How to Get Started in Home Brewing
- Saturday, 23 April 2016
The extended team hear at Brew in Review brew beer quite a lot. At a bare minimum, it’s a monthly occurrence. This goes up and down depending on time, how much we’re drinking, and who has a spare fermenter, but if we’re not brewing, we’re usually organising or thinking about our next brew day.
The journey of all of us who brew goes from a first extract brew, to steeped grain methods, and finally to all grain home brewing. Now, we’re developing our own home brew recipes, and just generally working on a larger home brew section to give us an excuse to do more brew stuff in general.
But anybody who brews knows that it attracts questions, and people want to know how they can get into it too! If you want to get into home brewing, but don’t even know what questions to ask, read further… this is how most of us get into it.
How to Get Started in Home Brewing – Extract Brewing
Most people start on what’s called extract brewing with a simple home brewing kit. The process is very simple, but it get it gets people used to the main steps of brewing:
- The boil and hop additions
- Staying sanitary
- Pitching yeast
- Staying sanitary (again)
The whole process of extract brewing only takes a couple hours and it’s really only a matter of adding a syrup to boiling water, letting it boil for an hour while adding hops, putting it into a (sanitised) fermenter, then letting it ferment. From there, you wait a couple weeks and you bottle; once again, remember that your bottles have been sanitised!
To get started on this, most home brew stores will sell starter kits: basically everything you need for your first brew. However, different starter packs have different equipment, and different stores have different starter packs. It’s really worth it to do your homework to make sure you’re getting the right stuff that you’ll want to use as your home brewery expands.
What to Look for in a Home Brewery Starter Kit
A lot of the stuff we list in our home brew equipment section comes in everyone’s first home brewery! And a lot of the stuff we list we haven’t replaced since that first brew. So it’s great to go for quality and something that will last.
Look for all of this at a minimum.
- 30 litre plastic fermenter – the staple of all home breweries. Make sure it has a tap on it.
- Bottling wand – to attach to your fermenter’s tap. How else are you going to get beer into a bottle?
- Bottle capper – we really recommend a bench top capper with an arm, as seen in the picture to the right. A lot of cheaper starter kits will give you a hammer or a two handed model, both of which are a pain to use. After bottling three slabs of beer, you’ll be thankful you spent that little bit extra on the better capper. And what the extra money on a great tool that will last you a decade?
- Mixing paddle – yeah, it’s just a plastic mixing paddle, but it’s longer then what you’ll have on hand in the kitchen.
- Hydrometer – to test the gravity of your brew and therefore calculate the alcohol of your beer.
- Extract Recipe Kit – this will probably be an easy to make lager extract and yeast (although people should start with an ale). They may throw in some dry malt extract if the kit demands it.
- Carbonation drops – basically just sugar pills to put into your bottles to carbonate them. These aren’t a necessity as you can always just use table sugar.
- Bottle caps – usually about 100. More than enough for your first brew.
- Sanitiser – this is a must. Use it!
Some starter packs will offer extra cleaning equipment like a bottling tree or bottle cleaner. While these things are great, especially if you’re brewing regularly, they add significant cost to a new set up. All these pieces of equipment do is save some time on bottling day. We recommend waiting before purchasing these items.
Similarly, some starter kits offer things as fancy as heat pads to make sure your brew doesn’t get too cold while fermenting. Don’t bother. Most starter kits come with a lager as the first brew (so getting too cold is not an issue), plus getting into temperature control is a bit more advanced anyway. Don’t worry about it.
It pays to shop around a little bit. Wherever you live, most cities will have multiple home brew supply stores, and they’re usually more than happy to do things via mail order. So if you’re in a small town or find something on line, go ahead and order it!
Your First Brew Day
You may be lucky and happen to have a friend to show you the ropes. If so, and you’ve already bought a starter kit. Ask them around for a brew! It’s a great day in the kitchen and you get to drink beer while you do it. Everybody wins.
Learning from others is generally the way to go, but not everybody knows somebody who brews their own beer, so you may be stuck on your own.
Of course any good starter kit will come with directions. Follow them and you should be fine. However, directions often assume new brewers know more than they know, and they may gloss over important steps or reasons why something is done.
Youtube is a great resourse for tutorials and we highly recommend checking out the CraigTube channel. He almost exclusively does extract brews and will go through the step by step of things to do and why.
If there are methods or equipment mentioned that you can’t find a resource for, check out our How to Home Brew section: it’s more about all grain methods, but there is some overlap. Adding to that, as you’re thinking about upgrading equipment, check out our home brew equipment section for some tips.
From there, just enjoy your first brew day! And use our handy ABV calculator to figure out the strength of your first beer!