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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.

11-13-03

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.

07-31-01

Belgian Tripel Recipe

07-31-01Now that I am finally established in Texas I can get back to homebrewing again. It has been a long time since I brewed the SB Birthday Beer. Does the date of that post really go all the way back to Feburary. That sucks. I’ve been really digging Belgian beers for the past few months and have been coming up with ideas in my head about what all I need to do to make it as good as it can be. So I came up with the following recipe:

  • 12 lbs Belgian Pils
  • .5 lbs Belgian Pale
  • .5 lbs Wheat malt
  • .25 0z Tettnanger (4.5% at 120 mins)
  • .25 0z Tettnanger (4.5% at 90 mins)
  • .25 0z Tettnanger (4.5% at 60 mins)
  • .25 0z Tettnanger (4.5% at 30 mins)
  • .5 oz Saaz (5.0% at 10 mins)
  • Yeast: WLP530 (Abbey Ale) or another Belgian Strong if unavialable

I plan on mashing the grains at 152 degrees for 90 minutes to try and get as much sugar out of them as I can. I hope to collect a total of 5 gallons of wort for boil when all is said and done. I then want to boil for two hours and bring down the level of wort to around 3.5 gallons. I haven’t brewed here before and I am almost 3,000 ft. higher in elevation so I don’t know if the boil time will need adjusting.

I will ferment in the primary for a week, switch to a secondary for another week, and then bottle and contition for 2-3 weeks. I hope to have a nice estery beer that comes in between 9.5-9.7% abv. My SG goal is going to be 1.090, maybe a bit higher or lower depending on my effiency.

My hop choices came down to English (Fuggles and Goldings) or the German hops I picked. Saaz hops has a history of being a bit more fruity and I want those esters to shine. With such a long boil I wanted to strech out the primary hops and split them up into four small additions. It might add a bit of complexity but will make it not overpowering. I am still considering just a single addition at the hour mark, but I still can’t make up my mind. The final IBUs should come in at about 28 IBUs. I’m going to ferment on the upper edge of the recommended temperature at 75 degrees or so.

Is there anything I missed or any other considerations I should look at before brewing this bad boy up. I’m hoping to make a go at it this weekend or next depending on how fast the ingredients ship and how fast I can build my mash tun.

Spontaneously fermenting

Basic Brewing Radio recently did an interview with one of the brewers at Allagash Brewing Company about spontaneously fermented beer. You can see the video below that started the whole conversation. I think it is pretty cool and an awesome experiment for a production brewery.

YouTube Preview Image

Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine has built a cool ship for spontaneously fermenting beer. This is a traditional method for brewign in Belgium. This is the inaugural use of the cool ship. You can see that the beer is coming from inside the brewery. At this point it has just been filtered in our whirlpool. the beer passes through the sieve so that there are no pieces of spice or hops in the cool ship. The beer will sit in the cool ship overnight, allowing the beer to cool. When the temperature is right ambient yeast will begin to ferment the beer, in this way it is spontaneously fermented.

Hard Cider experiment

09-05-15-02Back in October I was really getting going with homebrewing. I was making a new batch a week. Something sparked my interest and I wanted to try and do a hard cider. It didn’t sound too hard, there was no boiling, just combining ingredents and waiting for awhile. I read around and found a few ideas on what to use and the kinds of cider to look for.

When you are making a cider the most important thing to do, if you are buying your cider, is to make sure that it has no preseratives. If it does, it is not going to ferment and in a few months you will have spoiled cider. Some people go through the trouble of mashing their own apples, collecting the jucies and all of that. For a first try, and possibly only try, I was not going to attempt that. I went with the following recipe:

  • 5 gallons apple cider from local orchard
  • 2 lbs honey
  • 2.5 lbs brown sugar
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • Champagne yeast (homebrew store was out of cider yeast and I had read champagne yeast would be fine)

09-05-15-01I went with the sugars to add a little flavor and alochol. The powdered sugar wasn’t something I was going to the store to get, but it was a buck for two pounds, so I figured why not? I got home and put two gallons in my boil pot. I wanted to raise the temp to around 120 degrees so that the sugars would disolve more easily into the soultion. The remain liquid I put into a sanitized bucket. Once disolved, I combined everything and let it sit for a day as was recomended by some research.

A day later I added the yeast and waited for things to happen. Another day passed and fermenation had clearly begun. The smell of rotten eggs is apparently pretty common, and I got to expericene the smell for myself. It was very strong and stayed for about two weeks. My original plan was to have this ready for Thanksgiving (heck I gave myself two months), but I quickly learned this stuff takes forever. After two and a half months it was ready for transfer to a secondary. It sat there until the end of April when I finally bottled it. It had fully cleared as you can tell by the pictures and it smelled pretty wonderful.

09-05-15-03I might of made a mistake when bottling, I put it into 22 oz bottles. I never got a good gravity reading on this with my hydrometer but I’m guessing it is in the 12-15% range, if not a little higher. I did not carbonate the bottles for fear of putting the wrong amount of sugar in there and the yeast has been dormant for a few months. I believe there are still some unfermented sugars anyway becasue it tastes a bit sweet and the cold weather came early this year, mean my closet with the access to the crawl space was pretty chilly. I’m waiting a little longer before I try a bottle for myself but I enjoyed what I tasted when I was bottling. I don’t know how good it is compared to other ciders but I enjoyed it and I think I would try it again given the chance.

Yeast

While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of different classifications for beer, they all come from one of two starting points. You either have an Ale or Lager. As a general rule, most macrobrews are lagers while microbrews are ales. We will get into why that is in just a bit.

So what is yeast?

Yeast is a single cell organism that eats sugar. When it eats (ferments) sugar it gives off three by-products; carbon dioxide (CO2), alcohol, and heat. This is why we use it for brewing, without yeast, we would have a grainy, sugary drink that didn’t make us feel very good (or as good as a drink with alcohol can).

Ale vs. Lager

As I said before, everything boils down to the type of yeast you use; lager or ale. An ale refers to a yeast that ferments on the top of the fermenter and will function from 60-76 degrees or so. If it gets any colder than 55 degrees, the yeast will go dormant and stop fermenting. Ales can ferment in 3-7 days depending on the sugar available. Generally ale yeast give you a higher alcohol concentration. Ales also give off a fruity ester flavor that is desirable for some types of beer.

A lager on the other hand is a bottom fermenting yeast and functions at colder temperatures (40-55 degrees). It tends to give a crisper beer, but also takes longer to complete. It can take as long as month and a half. Lagers are much lighter in body and tend to be harder to make. A lager does not give off the esters of an ale, and therefore, it can be easier to detect when something goes wrong.

My choices for homebrew

Luckily homebrew shops offer a huge variety of yeast. Some cultures are specially made to give special tastes. A hefeweizen yeast will often give a bananna flavor to the beer. The yeast also come in several different forms. The first is dry yeast. Dry yeast is freeze-dried yeast cells that are very cheap. You must rehydrate the yeast in order to give it a proper chance at life. Another problem is that it can become easily infected and cannot be used on multiple batches.

The other option is liquid yeast. These generally come in two forms, The first is a smack pack. There is a bag within the outer bag that hold yeast nutrient. When you smack the bag, you release the nutrient and the yeast start feeding and multiplying. It is an effective means of generating healthy yeast growth.

The other liquid yeast can be found in vials (pictured at the beginning of this article). It is basically a vial of dormant yeast cells that need to be grown a bit to get proper pitching rates. Liquid yeast is the way to go if you want to make several beers using the same type of yeast. It is reusable. The only real downside is the upfront cost. Dry yeast can be found for around a dollar, where liquid yeasts cost at least $6. But you get a better pitching rate and it can be used over and over again.

I’ll explain what I mean by some of these terms more indepth next week.