Basic Brewing: You Need A Good Set-up First!
Fort Collins is the land of beer. And plenty of it too! Home to 10 breweries so far with an additional five opening by end of summer , this is what makes Fort Collins the “place to be” and “the place to brew.”
Considering we have one of the best water sources in the nation and beer is mostly water anyway, no wonder so many breweries are popping up. Not only that, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of home brewers around town. There’s the recreational brewer who fancies a beer with friends every now-and-then, the experimental brewer who tries different flavors and styles for personal enjoyment and the professional home brewer who always has a beer on tap, a beer fermenting and a beer that’s about to be brewed.
No matter the preference, you have to start somewhere. For most home brewers, it’s more about the taste of the beer than the technical aspects of the beer. Technical meaning that you want an 8% ABV with a final gravity of 1.060 and an IBU of 93. I won’t be talking about that type of lingo here. I will not be going into detail that you need to do a mash at 162 degrees F and you fly sparge with 4 gallons of dihydrogen oxide for 1 hour while bringing your wort to temp at 172 degrees while adding 1.3 g of gypsum per gallon to help harden water for your IPA. I’m not going to talk about that That’s not my MO. But, I will give you a basic rundown of your homebrew setup and any extra equipment that will make your brew-life easier.
Now I am no expert by any means when it comes to brewing. To be considered an expert you have to spend a minimum of 10,000 hours immersing yourself in any given subject. I have about 1,700 hours under my belt so far. There are several brew kits you can buy from your local Hops & Berries and Rocky Mountain Home Brew Supply store here locally and the people are more than willing to help you out.
Going into this you could be dropping a pretty penny from about $95 upwards to $500 depending on how in-depth you want to brew. But this is just the initial cost for your brew setup. After you do a couple batches of beer it will start to pay for itself as you can brew 5-6 gallons of beer for about $20-40. When a 6-pack of a micro-brew can run you about $10. I turn out about a 5.5 gallon batch which usually yields 45-55 bottles ranging anywhere between $20-35. And that my friends is a great deal if you ask me!
Whichever brew kit you purchase, you will notice once you start a couple of batches that there are other pieces of equipment you can purchase that will make your brewing a lot easier and gives you a more efficient brew process. I bought my homebrew kit for about $145 but I also purchased additional items that I highly recommend. Each home brew supply store generally has the same kit with added perks and there are different types of kits to purchase depending on how deep your pockets are. This is just how I brew my beer as every home brewer will have a slightly different setup.
Here is what your basic set-up should look like:
This is the very basic set-up a novice home brewer should have. An important note to make is that when purchasing a brew kettle, it is recommended that you work with a stainless steel kettle as this does not oxidize so you are able to use Oxyclean to clean it but with aluminum kettles, Oxyclean will eat away at the material. If you are money conscious, aluminum is perfectly fine to use but you have to create a passive oxide layer which means that you are creating a protective coating on the inside of your aluminum pot. Just be sure you do not use oxygen based cleaners for your aluminum pot. Stainless steel is highly recommended and used in most breweries.
Stainless steel vs. aluminum
Other recommendations I would make is buying a wort chiller. This will save you about 45 minutes of brew time as you are waiting for your wort (the liquid before it actually becomes beer) to cool and learn from me, you don’t want to fill your bathtub up with cold water and ice and stir your wort around for an hour just waiting for it to cool. There are better things to do with your time. You can buy a wort chiller already assembled or you can make your own (what I did) as there are several YouTube videos you can follow that can guide in this endeavor. Here is an instructional video that I followed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6w4b0-5tvM. If you buy one already assembled you can spend close to $50-70. Whether you make it yourself of purchase one, a wort chiller will make your brew day a whole lot easier and I’m all about being efficient with my time.
Another beautiful piece of equipment that is fairly simple is an aeration wand. This is used to aerate your wort when pitching your yeast as you need oxygen to activate the yeast which creates the alcohol for your beer. I used to shake my big carboy with my own hands and let me tell you, if you don’t lift weights on a regular basis then it is pretty close to impossible to oxygenate your wort by hand. With the aerating wand, you can do the work of eight of me which is not hard honestly as I am a fairly short guy. The downside to this, you also need a power drill to hook it up to so you can stir your wort with the upmost vigor that this wand is able to produce. Seriously, this will change your life and your beer for the better!
Now for beer bottles. You can purchase your bottles (more $$) or you can be green and go out and get dirty and collect your own. You can find beer bottles anywhere as I collect mine from my own complex in the recycling containers. Whatever beer bottles you get, make sure it is not the twist off kind but the pop off bottle. These are the traditional bottles you get when you enjoy a Samuel Adams or New Belgium brew. You can use the regular 12 oz. bottle or the larger 22 oz. bombers. Either or is perfectly fine given how you would like to use them.
Now onto sanitizing as this is THE most critical component of brewing beer! When you get surgery, you don’t want the doctor operating on you with dirty surgical devices right? Well the same goes for your beer. You want your beer to be fresh, crisp and tasty. In order to achieve that, you must sanitize everything! You were taught to wash your hands before eating and after using the bathroom, right. The same concept applies to brewing. If any type of bacteria gets in your beer, you might as well start over because bacteria will ruin it. You can still drink it and you’ll be ok but your beer won’t be. It will have off flavors and that is the most dreaded thing that can happen to your beer. So please, act like a surgeon and clean and sanitize your equipment and your hands.
Now if you purchase a brew kit, it should come with some sanitizer. I recommend Star San as this is flavorless, odorless and you can let your equipment air dry after rinsing and it won’t affect your wort or beer in any way. I would actually get a 32oz bottle of Star San as you will need to sanitize a lot of your equipment because a clean environment and clean equipment mean a clean beer! Also, when cleaning your bottles, I recommend using PBW as this will help remove any labels and whatever grunge may be left in the bottles (highly recommended).
This may seem like a lot of materials to purchase and the cost might range a little higher than what you initially pictured but in the end, you will be making beer! And if you want to add more friends to your Facebook and/ or your life, beer can do that for you! But if you really want to take this up as a hobby and potentially go deeper with it, you will find that you will want better equipment. Maybe you will eventually have a set-up like this:
No promises though! Good luck and may the brew master come out in you!