Home Brewing 101: Be Prepared

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The world of malted barley, hops and yeast can be an intimidating area to explore. But have no fear! If you can boil water, you can brew beer! Well, there are a couple more steps involved than just boiling water, but it’s a simple process that can yield some outstanding beer that rivals your favorite craft brews. Check back next week for the second installment, Home Brewing 102!

EXTRACT BREWING EQUIPMENT

One of the most common introductions to brewing, comes in the form of extract brewing. While traditional “all grain” brewing extracts sugars from the milled grains and malted barley, extract brewing skips that step and greatly cuts down on your brewing time (and cleaning!). Extract brewing involves using prepackaged amounts of either dry malt extract (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME). This lends several advantages to the home brewer. First, you need only a minimal amount of equipment to create your liquid gold, and second, it takes about half the time as traditional all grain brewing. Another bonus is that because extract brewing does not need larger equipment, it can be done right in your kitchen (much to the delight of your wife)! The equipment can be purchased as a kit from a number of brick-and-mortar home brewing stores, or from any reputable online store. Here is a list of the minimum equipment needed to begin your home brewing adventure. (Some of these items might need to be purchased separately from kits.)

  • 5 Gallon boil kettle
  • 6 Gallon carboy
  • 5 Gallon bottling bucket with bottle filler
  • Auto siphon (I wouldn’t even mess with a manual siphon – not worth the hassle)
  • Bung and hoses for carboy (forget the airlock, as you will surely have one beer that ferments like crazy and you probably don’t want to wake up to a carboy that has erupted all over your house)

home brewing equipment

  • 24” metal or plastic spoon
  • Anti-splash funnel
  • Hydrometer with sample wine thief or testing jar
  • At least 2 cases of empty pop top bottles (most batches will yield 52 12 oz. bottles)
  • Caps
  • Bottle capper
  • Bottle brush
  • Carboy brush (make sure the brush has soft bristles if you get a plastic carboy, stiff bristles will scratch the inside of the carboy)
  • Cleansers (dye/perfume-free dish soap)
  • Sanitizer (StarSan is popular, easy and rinse-free)

Optional Items:

  • Propane burner (gets water boiling quicker, which helps produce a better quality beer)
  • Wort chiller (cools the wort quicker, helping reduce the chance of dimethyl sulfide producing off flavors in your beer – ice baths are also used with good results)
  • Oxygenator (after transferring the wort to the carboy, a small canister of oxygen can be used with an aeration stone – think aquarium bubbles – to inject oxygen into the wort for the yeast to use as it converts the sugars to alcohol)

THAT LIST LOOKS EXPENSIVE!

In total, buying the minimal amount of necessary equipment, will probably cost you about $100-120. Many of the online stores often have discounts or free shipping, so a savvy shopper might even land under $100. You can also get aggressively thrifty (I would call it getting creative) and make some equipment yourself. I made my own wort chiller – which cost $40 compared to $70 online. It was a fun hands-on project and took maybe a half hour to make. Well worth it in my opinion.

PREPARING TO BREW

Most experienced brewers will tell you that sanitation is the single most important aspect of home brewing. If you are not particular when it comes to cleaning and sanitizing, you are going to end up with 5 gallons of naaaasty beer. Then, if you serve that up at a party, you WILL lose friends. So the first step before you brew, is to make sure that everything is clean (not sanitized yet, just clean for now). The next step is to make sure that you have ALL the ingredients you’ll need. The internet is an endless source of copycat recipes, unique recipes and some other more “experimental” recipes. If you’re in the mood for a healthy internet flaming, poke around asking for a Bud Light recipe. That will not be received kindly. Besides, I’m sure your palate is a little more refined than that.

Once the brew day is complete, your bottled beer will need to sit in a dark space, at room temperature (70-ish degrees), for 7-14 days depending on the style of beer. So, clear out those old magazines or that guitar that we both know you’re never going to play again. You have a more important use for that space now!

Next up is H2O. You can find multiple internet debates about whether to use tap water, or to go as far as to test your water for pH levels and add chemicals to correct the pH. I prefer unadulterated Alaskan glacier ice, melted and bottled by the hands of Aleuts. Then it’s shipped to the main land on blinged-out Swarovski crystal boats where it’s distributed by Amish house-drawn carriages. At least, that’s what I like to imagine when I buy water from the grocery store dispenser by the cart corral. It only costs $1.50 for 5 gallons and I grab a bag of ice while I’m at it. Just don’t get distilled water! The yeast needs some minerals to do its thing and convert that wort into liquid gold. So from this point, everything is cleaned, you have around 6 gallons of water (1 gallon of tap water to use during the boil), a bag of ice in the freezer. You’re ready to make some beer!!

EQUIPMENT WEBSITES

www.brewmasterstore.com (Equipment diagram shown above is from this website.)

www.northernbrewer.com

www.midwestsupplies.com

www.homebrewing.org

Well folks, That does it for Home Brewing 101! Thanks for reading. Come back soon for Home Brewing 102, when we’ll break down the necessary steps for a successful brewing day. Cheers!

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