Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Homebrewing 101 – Getting the needed equipment.

Apologies in advance. In the middle of a move, so I don't have pictures or anything with this entry. I'll jazz it up once the internets get set up at home.

Good news, everybody! Nothing needed in hombrewing, at least at its basic level, is too complex. Many of the items can be purchased from your local department store or home and kitchen supply store. The rest can be picked up at your local friendly homebrewing store. Don’t have one? Order online!

A big part of the equipment can usually be bought en masse in a homebrewing kit such as this one. If you choose to pick up a kit, check the contents to make sure everything you’ll need is included BEFORE you start to brew.

What is it that you need?

  • A big pot. At least 16 quarts. Something with a heat dissipating bottom is nice, but not necessary. Malt extract used in beer can scald easily on particularly hot spots on the bottom of your pot, better avoided if possible.
  • A big, long handled metal or plastic spoon. Wood can harbor bacteria and is hard to sanitize properly. Bacteria are (for the most part) bad for beer. Be careful with metal, as the handle may get hot.
  • A thermometer capable of reading accurately in the 40 F – 200 F range or so. Digital probe style thermometers with an alarm are a plus for those who don’t like to watch water heat up, and are incredibly useful in other forms of cooking. Try to find one with single-degree precision or better.
  • A hydrometer. This is not critical to the brewing process per say, but will allow you to calculate the ABV of the beer by looking at the change in density before and after fermentation. A hydrometer is a weighted glass tube that will float at different levels depending on the density of the liquid it is placed in. NOTE: Hydrometers break very easily (and are slippery when covered in sanitizing solution), so I recommend having more than one.
  • A sparge bag. This is essentially a huge tea bag, used to place the grains in so you don’t have to fish them out of the water when you are done with them. They come in disposable muslin and reusable nylon varieties. NOTE: Wait till homebrewing 301 for a much better use of hose husks.
  • A fermentation vessel. Either a big plastic pail with a tight-fitting lid or a glass carboy. The size depends on what volume your batches will be, but the homebrewing standard is a 5 gallon batch. 6.5 gallon buckets and 5 gallon carboys work just fine for this size. NOTE: Too much airspace in the fermenter is bad for the beer. If you plan on brewing half-size batches, you’ll need some half-size fermenters. Don’t try to brew a 3 gallon batch in a 6.5 gallon fermenter! NOTE: If you get a carboy, pick up a stopper compatible with your carboy and airlock as well as a carboy brush.
  • A funnel. This will allow you to move the beer from the brew kettle to the fermenting vessel.
  • An autosyphon. Again, it’s not vital, but this handy little device will allow you to start the beer through your tubing system without resorting to gymnastics or pulling a gasoline-thief style hose sucking. NOTE: The autosyphon also works to help filter out sediment while transferring the beer. If you don’t get an autosyphon, you’ll need a racking cane. This is a hard plastic tube with a bend at one end. It also helps filter sediment.
  • An airlock. This will allow carbon dioxide produced by your yeast to escape the fermentation vessel without letting in air (and all the bacteria, wild yeasts and other nasty stuff) that comes with it). There are two major kinds, both utilize water as a barrier. I prefer the float kind, as it is much easier to clean. NOTE: The other great thing about an airlock is that it provides a great visualization of how your beer is doing. Bubbily, active airlocks indicate a bubbily, active fermentation!
  • Bottling vessel. A plastic bucket with a spigot on the bottom works wonders. You could also use another fermenting vessel, but getting all of the beer out at bottling time can be problematic.
  • A bottling wand. This handy little device will allow you to dispense beer into your bottles. It has a valve on the bottom that opens when pressed against the bottom of the bottle. Simply press, fill, and release.
  • Plastic tubing. This should be compatible with your autosyphon, bottling wand, and bottling vessel. Tubing is inexpensive and should be replaced when stiff, scratched, or discolored.
  • Reusable bottles. You can buy these from a homebrewing supply store, or just use ones from beers you’ve purchased. NOTE: Beer bottles that have a twist-off top cannot be used with the regular caps used in homebrewing. Look at the mouth of the bottle, you want to see a clean, solid lip. Screw threads means the bottle is a no-go.
  • Bottle caps. These often come with beer ingredient kits. You’ll see next week that I recommend your fist batch be from one of these kits. If not, these are easily available in any homebrewing store.
  • A bottle capper. These come in two forms: handheld and table top. Unless you have an old table or other stable surface to drill into, I recommend the handheld version, which looks a bit like a nutcracker on steroids.
  • Big plastic tub. This makes the job of removing labels and sanitizing bottles a breeze.
  • No-Rinse Sanitizing solution. This can be bought concentrated at any homebrewing store.
Finally, there are a bunch of things you probably have around your kitchen, but might want one just for your brewing kit:
  1. Scrubby brush for cleaning
  2. A strainer. Bigger is better. I learned this the hard way after my first IPA.
  3. Measuring cups and spoons
  4. Pot holders
  5. Kitchen timer
  6. Smallish (4 quart) pot.
  7. Tongs
  8. Dishwasher - (not necessary, but good for sanitizing things)
Get everything organized, and you’re ready to go. What should you do now that you’re ready to brew? Find out next week with Homebrewing 101: Getting the needed ingredients.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homebrewing 101 – Introduction

I’m moving these next few weeks, which means it’s time to set up a new brewery. Share in the excitement! It’s easier than you might think to get started. In fact, it can be broken down it into 8 easy steps.

1) Get the needed equipment.
2) Get the needed ingredients.
3) Clean, clean, clean the heck out of everything.
4) Get down to brewing.
5) Put a little life into your beer. (then wait 2-3 weeks).
6) Clean, clean, clean the heck out of everything. Yes, again.
7) Bottle your beer (then wait 3-4 weeks).
8) Enjoy.

I’ll be taking you through the process step by step. Look for future installments, and other hombrewing courses.

This week, Step 1 - Get the needed equipment

Monday, September 22, 2008


It's Oktoberfest time!

Is there a better way to wrench oneself out of the end-of-summer beer doldrums then to cast one's palate full-force into Oktoberfest? If there is, I certainly can't think of it. Fall has arrived! Halloween merchandise is on the shelves, the air has that wonderful chill, the kids are back in school, and breweries are peddling their Märzen creations. I can't say I'm disappointed in any of this.

This year, I was lucky enough to attend a Labor-day Okt
oberfest extravaganza. Nine local microbreweries brought their shot at the celebratory brew. A complete list of the offerings can be found on the Berea Oktoberfest Website. I got to try them all and, subsequently, vote on the best. This gal was in beer_nerd heaven.

Great Lakes Brewing Company offered a disappointingly watery brew with a strange fruity aftertaste. Luckily, this is not what the beer tastes like in either the bottle or at the location, so you should be safe grabbing it elsewhere. Actually, it's quite good, so I recommend you do so.

Rocky River Brewing Company is one of my favorite local brewpubs, but their Belgian and English-style offerings seem to be on the whole stronger than their German. Their Oktoberfest was no exception. It was still one of the best and, in fact, took home the gold.

Willoughby Brewing Company, unfortunately, often disappoints me. Their beer
was not terrible, but was nothing stellar. Not necessarily a bad thing in an Oktoberfest beer, but I would have liked more richness.

In my opinion, The best of the evening was by the Rock Bottom Brewery. It was well balanced, smooth, and left none of the funky aftertastes common in the other offerings. I could have drunk quite a bit of this stuff. And, really, isn't that the point?

Oktoberfest beer, at least a good one, is two things:
  1. A well-balanced lager that is malty but not cloying, and
  2. Easily drinkable in mass quantities.
If you want to get technical (and as a beer_nerd, I do), here are some more official stats:

3. European Amber Lager
3.b. Oktoberfest / Marzen
  • OG: 1.050 - 1.056
  • FG: 1.012 - 1.016
  • ABV: 4.8 - 5.7%
  • IBU: 20 - 28
  • SRM: 7 - 14
Good flavors / Impressions:
  • Dark Gold to Deep amber
  • Toasted
  • Malty
  • Rich
  • Starts sweet, ends dry
Bad flavors / Impressions
  • Too light / dark
  • No head
  • Cloudy
  • Fruity
  • Roasty
  • Caramel
  • Overly Hoppy / bitter

You might not live in Cleveland or, even worse, might not live near any Oktoberfest celebration at all! Here's some brews you just might be able to grab in your local store. Why not have your own competition?
And, while you sit back with one of those beers, why not learn more? Read up about the history of Oktoberfest the celebration and Oktoberfest the beer.

Do you have a favorite Oktoberfest? Break out those steins and tell me about it in the comments!


Monday, September 15, 2008


Beer_nerd will be up and running next Monday (Sept 22) with a brand-new look and a post about Oktoberfest. Look for updates every Monday from there on out, with occasional reviews.