There is nothing like coming home after a long day at work and opening a nice cold beer. What is even better, is being the one who made it. This will not be an end-all-guide to brewing, but it will help you get started. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve done some brewing and hopefully you can learn from the mistakes I’ve made and become a great at homebrewing.
Name Your Poison… Figuratively…
When it comes to brewing, you have several options. Not only do you have different options between beer, hard cider, and wine, you also have several varieties in each category. I started out with an IPA Beer, then a custom Amber Beer, then moved on to making a simple Hard Cider from a recipe I found. Try doing some “research” and figure out what type you would like to make.
If you would like something easy, start out by making a cider or wine. You can either find a recipe online, or buy a kit to start out. If you want something with a little more involvement, start with a Beer. An IPA, or something on the darker side, may be good to start out with since it can hide minor mistakes in the recipe. They also have a variety of kits available for beer as well.
I will be doing this post primarily for brewing your beer. Many of the tools you need for any of these will be very similar. Brewing just requires more pots, since it comes in handy when you have to do the boiling, depending on which kit or recipe you follow.
Build You Lab
No matter which route you take, you’re likely going to need a few things. This hobby for me was on the little more expensive side, but wasn’t too bad. The most importing thing you will need is a carboy and airlock for it. Here is a breakdown of the items you need:
- Carboy – Fancy name for glass jug. I started with a 1 gallon to see if worth perusing. WARNING: Most home brewers will mock you for using anything less than 3-5 gallons, so get 1 gallon at your own risk (or just lie about it). I have no shame in my 1-gallon brewing.
- Airlock – Used for keeping carboy air tight when leaving it to ferment.
- Steel Pot – If brewing beer, you may need two, I recommend at least one of them being steel. It will need to hold more than your carboy, ideally twice as much.
- Racking Cane – Also known as a Siphon, it used to transfer the liquid to and from carboy and bottles. It is designed to not pick up sediments at the bottom of your carboy and pots
- Empty Glass Bottles – Used to store your brew.
- Cleaning AND Sanitation Chemicals – Cleaning and sanitizing equipment is very different. Sanitation is THE most important part of any and all types of brewing. Don’t fall for the all-in-one solutions. You will need one for cleaning and one of sanitizing.
- Mesh Strainer – Used in brewing for malts. I had a 10-inch round one for use with my 1 gallon setup. It was barely enough, so you may need bigger if you’re going to do bigger batches.
- Funnel – Used for getting your brew into the carboy.
- Slotted Spoon – Steel is ideal, put plastic will do as well. Just don’t use wood, since it is not good a keeping sanitized.
- Bottle Capper and Caps – As the name suggest, used to put caps on bottles.
OPTIONAL ITEMS – Not required, just make things easier
- Auto Siphon – Much easier than the manual method of getting your siphon to work right.
- Hop Bag – Likely the same exact same type of bag using for making things like almond milk, it comes in handy for when it’s time to filter out hops from your brew.
- Funnel with Filter – Used instead of your standard funnel. The more you’re able to filter, the less you likely sediments will end up in your final product.
- Hydrometer – Very useful if you’re following either your own or an online recipe. Helps you calculate the alcohol level, which is handy when determining amount of yeast and sugars to use. That way you don’t end up like me with beautify Amber Beer with 0.4% alcohol (epic fail).
- Bottle Filler – Great for avoiding spillage and too much foam in your beer bottles.
Harvest Your Ingredients
I know lists are pretty overwhelming, so I’m going try to wrap this up. I can sit here and list several resources, but I’d rather just give you my non-sponsored (unfortunately) recommendation. I purchased most of my gear from The Brooklyn Brew Shop. It’s my recommendation for the one-stop-shop if you’re feeling impatient and want to get brewing right away. Even if you want to scavenge around, that site will give you a good idea of the materials you need. They also have several useful videos. If you buy one of the starter kits, just be aware it comes with a thermometer that may break during shipping. But if you let them know, they’ll send you a new one free of cost. If you like what they have, they have several types of beer mixes for sale so you can continue your beer making journey. They come up with new ones all the time and even have a cider now.
Just the Tips
The first and most important tip is the keep everything clean and sterilized. Everything. The last think you want is to have something growing in your brew. Also be aware that some people may be allergic to hops or some ingredients in beer, especially unfiltered beer. All beer you will be making is considered “unfiltered”, unless you have a special (and expensive) setup to filter the beer.
Cider, for me, was the easiest to manage because it does involve all the boiling and liquid transferring that beer has. It can be as simple as putting apple juice in the carboy, adding the yeast, and waiting a few weeks for the bottling phase. Just don’t let it sit too long (months), or it will likely turn into bad wine.
When brewing, make sure you have enough ice to chill the wort (brew term for beer liquid). A 5 lb. bag was enough for my 1 gallon batch. Avoid string it too much at that chilling phase as well, or else you’ll get the sediment all over and you’ll end up with more than usual (yes, you will still end up with some) in your bottles. Adding sugar to the whole batch is much easier than adding it per bottle. The sugar helps add carbonation, so too much will cause your bottles to build up too much pressure and spew your precious beer everywhere. Which reminds me, it is also good to store those bottles in a closed cooler.
Write down measurements with your hydrometer after you chill the wort AND before you begin bottling it. I was almost able to measure it inside the carboy, but you may want to also invest in a glass cylinder that is wide enough and tall enough for your hydrometer. This will help you keep an eye on the alcohol levels and let you know if it’s ready to be bottled or needs more time or yeast.
Don’t go too overboard with custom recipes right out the gate. Too many different ingredients may not come out as planned. There are FREE programs like Brewtarget that can help you fine tune your recipes, but simple is a good place to start.
If you take on this project, just make sure you have the time, money, and space to get it done. Even split the cost of with a friend if you just want to try it out. My first batch took me 5 hrs. to make; 1 hr. cleaning and sanitizing, then 4 hrs. the rest of the steps ending with getting it into the carboy. To make my first batch, it cost me roughly $65. The following batches were lest since I had all the equipment. Odds are you also have some homebrewing places in your area where you can buy some ingredients. As for space, I took up a lot of counter space during the brewing and just needed some space in a dark closet for the jug.
I hope this gets you motivated to make your own concoctions. I wish all you future brewers out there much luck!