The Basics of Homebrewing
Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic beverages, with only mead predating it. It’s been part of human culture for thousands of years, and during that time, small, home-based brewing operations were the norm. It’s only during very recent history (relatively speaking, of course), that brewing beer has become big business. Thanks to changes in US laws during the 1970s, it’s now once again legal for us to partake in this millennia-old tradition. Of course, you’ll need a few basics to get started.
First Things First
The first thing you’ll need is the right equipment. You can purchase your items separately, or go for a starter kit. For most, a starter kit is the best option, as it should include pretty much everything you’ll need to start brewing at home and it will be some time before you outgrow it. At the minimum, a starter kit should include:
- You’ll need two 6.5-gallon buckets
- 1 grommeted lid
- 1 airlock
- 1 racking cane or auto siphon and tubing
You’ll also need a large pot to hold the boil, as well as a few other essentials. If you’re going to bottle your beer, you should invest in a bottlebrush, enough bottles to store a 5-gallon batch (roughly 2 cases of beer), a capper and caps. However, you don’t have to go the conventional 12-ounce bottle route. You can bottle your beer in bombers, or you can put it into growlers straight from the secondary fermenter if you prefer.
Note that not all starter kits include the items mentioned above. Some offer more equipment, while others come with less. You’ll find some that offer glass carboys rather than plastic buckets and, while glass is a great idea and something you can work up toward, plastic buckets (food grade) are more than enough for most first-time homebrewers.
Invest in a Brewing Kit
Like equipment kits, you can (and should) start brewing based on a kit. You’ll find a host of them available, from Irish stouts to IPAs, red ales to pilsners, and everything in between. If this is your first time brewing, opt for a kit that includes only malt extract. This eliminates the need to boil grain to extract the sugars. You’ll also find kits that include both grains and malt extracts, although these should be used by brewers with slightly more experience under their belts.
Make sure the beer kit includes everything you’ll need, including:
- Malt extract (type will depend in the beer style in question)
- Hops (pelletized)
- Yeast (type will depend in beer style)
If you’re purchasing a kit with both malt extract and grains, make sure there’s a grain bag included, and you may also want a kit with priming sugar, if you’ll be bottle conditioning your beer (as opposed to carbonating it in a cask). Each kit should also come with detailed instructions on brewing your first batch of beer, helping you enjoy your first foray into homebrewing.
Once you’ve gained some experience and confidence, you’ll find other kits that let you branch out, and you can also add your own ingredients to the mix (fruits, nuts, wood chips, what have you) to create your own unique brew.
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