Are you ready to jump in and start brewing yet? I definitely understand the feeling! But many of you might lose a little bit of enthusiasm as soon as you see the price tag on all that shiny new brewing equipment. But don’t panic, I’ve been there and I want to help you overcome that!
Anyone who knows me really well has come to terms with the fact that I’m a bit of a tightwad when it comes to spending money, especially when I was in college. Naturally as a college senior I was brainstorming ways to have fun without breaking the bank. I came upon the idea that I could begin making my own beer because everything is cheaper to make at home rather than buying it in the store, right? Well in this case, not quite.
Now don’t start punching the back button on your browser as fast as you can, I have some good news! I have been pretty lucky to have acquired quite a bit of cheap homebrewing equipment, and I believe you can do the same! I’ll go into more detail on how I acquired my equipment in a little bit, but if you want some more information on the basic brewing equipment required to make beer, check out the “Basic Equipment” tab at the top of this page.
As I mentioned in my first post, I took the initial homebrewing leap of faith when I bought a Mr. Beer Kit. This was around Christmas-time my senior year of college, and I had received a gift card that allowed me to buy a full blown 2 gallon brewing set worth about $40. This included a fermenter, bottles, sanitizing solution, some malt extract, yeast, and priming sugar tablets.
Mr. Beer is great in that they offer a kit that makes brewing as simple as possible. As some of you may know, there are two main ways to brew beer: extract brewing and all-grain brewing. Extract brewing is by far the easier route, especially if you’re using hopped malt extract (which is what I used for a few Mr. Beer batches). If you want a little more information on the basic ingredients used for brewing, check out the “Basic Ingredients” tab at the top of this page.
My first beer ever was an Irish Stout, and it was ready just in time for St. Patrick’s Day! One thing I’ve realized as a homebrewer is that I tend to be a little biased toward my own beers, but I try to always keep this in mind when I share my beer with others. With that being said, I really enjoyed my first batch! However, some of my friends probably preferred to drink my beer really fast with a shot of Irish cream submerged within the glass. All that meant to me was there was room for improvement, and I was more motivated than ever! With my little brown keg I got a lot of practice, and I made a partial mash pale ale, a partial mash hefeweizen, and a pilsner (just to name a few).
I felt like I got a little better with each brew, and eventually I decided I wanted to start making bigger, more complicated batches. One day I decided to share some of my most recent batch with my father-in-law, and it turned out that he used to be a weekend brewmaster back in the day too! He took a look in the basement, and sure enough he had his old equipment! This included a fermenter, mixing bucket, racking cane (with tubing), and a bench bottle capper.
Now I got lucky that he let me “borrow” his equipment, but maybe you don’t have a family member who is trying to unload some old homebrewing equipment. That is ok! Just the other day I was on Facebook marketplace and I found a guy who was unloading his entire homebrewing setup for $30 just because he was moving and no longer had space! I guarantee that if you are vigilant, you will be able to stumble upon a great deal on one of these types of situations (check out Facebook, Craigslist, garages sales, etc.).
However, if you don’t mind spending $60-$100 or so, Midwestsupplies.com has a great beginners kit too! The only other major equipment you will probably need is a brew kettle. 5 gallon brew kettles are ideal for 5 gallon recipes, but they can get expensive. I got mine as a wedding gift, but I have also seen 5 gallon kettles at thrift stores for $10-$20. For more information on what to look for in a brew kettle, keep an eye out for my future post in the “Basic Equipment” series.
Ok, now I had my equipment and I was ready for my first big batch. The first 5 gallon batch I had ever made was actually a birthday gift to my father-in-law. I figured it was something we could do together, and who doesn’t like 5 gallons of craft beer for their birthday?! I went to the local homebrew store and bought a kit for a honey wheat beer. The recipe is shown below:
- 4 lb Wheat Malt Extract (LME)
- 2 lb jar of honey
- 1 oz. Spalt Hops
- 1272 American II Activator Pack (yeast)
- Brought three gallons of water to a boil, removed from heat, and stirred in LME
- Brought mixture back to a boil, boiled for 10 minutes and then added Spalt hops
- After another 50 minutes of boiling removed from heat and stirred in the honey
- Brought mixture back to a boil for ten more minutes then removed from heat and cooled as quickly as possible
- Aerated wort, brought volume to 5 gallons with tap water, then added contents of yeast packet
Seems easy, right? We thought it went pretty well, and we really enjoyed the finished product! One thing I noticed though was that the beer did not stay fresh for very long, and I think this was because we didn’t pay close enough attention to sanitation. This is step number one under the tab titled “The Process” because this is one of the most important steps of consistent homebrewing.
Along with some lessons learned with the new equipment, I also learned a lot from going through the motions of the first big boil. It’s hard to explain this, but you will definitely understand once you have a handful of brews under your belt. So whatever it is holding you back, I hope you realize that getting started is the hardest part of homebrewing, and it’s something that just about anyone can do.
I would love to hear what got you interested in beer and homebrewing, or some stories from all the beginners out there! Leave a comment below or reach out to me through the questions and comments tab above! My next series of posts will go into further detail on many pieces of common homebrewing equipment, so until then, cheers!