Brewing 101: Building the Brewhouse (Equipment)

The beer brewing toolkit consists of a handful of inexpensive items, a few of which you likely already have in your kitchen. The list below is a comprehensive accounting of all the tools you’ll need to start out.

Like any hobby, the more obsessed you get, the more money you can end up spending, though you can easily get started with $50-100 of supplies. Somewhere along the way you may either break things or want to upgrade your equipment.

Proper sanitation and cleaning is the first step to good beer, so let’s start there:

Cleaning. If you’re looking to remove grime and gunk without scratching your equipment with a scouring pad, OxyClean or PBW work wonders. OxyClean can be found in any grocery store, while PBW is a similar brewing-specific powder that removes everything from labels to dried-on gunk. Generally, I try to remove the mess while it’s moist using a sponge and then sanitize right away.

Sanitizer. After some trial-and-error, I’ve settled on StarSan as the ideal sanitizer. It’s non-toxic, requires 30 seconds of contact, and doesn’t need to be rinsed. It can also be saved for weeks and used in a spray bottle to clean on the fly.

If you’re looking for what you have around the house, bleach works and is cheap, but it needs rinsing and can stain your clothes if you’re not careful. Iodophor is an iodine-based sanitizer that is cheap and simple.

I started my brewing career by using the high heat / dry cycle on the home dishwasher to sanitize. It works a bit like the autoclave from your dentist’s office and is fast, simple and doesn’t require dunking dozens of bottles.

Kitchen Items

The following items you probably have in your kitchen already.

Large pot. Space in the pot for at least 4-5 gallons of boiling liquid is necessary. In a pinch you can boil 3 gallons and add cold water. When you add your hops, the liquid will foam up suddenly and may overflow, so more space is better.

I purchased my 8-gallon aluminum pot for $55 at a restaurant supply store in Chinatown. Stainless steel is more durable and can be easier to clean, though it is usually 2-3 times more expensive.

Spoon or paddle. I’ve noticed that my large steel spoon leaves marks in my aluminum kettle if I’m not careful. Wooden paddles look cooler and may function better for breaking up grain, though stainless steel is easier to sanitize for use after the boil.

My metal spoon cost $4 at the restaurant supply store in Chinatown.

Thermometer. I use a long stainless steel cooking thermometer to monitor the temperature of the boiling wort as it approaches 212 F and I have a stick-on thermometer on my fermentation bucket to make sure it’s nice and cool for a clean-tasting final product.

My cheap cooking thermometer cost around $5-7. An accurate digital thermometer can be found for under $20.

Homebrew-Specific Items

You’ll have to buy the following inexpensive items to start brewing.

Brew bucket or fermenter. This is where your beer will ferment. It is a 6.5-gallon food safe bucket with a hole drilled in the top for an air lock. The air lock allows CO2 gas from fermentation to escape without air or contaminants reaching the beer.

Plastic buckets ($), glass (or plastic) carboys ($$) can be purchased from any homebrew shop, either online or in-person. Stainless steel fermenters ($$$) are the next step up and easier to clean. An entry-level plastic bucket costs around $15.

Hydrometer. This contraption looks a bit like a floating thermometer and measures the density of the beer-liquid, i.e. how much fermentable sugar is dissolved in water. A higher density means more sugar and thus, generally, a higher final alcohol percentage for your beer.

This is a bit of a specialized product and thus has to be purchased from a homebrew shop, though it shouldn’t cost more than $8-10.

Auto-siphon. This is a plastic tube contraption that looks a bit like a slide trombone and allows you to start the beer flowing from your fermentation vessel to your bottling bucket without contaminating your beer. It costs around $10 from any homebrew shop.

Bottling bucket. This plastic bucket looks similar to the brew bucket, only it has a hole on the side for a spigot, and this spigot is where you’ll fill your beer bottles after adding the priming sugar.

A bottling bucket costs around $12-15 from any homebrew shop.

Saving your beer

The items below are needed to get your beer into bottles, which is the final step in the brewing process.

Bottle capper. I started bottling my beer by rinsing out old beer bottles, sanitizing them, and capping them using this special hand-held contraption for crimping bottle caps.

A capper costs around $10-15 from any homebrew shop.

Bottles. Get your bottles for free from a friend’s house party or a local bar. Make sure they are the non-twist off kind with the standard lip, as the others can’t easily be re-capped.

If you can find 22oz bombers or European half-liter bottles, even better, as larger bottles mean fewer to clean and cap. Avoid green glass, as it doesn’t protect from UV light and will lead quickly to “skunked” beer.

Bottle caps can be purchased for $0.10 or less each from a homebrew shop. You’ll need 48-50 for a standard 5-gallon batch and, unlike the bottles, they can’t be reused.

Time to start brewing! See my post Brewing 101: Suppliers if you’re not sure where to get the necessary supplies.

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