Maybe the only home brewed beer you’ve ever had was made by your college roommate in your dorm room. If so, you probably have memories of a flat, bad tasting beer that you only drank once out of politeness. It is possible, however, to brew a great tasting beer at home if you have patience and are meticulous about cleanliness. Most foul tasting homebrews are the result of something becoming contaminated in the brewing process.
First Steps - Starter Kits
Homebrews are usually made in 5 gallon batches. Save the expensive hops and malts until you know what you’re doing. For your first few batches, starter kits will do just fine.
You can buy a starter kit at some liquor stores, online or in most microbrewery shops. It’s best to check around for a beer brewing kit that matches your own personal tastes for the beer you enjoy. These beer brewing kits are relatively easy to use, just throw the ingredients in boiling water, toss in the yeast, and ferment in the supplied plastic 5 gallon bucket for about four weeks. Bottle it, let it sit for another four weeks, then enjoy.
Basic beer brewing kits do no come with their own beer bottles. These can also be purchased at microbrewing shops and the standard is 22 ounce amber bottles.
- Beer Kit - $80 to $100 for a 5 gallon Starter Kit (includes yeast, malt extract, hops, bottle caps, bottle capper, hydrometer, filling wand, and plastic buckets)
- Bottles - $10 to $12 per 12 (22oz) bottles
Moving On Up: Creating Beer From Scratch
Each different kind of beer (from amber ale to a hardy stout) contains its own unique ingredients and brewing style. You can buy a book with ale and lager recipes or just find recipes online.
The three major ingredients for any beer are hops, malt, and yeast.
Hops can be expensive due to a recent shortage and price hike. Hops come in several different forms: pellet, plug or whole leaf. Whole leaf hops add a bold aroma if added fresh. Plug has the same advantages of whole leaf but last longer and are harder to use other than in half ounce increments. Pellets are the easiest to weigh and are easier to store, but has a weaker aroma than either leaf or plug.
Since hops prices are about the same for all three forms, it’s best to pick which hop to use based on what time of year it is. Hops are harvested only once a year- in mid August. So, if it is between August and December whole leaf hops should be your first choice.
Hop prices vary by a dollar or so per every 2oz increments based on what types of hops you buy. This depends on the beer brewing recipe you wish to use. They usually price about $2 per 2 oz for lower end hops like Cascade, to about $8 per 2 oz for higher end hops like Kent Goldings, which make a great English ale. Since you need 2-4 ounces of hops per every five gallons of beer, cost should range between $5 to $30, depending upon the specific beer brewing recipe.
Malt comes in two forms- liquid extract and grain form. Most brew shops have a range of fresh grains ranging from barley to wheat. Malt for an intermediate brew should cost $5, but can be as high $16 for amber malts. You’ll need about 16oz of malt, with varying types of depending on the recipe you are using. Some recipes require several different malts, giving the beer a rich and unique flavor.
Yeast is very fickle and liquid yeast needs to be refrigerated. Premium gold yeast can cost about $6 for a 5 gallon batch.
For the brewing process you’ll need a 20 quart boiling pot, a 2 foot steel stirring spoon, tablespoon, measuring cup, mason jar, thermometer, and a fermenting chamber. Make sure the boiling pot is not made out of aluminum, since this can contribute to “off-tastes” in the finished product.
The fermenting chamber can be any number of things- it just needs to be the right size (usually about five gallons) and air tight. Most advanced brewers prefer a kegging system, but you can use plastic buckets or glass carboys. Plastic buckets can be easily contaminated from micro-abrasions where bacteria love to live. Glass carboys are a better choice.
For the costs, assume that you’ve already purchased a basic starter kit so you can reuse the bottles, bottle wand, capper, hydrometer, etc.
- Ingredients - (Rough estimate - varies greatly depending on recipe): $30 to $50
- 20 quart boiling pot - $10 to $12 per 12 (22oz) bottles
- Stirring Spoon - $5 to $10
- Kegging System - $50 to $300