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What do I need to homebrew?

One of my buddies just recently asked, “what do I need to have to be able to homebrew?” He actually brewed his first batch of beer tonight after he got his starter kit in the mail. I thought that I would take a few moments to go over the very basic things that you need to have as a new homebrewer. I am going to leave out a few things that typically come in a beer kit, becasue, as a new brewer you simply don’t need or shouldn’t be worrying about them. If you don’t want to read my explanations, simply scroll to the bottom of the page for the final list of necessary equipment.

Boil Pot

11-13-02The first thing that you are going to need is a pot to boil your wort in. A basic definition for wort is the liquid that contains all of the sugars that the yeast will eat. Your pot can really be any size, most people will say that you need to have something big enough to boil a few gallons and I would agree with that. I started with, and still use my 20 quart pot, and have had great success with it. You can find a stainless steel, 5 gallon pot for 20-50 bucks depending on where you shop. My local Big Lots has them on sale right now for $20. You can read my entry on brew pots here as there are a few other (aka cheaper) options out there, but I am going to stick with stainless.

Fermenter

11-13-01The next thing you have to have is something to ferment in. Most beers are brewed in a closed fermenter. What this means is that once the wort and yeast are combined, there is no other air introduced to the container. Just think of a water bottle, once you put the lid on no extra air can come in. Some brewers do open fermentation where the beer is put into a container with no lid or cap, and is left alone. This is fine as long as nothing falls into the beer, there is minimal air movement, and you are willing to risk airborne critters entering your beer. In either case, the beer needs to be in something rated food safe. If it is a glass carboy you have no problems, and if it is a plastic bucket, just double check to make sure it is food safe.

So we have something to boil the wort in and somewhere to put it once it is done boiling. Now we need a way to get it out of there once the fermentation is complete. Actually, let me back up for a second. Most brewers like moving their beer from one fermenter to another after the fermentation has completed. This does a lot of things for you if you are going to be storing the beer for a long time, but if you are ready to go right to the bottle, you don’t need to worry about a second fermenter. Remember I am going for a basic list here, so no secondary.

Siphon and bottling equipment

Getting back to moving that beer out of the fermenter and into the bottle, we need something to do that with. There are two options a siphon (aka a racking cane) or an auto-siphon. What both of these devices use is basic physics (pressure) to move liquids from a high pressure to a lower one. There is a little more to it, but that is the general gist. A siphon you must start and then work it into your beer. To be honest I’ve never used one. An auto-siphon is slightly more expensive (about $5 more), but well worth your time and effort. You simply pump it and the liquid starts flowing. Pretty easy. Along with your siphon or auto-siphon you are going to need a tube to transport the beer to where you want it.

Our next few things kind of go hand in hand. At the end of the tube from your siphon you want to have a bottle filler. A bottle filler has a spring loaded tip that only allows your precious beer to flow out of it if the tip of it is depressed (on the bottom of a bottle). They run in the 2-5 dollar range. Just make sure that you are getting one that is spring-loaded. Obviously we are going to need some bottles as well. To top off the bottles we need to have bottle caps and also a capper that crimps the caps onto the top of the bottle.

Sanitize brother, Sanitize

There is the equipment side of things. The other necessary thing that you have to have, repeat HAVE TO HAVE, is some type of sanitizer. It can be as simple as bleach or as cool as a non-rinse sanitizer. In any case it is absolutely necessary. You can have the best equipment in the world, but without sanitation, you can’t make good beer (and possibly not even drinkable beer). Yikes. This is because there are tons of microscopic  critters out there that like beer as much as we do. If they get into your fresh wort, they will compete with your yeast in eating the sugars. These critters can make some terrible smells and tastes if given the chance. So just kill them when you have the chance, all of them.

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So a quick recap of things absolutely necessary to homebrew:

  • Boil kettle: size doesn’t matter but a 3-5 gallon one will serve you well
  • Fermenter: because you need somewhere for your yeasts to live
  • Siphon: so you can get your yummy beer into a bottle
  • Bottle filler: you need to fill those bottles in some controlled fashion
  • Bottles: what else would you drink your beer out of?
  • Bottle caps: you want your beer to be carbonated don’t you?
  • Bottle capper: those caps need to stay on the bottle somehow
  • Sanitizer: other little critters like beer as much as we do, don’t give them a chance to have it

Well there you go, all of the stuff you need to make beer, other than the ingredients of course. I’ll cover that in our next into to brewing post. Thanks for reading and let me know if there are any questions that you have. This is in no way a complete list of things that you could have, but this is the necessary list of things. There are plenty of other products out there that will make your homebrewing experience easier and more satisfying.

Styles that don’t agree with me

10-20-01Look a that, my first rhyming blog title. Anyway, I was thinking the other day about beers that I really just do not enjoy. No matter how good they are, I just can’t seem to like them. I think I got the idea while reading Pennsylvania Breweries 3rd Edition by Lew Bryson during my break at work. Lew seems to really enjoy a quality Pilsner and often recommends them while doing his write-up about a brewery.

My problem is that I really don’t like Pilsners at all. Maybe it was from my early college days when the American Light Lager ruled my drinking choices. That type of light, watery, sometimes hoped beer just isn’t for me. I’ve had plenty of well regarded Pilsners, and I can get the flavor differences and all of that, I just don’t like it that much. Stoudt’s Pils is probably my favorite of the style that I have sampled, but I would much rather have any host of other beers in front of me.

For my wife she can’t stand too many IBUs. Well let me correct that, she can’t stand anything that doesn’t have a malt backbone to support the IBUs. In particular she is always wary of IPAs because so few actually offer a good balance. A hoppy stout or porter will also leave her wanting something different. I’m also not really a Labmic guy. I’ve have three of them in my short beer experience, but the sourness just doesn’t do anything for me. If I had a homebrew that turned out like that, I would be very disappointed. I am not one for Warheads or any of that candy stuff that is super sour either, so that might be partly to blame.

Will I steer away from styles I generally know that I don’t enjoy. The answer I want to is no, that I will try any new beer, just to try it. The real answer is that I probably would steer a bit away from styles I don’t really like. That is why there are not many Pilsner reviews on here or American Light Lagers. I don’t enjoy them so I refuse to spend money on them. At a brewpub, I am a bit more willing to try things I don’t like becasue I always get a sampler. And if I don’t care for a particular beer, I only have to drink 4-5 ounces of it. Is anyone else like me in avoiding beer styles they don’t care for or are you one to try anything even if you know you will not like it.

Beer Tasting Notes

Last week I put up a link on the sidebar to the book that I was talking about a month or so ago. I finally got everything setup and running for it. The book is called Beer Tasting Notes and it is more a workbook than anything else. Inside there is space for 75 different beer sample notes. It covers everything from the type of beer to the servicing size and temperature. There is ample room for all of you copious notes.

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I’ve been using the proof copies for awhile now when reviewing beer and it has made my life easier. Everything is in one spot and there is even a Table of Contents that you can fill out so that you beers are easy to find. Without really doing a post about it several books have already sold. So thank you to those of you who did. I have plan for a few other books coming down the line at some point, but that is well down the road. If you have some extra cash and want to better organize you beer notes, this is the book for you. It is only $10 and should really help organize your beer drinking life. Follow this link to Amazon and you can see some other preview shots as well.

09-28-04

Sam Adams Boston Ale Beer Review

09-28-04Sam Adams is one of the first craft brewers to really make a big success out of well made beers. Heck they are so successful that they even run TV ads, something that most, if not all other, craft brewers stay away from or don’t have the money to spend on. Sam does make some great brews with their largest success being the Boston Lager.

When I saw the Boston Ale in the six pack store last week I was a bit surprised, but I figured I would give it a shot and see how it was. It is part of their Brewmaster’s Collection and I have had good and not so good samples of that “line” of their beers. Anyway, the beer pours a light amber and appears to be slightly darker than the Boston Lager. By now you guessed that there are going to be a lot of comparisons to the Boston Lager right now and you would be correct in guessing that. There is a slightly off white head with large and small bubbles. The beer is perfectly clear.

09-28-02The smell on the nose is a bit more complex than what I was expecting. There is the malty sweetness, a bit of a rye smell (no idea where that came from), and some biscuit. I didn’t really pick up any hops or esters in it. I would expect some slight esters becasue of the ale yeast verses the lager yeast. Both can be done with or without esters however.

On my first taste I felt that the beer floated on the tongue and then crashed on the back of my pallet. There is some biscuit taste with some toasty flavors in there as well. The malt sweetness is mostly caramel and there is a bit of hop bitterness on the back. The malt and hop balance it tilted towards the malt side, but in a good way.

Boston Ale is a fully bodied beer that is extremely drinkable. I find that a lot of Sam Adams (Boston Beer Company) beers represent a style of beer that might to toned down just a bit, but are very drinkable and a decent example of the style they represent. For a newcomer to craft beer, their beers might open a door to a new style that they have not tried before. Boston Ale was just wonderful. I’ve actually gone back out and purchased two more six packs becasue I (and the wife) enjoy it so much. One of our later six packs must of been a bit older becasue it was a bit duller in taste and had some metallic undertones. I still really enjoyed to fresh version of this beer and I think most people would also enjoy it. (more…)

Me a beer judge!?!

I had my first chance to do a beer judging last weekend and boy was that a trip. My local homebrew club sponsor a competition every year for the past 11 years now. I believe the entries were limited to IPAs and Pale Ales this year becasue our club is just not big enough to have hundreds of beers to sample. In fact one year they had over 300 entries, with five people judging, which prompted the limiting of categories.

My tasting table was in charge of the IPA style number 14 A-C. Being my first judging I was a little nervous about making sure I did a good job and that my taste buds agreed with the style guidelines. It is amazing to see what people submit to the contest. We had one guy who sent in three bottles that said save for final round on them. Some balls.

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Picture not from our judging, just there to give an example

I used to be a much bigger fan of IPAs than what I current am. I am just hopped out, but I do have a good background in IPAs because I used to drink them like crazy. My table was made up of 3 people, one of which was extremely skilled in brewing and judging. Surprisingly all three of us came out around the same scores consistently. It is funny how you can pick out the things that take a beer down a few points. Half of the beers I tasted I would of been happy with if I brewed them, but according to the style guidelines they didn’t quite fit.

Being judge is easier than being a brewer. So is running a beer review website. A few things I noticed with almost all of the IPAs we tried. The first was that people often gave too much malt backbone, particularly in 14C the Imperial IPA. The malt should support the hops, but no be equal. The second thing I noticed is how tough it is to properly hop a IPA. Most of them were very harsh and just smashed down on your tongue and left a lingering harsh flavor. Some people like this, I do not, and neither do the style guidelines. The final thing is that you can see the knowledge of the brewer when tasting. We had one contaminated beer so it couldn’t be fairly judged but the differences in the beer came down to slight variations that had huge impacts.

It might be unfair to judge the brewer on the beer they make as I’ve made plenty of great and terrible beers. It just seems like a beer that is more technically correct shows a better skill level by the brewer than his competitors. That skill might not translate into a winning beer but, as a homebrewer, I appreciate it.