Homebrewing is a fantastic hobby for anyone with an interest in craft beer. Not only do you get a better sense of what goes into your beer, but you get to experiment with different styles and techniques, developing a new appreciation for beer overall.
While getting started with homebrewing may seem daunting, it really isn’t; with a basic understanding of cooking and a little bit of care, anyone can get started. Here are a few tips to help you on your way to developing a really great homebrew:
Don’t waste time on homebrew ‘kits’
There are a number of pre-packaged kits out there that seem like the right way to dip your toe into homebrewing, but the reality is, these are vastly different than true homebrewing and really aren’t all that exciting. Most kits come with a wart (more on that later) and require you to just add yeast and wait. This is the equivalent of packaged Mac and Cheese versus making your own, it’s not that much harder to start from scratch and the end result is so much better.
Don’t waste your money on kits, if you already have an interest in homebrew, just start with buying some basic equipment.
Basic equipment needs
When it comes to basic equipment, there’s less than you actually need. Overall to get started here’s a fairly simple list:
- Fermenter: Generally this is a large bucket
- Airlock & Bung: This sits in the top of the fermenter to let the gasses escape
- Kettle: Approximately 20 litre sized pot for cooking
- Siphon: A tube for moving the liquid from one container to another. An auto syphon is a nice upgrade
- Hydrometer: Measures the gravity of the beer
- Thermometer: Critical for getting the right temperature of boil, wort, etc.
- Cleaner: SO, SO important to keep your equipment clean
- Copper coil: This is optional but so worth the investment. To chill the wort, without this your using an ice bath; a coil makes it way more efficient.
Let’s talk about yeast
Yeast is the backbone of all homebrewing, and having your own active yeast starter will make a significant difference over store bought yeast. It takes only about 20 minutes to do and dramatically improves your chances of getting a strong, active primary fermentation phase. It also reduces your chances for contamination since the conversion of sugars to alcohol happens more rapidly when the yeast are healthy and plentiful.
To clone or not to clone
Cloning is essentially taking an already publicly available beer (like a Heady Topper) and trying to imitate the recipe at home. There are plenty of excellent clones, and a number of near indistinguishable ones, so if there is a beer that you love to drink and want to duplicate, chances are you’ll be able to find the recipe on a number of different homebrew forums.
Cloning is a great place to start, and once you’ve got your footing, you can start thinking about your own recipes. What flavours do you like in a beer, what hops? Start taking some risks and develop a beer that is entirely your own. Is there a chance that you’ll make a dud, yes, but failure is part of the experience and you’ll only learn from the process.
Keep a journal
Regardless of whether you choose to clone a recipe or make one on your own, keeping a log of each brew will help you in the long run. Making a record of the temperatures you experienced, the brew time, the gravity measurements, time in fermentation, etc. will help you fine tune those recipes as you continue to brew. Don’t forget to add in tasting notes, so you know the end result.
I’ve kept a journal for years and one particular recipe, a Christmas ale, is different every year thanks to the measurement adjustments made with various ingredients like molasses and vanilla. It’s vital for me to be able to look back on past years and know what the specific measurements were and how the end result turned out; this has improved this particular recipe over time.
Have fun with it
I mean this is pretty obvious, but the whole point of homebrewing (besides having a ton of beer) is to enjoy it. No matter how technical you can get with it, don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re doing this because you enjoy beer and want to have fun making it. Turn this into a social activity, brewing can be a whole day affair so why not crack a few with some buddies and hang out during brew day? Brewing solo is boring anyway.
Check out this other article for more tips on starting to homebrew.