So you’ve decided to brew your own beer. This might be because you are tired of the lack of choices when it comes to what you are going to drink next. You may have always wondered if it was possible and you are curious about beer. Whatever the reason, I salute you, fellow homebrewer.
You are about to take a trip to the wonders of craft beer but you don’t know where to start. The enormous amount of forum pages and walkthroughs seem to confuse you with every click. You need it simplified and I’ve got you covered.
The first thing you will need to do is decide whether you start with an extract kit or take the bold step and start with an all-grain recipe. You can choose whichever you want, but I strongly recommend you start with an extract kit for your first brew. This simplifies the process a lot more and slowly eases you into the brewing process. Don’t worry, you can still make really good beer with extract and it takes a lot less effort than an all-grain brew.
You can break down the process into four big steps; the hot step, cooling, fermentation and bottling/kegging. Each of these parts can be as easy or complex as you want it to be, sometimes depending on how much you are willing to spend on it. But there some essential tools and equipment you will always need. Some of them you may find in your kitchen cabinet but some you might take a quick trip to your local homebrew store to get.
The Hot Step
The first part or your homebrew process involves extracting fermentable sugar from malt by boiling it in water. For this you will need a stock pot as large as you want your first batch to be.
A 5 gallon/20 litre pot is a good place to start since they are easily accessible from most supermarkets or you may already own one. Make sure you’re recipe works for the size of the pots. Most homebrew recipes, will list ingredients for a 5gal/20l batch.
If you went the extract kit way, all you will need is a thermometer to control your mash temperature. You can use a simple meat thermometer that you may already have in your kitchen or you can order a more sophisticated one for your new hobby. Controlling the mash temperature is an essential and vital step as it will affect the taste and characteristics of your beer.
Once you have boiled the wort, you will now need to measure the amount of sugars that you have extracted. This information is helpful as it helps you calculate the final ABV of your beer. You can measure this with one of two tools which include a hydrometer or a refractometer. A hydrometer is the cheapest option where you will need to use around half a pint of your wort to measure the original gravity.
A refractometer, although expensive, is a lot easier to use and you will only need a drop of wort to determine the original gravity. The temperature of your wort may affect the reading on both of these tools so you will need to use a calculator which you can find on TheBrewList. Both of these tools give you a good idea of what kind of beer you are going to get.
The Cooling Step
The second step is to cool your wort to a temperature that won’t kill your yeast. You will need as many active yeast cells so they can to eat up the sugars and give you alcohol and CO2. You can make do with two tools.
You have a pot full of wort, which is essentially sugar and nutrients, but is very prone to bacterial infection. From now on, you have to make sure everything that touches your wort is not only clean but sanitised thoroughly. There are a few brands in the market, but you should go for the ones that are non-rinse, since they will save you time and effort.
Remember to have a smaller bucket with your sanitizer and clean water to use with every other tool that may come close to your wort. That includes your hands, stirring spoons, thermometers, airlocks, fermentation bucket, bottle caps, and your wort chiller.
The longer the wort is warm, the easier it is to become infected by bacteria, so you will want to make it cooler as soon as possible. You can do this by making an ice bath for the pot or using a copper chiller. An immersion chiller is an easy, although a bit pricey, way to achieve this. It runs cold water through the tubes and that cools your wort from the inside within minutes. It is an investment that you won’t regret.
The Fermentation Step
Once your wort is cool enough, we’re ready to start the fermentation step and pitch the yeast. Remember that once you have boiled your wort you will always need to sanitise these next tools.
Brewing Bucket/Glass Carboy
For the next 2 to 3 weeks, your nutritious wort will live in a clean, secluded space that can either be a food-grade brewing bucket or a glass carboy. Both containers will do the same job and are as good as it comes, but in a practical way the bucket works a lot better since it is easier to clean. Make sure you do not use any corrosive material or scratch the inside of the bucket as this can be a bacteria wonderland. This is an issue you won’t have with a carboy, but it’s a lot heavier, more expensive and easier to break.
Once you have made your choice between a bucket or a carboy, you will now have to make sure it’s sealed shut. But you still need a way to release the CO2 while keeping the oxygen away from your wort. An airlock does exactly that. You will need to add a small amount of sanitiser to the airlock to make sure that any bacteria that might make it inside the airlock dies.
The Bottling Step
After about three weeks since the brewday, you would have been patiently watching the bubbles escape from the fermenter through the airlock. If you chose the carboy, you’ve also seen the yeast reproduce and create a beautiful krausen.
Finally you can now put your beer into bottles or in a keg. Either option you will still need to sanitize everything again. But before you do, you need to add some priming sugar to carbonate your beer. To do this you need to calculate how much priming sugar you’ll need depending on your beer style and volume. Once you have done that, it’s time to begin the last step.
Bottles and bottle caps
If you’re new to homebrewing, you probably don’t have a keg (why would you?), so you will most likely be bottling your beer. You can recycle or buy new bottles for your beer, but you need to make sure to sanitize them, along with the bottle caps to prevent infection. A few minutes submerged in sanitizer will do the job.
Siphon and Bottling wand
To transfer the beer into the bottles the easy way you will need a bottle wand and a siphon. This will help you control how much beer gets into the bottle without spilling or infecting the beer with too much exposure to oxygen. Once you have filled the bottles, you should put the cap on right away.
This is a must-have tool if you plan to bottle your beer in glass bottles. You can get a red baron capper, which is a cheaper and more available option. A bench capper is easier to work with and less prone to mistakes, but those benefits come at a price.
Seven to ten days after you bottled your beer, it’s time to enjoy the benefits of your hard work. If you followed the steps of your recipe and were extremely clean, there should be some great homebrewed beer waiting for you. Above are the essential items, but there are a lot of other tools that can make it easier for you to brew your own beer. As time goes by and you get better at brewing, you’ll figure out what works for you. In any way, you can find lists like this that make your life easier.