What does it take to get started brewing beer? First, “Relax don’t worry, have a homebrew” (or a craft beer if there’s no homebrew around). It’s very easy. People have been brewing their own beer for as long as they have been growing grains. Several people at the Lake County Home Wine Makers Festival asked me so here is what I think I know you’ll need: 1-ingredients, 2-equipment, and 3-cleaner, sanitizer, and a few other things.
Let’s keep this basic. What we think of as beer (or ale) is made from water, malted barley, hops, and yeast.
When just beginning it’s probably best to start with an easy-to-brew kit. There is a list of beginner’s kits at the bottom of this post. The kit will come with instructions and have most or all of the needed ingredients (some companies want you to pick the yeast):
- Malt – When you’re just starting out my recommendation is to use a malt extract. Malt extract comes in liquid or powder form. Some extracts have already been flavored with hops and some have not. I prefer the non-flavored extracts so that I can add the hops but you’re free to choose. Just know that the extracts are not all alike.
- Hops – hops add balance to the beer’s taste by bittering the sugary-sweet malt. Hops come in different flavor characteristics and intensities. As you get a few batches made with kits under your belt, you’ll begin to get a feel for what you prefer. One note about bitterness, the bitterness of the hops in the brew are expressed in International Bittering Units (IBUs). Generally, the higher the IBUs, the greater the bitterness (e.g. India Pale Ales like Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo will have more IBUs than Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale). IBUs aren’t the end-all-be-all since a beer with lots of malts (e.g. a “High Gravity” beer) can overpower high IBUs and the resulting beer may still taste quite sweet.
- Yeast – yeast makes a huge difference in the taste of the beer. Different style yeasts make different styles of beer. My suggestion is to stick with ale yeasts until you’ve brewed a goodly number of kits. Lager yeasts need cooler conditions than the more-or-less room temperature fermenting ale yeasts.
- Water – generally tap water that tastes okay is just fine, especially when you’re getting started, if you have a filter to remove chlorine, so much the better. If your water tastes yucky, then you will need to get 7-10 gallons of good water.
- Kettle for boiling the wort.
You’ll need something in which to boil most or all of your wort (the malt extract, water, and hops). A 7-gallon or larger kettle is ideal for boiling the wort, but partial boils will work. And you’ll need something to ferment your beer in (once yeast is added to the room temperature wort it technically becomes beer). Boiling takes around 60 minutes.
- Equipment for fermenting the beer
There is a list of links to different companies starter kits (in the $60-$120 range) at the bottom of this post. I’ve mostly included kits with plastic fermenters (either food grade buckets with lids or plastic carboys). Some homebrewers prefer only glass carboys because glass doesn’t scratch. Plastic will accumulate scratches over time that will harbor batch-destroying bacteria, so it’s a good idea to replace them after several uses. The recommended replacement period ranges from five uses to one year. Glass breaks and makes shards that cut and puncture. Replacing 20 plastic buckets is much less expensive than one trip to the emergency room.
3. A few other things such as Cleaners and Sanitizers
Cleaners and Sanitizers – clean equipment makes clean tasting beer. In the old days we used household bleach to sanitize stuff. Today a host of cleaners and sanitizers abound. I use PBW to clean and StarSan to sanitize. They don’t leave tastes behind when they’ve finished cleaning and sanitizing.
Bottles – You need to put the beer somewhere after it’s completed fermenting. You can buy bottles from a homebrew supplier or get used bottles. Make sure they are not twist-offs because twist-off bottles won’t take a bottle cap. Note: Kegging is more advanced than bottling but involves less stuff. There are some reasonably inexpensive (~$70) and simple plastic “kegging” options around, such as the “Party Pig” and the “Tap-A-Draft” System if you don’t want to even mess with bottles.
Beginner’s Equipment kits –
- William’s Brewing: http://www.williamsbrewing.com/BASIC-HOME-BREWERY-C73.aspx
- Bader Brewing: http://www.baderbrewing.com/store/product.php?productid=21989&cat=326&page=1
- The Beverage People: http://www.thebeveragepeople.com/product849.html
- MoreBeer: http://morebeer.com/view_product/15910/102142/Personal_Home_Brewery_%232_-_Deluxe
- Northern Brewer: http://www.northernbrewer.com/brewing/starter-kits/better-basic-starter-kit.html
- San Francico Brew Craft: http://www.sanfranciscobrewcraft.com/category_s/1.htm
- Oak Barrell: http://www.oakbarrel.com/beermaking/basic_kit.shtml
Beginning Ingredient Kits (note: this list is hardly exhaustive of the easy to do kits, just remember some kits do not include the brewing yeast so you need to make sure you have the yeast to put in your batch):
- Blonde Ale Extract (MoreBeer)
- Pale Ale Extract (MoreBeer)
- American IPA (William’s Brewing)
- Brown Ale (William’s Brewing)
Please leave a comment, suggestion, or question. Happy brewing.
- Brew Your Own Beer (answers.com)
- How to Homebrew Beer (answers.com)
- This week on Brew Disasters: Laurel India pale ale (52beers.wordpress.com)
- This Week in Brew Disasters: Big Irish American Red Ale (after the Rhythm & Brews event) (52beers.wordpress.com)
- Homebrewing: Brewing Outside (drinks.seriouseats.com)
- Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams beers takes you through the whole process (samueladams.com)