So you’re sipping your favorite commercial brew and thinking to yourself how great it would be to make your own beer. Then the thought that it is probably too hard, or it just wouldn’t taste good anyway pops into your head. Well I’m here to tell you that it’s definitely not too hard and chances are that you will probably have never enjoyed a beer more in your life more than you enjoy the taste of your very first home brewed beer. If you can make tea you can make good beer! Granted there are a few more step involved in brewing beer as there are in brewing tea.
Here’s a list of equipment you should obtain before brewing your first batch of beer:
1 – Fermenting Vessel (6 1/2 Gallon bucket with lid)
1 – Bottling Bucket (6 1/2 gallon bucket w/ spigot)
1 – Hydrometer (Measures gravity to determine ABV)
1 – Bottling Wand (Used to fill bottles)
1 – 3/8″ Racking Cane & Bucket Clip
1 – 6′ length of 3/8″ hose
1- 3 Piece Airlock (Lets gases escape while preventing contamination)
1 – Large Stirring Spoon
1 – Cleaner/Sanitizer
1 – Bottle Capper
53 – Bottle Caps
53 – 12oz bottles
Don’t forget to pick up your extract based ingredient kit!
If you shop the right places you will be able to acquire most if not all of your equipment for under a hundred dollars. A basic ingredient kit will tack on approximately $25 more dollars. The price will vary from shop to shop so be prepared to do some research first if you want the best value for your dollar. The initial outlay may seem steep at first but once you get the first few batches made the equipment pretty much pays for itself. If you take into consideration that at an average of $7.99 for a six pack of your favorite style brew at your local convenience store equates to $1.33 per beer and a bottle of homebrew costs about $0.47 a bottle you can see after you do the math that with 53 bottles a batch you can potentially save $45.49 without even factoring in the bottle deposit. That means that after nearly 3 batches your equipment will have, if not already, just about paid for itself.
There are several type of ingredient kits that you can choose from and these types of kits come in a variety of styles as well. I would advise that most beginners choose an ale for their first brew, especially if they only have the basic equipment listed above. Lagers require colder fermentation temperatures and some additional equipment. As this tutorial is intended for the complete beginner I will leave this topic for a later article.
As I just said there are different types of ingredient kits as well. Today I will be focusing on the kits that do not require you to boil the ingredients these are referred to as “No Boil” kits. These kits run about $20 and usually consist of a pre-hopped extract in the beer style of your choice and a powdered ale yeast packet. The steps are fairly simple, clean and sanitize anything that will come into contact with the wort (wort is the unfermented beer), this step is extremely important, improper sanitation may result in an infected batch and wasted brew. The most common types of infection occur due to molds or bacteria being introduced into the wort before fermentation takes place. Some brewing styles actually require that bacteria be introduced into the wort. Also, just because the brew is infected doesn’t mean that it is ruined. There is always the chance that you can salvage the beer by syphoning the brew off of the infection. Regardless sanitation should not be ignored. You then mix the extract with the required amount of water and corn or table sugar (for a more full bodied brew it is advised to substitute malt extract in place of sugar), take a gravity reading with your sanitized hydrometer (hint: write the hydrometer reading down) and pitch your yeast. Cover your wort with the lid and 3 piece airlock and wait three weeks. Within a day or two of pitching your yeast you should notice some vigorous activity in you airlock as the carbon dioxide is released. At the end of the three weeks if most activity has ceased remove the lid and take another gravity reading with your sanitized hydrometer. By now you should have reached your target gravity indicated by the kits instructions if not then replace the lid and airlock and allow for more time to ferment. Once fermentation has completed you are ready to bottle.
To get your beer from the fermentation bucket to the bottle you will need to use your racking cane, bucket clip, hose to transfer the fermented wort to the bottling bucket. As always clean and sanitize everything that will come into contact with the now fermented but uncarbonated beer. You will need to add priming sugar to the wort in order to facilitate carbonation in the bottles. Once the beer has been fermented it is important not to introduce air into the beer. You should avoid shaking or any violent sloshing of the bucket contents. Oxidization occurs when air is introduced into the process and will cause off flavors, most notably it is associated with a stale cardboard taste. Priming sugar should be boiled for several minutes in a small pot with about 3 cups of water prior to mixing with the wort. To begin the process let the boiled sugar cool and begin syphoning the wort to the bottling bucket then add the sugar water. Once the wort has completely transferred use your large sanitized stirring spoon and very gently mix the wort. Your bottling bucket should have come with a spigot attached near the bottom. Now that you have the wort and priming sugar mixed you will want to begin bottling your brew. Attach the your hose to syphon the spigot and the bottling wand to the other end. Open the spigot and follow the directions for using your bottling wand. All that’s left is to fill and cap your bottles. Once the bottles have been capped they should be stored somewhere dark at about just below room temperature for another three weeks.
Finally you’ve reached the best part of brewing your own beer. After the three weeks in the bottles your beer should now be carbonated. It’s time to chill and serve. When serving homebrewed it is best enjoyed from a glass. Pour your freshly brewed beer without disturbing the yeast sediment in the bottom of the bottle. Don’t forget to invite your friends over to introduce them to your new obsessi… er, I mean hobby.
Stay tuned for my next article which will introduce more advance brewing techniques. You will learn about the use of “steeping grains” and ” hop additions.” I will also point out the additional equipment required to brew a kit that calls for a full boil. So until then, thanks for looking!