By Dave Dahl – Lo Rez Brewing
I’ve been homebrewing for 20 years. I’ve brewed beer that’s won awards, and I’ve brewed beer that’s blown shit up. Thankfully I’ve done many more of the former than the latter. In 2008 I introduced a couple longtime friends to homebrewing. Fast forward to today and I’m going pro with one of those friends. Later this summer, Kevin Lilly and I will open Lo Rez Brewing and taproom here in Chicago, in the Pilsen neighborhood.
I love beer, I love brewing, and I love talking about both. So when ManBQue asked me to do a Homebrewing post I jumped at it. After the juices started flowing we decided to break it into a whole week of homebrew basics.
So you want to make your own beer. Chances are you’ll more or less follow this basic path:
1. Gathering equipment and ingredients
What’s going unsaid in the list above is all the time you spend waiting. You wait around and monitor the beer while it’s brewing. You just plain wait for fermentation to happen. You wait after bottling for the beer to develop. Home brewing is a lot of things, but it’s not something you can rush. All that waiting will turn your beer into a better product, and you into a better homebrewer.
Unlike cooking, you probably don’t have any of the necessary hardware or ingredients already in your kitchen. That can cause a certain amount of sticker shock when you’re buying everything you need to make your first brew. But, like cooking, you can re-use the hardware, get better, and make your investment worthwhile.
First you need to buy a hardware kit (this is very different than a “beer kit” which is what most people think of, but I’ll cover that below). There are some really good sites dedicated to selling homebrewing equipment, but for the sake of local business, I urge you to find a local homebrew store. You can get questions answered in person, and if they’re like Chicago’s Brew and Grow or Brew Camp, they’ll be passionate about homebrewing.
No matter where you go you’ll usually find a cheaper starter kit (which consists of fermenting bucket, bottling bucket, siphon, bottle filler, cleaner, bottle brush, racking cane, hydrometer, thermometer, bottle capper, and book) and a more well-rounded deluxe kit (which consists of fermenting bucket, glass carboy, bottling bucket, siphon, bottle filler, cleaner, bottle brush, carboy brush, racking cane, hydrometer, thermometer, bottle capper, paddle and book). If you can afford it, spring for the deluxe. You’re looking at about $100, but remember that it’s all reusable. Get the additional dodads of the deluxe, and if you use them right, your beer will be better. If you continue homebrewing, these kits will grow with you – you can add them over time, and replace things you either outgrow or wear out.
While you’re at it, pick up some PBW and Star San, those are the brand-names of two chemicals used all the time by homebrewers. PBW is for cleaning, Star San is for sanitizing. While I was getting started homebrewing I screwed around with other chemicals and processes and wish I could have the time, money, and lost beers back; so just get them now. They’re much easier to use and much more forgiving.
Let’s assume we’re brewing on a stovetop, because you’re just starting out – electric or gas, it’s all the same to brewers since it makes your pot hot. If you dig brewing, and your significant other or roommate is sick of you destroying the kitchen, get an outdoor gas burner and move the work outside. But for this series, we’ll focus on kitchen brewing.
The final and most important piece of hardware is a brew pot. No starter kit comes with a pot, but you probably have one at home. You can brew beer in any sized pot by adding additional water in the fermenter (aka “topping it off”). But the bigger the pot you brew in, and the less “topping off” you’re doing, and the better your beer will be. So find a pot, and if you don’t have one, buy a big one.
So you’re equipped – a little poorer, but fully prepared and excited to make beer. Let’s get brewing.