So...finally have these things going...hopefully I'm using them correctly
You can’t make beer in a crockpot
January 22, 2014
Making beer at home can be fairly simple but if you are missing a necessary item it can be a nightmare. I’ve made a list of some of the basics you’ll need. I’m considering this my karma points for today, which means I’m cracking a good bomber for this post.
Your brew kettle is going to be dependent largely on the size of the batches you want to make. The average will be 20- 30 quarts (5 -7.5 gallons). If you are using LME (Light Malt Extract, I’ll be doing a whole post on this shortly so relax and have a sip of your pint) you can get away with smaller kettle as you won’t be boiling your whole batch in one go. A kettle of this size is probably your best bet if you are using carboys or PVC buckets for fermenting as the final wort yield will be in line with the size of those vessels
If you’re ready to throw on your big kid pants and go larger than 5 gallons, be prepared to shell out allot for a kettle that size. As an example, Northern Brewer’s cheapest 10 gallon kettle is 149.99. If you want the spinning rims (i.e. thermometers, valves) you can expect that price tag to jump even more.
If you’re looking for a cost effective alternative to a “real” brew kettle, I highly recommend a turkey fryer. This is particularly in good for the 5 gallon brewer since most turkey fryers are about 7.5 gallons. I personally have used one for my 5 gallon batches and actually prefer it. Just be careful with aluminum fryers as they can be more difficult to clean and are less durable.
There are three kinds of fermenters that you can use in home brewing, carboys, buckets and conical fermenters. As I have yet to win the lottery or rob John Elway, I don’t have hands on experience with the conical fermenters, although whenever I am at the Brew Hut I do make a point of caressing everything in the Blichmann display so it knows it’s sexy (that’s right, I went there).
The most common and inexpensive fermenting option is buckets. Most starter kits will come with a primary bucket and a bottling bucket which can be used for secondary if you don’t have another bucket as well. This is usually the best option for folks just starting out with brewing, and I’ve always found them to be good for times when making several batches. If you are going to stick with the bucket route after you have a few brews under your belt, you will probably want to replace them every now and again just for good measure.
Those big glass vessels that look like the water bottles in the water cooler at your office are carboys (if you actually have a water cooler at your office, I’m pretty sure that these things are like sasquatch and Lindsey Lohan in that they only exist in movies). These tend to be the preferred fermenter for long term fermenting, such as a sour or barleywine. Remember that carboys are glass, so if you are using one you will need to find a solution for light. They are also harder to clean than buckets, and require a little more TLC, but tend to have a little more lasting power than buckets so replacement isn’t a concern as long as you take care of them.
Ok, so this is one of those things that no one really thinks of when it comes to brewing. You just boil stuff then toss yeast in it right? WRONG. I have had a few batches go south on me because I didn’t get them cooled down in a reasonable amount of time, so I can’t tell you how important this is. Just as with most other things in brewing you have a few options depending on your dedication and budget.
The simplest option is just a sink full of ice. You will still have to wait a little while for your wort to get to a temp that will make your yeast happy and buy ALLOT of ice, but it’s better than nothing.
The next step up is a wort chiller. These coiled copper apparati are a steam punk aficionado’s dream but they are also an effective tool in the homebrewing arsenal. Just drop it in your wort and make sure it’s hooked up to your sink and you’re pretty much good to go. It usually takes between 15 and 20 minutes to get your wort down to around 70 degrees (at lease based on my experience) which is time to have a beer and reflect on how your brew is coming along. Again, this is a bit of an investment but if you compare it to the amount you’ll pay for ice each time you make a new beer it’s a good one.
Lastly if you are going all out on making sure your wort is ready to go as quickly as possible then you can go with a chiller plate. I will actually be using the plate I received as a gift for the first time with next week’s roggenbier so keep the fingers crossed. When using a chiller plate you will also need a pump, fittings for the plate, faucet, pump and tubing so it’s not something I would recommend for someone just starting out.
You have to move the beer from the kettle to your fermenter somehow right? Pouring it from one to the other….not a good idea. A staple for any homebrewer is the racking cane. This is a tool that lets you use the power of gravity to siphon your wort from the kettle to fermenter or primary to secondary. Most starter kits will come with one, and even if yours doesn’t this is a cheap item to pick up.
One piece of advice for this part…. Buy in bulk. You are going to need tubing for everything, racking, cooling (if you are using a wort chiller or plate chiller), kegging if you go that route all kinds of things. I buy my siphon tubing in particular in bulk just given the volume of which I use on a regular basis.
There is nothing like the “well, shit” moment that takes place when someone asks you what percent your homebrew is and you have no idea. Hydrometer’s are used to determine the specific gravity at the beginning and the end of the brewing process thereby determining alcohol content. Another item that should come with a starter kit, if not back hand someone for that.
Well, there you go kids all the basics for making your own beer. I hope this was helpful for a few of you or at least provided you with some random facts of the day. Now, go re-read this and every time the word “bucket” is used take a sip of your pint, enjoy.
What I was drinking during this post: Ruination Ale by Stone Brewing