Sunday, July 28, 2013

How to Homebrew Beer

Getting Started With Home Brewing: Equipment and Process

My friend is a huge beer enthusiast and homebrewer. He won a gold medal in a home brewing competition with over 500 participants. I also tried his beers - they are unparalleled. This is his advice on how to get started, what equipment to use, and the brewing process.

There are different pieces of equipment that you will need depending on what type of brewing that you choose to do. I'll go from easiest to most difficult. All methods assume you'll be making 5 gallon batches. First, here are the basic steps to the brewing process:
  1. Mashing (optional)
  2. Boiling of wort (malt sugar solution before it becomes beer) and addition of hops
  3. Cooling of wort to appropriate fermentation temperature 
  4. Fermentation
  5. Packaging (either bottling or keging)
  6. Drinking!!

1) Partial volume boil extract

With this method, you use a malt extract (which comes in either a syrupy liquid or dry, powdered form), make a strong solution with it, boil it while adding hops, and then add back water at the end to make the full beer volume. You can also steep actual crushed barley grains in a muslin bag in the boil to add complexity. Equipment needed:
  • 5 gallon aluminum or stainless steel pot
  • Muslin bags
  • Fermenter. This can be a 6 gallon food grade plastic bucketglass carboy, or Better Bottle. I use glass carboys for fermentation because they don't scratch, which can provide a nice little nestling place for bacteria. I bought my carboys on craigslist. Plastic buckets are okay as long as they're relatively new and you're gentle with cleaning, i.e. don't use abrasive sponges. I've not used the Better Bottle for beer fermentation (we used them at the winery for storing excess wine).
  • Method for chilling the wort. The most rudimentary method (which I still use) is ice bath immersion. For this, you'll need a container that is large enough to contain both the pot and ~20 lbs. of ice. If you want to get more fancy, you can chill via coiled convective heat exchanger or plate geometry heat exchanger (this requires a small pump and a pot with a valve and barbed fitting at the bottom).
2) Full volume boil extract

This method is the same as the previous except you boil your full wort volume. Thus instead of a 5 gallon got, you'd need a 10 gallon pot. 

3) Full volume boil all grain

This is the method that I employ. Instead of an extract, you use raw, crushed, malted barley grains to create the wort in the mash. It creates an arguably better product, you have more parameters of freedom for recipe formulation, and to me it's more rewarding. However it is much more complicated than extract brewing and requires more equipment and time per batch. In addition to the previously mentioned equipment, you'll need:
  • 10 gallon aluminum or stainless steel pot
  • Mash tun. I use a modified 10 gallon water cooler. The process for making one can be found here.
  • A large enough pot or enough pots to hold ~4 gallons of liquid.
Other Equipment:

For packaging the beer, you'll need the same equipment regardless of brewing method. You'll need:
  • Bottling bucket. This is a food grade plastic bucket with a hole and spout at the bottom. 
  • Capper
  • Bottles and caps
The following are optional but HIGHLY recommended. They make the bottling process much easier. The substitute for these would be a clean dishwasher rack and a container with sanitizer that you would dunk the bottles in.
Other miscellaneous items that you will need are:
These items can be procured at your local home brew store, online, or craigslist.

Estimated price of equipment

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