Brewing System or Brewing Equipment Kit

brewery
Slow down there super guy. Let’s get through the intro first!

There are two ways to go when starting to brew your own beer (or if purchasing a gift), brewing systems or brewing equipment kits.

Brewing Systems

Brewing systems are an easy way to try out homebrewing. These usually consist of a small keg-like container that you ferment your beer in.  These are relatively inexpensive and a quick way to start making your own beer right away.

My first homebrew was done in a Mr. Beer and that was fine. I’ve moved on since then but looking now I see a very interesting device called The Beer Machine. I almost wish I were starting out all over again so I could try one of these out. This thing has way more features than what I expected such as a C02 input to carbonate and dispense your beer, gauges on the outside to determine pressure, and a tap handle for direct dispensing.

The nicest part of a brewing system is that it takes up a tiny amount of space compared to brewing kits. If you are living in a small apartment or dorm, this is a good place to start your brewing empire until you are ready to upgrade.

If you looking for a beer gift for someone that has everything. The Beer Machine is a good place to start.

Brewing Equipment Kit

If there is no question in your mind that you are going to brew beer for a long time then it might be wise to start with an equipment kit. Equipment kits generally consist of two large vessels (2 buckets or 1 bucket and 1 glass carboy), cleaning supplies, tubing, measuring equipment, and sometimes an included recipe. These kits are the first steps toward brewing greatness. This is what you want to get if you expect to get anything serious done in the future.

Brewing equipment kits do require more space and time than brewing systems but you do get an increase in beer quality and quantity (5 gallons!)

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Finding Hombrew Recipes

When you first start out in homebrewing (assuming you start out using extract kits), recipes are very easy. The kits you purchase have everything you need. You want to make a stout? Purchase the stout kit. You’d rather a pale ale? Get the can of pale ale mix.

Once you become familiar with the brewing process and have gotten bored of just mixing extracts with water you may want to start trying out custom recipes. But where does one start?

Radical Brewing

Books

I’ve found that the real recipes to pay attention to are the ones available in homebrewing books. Some of the greatest recipes I’ve made have come from ‘Radical Brewing” by Randy Mosher. This book not only tells the story of beer in an interesting way, but provides many fantastic recipes you can try yourself.

Online

There are many fine online resources out there. Just Google ‘Homebrew Recipes’ and you’ll see there many sites dedicated to this. I will however provide you with the ones I’m familiar with:

Brewtoad, formerly Hopville is a modern and clean way to create your recipes and view others. Creating your own recipe or making a variant of another brewer’s is easy and beautiful. It also features several advanced tools for calculating alcohol, color and mash water needs.

Brewprint, also allows you to clone others recipes and make your own tweaks to it. I used to like its interface more than Hopville but have now jumped ship. A feature I really like with Brewprint is that after you’ve created your recipe, you can automatically order the ingredients. Very nice for the lazy such as myself.

Old-schoolers may appreciate the nod towards The Beer Recipator (http://hbd.org/cgi-bin/recipator/recipes) this is a longstanding archive of user submitted recipes. You can choose from almost any style and brewing method (extract, all-grain, extract w/grain).

I used this site a lot when I was starting out. The tough part about it is that all the recipes seem to blend together and it’s not easy to pick one to try. A lot of the brewers use strange and overly complex methods (at least for a noob) and they almost never describe the final TASTE of their recipe. So basically you are picking out recipes based on:

  1. How easy they for you to read and do on your own
  2. The name of the recipe. (I guess ‘Bob’s Awesome Cream Ale’ sounds good)

Overall though this site is a great resource and has a wonderful recipe builder that is especially helpful towards all-grain brewers.

Your Heart

It’s all fine and dandy to copy a recipe, brew it and enjoy it. But I find the real joy of homebrewing is in developing your own recipe. It’s OK to start with someone else’s recipe and then start to tweak it to your hearts content. How do you think Chef Boyardee got so popular? He based the recipe for Spaghetti-O’s off of a popular brand of cat foot in Italy!

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Brewing with malt extract

vintage malt extract
Use something newer than this in your beer!

Using malt extract is a quick an easy way to get started with homebrewing. Malt extract can come in dry powder form or in cans. Both smell just wonderful and both can make an unbelievable mess if you’re not careful. Malt extract is basically sugar that you will boil with water and then add yeast to. The yeast will eat the sugar and output alcohol and carbon dioxide. You will in turn eat the alcohol and carbon dioxide and become THE GREATEST PERSON WHO EVER LIVED.

The canned variety of malt extract will usually be geared towards whatever style of beer you are making. Want to make a pale ale? There’s a can for that. Want to make a stout? You guessed it, there’s a can for that too.

Dry malt extract typically comes in sealed plastic bags and more closely matches particular grain styles. For example there are pale ale malts and munich malts and so on which allow you to customize your recipe a bit more than the canned recipes. Dry malt is unbelievably dry in that it will suck water out of the air, stick to your skin and basically get over everything if you’re not careful. Do yourself a favor and DON’T OPEN THE BAG UNTIL RIGHT BEFORE YOU DUMP IT IN THE POT!

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Beer Brewing Basics

Brewing beer is as simple or as complicated as you want to make it.  Let’s start with cheap and simple. I’ll help you learn what basic home brewing equipment you need to get started.

  1. Purchase a beer brewing kit and recipe kit (see below).
  2. Get a large pot for boiling your beer. You might already have one lying around the house. It doesn’t matter if it’s stainless steel or aluminum or one of those weird crab pots. It just needs to be large enough to hold your boil.
  3. Start boiling your water and add in your malt extract.
  4. Boil for an hour and enjoy the sweet sweet aroma that fills your kitchen.
  5. Cool your ‘wort’ (what you just boiled, pronounced ‘wert’) in your sink by setting the pot in an ice bath.
  6. Once your wort has cooled to about 80 degrees (metric users, go figure it out) dump it into your bucket and add water up to the 5 gallon mark.
  7. Dump in your yeast and mix it all up with a sanitized spoon.
  8. Put the cover on the bucket with its airlock, stick the bucket somewhere cozy around 70 degrees. I recommend a laundry tub if possible.
  9. Giggle fiendishly as the fermentation begins around 6 hours later and continues for several days.
  10. Let the beer sit and ferment for 3-4 weeks and then bottle it.
  11. About 1.5 weeks later drink said beer. If you wake up the next day in a dumpster wearing nothing but a tool-belt, hard-hat, and one sock you probably made too powerful of a beer and need to scale it back next time.

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