $14.84 at Walmart.

Current total: @ $165-175

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Aquarium Heater: This goes with the tub/tote. You want to get at least a 100W aquarium heater that can go as low as 65 F as that’d be among the lower range of fermentation for an Ale. Your water in the tub/tote will eventually equal out to room temperature, so for above your target temperature (68F for example) you’ll need to introduce something to cool the water. But below your target you can set this to keep the water from dipping below your target and forget it. This one on amazon is $13.50 and goes down to 65F

Current total: @ $180-190

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Aquarium thermometer: This is a little more optional than the probe thermometer because you can use the probe thermometer to keep an eye on your tote water. But with this you can set it to keep a monitor on your water temperature and get a good idea without having to set it up for each check. This one has a 2 pack on Amazon for $10.99.

Current total: @ $190-200

CLNStarSan32

Cleaner/Sanitizer: I want to clarify that cleaner and sanitizer are not the same. Cleaner will do a good job of sanitizing but it won’t kill everything. And when it comes to brewing beer you want it as sanitary as possible, so you need both. Cleaner I personally believe that Oxiclean does the job and does it well enough to do a great job. you can get PBW which is like better Oxiclean, but I’m not sure I see it as necessary. Anything that touches the wort/beer after it’s cooled under 100F needs to be sanitized anyways.

Why do I list this as optional? Well because you can create a DIY solution with bleach. From John Palmer’s book, he covers some sanitizing solutions

The cheapest and most readily available sanitizing solution is made by adding 1 tablespoon of bleach to 1 gallon of water (4 ml per liter). Let the items soak for 20 minutes, and then drain. Rinsing is supposedly not necessary at this concentration, but many brewers, myself included, rinse with some boiled water anyway to be sure of no off-flavors from the chlorine.

One thing that was pointed out to me by a user on reddit /u/chino_brews is that you should use generic standard bleach and not namebrand, as the namebrands include washing soda which isn’t good for sanitizing.

But there are some professional options I really like too. There’s a few choices here but my preference is Starsan which is a no rinse solution and doesn’t take much to sanitize. ABS has it for $16.50 for a 32 oz. and that’ll last forever. You can get smaller batches, but this stuff is great and worth getting a big batch. I personally make a spray solution from it and spray everything down with it prior to use.

Final Total: @ $217-227

So again, you can get started with less than $100 depending on what you have already lying around, but these extra recommendations I think will help ensure your first brew is a great brew. If you’ve gotten to this point and are even more hyped to get your first brew going, check out my companion article “Top ten tips for beginning homebrewers“. This’ll help even more by teaching you the lessons many of us homebrewers have already learned the hard way. And let me know in the comments below what you’re going to brew first, and if you’re a existing homebrewer let me know if you have any other suggestions of equipment people should get.

*Authors notes* I want to thank the /r/homebrewing subreddit community for input on this article. Several users have provided helpful feedback on how to improve this to make sure I’m providing the best advice for starting out and what equipment to get. A few have been referenced in here. Particularly /u/chino_brews

 

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