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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.

Belgian Tripel Brew Day

08-08-01Yesterday I finally got to brew my Belgian Triple. I still need to think of a good name for it and I am taking suggestions. I recieved all of my ingredients from Austin Homebrew on Wednesday and quickly discovered that I had a few problems. The first was that the Wyeast 1214 Belgian Ale yeast was warm to hot. The summers here in Texas get scorching and the trip from Austin to Lubbock is a long hot one. I did order an ice pack, but that too was warm by the time it got here. The second was that Tettnanger and Saaz came in 2-3% less than what I was anticipating. I modified the recipe a bit to get similar IBUs out of the brew. I also change a few of the times in the mash and hopping schedule.

08-08-02Friday morning, around 9:30 or so, I smacked the pack to get the yeast woken up. I didn’t plan on actually starting the brew till 4:00 in the afternoon so that gave it plenty of time to puff up. The smack pack never really puffed up much past the first 2 hours. You can see in the picture to the left that it didn’t to much. I was a bit concerned but decided that it was too late to change anything.

I mashed my grains (12 lbs Belgian Pils, .5 lbs Belgian Pale, and .5 lbs unmalted wheat) for 90 minutes at 152ºF. The strike water temperature came in at 165ºF. After the 90 minutes I took the temperature again just to see how good my new mashtun held temps. The theomerter read 150ºF! I was pretty pleased what that result. I was acutally expecting it to drop much more than that.

I collected about 2.5 gallons of water from my orginal 4 gallons. I added another 3 gallons of water that came in at 170ºF. I collected my second runnings in the main boil pot and about a gallon of third runnings in a secondary pot. The point of this is to add it to the main pot once some of it boils away. I only have a 5 gallon pot, so trying to get the most out of it is tough. This is the method I have been using and it has worked. It also allows me to get the most out of the grains that I can.

08-08-07

08-08-06I boiled each pot for 30 minutes and then combined them. I also added 1 oz. of the Tettnanger at this time. I continued the boil for another 30 minutes and added .5 oz of Saaz hops. 15 minutes later I added another .5 oz of Saaz and 5 minutes after that I added a BrewVint Yeast Fuel. Finished out the boil for another 10 minutes and started the cooling process. 90 minute total boil. When all was said and done I had collected just under 4 gallons of wort, I was shooting for 3.5 gallons, and had a gravity of 1.074.

I was pretty happy with that, but it fell short of the gravity I wanted. Part of that was due to the increased wort volume and I think Beer Tools Pro overestimated the amount of sugar I would be able to get. I didn’t add anything to bring the gravity up to where I wanted it becasue I wasn’t sure about the health of the yeast. I pitched the yeast closed it all up and went over to a friends. I came back 4 hours later and the airlock was 08-08-04bubbling away. Success! The beer isn’t going to be as strong as I had intended but that’s ok. This is my first ever big beer and I am happy with the results thus far. If I would of done some more thinking and planning I would of tried to make a session beer with whatever sugars were left in the grain bed. Something to consider next time.

The Tripel should be in the primary for a week and the secondary for another week. Then it is bottling time. My apartment stays at a pretty consitent 75ºF so it should be just fine. And finally my new brewing partner enjoying all of the new smells. If you click the read more link after this you can see some more pictures from the brew day. (more…)