You’ve reviewed the basics and are ready to start brewing. Before you can get to the truly fun stuff you need to gather your equipment. Most local and internet brew shops offer beer kits that contain everything you need to get started, alternatively, you can purchase your equipment separately and tune it to your price range, skill level and need. Regardless of the route you decide to go here is a list of what you’ll need to get started.
- Brew Pot: To brew a 5-gallon batch of partial-mash I recommend getting at least a 40 quart pot. If you think you may want to go all grain the future get a 60 quart or larger.
- Sparge Bag, or Hop Bag: A large nylon bag, not unlike a tea bag that takes alot of the mess and fuss out of sparging. A sparge bag allows you to rinse your grains and simply lift up the bag and discard the grains while keeping the mash and sparge liquid, not liquid transfer necessary. Just get one, it makes the brewing process a lot easier and a lot less messy.
- Wort Chiller: Available in two form, immersion and counterflow. Counterflow chillers require you to pump the hot wort, they’re harder to keep sterile and they are more difficult to use so I would recommend you get an immersion chiller. An immersion chiller is a copper coil that is submerged into the hot wort while cold water is pumped through the coils. The heat transfers into the cold water and the wort is cooled. If you don’t want to spend the extra money to get a wort chiller at this time you can also fill your bathtub with ice and chill your pot that way but it will take much longer to cool and the faster the wort cools the better your flavors will be.
- Thermometer: You’ll need to monitor the temperature closely throughout the brewing process. A kettle with a thermometer is great, or you can clip a thermometer to the side of the pot so the the probe is in the water. I personally like to use an electronic thermometer with an alarm.
- Tubing and an Auto-Siphon: You need some good soft plastic food-grade tubing to transfer liquid from your kettle to your fermentor. An auto-siphon allows you to start the siphon without risking contaminating your beer.
- Fermentor: As you can probably guess, the fermentor will hold the beer while it ferments. You have three choices for fermentors, a plastic bucket, a Better Bottle or a glass carboy. I personally use a bucket; they’re cheap and they have a handle for easy moving but you can’t see your brew without removing the lid, you have to be very careful when cleaning them (bacteria can hide in the smallest of scratches) and some people complain they impart flavors – I haven’t experienced the later. Glass carboys are most common, they are easier to clean as they don’t scratch and they don’t impart flavors but glass is heavy and there are plenty of horror stories from people that dropped their carboy and lost fingers, etc… A Better Bottle is a good compromisel, they’re made from hard plastic, don’t scratch easily, don’t impart flavors but are more expensive than buckets.
- Hydrometer: A tool for measuring the specific gravity of your beer – allows you to calculate the or alcohol per volume (APV).
- Air Lock: Allows carbon dioxide to escape without letting oxygen or bacteria in during fermentation. If you’re using a carboy, you’ll also need a stopper.
- Funnel: You’ll need this for several steps in the brewing process and to add yeast to your carboy.
- Bottling Bucket: A second large plastic bucket with a hole near the bottom and a spigot attached is used in the bottling process makes the bottling process a breeze.
- Bottles, Bottle Caps, and Bottle Capper: You’ll need 52-56 beer bottles for a 5 gallon batch, you can use Grolsch style bottles or capped bottles but you cannot use the twist-off variety.
- Cleaner/Sanitizer: Cleaning and sanitizing are the most important part of the brewing process. It’s a two step process you must first clean your brew equipment of dust, dirt and grim and then sanitize it. I use odorless OxiClean to clean and a no rinse sanitizer like StarSan to sanitize.
- Yeast Starter Kit $27 - Great for increasing your yeast pitch rate from a liquid culture for fermenting larger batches, high-gravity beers and lagers.
- Kegging Equipment – Bottling is a drag, you can easily setup a kegerator to dispense you force carbonated homebrew at home.
- Brew Hauler $15 – If you decide to go the carboy route I highly suggest you get one of these!
- Grain: Grain is the foundation of your beer. Typically a beer is created from barley, wheat or rye. It’s not the grain itself that you want but rather the sugar contained within. Yeast convert the sugars we extract from the grain into alcohol. In basic terms the more grain you have, the more sugar you get = the more alcohol you have in the final product. You’ll find that most recipes consist of a few different grains to give the beer its characteristic body, color and flavor. You’ll often hear grains referred to as malts, because the grain is usually malted – a process that involves soaking, draining and drying the grain in order to active the enzymes within and make the sugars more accesible during brewing. Grain also needs to be milled before it is used. You can mill your own grain at home as freshly milled grain gives off better flavors but it’s a further expense and it is easier to have your brew shop do it for you.
- Malt Extract: As a beginner I recommend you use a partial-mash approach to brewing, we won’t cover all grain brewing until later in this series as it requires a fair amount of expensive equipment beyond the basic laid out here. Since we’ll be doing a partial-mash we’ll require malt extract – malted barley that has had its starches converted into sugars and then concentrated. Malt extracts is available in liquid and dry forms recipes may use one or the other or in some cases both.
- Hops: Hops are dried cone flowers of the humulus lupulus plant – a climbing vine native to North America, Europe and Asia. Hops give your brew bitterness, flavor and aroma. Hopes are usually added in stages during the boil stage of brewing. Hops are available in three basic forms, whole-leaf, pellet and plugs. Your recipe will dictate the hops you need to use and when to add them. The fresher the hops the better your flavor and aroma will be.
- Water: Beer is mostly water so the quality of the water you use is important. You can filter your water or use spring water for brewing if your water has off flavors, typically though tap water is fine.
- Yeast: There are an incredibly vast array of strains of yeast out there for brewing. Typically the beers we’ll be looking at as beginners will use either ale or lager yeast. Ale yeast is top-fermenting – fermentation takes place near the top of the fermentor. Lager yeasts hang out on the bottom of the fermentor and are often referred to as bottom-fermenting. Ale yeasts ferment at room temperature for about two weeks while lager yeasts require cooler temperatures and longer periods of fermentation. Yeast is available in two basic forms, dry and liquid.
- Other Additions: Some recipes may call for spices such as coriander, fruit preserves or extracts, lemon zest, chocolate powder, vanilla beans, etc… We’ll also learn later in this series how to make custom additions to give your beer a unique taste.
For your first brew I highly suggest you pickup a recipe kit or work with your local homebrew shop to put together a recipe. Be sure to pick either and Ale or Lager for your first go.
Next Week: Brewing
Watch out for Part 3 next week when we get to the real fun stuff and start brewing!