It’s final, you made the decision to move head on into the world of craft brewing, and you’re not alone. Homebrewing is currently experiencing a well-deserved renaissance, with the Brewers Association reporting over 1.2 million homebrewers are in operation today, in America alone. So, it not only looks like you’re in good company, but you’ll have your choice of affordable, high quality brewing equipment at your disposal.
Sound good? Well, that’s just the beginning. In order to create your very own microbrewery at home, you’ll have to become a bit familiar with some of the basic necessities of the craft, and that’s just where we come in. We’re here to tell you just what you’ll need to create perfect batches of brew, consistently and with as little out of pocket expense as possible. But first, before you get started scanning the internet for equipment, it’s a good idea to consider a few things. For instance, when planning your microbrewery consider your experience level, the space you have available for your set up, budget and the batch sizes you’re thinking of making. Start by taking a look around your home and selecting a spot away from direct sunlight, where you’ll have plenty of space to move around and store your ingredients and supplies.
When you embark on your journey to craft your own beer at home you’ll need to invest in some good quality home brewing equipment. To help get you off on the right foot, we’re going to go over the basic, absolute necessary equipment. When beginning to select the best homebrewing equipment for your needs, think quality. Though you can start out with purchasing inexpensive equipment, know that cheap parts often break down more quickly and need to be replaced more often.
Boiling is a big part of the home brewing process, and is necessary in order to make the best batch of beer. Those new to home brewing often consider the boiling process as nothing more than a time where you add the hops, but it’s much more than that. Boiling sterilizes the wort or unfermented beer, vaporizes the unpleasant aromas such as dimethyl sulfides (DMS)aromas, halts enzymatic activity,ensuring your hops attain their best bitterness, evaporating the water which results in a more concentrated beer, coagulate proteins, lowers the pH. In fact, it’s the boil where the beer attains it’s quality, color, and flavor. After realizing the great importance of the boil it’s quite easy to see why purchasing the best brewing kettle you can afford, is essential to brewing the best brew possible, so adjust your homebrew equipment budget around the cost of your brewing kettle.
Aluminum or Stainless Steel?
Stainless steel needs no introduction, as it’s been used extensively within the medical as well as food and beverage industry for decades. This easy to clean and maintain material should be food-grade 304 stainless steel. The best stainless steel brewing kettle will have a triclad layer at the bottom of the kettle. Here, the manufacturer has used three layers, where a layer of aluminum is placed between a top and bottom layer of steel. The result is a brewing kettle that conducts heat better, is more durable and non-reactive. Aluminum is not as tough as stainless steel but it’s lightweight and is a good conductor of heat. Aluminum brewing kettles are less expensive, however, remember that you’ll also have to purchase special cleaners to protect the oxide layer, or alumina, so add that into your long term budget. Alumiina is necessary as it prevents unpleasant flavors from leaching into your brew, which occurs when the aluminum reacts to the air. to add alumina to your brew kettle, just boil some water before you use it, called a pre-boil.
If you’re serious on creating the best brew on a long term basis, then consider the size you’ll need. The brew kettle has to be large enough to accommodate your brew, while allowing enough head space. Head space is the ‘give’ you allot to your brew kettle to prevent accidental overflows from occurring during the boil.
Overall Design and Features
It goes without saying, that you’ll need a brew kettle that can be frequently handled without the worry of handles cracking off. Examine the construction and go for brew kettles that have rivets as opposed to simple welding. As previously mentioned, triclad bottoms are a much better choice in stainless steel brew kettles.
As for features, look for a pot that comes with etched volume markings and an integrated ball valve spigot, which you’ll need to drain, as well as a built in thermometer. While it’s tempting to purchase a brew kettle without features, it may cost you more in the long run. For instance, perhaps in another year, you’ll be so advanced in brewing that you’ll have to purchase these accessories separately, so consider how much you love beer and how far you see yourself going in the future.
When it’s time to convert your wort to beer, you’ll need a good quality fermentation vessel. In the ancient world of 4000 BC Sumeria and Egypt, beer was fermented in ceramic jars, and in the 1800’s it was most often fermented in large oak vessels. Today, there are a few basic types of fermentation vessels available to you. These range from the basic plastic fermentation buckets that beginners usually start with, carboys, conical fermenters and even kegs. If you’re new to homebrewing, read on, and we’ll give you a brief introduction to some of the more commonly used fermenters available.
Plastic Fermentation Buckets
Raw beginners often start simple, with the cost effective, food-grade fermentation bucket or ‘Ale Pails’. These are not the typical white utility buckets you see in your home supply store. There are built specifically for fermentation. Their lids are resealable, and come with a hold for a blow-off tube, air lock or spigot, and can be anywhere from 2 to 32 gallons in size. While they offer a cheap, lightweight solution for the home brewer, they can scratch. When a plastic fermentation bucket is scratched, you risk the harboring of microbes and minuscule pieces of debris which can adversely affect the flavor and quality of your batch. As such, it’s recommended you switch your plastic brew buckets out after every 7 to 10 batches.
Those who select glass carboys do so for many reasons. Glass carboys are scratch resistant, long lasting and keeps oxygen from reaching your beer. Unlike plastic, flavors will not adhere to the glass, so you’ll get the taste of the beer you are brewing. On the other hand, they can be quite heavy to lift and transport when filled with beer. In fact, one glass carboy can weight as much as 13 pounds on its own. When you add 5, 6, or 6.5 gallons of fluid it can get much heavier than 55 pounds. They are also subject to shattering, and difficult to store.
Plastic carboys are often chosen by those new to the art of brewing. They are lightweight, easy to move around and much less expensive than glass carboys. Their downside, is that they can scratch, which can sometimes affect the flavor of the beer.
Conical fermenters are a favorite among home brewers and can be made from plastic or stainless steel. Those made from stainless steel are highly prized by many homebrewers who believe that they make the best tasting beer. These fermenters are designed with a bottom in the shape of a cone with a valve at the point. And it’s this which makes the conical fermenter so appealing to home brewers. For you see, this design makes management of the trub simple and hassle free. The solids which result from the fermentation nicely settle into the cone, where they can be easily removed by the brewer, so secondary fermentation can now take place and trub and yeast can be washed and used again. The end result is a simplified process, great tasting, clear sediment free beer. Once you purchase a stainless steel conical fermenter, you have it for life, unlike using a basic plastic fermentation bucket which will have to be routinely replaced.
Bottle fillers, or bottling wands, transfer your beer from bucket to bottle, it’s that simple. However, if you are bottling from a keg, you’ll need to purchase a counter pressure bottle filler. First, take your food-grade vinyl tubing and connect it to an auto siphon on one end, and your bottle filler on the other. Insert the auto siphon into your beer, and PUMP your bottle filler, or wand, which gets the transfer started. Place the bottling wand in each bottle, filling it up leaving about 1 inch of headspace. Finally, cap your bottles and store them in a dark place.
This is the part of homebrewing that you’ll probably not enjoy very much: Cleaning and sanitization. Though they might not be visible, microorganisms on your equipment will make your beer unpalatable, making it sour to taste. However, if not done properly you’ll be introducing microorganisms into your beer and your batches will begin to suffer in quality. When you clean your equipment, you’re removing all of the visible dirt and debris.
When you sanitize your equipment you are removing all of the microorganisms such as bacteria. Before you can sanitize your equipment, you must clean your tanks, airlock, tubing and whatever other accessories that you use in making your beer. In order to clean and sanitize properly using products specifically made for homebrewing equipment is essential. These cleaners are ‘no rinse’, which means you can clean your supplies, and immediately start brewing another batch.
Welcome to the last step of the homebrewing process: Bottling. Here, you’ll transfer your beer in to bottles and cap them. Bottle cappers are essential, as screw-top bottles just can’t provide you with the best seal. Your bottles should be dark, glass, and not plastic and either 12 or 16 ounces. While bottles can be reused, caps cannot. It’s a good idea to purchase bottle caps in different colors. These colors can be used to identify batches, or different varieties of beer, which is especially useful if these are onlyl for personal use, and can take the place of labels.
Bottle cappers are used to secure the cap to the bottle. First, you place the cap on the bottle, position your bottle capper and pull the handles down. That’s all there is to it, and you’ve created a sealed. There are different styles of bottle cappers, depending on the manufacturer’s design, but in general they’re classified as hand operated bottle cappers and bench bottle cappers.
Thermometers are an indispensable and inexpensive way to ensure you get consistently superb batches each and every time. Thermometers can be mountable, digital or the basic dial model. Stirring spoons are a must when it comes to blending your ingredients during the mash and boil phases, and an auto-siphon and tubing is just what you need to get your liquids transferred with as little mess and bother as possible.
We’ve already gone over the importance of your boil, and part of that is how quickly you can bring it to a boil. In other words, there’s no slow boil here, you want a fast, vigorous boil. A well-made brew burner can make all the difference in recirculating the mash and controlling the temperature. Most homebrewers elect to purchase a ready made brew burner, but if you’re good with your hands, you can also create your own by purchasing the parts from reputable vendors.
Recommended Upgrades 4 Your Kit
As a homebrewer, a wort chiller lowers the temperature to a yeast pitching temperature, and does it much faster than just letting it sit or using an ice bath. After your boil, you need to lower the temperature so it hits below 80 degrees as quickly as possible. By accelerating the cooling time, you prevent bacteria from growing, avoids any bad taste due to DMS, and keeps your beer clear. There are three types of wort chillers.
Immersion wort chillers: Here, you take the wort chiller and immerse it into the wort. These chillers use cold water to chill your wort via a hose connected to your faucet and can reduce the temperature as fast as 15 minutes.
Counterflow Chiller: Counterflow chillers work fast, chilling your wort almost twice as quickly as immersion chillders. This gives you an excellent cold break, the removal of proteins and tannins, however it can only be used on brew kettles with a ball valve. To accomplish this, they are designed where one tube is inside another. The inner tube vacuums the hot wort out, while the outer tube chills via cold water.
Plate Chiller: The quickest method of chilling belongs to plate chillers. You’ll also get the best cold break of the three. The plate chiller is a series of stacked metal plates handles the heat exchange. Though efficient, they can be harder to clean and are usually more expensive than immersion or counterflow chillers.
Hydrometers are necessary when it comes to keeping an eye on your fermentation progress and also to help predict your brews alcohol content. Hydrometers give you the sugar level feedback you need to calculate your alcohol/volume percentage. A Triple Scale Hydrometer can help the homebrewer test the beer’s specific gravity (sugar content). It has a specific gravity scale, potential alcohol scale and brix scale. The Proof and Tralle hydrometers measure alcohol content. The Hydrometer Jar is helpful when collecting and testing samples.
Mashing refers to the process where your barley becomes hydrated by hot water, and the malt enzymes become activated. Once this occurs, the starches from your grains have been converted into fermentable sugars. All of this takes place inside a mash tun. These insulated vessels are designed with a false bottom and spigot to facilitate sparging.
A keg is a container which stores your beer. There are several different types and sizes of kegs, each manufactured to meet a specific purpose. By becoming familiar with the different varieties you’ll become an educated consumer and be able to know what you want, buy once and use immediately, instead of fumbling, making guesses and returning kegs. If you’re good with your hands and understand the homebrewing process, you can actually modify kegs to be used as fermentation vessels.. Some brewers choose a durable, stainless steel Cornelius keg to modify, while others elect to purchase an American Sanke Keg Fermentation kit. The main benefit of these kegs is that homebrewers find them a cost effective way to get excellent results.
The Cornelius Keg is also called the Corny Keg or Soda Keg. These kegs can be easily identified by their tall appearance and 5 gallon capacity make them perfect for the homebrewer. They are easy to clean, fill, and can be used as a fermenting vessel if desired. Each Corny Keg supplies you with:
- 40 pints of beer
- Approximately 53 12-ounce bottles
- Holds 5 gallons
- Measures 23 x 9 inches
Sixth Barrel Keg
The Sixth Barrel Keg is also called the Sixtel, 1/6 BBL or 1/6 Barrel Keg. This are close to the Cornelius Keg, but are slightly larger with a 5.16 gallon capacity. These kegs are popular in the food and beverage industry as they take up less space. Homebrewers like them because they can squeeze two of these Sixtel’s into a standard sized kegerator.
- 41 pints of beer per keg
- Around 55 12-ounce bottles
- 5.16 gallon capacity
- 23-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
Quarter Barrel Keg
The Quarter Barrel Keg, or Pony, Stubby for short, is probably the one you are most familiar with. These are the ones most often seen at celebrations. They hold 7.75 gallons and are most often used for parties.
- 62 pints of beer per keg
- 82 12-ounce bottles
- 7.75 gallon capacity
- Measures 13-7/8 x 16-1/8 inches
Slim Quarter Keg
The Slim Quarter Keg, or Tall Quarter, is a tall, narrow keg that has the same capacity as the Quarter Barrel Keg. This design is favored among homebrewers who own dual tap kegerators, so place a different beer style in each keg and place them in their kegerator, for added variety.
- 62 pints of beer per keg
- 82 12-ounce bottles
- 7.75 gallon capacity
- 23-3/8 x 11-1/8 inches
Half Barrel Keg
The Half Barrel Keg is a big one with a 15.5 gallon capacity. Also known as the Full Size Keg, Full Keg or 1/2 BBL, this is the keg is your ‘stereotypical’ keg, often seen in movies and large festivals and parties. These Half Barrel Kegs will fit into a standard kegerator as well. Perfect if you have a taste for one particular beer style. However, as it’s 15.5 gallons, it’s probably more prudent to use smaller kegs, especially if you’re new and prone to experiment.
- 124 pints of beer per keg
- 165 12-ounce bottles
- 15.5 gallon capacity
- 23-3/8 x 16-1/8 inches
Kegerators offer the beer lover a way to get that fresh, chilled, thirst quenching taste they crave. A cross between a keg and refrigerator, the kegerator is used to dispense your brew from a tap, just like you get it from your favorite bar, tavern or restaurant. These kegerators are temperature controlled by you, so you can ensure long-lasting freshness for months. Kegerators come in a variety of sizes, from compact counter top units, outdoor models, commercial units, to those large enough to hold a full sized keg. There are also dual tap kegerators, which are designed with two taps which give you the option of drinking 2 different styles of beer, on demand. If you’re good with your hands, then it’s possible to create your own kegerator from an old refrigerator as well.
Homebrewing is not an affordable option for most beer lovers. This means that those who cherish the crafting of their own brew will have many options open to them, and one of those is the automated brewing system. These systems do just what they say they do: Brew a good batch of beer, and do it quickly with little effort from you. For instance, for around $900 or so, you can purchase the PicoBrew, which can give you 5 liters of beer in around 2 hours. To give you an idea of how popular these automated brewing systems are, PicoBrew received lured its investors via crowdfuncing and raised $1.4 million dollars which went toward the development of it’s product [https://homebrewacademy.com/automated-homebrewing-debate/]. While it’s evident these systems have fans, detractors see them as nothing more than elaborate toys, which take the art of of home brewing. No matter our opinion on the matter, one thing is for certain, these automated brewing systems are here to stay.