10 Must-Have Equipment for Successful Homebrewing
Most people have the assumption that making homemade beer is complicated and expensive. There is no need to be intimidated, however, as the art of making beer goes back numerous centuries. The basic method has remained with a few tweaks and changes. In addition to ingredients like specialty grains, yeast, water, and hops, you will need several equipment, the sizes of which will depend on the amount of beer you intend to brew. The ten must-have equipment for successful home brewing are:
Homebrewers typically choose between plastic buckets and glass carboys for fermenting. These options have their merits and depending on your needs, you will pick the one that is most suitable for your brewing process.
Homebrewers pick the plastic bins because of their lightweight and easiness of use. Plastic is also affordable, and most buckets come featuring carrying handles to boost their mobility. It is also easier to drain a solution in a wide plastic bin than in the narrow neck of a glass vessel. Plastic, however, is more susceptible to scratches and subsequently contamination. This potential for cross-contamination makes plastic less fit for holding brew containing wild yeast and bacteria. Another hurdle with the use of plastic is the lack of transparency which can be frustrating when you want to evaluate the progress of fermentation. Long-term aging is more suited for glass carboys as plastic buckets are more permeable to oxygen.
Glass is only rivaled by stainless steel when it comes to sanitation, and its impermeability to oxygen makes it more effective at brewing beer. You can also observe the fermentation process as glass is transparent. Glass containers can, however, be heavy to carry especially when they are filled with the brew. Glass is also more costly than plastic, and there is also a danger of skunking in the presence of direct sunlight.
The two types of buckets can be fitted with spigots to eliminate the need for siphons. The vesselsare generally 6 gallons in capacity with 1 gallon given as the headspace for fermentation.
An airlock acts as a barrier between the air and the brew. The small device is partially filled with a sanitizing solution, water, or vodka to prevent contamination. An airlock is fitted at the top of the fermenter, and it allows the gases generated by fermentation to escape while keeping contaminants out. The airlock bubbles away in the course of fermentation, and you can use this to keep track of the process.
There are basically two airlock styles, and it comes down to a homebrewer’s preference. The 3-piece airlock disassembles into three pieces which enable easy cleaning in case it clogs up during aggressive fermentation. Most homebrewers end up making use of this airlock as it holds a lot of water and in case the fermentation becomes vigorous, it will allow your brew to spit out quantities of water before you need to refill it. This feature comes in handy when you do not intend to watch the brew nearly as much. The airlock can, therefore, be used for secondary fermentation as the brew is typically left for a long time. The 3-piece airlock is also ideal for primary fermentation because of the ease of cleaning its three parts.
The s-shape airlock is mainly employed for secondary fermentation since it is designed to show pressure. It cannot be disassembled for cleaning and can be used for small batches of brew during primary fermentation. These airlocks are ideal for secondary fermentation as it is less aggressive than primary fermentation.
Both of the airlocks come in handy when tracking slow-progressing fermentation. The airlocks serve the objective of protecting the beer, and you can get either or both of them.
3. Brew Kettle
Size should be the first guiding principle when selecting a brew kettle as it will influence the amount of beer that you can brew. Amateurs can begin their home-brewing journey with a capacity of 3 gallons, but the best beer is typically produced from a large quantity of wort. To anticipate your future needs, purchase a kettle that is at least 1.5 times your planned batch size. A kettle of 7.5 gallons would, therefore, be ideal for a batch size of 5 gallons. The allowance will accommodate boil over during fermentation.
Homebrewers tend to rely on stainless steel kettles because they are easy to clean and are non-reactive. This material is however the most expensive of the different options. You can opt for aluminum since it is affordable and lightweight and it even conducts heat in a better fashion than stainless steel. Some users are however concerned because of the potential toxicity in aluminum although stockpots of this material are used in commercial kitchens everyday. Bleach-based cleaners will degrade both of the materials.
Opt for a kettle with sturdy handles designed to rivet to the body. Welded handles frequently fail to pose a risk when handling hot wort. Thick walls further even out hotspots. Some stainless kettles have a tri-clad bottom which holds up well to scorched wort and offers better heat distribution. Some kettles have extra features like an integrated thermometer or graduated volume markings. Take your time when evaluating different kettles as a quality one will enhance your brewing process and last you a long time.
A good propane burner will boil your water in a matter of minutes. When browsing the burner market, evaluate the number of BTUs produced by different options. BTUs are measures that calculate the heat level generated by a burner. Burners generate BTUs in the amounts of 55,000 to 210,000. To get a clear picture, the stove in your kitchen generates a mere 8,000 BTU. More does not necessarily mean better, however, and you need to evaluate your needs when purchasing a burner.
Most of home brewing can take place on a single burner which should be ideally portable. Double burners are sturdier and offer more substantial service. If you will be carrying out your brewing outdoors, opt for burners made of stainless steel or steel. Cast iron burners are typically thicker and sturdier but they will rust if kept outdoors.
5. Siphon with Tubing
A siphon comes in handy when transferring brew to a keg or a secondary fermentation container. Auto-siphons eliminate the need for pumps and makes the transfer ease. The auto-siphon will set you back anywhere from $10 to $15.
You also need to pick the right tubing not only to move your brew but also to keep it free of contaminants. Siphon hose tubing moves the fermented beer and must be sanitized to eliminate contamination risk. Food-grade vinyl is mostly used for siphoning because of its flexibility and its thin walls.
Tubing that can handle heat is ideal for transferring hot wort which makes silicone the best material for this. Vinyl tubing holds up well for channeling Carbon dioxide as well as for beer lines.
Homebrewers emphasize on cleaning their equipment because it can compromise on the brewing process and result in failed batches. Cleaning is performed before sanitizing with the objective of eliminating dirt and grime.
Dish soap is a commonly-used cleaner, and it will do the trick as long as you rinse thoroughly. If some is left on your equipment, your beer will have a soapy taste. You are also better off using a perfume-free type of soap.
A favorite among homebrewers is OxiCleanas it is cheap and effective. It is versatile and can remove beer bottles stickers if you are gathering bottles from breweries. The versatile-free version is the best to use although it is not easily found. Like dish soap, you should rinse OxiClean carefully.
Another common cleaner is the PBW. It is oxygen-based and among the best options in the market. PBW cleans well, but it is more expensive than OxiClean. Bleach is also a good cleaner, and it is readily available. A small amount will, however, hurt the flavor of your beer, and you, therefore, need to rinse vigorously.
If you want to store your brew in a keg, you can purchase BLC and pump it through your set up to maintain clear beer lines. A little goes a long way and if the cost is too much, you can opt for the generic alternatives which work just as well.
Sanitizing is done to get rid of most of the bacteria that can potentially infect and ruin your beer. A small amount of bleach will produce a strong sanitizing mixture. The cons of this solution include the thorough rinsing that you will have to do. In the course of rinsing, your equipment can be re-contaminated if the water is not sterile. Bleach is also messy especially if it splashes on your clothes or skin.
Starter homebrewing kits typically come with the oxygen-based One-Step sanitizer. It is a no-rinse product which also cleans well. The FDA however, no longer recognizes it as a sanitizer, and you are better off using alternatives when it runs out.
Most homebrew stores stock Iodophor which is an iodine-based sanitizer. It is a no-rinse product, and it needs little contact time. Iodophor, however, stains plastic devices over time as well as clothing and skin. It will also leave a funny odor if used in large quantities.
Star-San is also popularly used by homebrewing communities. It is an acid rinse sanitizer and its foam targets crevices and cracks. It is odorless and colorless, and a little amount is enough for effective sanitization. Star-San can also be re-used if the PH is below 3.
Hydrometers will give you a calculation on the amount of alcohol in your brew. Many hydrometers include a scale for potential alcohol and are commonly used before fermentation. Hydrometers also determine the initial gravity and the final gravity and signal the end of fermentation. There are many hydrometers used in the brewing community depending on the needs of the brewer.
A triple scale hydrometer presents an affordable option from $5 to $15. It is multi-functional and can determine potential alcohol and specific gravity. The specific gravity measured ranges between 0.00 to 1.170 which is extensive enough to measure most batches. This long range can, however, offer calculations with a large margin of error.
The thermohydrometer calculates both temperatures and specific gravity. Thermometer readings typically vary by equipment so you can get inaccurate measurements if you use different devices every time. Having an in-built thermometer is an excellent move to get consistent readings. The price point of a thermohydrometer ranges from $10 to $15.
The precision hydrometer is applied in measuring specific gravity, and its smaller scale improves the chances of getting an accurate reading. You may need to purchase two of these hydrometers. While most of them measure 0.00 to 1.170, others have calibrations in the ranges of 1.000 to 1.070 and 1.060 and 1.130.
Homebrewers who are just starting out will do fine with an inexpensive thermometer, but as you progress along your brewing journey, a quality thermometer will become essential. A homebrewing starter kit will typically feature a standard thermometer. The alcohol in this device may have a low boiling point, however, and if not submerged entirely, it could vaporize and condense in the channel. If this process happens often enough, the integrity of the thermometer will be ruined. Glass thermometers, on the other hand, break easily.
Thermometers can be thermo-couple based or thermistor-based. A high-end digital one will pay off in terms of consistency of measurements and quality. They offer instant readings, and some even have alarms that go off at particular temperature readings.
10. Wort Chiller
Investing in a wortchiller will improve the quality of your brew. Hot wort can contain hazardous bacteria which by infecting the beer will give it an unpleasant aroma. A wort chiller expedites cooling to encourage fermentation. Most of the homebrewer starter kits, save for the high-end ones, do not come with a wort chiller and you will have to purchase one.
Immersion chillers are simplest to use where you will channel cold water through the copper or stainless-steel coil which will be immersed in the wort. The wort’s heat moves into the water through the copper. The length of the coil ranges from 10 to 40 ft with a batch size of 5 gallons.
Counterflow chillers feature water and wort moving in different directions. The wort is drained from the vessel using copper tubes while the cold water moves outside the chiller. Plate chillers are fitted with numerous “plates” to increase the surface area for cooling, and they are therefore quite efficient.
Wort chillers can be challenging to use, although you will reap many benefits from investing in one. You can even make a chiller yourself.
Featured Image: FlickrUpdated on: April 11, 2019