Homebrewing for Beginners, Part 1: Equipment, Recipe, and Ingredients

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Each season deserves its own brew at the end of the day. A warm Amber catches the autumn glow, dark Stout shields the cold of the winter, golden Maibock welcomes the spring, and crisp Pale Ale quenches summer thirst. The only thing more satisfying than a seasonal brew is toasting to your craftsmanship.

The art of brewing beer has been alluring ever since I discovered microbrew, and that all beer (thankfully) does not taste like Natural Light. The moment I met the Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar, I was in love. Deep, complex, on the verge of romantic, the creamy hazelnut intoxicated my senses. Could I craft a brew this richly rewarding?

I was completely intimidated. My friends had horror stories and stained kitchen ceilings to display their disasters in brewing. The equipment list alone caused eye glazing and attempting to decipher the ingredient list resulted in mental malfunction. To say the least, I quit too many times before I ever started.

After two successful rounds of making hard cider, I was ready to give brewing an actual chance.  By this point, I had collected most of the equipment and had a basic understanding of the science of the fermentation.  The final catalyst for brewing beer was purchasing Charlie Papazian’s book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, for my husband, Jordan. After reviewing the book (and then procrastinating a few more months), we finally crafted our first beer, Cascade Valley Ale. It was everything we hoped for—earthy, lightly hoppy, a refreshing mix of floral tones, a perfect balance of light and dark.  The only problem was the dilemma of wanting to share (aka flaunt) our brew, yet keeping enough in our personal reserves.

At this point, I want to interject an important statement: we are not master brewers!  We have broken the code to the entry level of brewing and want to help simplify the process for you.  Many rounds of beer could have been enjoyed in the time that we wasted on putting our thoughts to action. No more wasted time or beer!

A few simple purchases and steps will have you on your way to a beginner setup for brewing.  Good resources will make your life easier. How To Homebrew  is an excellent online resource.  My go-to guidebook has been The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, as mentioned above.  The book contains clear instructions for brewers of all levels, great recipes, and entertaining facts.   Below is Papazian’s suggested equipment list for beginners.

Basic Homebrewing Equipment

1 3-4 gallon pot (an enameled or stainless canning pot is best)
1 5-gallon or 6 ½- gallon glass carboy
1 5-10 gallon new plastic bucket or trash pail
1 6-foot length of 3/8” inside-diameter clear plastic hose
1 plastic hose clamp to fit 3/8” hose
1 fermentation lock
1 rubber stopper with hole to fit fermentation lock
1 3-foot length of 1 ¼” outside diameter, 1” inside diameter, clear plastic hose
1 large plastic funnel
1 thermometer
1 beer hydrometer
1 bottle washer (optional but recommended)
Lots of bottle caps
1 bottle capper
60 12-oz beer bottles (anything other than screw top bottles will do)
1 bottle Star Stan (for sanitization)

Are you still with me?  Don’t be frightened by the long list.  You can find all of the equipment that you will need at your local homebrew store or online.  Beer bottles do not need to be purchased new.  Friends are typically happy to help collect (for the right fee) or check in with your local bar for non-screw top or even flip-top bottles.  The initial investment for brewing is around $100.  Ingredients will run in the ballpark of $40.  Look at it as a lifetime investment and it’s pretty cheap in the end.

The next step is the fun part!  Find a recipe suited to your taste: pale ale, IPA, brown ale, stout, porter, Scottish ale, Irish red ale, wheat beer varieties, kolsch, lambic, pilsner, bock, doppelbock, helles, or any variety of lager.  According to Papazian, there are up to 35,000 different kinds of beer in the world!  On the flip side, beer is made from only 4 essential ingredients: water, fermentable sugars (traditionally malted barley), hops, and yeast.

As mentioned earlier, my prompting in choosing a recipe is based on the season of the year.  Since the weather is in between winter and spring here in Leavenworth, Washington, the batch we are currently brewing is the Cascadian Spring Snow Golden Lager, adapted from the recipe on pages 181-2 in The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, 3rd Ed.  Even though I found a recipe that caught my eye, I substituted ingredients to make it my own.  Beware, I am one of those people who can never follow the recipe as is.  I view it more as the skeletal framework for my creative endeavoring.  Don’t do as I do, do as I suggest.  And, I would suggest following the recipe precisely for your first brew.  Then if you want to be more risqué, experiment with the combination of hops, yeast, and malt flavors to create your own.  Here is my adapted recipe:

Cascadian Spring Snow Golden Lager Recipe

(Danger: recipe not tasted! Will report results soon.)

Ingredients

3.8 pounds Golden Light dry malt extract
1 ½ pounds Pilsen Light dry malt extract
½ ounce US Saaz hop pellet (boiling): 2.65 HBU
½ ounce Liberty hop pellets (boiling): 2.45 HBU
½ ounce Liberty hop pellets (finishing)
American Lager yeast|
¾ c corn sugar or 11/4 c dried malt extract (for bottling)

Let’s decode the ingredients. Malt extract (typically from barley) is the broken down sugar (maltose) from the grain that is needed to ferment the beer. As you become more advanced in your skills, you can start experimenting with the whole grain for more complex flavors. Hop pellets are whole hops mechanically processed by a hammer-mill, rated in percentage of Alpha units. Boiling hop pellets add bitterness to beer. Typically, the higher the percentage of Alpha, the more bitter the beer. However, the level of perceived bitterness will depend on the style of beer being brewed. For example, a darker beer may have the same amount of Alpha units as a paler beer, but the taste is more discreet. Finishing hop pellets, added in the last 2-3 minutes of cooking the wort, add floral aroma and taste to the beer. Yeast activates the fermentation process by converting the sugars from the malt extract into alcohol and carbon dioxide (making beer).  There are two main types of beer yeast, lager and ale, with many varieties under each type. Corn sugar is added before bottling to prime (carbonate) the beer. Corn sugar may be substituted with dry malt extract for the same result.

Are you imagining the taste of your own brew and motivated to finally give it a shot? Here’s your homework: Purchase or borrow the equipment, find a recipe, and gather the ingredients. If you are willing to share, post the recipe you will be trying!

In the next article, we will walk through the process of cooking the wort, fermentation, racking, and bottling.

Until then, cheers!