DO YOUR OWN THING

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be doing a series of posts for people interested in brewing their own beer. We’ll talk about where to start, how to make some of your own equipment, and how to impress chicks by flexing your new beer gut.

One of the things that surprised me is how accessible homebrewing is: You can get started with an upfront investment of around $150-200, and after that you can make two cases of beer for a total cost of about $40 or so, less than a dollar a beer. On top of that, the whole process from start to finish only takes 3-6 weeks. Then you can give your craft brew, the fruit of your hard labor, to your beer snob friends who will complain that although it “…pours like translucent cherry-wood with dark mahogany… to be quite honest I wasn’t overly disappointed in the one sip I had…” Ungrateful bastards.

Here are some key things you’ll need to get going with your own homebrew:

1.  An equipment kit. I’ll direct you here to my personal favorite equipment supplier, Northern Brewer.  They have a free catalog, which is actually a great way to learn what’s out there and find new ways to get rid of that pesky extra spending money you’ve got.  Go for the Deluxe Beer Starter Kit as it’ll come with the glass carboys you want (although PVC buckets are a little easier to work with, after a while they run the risk of contaminating your beer and can affect flavor).  The kit I started with is made by Brewer’s Best, available at a variety of locations and websites.  Many of these kits will come with an ingredient pack as well, making them a pretty good deal.  Another great alternative source for ingredients and supplies is Alternative Beverage which has some forums as well.  Get one of these kits and you’ll have all the basics for extract brewing.

2.  A good homebrew manual. The classic choice here is Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, which will run you around $10 on Amazon.com.  Charlie clearly wrote this book in a drunken stupor during the early 1990’s and has yet to update the hokey drawings and pictures in the book.  However, it’s very comprehensive and has all the information you need to become a homebrewer.  If you’re looking for something a bit more advanced, Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide is a good next step.  The science geek in me loves the data tables and descriptions of fermentation chemistry and enzymes , and if you want to get into what really happens when you make beer this book is for you.

3.  At least one 6 pack of good beer. I don’t recommend brewing without substantial quantities of beer on hand.  This is for a number of reasons.  First of all, there are a lot of times during the brewing process where you stand around and wait — why not take the edge off?  More practically, on more than one occasion i’ve run out of empties during bottling and been forced to (tragically) down a 6 pack in order to have enough bottles for the new batch.  Oh, the sacrifices we make…  Of course, make sure you have something that comes in brown bottles without screw caps.  None of that Heinekin crap here.

4. A willingness to screw up. I’ve messed up brewing in just about every way possible, and amazingly, the beer almost always still comes out drinkable.  Maybe it’s a bit of the “man who chops his own wood is always warmed the most by the fire” situation but there’s just something incredibly satisfying about sitting down to drink a nice porter brewed up in your own kitchen, even if you didn’t get the carbonation quite right, or you forgot to add the bittering hops at the right time.  Don’t worry — it’s pretty hard to truly ruin beer.

And that’s it for now – next time we’ll go in to some of the other details on equipment, how to choose your first beer, and some of the problems first time brewers have.

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4 comments

  1. Couldn’t be happier to have a fellow homebrewer on the site. I second the recommendation for Northern Brewer even though I got my first kit at http://www.homebrewing.com. I started out with almost exactly the same kit as the Deluxe Start Kit you mentioned and still use everything that came with it some 8 years later. The Complete Joy of Homebrewing actually came with my kit and it never leaves my side throughout the brewing process.

    Today I exclusively use Beer Wine Hobby(http://www.beer-wine.com/) simply because they have a retail outlet in Woburn, MA to go along with their robust online services. They’re also way more knowledgeable than I’ll ever be so I just grab their recipe of the month ingredient kits and go from there.

    Great post, looking forward to learning more.

  2. I only have #4, how far will that get me?

  3. This is my local place, how does the selection and price stack up? (taking into account I wouldn’t need to pay for shipping)

    http://www.southhillsbrewing.com/index.asp

  4. Slouch, I find it hard to believe that you don’t have a sixpack lying around your house somewhere.

    As far as your local place, looks like a smaller selection of extract kits — but well priced. They have the brewer’s best kit, which I have and have used with a lot of success, although my bucket’s worn out and I need to go to glass. I’d still recommend getting the starter kit from Northern Brewer (if only for the carboys), or I suppose the places recommended by Ripped above. If you’re worried about shipping, just get one of the kits and a single carboy — that way you can do single stage kits with no problem. It looks like the price works out to be almost the same. The prices look right on those ingredient kits though. Sometimes if you go into the stores they can get you deals, too. Just like Ripped says, I often just go for what’s on sale this month and it’s even cheaper. Especially when you’re starting out it’s good to not fear losing the batch…

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