So you want to brew your own beer
For a long time I’ve wanted to take on brewing my own beer. I wanted to do it because I’m sort of into hobbies at least trying them out. But I also wanted to try it because well 1) beer is kind of expensive, at least the good stuff that I drink 2) I like a variety and to carry that variety is, again…expensive.
I wanted to do a post that highlighted my start up experience for brewing. I had some pretty normal criteria for how I approached this.
1) I didn’t want to purchase a bunch of equipment and invest that much money if I didn’t like it
2) I didn’t want to have all that stuff laying around especially if the hobby didn’t stick
3) I wanted to be able to control the time investment that went into brewing. I didn’t want to spend my whole Saturday doing it.
With that simple criteria I ventured out trying to make sense of this whole brewing thing. Extract brewing, Partial Extract, All grain and variations in between. Honestly all of the different types and methods really threw me for a loop. What was the best method to get the best beer at the cost I wanted to pay.
I have to admit that the folks at northern brewer did some great marketing because for a long time I’d been watching their how-to podcast style videos on brewingTV. The videos talk about all those different styles of brewing, cider, ales, lagers, casks and kegging and everything in between. I was in DC for a week and visited Tasha Scott where we did some extract brewing. We did a 5 gallon batch of a black IPA, the process seemed pretty easy thought. Boil water, Mix ingredients, Sanitize, put into container, wait, bottle, wait, chill & drink.
Extract brewing seemed the way to go for me at least to start. I had one more level of complexity though, remember I wanted variety. I didn’t want 5 gallons of beer sitting around. Contrary to what it may seem, I really don’t drink that often, and I never drink to get drunk. There was something about a 3 year old stout that didn’t really seem that great.
To this day I can’t remember where I first heard of one gallon extract kits but basically they cost about a dollar per beer. Considering I just spent 8 bucks on a 6 back of Indian Brown Ale from the specialty shop nearby (and gladly will continue to do so) a dollar a beer is pretty darn good. So what do you need for your testing of this new hobby. You’ll undoubtedly want to start off slowly with as little invested as possible, keeping clutter to a minimum and being able to reuse the materials later for something else. So here is my shopping list to get you started brewing one gallon extract kits.
First what I initially purchased:
• 1 gallon fermentation jug with cap and airlock
• Mini Auto-siphon and tubing
• Bottle filler
• 8 oz Easy Clean cleanser
• Bottle capper and caps
• Your choice of recipe kit
• FREE “Homebrewing 100: The Small Batch Way” DVD
• 2 gallon Pot
• Approx. 1 dozen pry-off 12 oz beer bottles (just save two 6 packs)
Small batch kits (keep in mind they include a 1 gallon kit already so your first beer kit comes with it, later you just buy the additional beer kits)
What I would do differently:
Now that I know what I know I would change a few things. First I would not buy the kit directly. You see the 1 gallon jug is nice but it fits like 1.1 gallons and leaves VERY little head space. This can be kind of an issue if you get very active yeast (foam over). So for that if I knew I was going to take to the process I would have just bought a food grade bucket with a spigot to ferment in. This way if worse come to worse I can always use a bucket with a spigot for something. Additionally it will make bottling much easier later.
Second I would not buy the mini auto siphon. I would have just paid the extra 3 bucks for a full size one. The auto siphon is a device that lets you extract the wort (unfermented beer) out of the bucket and into another vessel. You don’t want to use the old gas tank method of sucking on a hose to get your beer out.
Next I would invest in a bottle wand. Basically its just a tube that lets you fill up your beer bottles directly from the button with the spigot on it. You could in theory skip this if the spigot you had on your bucket is thin enough to bottle with (its called a bottling spigot).
So here is the bottom basement equipment list to get you brewing. Remember this is just an upfront cost. The kits after this are only 10-18 bucks (depending on quality and alcohol content)
• Fermentation bucket 13.99 (you can get a 2.5 gallon bucket instead for only 6 bucks)
• Bottling Spigot 3.25
• Lid (with grommet hole) 2.99
• Airlock 1.25
• Bottle Capper 12.99
• Racking Cane (auto siphon) 13.99
• Bottle caps (144) 3.50
Total cost: 51.96
You’ll then need to order the kit that you want. Small Kits get what you think you’ll like. You want this experience to be something worth repeating. If you don’t drink IPA’s DON’T order an IPA as your first home brew, you’ll never brew again. You could seriously decrease this as well by getting a smaller bucket and by skipping the racking cane. I will warn you though getting crap in your beer by not using a siphon can seriously affect your beer. It’s a good investment.
Remember you’ll still need a pot and bottles.
Warning, brewing beer is extremely habit forming. It can get REALLY expensive really quickly. In fact many folks alike brewing beer to having two hobbies. The first obviously is brewing the second is refining your kit. There are some others who love to see how good of a beer they can get while keeping things as simple as possible. Then you have the different delivery methods, Kegs, Bottles, Growlers and Grolsch bottles, Whiskey barrels and Cask fermentation. A single pot on a stove to full computer temperature controlled burners, circulators and chillers, conical fermenters and brewing towers. You can take this in any given direction.
For me, I have a modest kit that is pretty much 100% manual. I have two pots I brew from, a Mash Tun that I steep in and Im in the process of buying a cart that has two burners integrated on them. Im moving towards kegging and doing less bottling. I had a kegerator at my old place and I really enjoyed the convenience. I now have an extra chest freezer that I’m going to be converting into a fermentation “room” / Keezer (like a kegerator but from a freezer). Brewing lagers in Texas is difficult because of the constantly high ambient temperature. The keezer has a gauge on it that lets you set the temp of the freezer inside so you can keep it at a constant 50ish to ferment Lagers.
Ultimately the point of it all is to get good-great beer cheaper than if you went to the store to buy it and to give yourself something fun to do on a Saturday afternoon. I hope you can all take this information and use it to brew a few bottles. If you do keep in touch and we can trade experiments. And when things get more detailed, we can trade recipes too, you’ll probably start all grain brewing or at least brew in a bag once you realize you can impart a ton of character in your beer by doing all grain. At least thats where I ended up.
My kit looks something like this.
My Mash Tun
Just to solidify the process of what you’re going to be doing once you do brew here is a great video that walks through the process (keep in mind this video is a 5 gallon kit not the one gallon method i spoke of but the process is the same: