How to Get Started
As the American craft beer industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds on a daily basis, there is a niche hobby that seems to be growing along with it, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale and at a slower pace. Since it spawned the re-birth of small-batch brewing back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the art of homebrewing has become a small industry in its own right. For millions of Americans caught up in the towering wave that is America's craft beer obsession, homebrewing serves as an exciting, hands-on way to bolster their knowledge and amplify their passion for the malted and fermented grain.
Thanks to luminaries like the great Charley Papazian and Heretic Brewing's Jamil Zainisheff and their selfless habit of sharing most everything they know about brewing with the ever growing homebrew community, this hobby is now much easier to embark on than many realize. As an avid—an increasingly obsessive—homebrewer myself, I always recommend to would-be homebrewers that they check out Papazian's "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing" or reference Jamil's multiple books on the subject, not to mention his body of work on the Brewing Network show "Can You Brew It?" (available for free podcast download on iTunes). Another fantastic way to orient yourself with the hobby is head over to Youtube and check out an episode or two of Brewing TV. This online series was produced for Northern Brewer by three passionate homebrew experts—Chip Walton, Micheal Dawson and Jake Keeler. Though the show is no longer in production, all episodes remain available on either Youtube or Vimeo, and Chip has broken off on his own with an entertaining new webshow called "Chop and Brew." When I was getting started the work these guys did on Brewing TV was absolutely indispensable.
Though seeking guidance from these and other notable figures in the homebrewing community is extremely helpful, it is in no way a necessary prerequisite for entry into the hobby. All you really need is a few pieces of functional yet rudimentary equipment, ingredients like hops, yeast, grains or grain extract, some dedicated free time and a lot of patience.
The best way to begin, in my opinion, is with a pre-made extract kit. Available at most local homebrew supply shops and through countless online retailers like Northern Brewer, Midwest Supply and Brewmaster's Warehouse, these kits come with all the ingredients you'll need to make a perfectly proper 5 gallon batch of brew. This includes but it is not always limited to liquid or dry malt extract (this ingredient allows the novice brewer to bypass the more involved process of extracting sugar from grain), hop pellets, specialty or steeping grains (used to extract the colors and flavors that the extract may lack) and a strain of either liquid or dry yeast. The exact type of extract, specialty grains, hops and yeast you employ will depend on the style of beer you wish to brew.
The equipment you will need can vary depending on how involved you want your homebrewing process to be, but I recomend starting out on a relatively simple scale. For this you will need a 7.5 or 10 gallon stainless steel kettle, an outdoor proprane burner of the kind commonly used to fry turkeys, a five gallon plastic bucket complete with airtight lid and spigot or a 5.5 to 6 gallon glass or plastic fermentation jug known as a carboy. Also necessary is a device called an airlock which allows c02 to escape your vessel during the fermentaion, a tool called a hydrometer used for measuring alcohol content and plenty of high quality sanitizer such as Star-San. You also may want to invest in an automatic siphon for tranfering beer from one container to another, a bottle capper and a liquid chilling device known as an immersion chiller.
Take a little while to soak all this in. Write down all the equipment you will ultimately need and visit your local homebrew supply store or surf the net to find prices that best fit your budget. You can always buy a complete starter set which will contain all the equipment needed from start to finish. These usually range anywhere from $90 to $160. When I first started out I chose to kobble all my equipment together indivually, thus saving a few bucks.
Please stay tuned for part two of "The Art of Homebrewing" where I will delve deeper into the actual processes involved in brewing a 5 gallon batch of extract beer. In the meantime check out Chip Walton's innagural episode of his informative webshow, "Chop & Brew."
Chop and Brew's Inaugural Episode
Two Reds are Better Than One
Maestro Homebrew Beer Equipment Kit w/ Auto SiphonAmazon Price: $89.95
Buy Now(price as of Oct 21, 2013)
Kits like this are a relatively inexpensive and convenient way to get started as a homebrewer.
The Complete Joy of Homebrewing Third EditionAmazon Price: $15.99
Buy Now(price as of Oct 21, 2013)
Chalie Papazian's "The Complete Joy of Homebrewing", a veritable homebrewer's bible