Many homebrewers start out making beer in their kitchen on the stove with a large pot and a couple of food grade plastic buckets. That is how I started out, and you can absolutely make a good tasting ale with this rig. Let’s level-set with the basic brewing stages, and then we’ll get into the discussion of what equipment you need to get there.
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You can start with a basic Homebrew Kit from MoreBeer! The steps are:
To make beer, we first have to make wort. The brewing process uses water to extract starch from malted cereal grains (primarily barley, wheat, and/or corn) and convert it to sugars– this process is called the mash and the sugary water is called wort. Next the wort is removed from the grain (or in some systems the grain is removed from the wort)–this process is called lautering. If you are doing an extract brew, you can skip those first two steps as they’ve already been done for you. Next, the liquid wort is boiled and cooled. Yeast is added to the cooled wort, and then the sugars in the wort are consumed by the yeast and converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide to make beer–this is called fermentation. And finally, you need to package your liquid gold treasure in bottles, cans, kegs, or growlers. From a high-level look, summed down to one paragraph, that’s all there is to it!
Now that you have an overview of the process, let’s talk about equipment for your first batch of home brewed beer from extract. There are homebrew recipe kits that have all the ingredients you need for your brew, and there are homebrew equipment kits that bundle together common pieces of equipment you may need. Traditionally, homebrew is done in 5 gallon batches. Before homebrew shops were common, homebrewers had to build or scavenge for their equipment— they used 5 gallon plastic buckets, 5 gallon soda kegs, etc. So today, most homebrew recipes and kits maintain the tradition of 5 gallon increments, so we’ll assume a 5 gallon batch here unless specifically stated otherwise. 5 gallons is a little over 2 cases of bottled or canned beer.
Just 1 Gallon Please! Relatively recently, 1 gallon recipe kits have become more readily available, and there are 1 gallon starter kits that include both the ingredients and equipment for a 1 gallon batch for about $60, with most of the equipment being reusable. 1 Gallon recipe kits range from $15-$20.
In an extract brew you’ll skip the mash and lauter steps and go straight to the boil.To boil, you’ll obviously need a boil kettle to boil in–preferably 5 gallon or larger but you can make due with a 3 gallon pot if that’s all you can find. MoreBeer! offers the Brewmaster 5 gallon stainless steel kettle for under $30. Large canning pots work fine. If you use a kit for your first batch, which we recommend if you’ve never brewed before, the ingredients will be measured out for you, otherwise, you’ll need a scale and some measuring spoons. You’ll also need some basic kitchen equipment like a spoon to stir with, some malt extracts are canned so you may need a can opener, etc. Most kits will include some grain to add to the complexity of the brew, and these go in mesh bags that sit raised inside the brew pot.
Boiling kills most microbes, so we can feel pretty good that our wort is sanitary. But we need to add yeast (which is a microbe) to make beer! So after we’ve boiled the wort, we need to cool it down so it doesn’t kill the yeast. The simplest and “free” way is to move your boil kettle to a sink and run cold water on the outside of the kettle or set it in an ice-bath. A better and faster method is to use an immersion chiller–a copper or stainless steel coil that sits in the kettle while you run cold water through the coils. Immersion chillers start at about $65, and they generally last a long time. Most come with connectors for a garden hose, so you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing one that fits the water source you will be using.
Let The Feeding of the Yeast Begin! After the wort is cooled, we need to transfer it to the fermenter. Most modern breweries use a conical style fermenter, and there are a wide variety available–these are covered in other articles. For this batch, we’re going to rely on traditional food grade plastic buckets. You can buy these individually, but you’ll need other stuff too and the home brew suppliers have conveniently packed kits for your buying pleasure.
A very basic 5 gallon homebrew equipment kit starts at around $75 and they come with more and more equipment the more you spend — including many of the optional add-ons that we mention throughout this post. The MoreBeer! Home Brew Kit is pretty typical, and it includes:
We will use the 6 gallon bucket as the fermenter. First we sanitize the bucket, then we need to transfer the wort from the pot to the sanitized fermenter bucket. You can pour it in, but the preferred way is to use a sanitized hose to siphon the wort to the fermenter. You can suck it into a hose the old fashioned (free) way, or use an auto siphon (about $15) or pump (starting around $40). Next we want to take a specific gravity reading with the hydrometer and add water to get to our original gravity target. Once we’ve got our original gravity target dialed in, and the temperature in the appropriate range, we add the yeast and let the magic transformation of wort to beer begin! When adding the yeast, we want to give a few aggressive stirs to aerate the wort–yeast need oxygen at this stage to reproduce. But after this initial burst of O2, oxygen becomes the enemy and we will take every precaution to minimize any additional oxygen getting into the beer. After a few stirs, we seal up the bucket with a sanitized lid. Next we insert the airlock into the hole in the lid, and add some water (or vodka if you prefer) to the airlock to keep out the bad microbes. You should soon see the cap of the airlock moving, and you’ll want to check it every so often the first couple of days to make sure the airlock doesn’t get dislodged or the lid unseal.
Assuming we’re going to bottle this batch, over the next week+ you’ll want to collect at least 2 dozen 12 oz beer bottles (no screw-caps) and clean them up. Call it research or get your friends to help or you can buy them, but you’ll need them.
In about 10 days, your yeast should be finished and most of them will drop to the bottom of the bucket. We want to get the beer off of the dead yeast cake at the bottom of the bucket so it doesn’t get sucked up into the bottles or cans or kegs. To do this, we again siphon the liquid (now beer) into the other freshly sanitized 5 gallon bucket, leaving the yeast cake behind. There is still yeast living in the beer, but all of the fermentable sugars are gone. We’ll need to add some into the batch–most of us use corn sugar because it’s cheap, has no discernable impact on the final product, and is pretty easy to use and acquire. So you add your corn sugar to the beer, gently and carefully mix it in without adding any more oxygen. So now we have clear flat beer that we’re ready to bottle and carbonate, we connect the bottling wand to the fermenter, open the spigot, insert the wand into a sanitized bottle and push down. The bottling wand has a stopper that opens when you push it against something hard (the bottom of the bottle) and closes when you pull it back. Once you’ve filled up your bottle, lay a cap on top and crimp it down with the beer capper… you’ve just packaged your first beer! keep the bottled beer at room temperature for about two weeks, then it’s ready! Home brewed, fully carbonated, bottle craft beer!
Now that we’ve talked through the basics, let’s wrap this discussion up with some of the kit options. If you’re planning on getting some of the upgrades anyways, you can save some time and money by getting one of the deluxe or premium kits.
The MoreBeer! Deluxe Kit, at about $150, includes everything from the Home Brew Kit plus a 5 gallon stainless steel Brew Kettle, a Fermonster fermenter (it’s made of clear plastic so you can watch your brew ferment) and even a recipe kit for your first batch.
The MoreBeer! Premium Kit (about $260) upgrades the Deluxe Kit with an 8.5 gallon brewpot with a spigot built in (I can’t tell you how handy this is!!!) and a copper immersion chiller. There is also an option to add on a kegging system to this kit (about $499)
There are also electric brewing kits, and if you’re interested in electric brewing we got you covered there too!
Heady Topper–Drink it from the can, the standard by which all NEPA’s are judged, and the inspiration behind the hazy IPA craze! It carries a Beer Advocate score of 100, and has been at or near the top of their rankings for years. I can’t think of a more influential beer than the Alchemist’s Heady Topper! Especially a beer that’s only available in a very tiny area. Even locals have trouble locating it at times. Now you don’t need to make the trip to Waterbury, Vermont, you can make it right in your own home! This imperial IPA is hop-crazy, but with a strong malt backbone to keep it balanced and very drinkable. At $65-$70, you’re getting two cases for the price of one…. if you can find a case! You want to use the White Labs Burlington Ale WLP095 with this kit.
Hopslam is a seasonal DIPA from Michigan’s Bell’s Brewing. It comes out shortly after New Year’s, and it’s gone just as quick. Hopslam was very influential in making Simcoe hops popular, and has that kinda=mango-cat pee thing going, but still exceptional if you’re a hop lover! A real bargain at $60-$70! WLP001 California Ale – White Labs Yeast works with this recipe.
Bell’s Two Hearted Ale can be found year round and pretty much everywhere. It’s a solid IPA style beer and easy access makes this one a great choice if you want to compare your batch to the original. At $45-$50 for a kit, it’s budget friendly and makes a great choice for your first batch. You wanna go with the WLP001 California Ale – White Labs Yeast on this as well.
Black Butte Porter had a nice run on the trendy-hype-train a few years ago. It’s a solid toasty porter with great dark color and outstanding flavor complexity with some hits of cocoa. I really enjoy porters in the fall, and this is one of the best. The Black Butte extract clone kit sells for $39-$48. WLP004 Irish Ale – White Labs Yeast will make a good porter.
Old Rasputin Russina Imperial Stout was one of the few craft beers you could find before the revolution really took off! Again, this beer is a style definer by which all other RIS stouts are compared. The Old Rasputin clone extract kit sells for $55-$60. WLP004 Irish Ale – White Labs Yeast will do the job well.
When it’s hot, nothing quenches your thirst like an ice cold lager! Even better, a Mexican Lager! And MoreBeer! has you covered with their thirst quenching Corona Extra Mexican Lager clone extract kit ($29-$38). Lime slices not included, lol. For this recipe you want to go WLP940 Mexican Lager Yeast – White Labs Yeast
Blue Moon brought Belgian beer creativity to the American masses. For a mega-brewer produced beer, it has great complexity while keeping the light creamy mouthfeel. $35-$43, orange slices not included. Go with WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale – White Labs Yeast for this one.
Fat Tire by New Belgium was uber-hyped back in the prime of the craft beer revolution. This is probably the first American beer to have major commercial success with the unusual flavors that are common to brews made in Belgium. At $40, it’s a great beer at a great price. No fruit needed for this one. for yeast, there is a lot of disagreement, but I’d suggest either a straight Belgian Ale yeast or use the wit ale yeast Go with WLP400 Belgian Wit Ale – White Labs Yeast for this one.