Last week there was some confusion about my intended audience. As most people have never tried home brewing, or perhaps did not even know it was easy to do, this column is written for beginners. Eventually I will go into a more committed form of home brewing, but for now it is better to keep things simple.
Home brewing may sound like a process that would get first timers anxious about the complexity of a good beer, but the truly beautiful thing about this hobby is how fun and relaxing it is. In this part of the guide, I will cover ingredients and supplies. If you want a little more detail I suggest purchasing Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Home Brewing.
• Water! At least 90% of all beer is made of the most abundant liquid on the planet. Thank God. Unless you live in a place where Montezuma’s revenge is an issue, go right ahead and use your tap water. Although if you have a noticeable chlorine taste, it wouldn’t hurt to install a simple filter.
• Malted Barley. Barley [pictured above] is steeped in temperature-controlled water and then dried. The now malted barley is “mashed,” or placed in water once again at specific temperatures that activate enzymes designed to convert starches into sugars. Sugar becomes alcohol during the fermentation process, so the amount of sugar in your brew is directly related to your eventual alcohol content.
• Hops. You may have heard of these little flowers before, but never understood what they had to do with the beer you were enjoying. Hops influence the bitterness, taste, and aroma of your beer. They basically counter act the sweetness of the malt, to provide a balance to a brew. Hops will, without a doubt, be the most frustrating part of your grocery list, as the worldwide shortage continues to leave most shelves empty. Northernbrewer.com and midwestsupplies.com are usually your best bet.
• Yeast. These little guys consume the sugars in your beer and leave behind alcohol during fermentation. Yeast can be tricky, but if you stick with traditional beer yeasts, then your brew will be just fine. It is also possible to use the sludge left behind during the clarifying of your beer as yeast for the next brew!
This list outlines what you will need for brewing 5 gallons of beer. Local stores I know of that carry all of this gear: are Friar Tuck and Leisure Times.
• 3-Gallon Stainless Steel Pot. There is debate about whether using other metals can cause issues for your health, but I believe it is always better to be safe. Use stainless steel.
• Two 5 Gallon Plastic Buckets. These can be purchased at the local shops I mentioned above, or online. Do not use old buckets. Note: Many people prefer glass carboys, but they are unnecessary for the beginner.
• Fermentation Air Lock. If you purchase the “Ale Pails” from the local stores, these come with for a few extra dollars.
• Six to Seven ft. of Clear Plastic Hose. I recommend the typical 3/8 inch diameter.
• Siphon. These are hard plastic and are available, once again, locally.
• Thermometer. Not your typical medical kind, get a candy thermometer. I went on a wild goose chase for mine until I found one at Schnuck’s.
• Hydrometer. This instrument will measure the specific gravity of your beer, which you will use to calculate the alcohol by volume. Careful! They are made of glass and break easily. Remember those lab fees in Chemistry class?
• Big Ass Spoon. Seriously, get the biggest spoon you have ever seen. You need to be able to stir a 5 gallon bucket without touching the beer.
• Simple Basting Tube. You probably already have one of these in your kitchen, but they are useful for sanitary collection of beer into your hydrometer tube.
• Bottle Capper. Available locally.
• 50-60 Bottles. Do not use twist off bottles! Dark brown tinted are the best! I suggest asking your friends to save their good bottles, or just buying two cases of your favorite craft brew. Sam Adams is cheap at Sam’s Club…
• 50-60 Bottle Caps. Available locally.
The first time I brewed, a friend and I were able to get all of this gear together in one day. It sucked, because we had to bike from Mattis back to campus with all of the above; but once we had that first home brew in our hands, it was all worth it! Total damage came to around $100. This is why you must find a buddy who is as enthusiastic about beer as you. Remember, a typical batch comes out to around 40-50 cents a beer – so if you have some friends “donate” to enjoy your brew, it pays for itself quickly.
Next time I will cover both a basic brew and an intermediate brew. If you want to see a certain kind of ale recipe up here, email me and I will make sure it is the one I use as an example.