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.

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