Getting Started Homebrewing

This guide is intended to help people curious about home brewing and how to get started.

Home brewing can be a bit daunting at first and there is a lot of equipment out there.  I will do my best to lay out what is essential and what is just helpful.

If you are on the fence about home brewing, you are probably going to want to start small and ramp up from there.  Most of the things essential to brewing 1 gallon (3.8L) batches will be useful to you if you decide to ramp up your home brewery.  There are plenty of kits out there to start out with.  Places like MonsterBrewCraftabrew and Northern Brewer have 1 gallon starter kits.  If you have a home brew store in your area, I would get the essentials separately.  Of the links, the Northern Brewer kit has more helpful equipment in its starter kit (includes a mini siphon and a bottle capper).

Essentials:

  • 2 gallon (7.6 L) or larger pot
  • 1 gallon glass jug / carboy
  • 1 airlock + cap or stopper for the jug / carboy
  • 3 or 4 feet of 3/8 inch flexible vinyl tubing (I usually use 5/16 inch tubing for a tighter fit)
  • 1 racking cane or siphon
  • 1 thermometer that reads past 212 F / 100 C
  • 1 bottle capper + bottle caps + empty brown beer bottles (or empty Grolsch-type swing top bottles)
  • 1 bottle filler or plastic tube clamp
  • 1 funnel
  • sanitizer (and a container to mix it in.  I personally use Star San)

Upgrades / other useful things:

  • strainer
  • funnel with screen
  • hydrometer
  • bags to hold grains and hops during steep/boil

Everything apart from the carboy can easily fit in a shopping bag and won’t take up too much room.  Space is at a premium in my home brewery and the equipment for one gallon batches is small enough to be easily stored.

The only thing that I no longer use from my starter kit is my original racking cane.  I upgraded to a 3/8 inch auto siphon and haven’t looked back since.  It can be a bit unwieldy to use in a gallon carboy, but it works.  If you upgrade later to a larger carboy or fermenter you can use the gallon jug to measure out water, store sanitizer, and many other things.

A couple of quick definitions:

  • wort: unfermented beer.  It is what you boil in your brew pot.  It is a solution of sugars, starches, hops and other things.
  • the mash: the process in which the sugars in the malted grains are extracted into the wort.  Grains are mixed into hot water and left to sit for a prescribed amount of time.
  • malt extract: a liquid or powder that is a concentrated form of wort.  Extract manufacturers mash their malted grains and then process the wort into extract.  This allows the home brewer to skip the mashing step saving a lot of time and effort.

Choosing your first brew:

You’ve gotten your essentials together and you are ready to take the plunge, but what beer should you choose?  There are many types of ingredients and recipe kits and it can be a bit daunting at first.  For your first run through, I would definitely start with an extract kit or a recipe that is for extract.  Many online home brew stores have 1 gallon extract kits for sale.  Your local home brew shop may have kits available as well, or someone at the store will be happy to help put one together for you.  If you are a craft beer lover, it makes the most sense to pick a beer style you know well and enjoy.  If you are new to craft beer, or are hesitant to try a style you’re not familiar with, it might be a good idea to go with a lighter beer with less hops.  Most likely you will want to choose an ale as your first kit because they take less time to condition and because ales can be fermented at or close to room temperature.

Other things to think about before you brew:

Proper sanitation is going to make or break your beer, but don’t fear because as long as you’re diligent about cleaning your equipment before and after you use it, and sanitize everything that will touch the wort after it boils you will not have problems.  It is probably the most important step in home brewing.  Another good thing to think about is how you plan on cooling your wort after it boils.  I usually use the sink.  Fill a few plastic bottles with water and place them in the freezer the day before you brew.  Fill the sink with cold water and place the bottles in.  Let your brew pot sit in the ice water bath until the temperature gets below at least 80 degrees F.  Ice works just as well as water bottles.  Use whatever means to keep the water cold.  It will take a decent amount of time to cool down the wort, even for a small 1 gallon batch.  Finally, think about where you are going to store the fermenting beer.  You want to find a dark spot that will not be bothered much.  I personally use cardboard banker’s boxes to store my carboys in.  Just use the top as a “door” so you can peek in on your beer from time to time to see how it is doing.  Other than that, just be sure to go over the directions for the brew before hand and make sure you understand each step.  Doing a once-over before the actual thing is a good way to make sure you have a stress free brew day.

A dark, quiet spot for beer to ferment.

A dark, quiet spot for beer to ferment.

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