So, you think you might want to get started in homebrewing? Hooray for you, that is the first step.
So, how do you do that? What do you need to get started? How much is this going to cost? HELP?!
I am going to try and help you with the basic essentials. The number one most important thing to remember: Sanitation!
Many a beginning homebrewer has been discouraged by their first batch just tasting, off, not quite right, or just downright nasty. This is usually due to inadequate sanitation procedures. Now we are not talking operating room sterile here, you just want things to be clean.
It is really as simple as washing dishes, just washing them very well with a couple of special products. I typically use two products, Powdered Brewing Wash, or PBW, and Star-San, which is an acid based food grade surface sanitizer.
PBW is like a super-duper oxygenated dish washer powder but, do not use it the dishwasher, I have found it does not dissolve well in there, just wash things down well with it or let things soak in it for a few minutes. About one tablespoon per gallon of warm water. If anything is stubborn to clean off, use one of those green scratcher pads along with the PBW. Then rinse well and repeat the process with diluted Star-San. The bottles have a built in measuring device and it should be diluted at 2 oz. per 5 gallons of warm water. Clean everything the beer will come in contact with.
So what equipment do you need? You’ve got to have something to sanitize,right?
The basic equipment for extract brewing is:
A stainless steel kettle of at least 16 quart capacity, with lid.
6.5 Gallon Primary Fermenter Bucket with Drilled & Grommeted Lid
6.5 Gallon Bottling Bucket with Bottling Spigot
Siphon & Bottling Set-up & Capper
Hydrometer and Test Jar
Long handled spoon or paddle to stir wort
Fortunately, most home brew shops have starter kits including most of these items, plus some extras. The kettle is not usually included but you can supply your own. It needs to be stainless steel or copper (ridiculously expensive) or one of those blue or black speckled enameled kettles. A word of caution about the enameled kettles, the enamel chips or cracks easily and then rusts, not good for your beer. Also, DO NOT use aluminum, it can give the beer an unpleasant metallic taste.
With the above equipment and some quality ingredients you can make some incredibly wonderful brews. But, maybe you want to go for it and do all-grain brewing? You will need everything listed above (including the kettle) plus some more equipment:
Another kettle, at least 30 quart.
A Mash-Tun (I will explain)
A Lauter-Tun (I will explain)
A Wort Chiller (ditto)
And a whole lot more time and patience.
The mash-tun is a container in which to mash the grains. It is recommended to use an insulated cooler for this to hold the temperature constant but, I have found the stainless kettle with lid works almost as well, unless you are brewing outdoors or in a cold garage.
The lauter-tun is a container in which to sparge or rinse the sweet wort from the mashed grains. It is usually just the mash-tun with a false bottom through which the wort runs and a device on the top to sprinkle the sparge water over the grains. I will show you how to build a cheap but effective one.
You will need two 6.5 gallon food grade plastic buckets, one of them can be your bottling bucket, a colander large enough to sit on top of one of the buckets, a fitting to accept 5/16″ ID food grade plastic tubing, and a drill.
On one bucket, drill a hole in the side about an inch above the inside bottom for the fitting, if not just using your bottling bucket. On the second bucket, drill a couple hundred 1/8″ holes in the bottom. Place the second bucket inside the first, place the colander on top and, voila! You have a lauter-tun.
Now, once you have your mashed grains in the top bucket, just simply pour your hot sparge water on top through the colander, about a gallon or so at a time, and collect the sweet wort into your brew kettle through the hose on the bottom. This is called batch sparging as opposed to continuous sparging with the more expensive sprinkler device or sparge arm. This Papazian lauter-tun is what I have been using for years.
The wort chiller is a necessary device to cool the hot (boiling) wort to a proper temperature to add (pitch) the yeast. You can set the kettle in a tub of cold water and ice or out in the snow in the winter but, this is very slow and invites contamination. There are two common types of chillers. The most efficient type is a Counterflow which is basically a tube inside a hose. The hot wort passes through the tube and cold water passes through the hose in the opposite direction. I have never used one of these, one, because it sounds cumbersome and, two, because I cannot see inside this device to know if it is clean. The type I use is an Immersion chiller. This is a coil of copper tubing which you immerse in the hot wort and run cold water through the tube. This will cool the hot wort to pitching temperature (about 90 begrees F) in about 15-20 minutes. And, I know it is clean because I only have to clean the outside of the tube which I can see.
Immersion Chiller Counterflow Chiller
There is an even simpler extract kit on the market these days called Mr. Beer. I have never used one of these kits but it appears to be a really economical way to get started home brewing. I do not think it requires any boiling, just mixing. There are many available refill kits to make several different styles of beer. These kits can produce up to 2 gallons of beer in about 14 days.