The first step in making your own beer is getting the right home beer brewing equipment. My first trip to the home brew store gave me plenty of equipment options to help me get started. The perfectionist in me wanted the biggest and best equipment, not to mention everything I could ever need. My school loans, car payment, and general “adult” expenses meant that I could only afford the cheapest and minimum equipment necessary.
Well, I compromised and wound up purchasing the minimum equipment. I didn’t go for the cheapest options, but I trusted the home brew “expert” to get me what I needed. Turns out, what the “experts” think is the minimum is still more than you need for your first batch.
Now, before I go into what you will need to make a batch of your favorite beer, let me add a disclaimer. I am in no way an “expert” at home brewing beer. I will just detail the equipment I actually used for my first batch. This equipment has served me well as I brew the kits that are available. As your skills improve and you look for more challenging recipes, you will need more equipment.
Minimum needs to make a batch of beer
In order to determine the home beer brewing equipment needed, you need to know the steps in the home brew process. Here are the four main steps to brewing your first batch of beer… At this point, I am assuming you are starting with a kit and not jumping straight in to all-grain brewing
- Sanitization – This step involves no ingredients, but can make or break your beer.
- Brewing – As simple as it sounds…converting grains and water into flavored water.
- Fermentation – Turning flavored water into beer. Just need to check on it periodically.
- Bottling – Probably the most hands-on and tedious step.
Sanitization… The KEY to a great beer
As I wrote earlier. If you do this step wrong, your beer will not turn out as you intend. There are plenty of books out there to explain all the chemistry (I have read some of them, but only because I enjoy that stuff). This step is really simple, as you are washing out any of the bacteria that will cause the flavor to go bad.
What you need:
- Sanitizing cleaner – I prefer an iodine solution that is readily available on-line. Use caution as it will stain everything a lovely orange color if you don’t clean it off quickly
You will be sterilizing EVERYTHING that comes into contact with your room temperature beer (bottles, fermenter, bottling bucket, etc.).
Home Beer Brewing Equipment – Brew Day Needs
This step will test your patience. You are taking a lot of water and heating it to a boil. You allow the water to boil and add your ingredients to create your wort. Then you have to cool it as quickly as possible. Sounds simple, but we will cover that another day. For now, your home beer brewing equipment needs are:
- Brew Pot – As simple as it sounds…a large pot. Some kits allow for only boiling 2-3 gallons of water, but your beer will turn out a little better if you boil all 5 gallons. I would recommend a 6-gallon pot. This will probably be your biggest purchase to get started.
- Stirring Spoon – Again, self-explanatory. Get a long enough spoon to reach the bottom of your pot so you can prevent burning the beer (and your hands).
- Hydrometer – This is how you eventually calculate the alcohol content of your beer. It can also tell you if you need to move on to the next steps. If you add too much water for brewing then your beer will be watered down…the hydrometer will help you catch that.
- Thermometer – The temperature required to steep grains in most kits is critical to you beer. Too hot and you will get unpleasant flavors. This also helps gauge how much more cooling you need before adding yeast to the fermenter.
- Ice – You will be surprised by how long it will take to cool down 5 gallons of boiling wort. Usually, you fill your sink with water and ice and set the brew pot in to begin cooling. In my case, my sink is too shallow (it would be ideal if you could fill the sink with enough water to come within a couple inches of the top of the brew pot). You can get a couple bags of ice and use your bathtub to speed up cooling.
- Stove / Burner – You need a way to heat the water / wort. Electric stoves work, but will take longer than a gas stove or propane burner. For your first batch, your stove will be sufficient.
Now you have what you need to brew your first batch…but don’t start yet. You need to make sure you have your fermentation equipment…you need somewhere for the wort to be stored while it turns in to beer.
Home Beer Brewing Equipment – Fermentation Needs
This is where the real magic happens…unless you really enjoy non-alcoholic beer. This is about a two-week process where you have nothing to do except for watch for bubbles. Pretty limited home beer brewing equipment needs:
- Fermenter – Fancy word for a plastic bucket. Make sure it is sterilized, but a 5-gallon plastic bucket will serve you fine.
- Some recipes talk about a secondary fermenter, but for the first batch it won’t be necessary. That will be the next step in your brewing process as you get comfortable making consistent batches.
- Air lock – You can get a fermenter from a brewing supply store that has a hole drilled in the lid (or drill one in your fancy 5-gallon bucket). Those same stores will also sell air locks. This is a fancy term for something that keeps air out of your fermenter, but allows the carbon dioxide to escape. Sounds simple, but if you don’t have one you will blow the lid off your fermenter and ruin your beer (trust me). If you don’t feel like buying an air lock, some flexible plastic tubing and a bucket of water work to.
- How to make a cheap air lock – Drill a hole in the lid of your fermenter so you can slide your tubing in. Seal the hole and the tubing so no air can creep in (normally, they have a rubber grommet, but you can caulk the thing in if you never want it to come back out). Place the end of the tubing into a bucket or pail of water (make sure you weigh the end of the tubing down because it will float)…now you have an airlock
It is not required, but you can get a thermometer sticker and place it on the outside of your fermenter. This will tell you the temperature of the beer. Eventually, the temperature will be whatever the temperature of your house or apartment is so you don’t have to have one.
Home Beer Brewing Equipment – Bottling Day Needs
This will quickly become your least favorite part (or at least it is mine). Outside of your brew pot, here is where you will spend most of your money on home beer brewing equipment.
- Bottling Bucket – Unless you are handy (I am not), I would find a bottling bucket to buy. If you are curious, it is a plastic bucket with a valve at the bottom to drain the beer out. You could also buy a water or Gatorade cooler with the spout at the bottom.
- Siphon – You will need to transfer your beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket. You don’t want to pour the beer into the bottling bucket so you minimize the amount of the grains that transfer over. Since sterilization is EXTREMELY important, I don’t recommend using a hose and starting the siphon with your mouth. They sell siphons that work well for this
- Bottles – Generally speaking, a 5 gallon batch will make 48 12-ounce bottles of beer. Now you see where this gets tedious. If you don’t want to spend money on new bottles, rinse out your empty bottles as you finish your favorite store bought beers (a couple rinses to make sure the beer is gone is sufficient. You will sterilize them before you fill them). Make sure you are drinking bottles that require an opener as you cannot attach the caps to the screw top bottles.
- Bottle Caps – You need to seal the bottles to allow for carbonation. Most kits come with caps, but they can easily be found on the internet.
- Bottle Capper – You will need to seal the caps onto the bottles. If there is something to splurge on it is this. You will be capping 48 bottles and will want something easy to use.
- Bottle Brush – These can be found pretty much everywhere. You will want them to clean out any residual beer so it doesn’t ruin your beer.
- Cup or Glass – You want to test the beer before bottling it. It will be non-carbonated, but you should get the idea of the flavor before spending your time bottling. This shouldn’t cost you anything as I hope you have glasses or cups at your house.
- Plastic Tubing – This can be the same tubing used for your air lock. You will need some for your siphon and it also helps when filling your bottles.
Now you are committed
You now have the 17 necessary pieces of home beer brewing equipment to make your first batch of beer. At this point, you should probably just keep going and buy a recipe to try. If you are budget conscious, you realize you have spent a pretty good chunk of money (about $400 if you buy each individually) and are wondering where it has gone. Well, one kit usually costs around $70 to make 48 beers (8 6-packs). If you went to the store to buy your favorite craft beer you would spend $10-$15 per 6-pack…or $80-$120 for 48 quality craft beers.
If you have any questions on what to get, comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.