Six Essential Items Needed to Start Homebrewing
Drinking craft beer: awesome. Paying $10+ for a 6-pack: not so cool. You might associate homebrewing with hipsters, or assume anything that ferments in someone’s basement can’t possibly taste any good, but brewing your own beer can save you a lot of money, taste genuinely good (certainly a million times better than a Bud/Miller/Coors/Whatever Lite), and is a lot of fun. Here’s a list of the things you’ll need in order to get started*:
*If you get a pre-packaged starter kit, a lot of this will be included, but it’s still good to know what it is you’re buying and what it all does.
1. Malt Extract Ingredient Kit ($25 to $40)
An ingredient kit will have all the grains, fermentables, hops, yeast and priming sugar you’ll need for 5 gallons of beer, along with instructions on when and how to put everything together. A simple brown ale is a good place to begin when you’re just starting out. Once you have done a few batches, you can start to get a bit more creative by adding additional ingredients and/or tweaking the recipes to fit your taste (for example, I recently started with a wheat kit and added blueberries and fresh mint — it was delicious).
2. Heat Source (Free to $60)
The top of your stove will work just fine for brewing, but you could also go for something like this turkey fryer if you want to brew outside. I suppose a grill would even work — basically anything that can hold (and get hot enough to boil) a 5 gallon stockpot.
3. Stock Pot/Brewing Kettle (Around $30)
Speaking of stockpots, you’ll need one. This is what you “cook” the beer in. Most people start with a 5 gallon pot, but they come as big as 25 gallons for the semi-professional brewers out there. If you buy one from a homebrew shop, it will be called a “brewing kettle” or something similar, but any old stock pot will work just fine. (FYI, they have them at thrift stores all the time).
4. Fermenter ($10 to $40)
The fermenter is the container the beer sits and ferments in (ie: turns alcoholic) for anywhere from one week to three months. The cheapest version is a plastic bucket with an airlock and the standard version is a plastic or glass carboy (pictured).
5. A Good Brewing Book ($10ish)
The more you know about the brewing process, the more you’ll be able to play around and experiment. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing is a good place to start — it’s a really broad guide that covers everything from equipment to basic instructions to recipes. The Alaskan Bootleggers Bible is another fun one — super odd and goes over not just beer-making but how to make your own wine, cider, moonshine whiskey, bathtub gin…
6. A Capper and Empty Beer Bottles ($15 to $20)
Nobody wants a flat beer. The cheapest way to fizz your beer up is to start saving/collecting beer bottles (only the fancy beers will do; twist-off bottles won’t work). Then buy a capper to put caps on your beer once you transfer it to bottles (which will create carbonation in a week or two). An alternative is to get a kegging system (around $200); it will eliminate the need for caps and bottles altogether.
If after all this you find yourself thinking, “You know what, I think I’d rather buy my beer and not mess with this. What am I going to do with all this crap if I don’t end up liking brewing?” The answer is Craigslist. Brewing gear is in high enough demand that you won’t lose much should you decide to sell it after giving it a try. Basically, there’s a lot of potentially awesome beer to gain and not a lot to lose, so go for it!