Should I homebrew? A newbie’s guide

DRINK VERANTWOORD!

There are lots of resources out there geared towards homebrewing and I know from experience that these can be intimidating, confusing and hard to filter through.  I will do my best to clearly outline what you should know *before* you go down this (awesome) path and I will also make clear exactly what you need to simply get started with your first batch.

Off the bat you may be wondering a few things.  Things like how much it costs, how long it takes, how much space it takes up, how difficult it is, and if it’s really worth it.  The quick answer is not much, not long, not very,  just a bit, and very much so!  But let me break down each one in more detail (otherwise this would be a very short article).

Cost

Making your own labels costs money too...

There are many wonderful things about homebrewing, and cost is one of them, but saving money should not be your real goal.  If you already cheap out on beer then stick with your macrobrewery cans, you luddite.  The only way you’ll save money is A) if you already buy good beer regularly and B) over time.  A case of good beer costs about $40-50; this is about how much a prepacked extract kit (which is what you’ll be starting with) costs and it will make you two cases.  So if you pick up a nice case once or twice a month this could be significant.  The reason I mention that it will take time to save or recoup the money is because your probably won’t brew as often as you think and the initial investment can either be moderate or significant.  I personally spent about 250$ when all was said and done.

The cost of that initial investment can vary greatly.  The basics will always include:

Brewpot, buckets, 2ndary fermenter (glass)

A prepacked extract recipe kit (contains the organic materials necessary for beer)
A prepacked hardware kit (buckets and tubes and spigots and things)
A largish stainless steel stockpot
A largish metal spoon for stirring
2 cases of bottles

On the cheaper side you could probably acquire all of this for $120.  If you happen to have a stainless steel pot and spoon in good condition that’s a great bonus.  If you’re already buying good beer just save those (brown, non-twist-off) bottles.  Rinse them out with hot water right after you drink them and peel off the labels if you feel like it.  This will save you some more dough.  I happened to have just gotten a nice tax return and I sprung for a huge new pot, fresh bottles, and a glass secondary fermenter (patience, my padawan learner, patience).

To sum up the answer is yes, you can save some money.  As long as you’re really going to do this thing and not just once or twice a year.  If you’re anything like me though you’ll be brewing your own beer *and* buying nice cases.  And once you have done a dozen or so batches you’ll be where I am right now, which is wanting to convert an old fridge into a kegerator, start kegging instead of bottling, be thinking about making your own wort-chiller, and having a strong desire to move to all-grain brewing.  Each of these projects just means more money!

Time

What?  It takes time too?  Yes, it actually takes more time than you think.  In the beginning it will take you the better part of a day just for the brewing process.  After that you’ll be waiting at least two weeks for the beer to be ready to bottle.  Bottling will take an hour or two.  Then there’s cleanup after brewing and bottling.  Let’s say at the *very* basic level 2 days of work time and probably 4 weeks of wait time (two for bottling, two after bottling for it to get carbonated), just to be safe.  If you absolutely love it to death you may be brewing once a month.  What’s more likely is that it’s going to be once every two months and between the brewing and the bottling you’re going to rack the beer off to a secondary fermenter to leave all that mucky sediment behind.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Space

This one is fairly easy.  Just imagine one of those big white plastic 5-gallon buckets somewhere in dark, cool area of your home.  We had a pantry that was perfect; a basement or closet works fine as well.  Your kitchen should work just fine for the sanitizing of the bottles and the brewing process.  A gas stove is better than an electric one (finer temperature control) but a standalone propane burner would be better than either.  In any case as long as you have a kitchen, a stove and a closet you should be safe.

Difficulty

A bunch of stuff that will eventually be beer
Prepackaged ingredients

Aha!  Here’s the meaty part! I’ll be honest: the hardest part is finding consistently accurate instructions.  Everybody has different equipment, measurements and methods so you can look something up online or in a book and get 10 different answers.  But the nice thing is that they’ll probably all work!  As long as you can follow instructions, not burn yourself on a stove, and wait until the fermentation is over, you’re going to end up with beer.  And it’s going to be awesome.

You buy the stuff.  You put water in a pot.   Bring it to a boil and put some of the stuff you bought in with it.  You stir that around for a while, adding some more stuff a little later.  Then you cool down all that hot boiling stuff by putting it in some icewater.  Strain that stuff into a bucket and add some final stuff before socking it away for two weeks.

Pull that stuff out of the closet, stir in a tiny bit more stuff and then use your tubes and hoses to put it into 48 bottles.  Use a simple machine to put caps on those bottles.  Wait two weeks and drink.

That’s how hard it is.  It really is scientifical and kind of like alchemy but the process itself is very simple.  It just takes patience, preparation, and a strong desire to make your very own tasty brew.

Worth it?

OH HELLS YEAH.

Adding yeast to my first batch ever. Yeah Scott! Pic by K.

K. and I have brewed beer for our friends and family.  We’ve done about a dozen batches and loved every one.  We’ve put orange flower water in some light ales and we’ve put spruce extract in some dark stout.  We’ve given away more beer than we’ve kept for ourselves because we love sharing it so much.  We’ve had artist friends make custom labels.  We’re going onwards and upwards.  The best thing is that there’s always something new to try.  Maybe eventually we’ll have our own brewpub.

Do it.

Matt

Mostly in and around western and upstate NY. Forays into New England and down the eastern seaboard.