Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Brewing Primer Part 0 of 12: Getting Started

So I'm finally getting back to the brewing primer I had hoped to blog about. But I realize that the first step in brewing is figuring out that you want to brew beer, then figuring out what types of beers you want to brew, then figuring out what method of brewing you want to use to brew those beers.

I started off with a basic kit from Midwest Supplies, came with all the necessary equipment, a 5-gallon carboy, and a couple of cases of bottles. My first two brews were extract with specialty grains, and they helped to get my feet wet. The taste of the beers was far superior to commercial beers, but once I started reading more about brewing I realized that all-grain brewing was what I needed to do, and I haven't looked back since.

The starter kit still provided me with a whole bunch of useful equipment though, and I still use my plastic fermentation bucket for a lot of things. That being said, I think any beginning brewer looking to move to all-grain brewing should start off with the following equipment.

  • John Palmer's "How to Brew" - available for free here: http://www.howtobrew.com/intro.html
  • 1 grain mill
  • 1 scale for weighing grain
  • 2 10-gallon brew kettles - Williams Brewing occasionally sells dented kettles for around $80; one kettle can be used as a mash tun, while the other can be used for the actual brew kettle
  • 2 3-5 gallon pots for heating sparge water
  • 2 Spigots with barbs for brew kettles
  • 1 bazooka tube for mash tun
  • 8' high-temp transfer tubing for mash tun
  • 8' PVC tubing for brew kettle
  • 2 or more 1" worm clamps for clamping tubing to the barbs
  • 1 flat head screwdriver for fastening worm clamps
  • 1 refractometer for measuring specific gravity
  • 1 thermometer for measuring mash/boil temperature
  • 1 wort chiller: can be made by purchasing 50' of copper tubing from Home Depot - wrap around a paint can, then wrap the rest around again, attache 5-8' of PVC tubing to each end of the copper and fasten tightly with worm clamps, then add a garden hose fitting to one of the PVC tubes and clamp that in place with a worm clamp to allow hooking up the chiller to a garden hose or a faucet with a garden hose thread. Faucets without garden hose thread require a kitchen faucet/garden hose thread adapter. I think kitchen faucets are 55/64"-27 thread, and the adapters have both male and female threads on the kitchen faucet end, with a male garden faucet end.
  • 1 small digital scale for measuring hops
  • 1 funnel with screen for straining hops residue and cold break material from the chilled wort
  • 1 6.5 gallon carboy for primary fermentation
  • 1 5 gallon carboy (or larger) for secondary fermentation
  • 1 bottling bucket
  • 1 ~5 gallon bucket for mixing sanitizing solution
  • Sanitizing powder or solution
  • 1 1/2" auto-siphon w/ 5-8' of tubing
  • 5-8' of 5/16" or 3/8" tubing for bottling bucket
  • 1 bottling wand
  • 1 hydrometer for measuring final gravity
  • Priming sugar
  • Bottles
  • Crown caps
  • Bottle capper
  • Sufficient stoppers and airlocks for closing up fermenters
  • Vodka for putting into the airlocks

I think that pretty much covers everything that I use to brew. Obviously someone else's unique circumstance might necessitate variance from this list. Off the top of my head I'd say that the total amount of equipment here would probably cost around $400-500 to buy right now. It may sound like a lot to some people, but if you brew regularly it pays for itself pretty quickly.

A 5 gallon batch gives you a little over 2 cases of beer. I haven't bought cases of beer from a store in a while (or ever?) so the last prices I remember are $14 for a case of Yuengling, and that was on sale. So let's just say it's $30 for 2 cases of beer from a store. I can brew a 3.5-4% beer for as little as $7 a batch, and a 4.5-5% beer for around $10 a batch. A 7-8% beer costs around $13-15 per batch, whereas it might cost you $10+ to buy a 6-pack of a similar beer. I figure I've saved at least $800-1000 or more over the past few years just by brewing my own beer, so my equipment has definitely paid for itself. And I'm not a particularly active brewer or drinker, so someone who brews and drinks more than I do would save even more money.

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