Equipment 101

Equipment 101
  • What equipment do I need to get started? There’s not a lot of technology involved in beer making and most of it you already have, like a stove and running water. Another thing you probably have is a pot for boiling water. (see below for more info on pots) So the main things you’ll need to buy/procure are a fermenter, air lock, siphon, bottling bucket, bottle filler, bottle capper/caps/bottles and some good sanitizer. The easiest thing to do is buy a Starter Kit. It will usually come with all of this and more.
  • Are you sure that’s all I need? My friend who makes beer told me I absolutely need to get… I won’t tell you to ignore your friend’s advice but there is a difference between things you need and things you might want. There are lots handy gadgets that make your brew day easier but are not essential. We recommend starting simple and adding on as your skill level increases. If your friend insists that you can’t do without something ask to borrow theirs for a few batches. Find out if you really like brewing before you spend a bunch of money.
  • What type of starter kit should I get? There are a few different manufacturers but they are all pretty standard and cost about the same. If you notice a difference in price of more than say five bucks, check to see what is included. I recommend getting one that comes with an “auto-siphon” not a “racking cane”, it’ll be a few bucks more but totally worth it. On the other hand, some “deluxe” kits come with expensive items like brew pots and glass carboys which you may not want or need.
  • What about one of those kits they sell at Wal-Mart and stuff? These days I see homebrew kits being sold everywhere. Usually the kits you find at big box retailers are for doing small batches – a gallon or two – and are good on a trail basis. I call them “dip your toe in the water” kits. They are good if you want to see what homebrewing is all about but not really useful for the long term. If you plan on brewing more than once, you’ll want a 5 gallon kit. One thing to keep in mind is that most of those “Mr. Beer” or similar kits have been sitting on the shelf for a loooong time. If you get one, I suggest replacing the yeast. Fresh yeast makes a big difference and only costs a few dollars.
  • What type/size pot do I need? The bigger the better, but you can get away with one as small as 16 quarts and still do 5 gallons batches. If you go big just make sure it will fit on your stove. Stainless steel is the best for easy cleaning but anything that is food safe and you can boil water in will work. If you have an aluminum pot, however, you’re not going to be able to clean it with alkaline cleaners that most brewers use because it will corrode the metal. Before you go out and buy one, I suggest checking your cabinets or asking Mom/Grandma, they might have an old stew pot or canning pot you can use.
  • What’s the difference between a glass carboy and a bucket fermenter? They both perform the exact same function equally well but each has its own pros and cons. The plastic buckets are inexpensive, light weight and easy to clean but they do wear out and have to be replaced periodically. A glass carboy will last forever unless you break it (which is a huge “con”). Aside from costing 3x as much as a bucket, carboys are also heavy, unwieldy and very difficult to clean because of the narrow neck. That bottle neck also means you need a special brush for cleaning and a funnel to get liquid into it. For beginners I always say, start with buckets, you can always get a carboy later.
  • What type of bottles can I use? You’re going to need bottles that can seal air tight, so avoid twist-offs. Standard crown cap bottles that require a bottle opener are your best bet. They are cheap and plentiful; you can just pull them out of the recycling can and wash them. The flip-top, grolsch-type work well too and you don’t need caps or a capper. They tend to be a bit more costly however. Also try to get dark glass, brown or blue, green is OK but not great and clear bottles should only be used as a last resort.
  • How many bottles will I get per batch? It varies but a typical 5 gallon batch will yield around 2 cases of 12oz bottles. Make sure you have about 50 on hand when you go to bottle. If you’re using bigger “bomber” bottles you’ll probably get about 25.
  • What the heck is a hydrometer? Do I really need one? A hydrometer is a tool that looks similar to a thermometer but is used to measure the density of liquid. Brewers use it to determine sugar levels and calculate alcohol content. They are useful to have and most starter kits come with one but if you don’t have one or forget to use it, no big deal. They only provide information and have no affect on the outcome of your beer.
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