Your equipment list for homebrewing

This is excerpted (with some slight modifications) from Beginner’s Guide to Homebrewing

Assuming you’re going to boil your wort and make a five-gallon batch, here’s what you’ll need to start brewing. It might not all make sense as you read through it, but it will make more sense as you read on in the book.

A BREW KETTLE For beginning brewers, a five-gallon stew pot works very well, although a smaller pot can do. Brewers who hope to move on to more advanced brewing might want to invest in a 10-gallon (or even larger) pot, but that’s getting ahead of things. More on that below.

A PRIMARY FERMENTER. You’ll need a food-grade plastic bucket of about 7 gallon capacity. Most home brew stores sell 6.5 gallon buckets, which work quite well. Home brewers can also ferment their beer in 5-gallon glass carboys (the kind that you used to find upside down at the office water cooler), but there are a few disadvantages to using glass as the primary fermentation vessel — the main one being that if you’re not careful they can shatter and leave beer all over your floor. Also, since you don’t have head space for all the froth created by the fermentation process, you’ll need a blow-off tube to catch that stuff. I’ll explain that shortly.

It is possible to get larger carboys and avoid using a blow-off tube. Check with your home brew supply store.
In any event, the bucket or carboy has to be fitted with an air-tight lid and either a blow-off tube or a “fermentation lock,” which is usually a twisty piece of plastic filled with water that allows carbon dioxide to leave the fermenter without allowing outside air in. This is necessary because the air we breathe contains lots of things — wild yeasts, bacteria and other gunk that you don’t want in your fermenting beer.

A blow-off tube is simply a tube that goes out of the top of the fermenter. The pressure from the CO2 inside the fermenter blows off the foam as it develops on top of your beer. Hop residue and other gunk from your beer often rise to the top, collect in your foam, and then get blown away — which is a good thing, because you don’t want that stuff in your beer. The other end of the blow-off tube goes into a bowl or something to collect all the mess.

A BOTTLING BUCKET. After your beer has finished fermenting you’re going to need to add a little extra sugar to it (for the secondary fermentation that creates the carbonation) and transfer it into bottles. You can bottle straight from your fermentation vessel if you absolutely have to, but it’s much easier if you have a second food-grade plastic bucket with a spigot attached to the bottom.

A SIPHONING TUBE. Once the beer is finished fermenting you’ll need to be able to transfer it from the primary fermenter into the bottling bucket. Air is a friend of beer at the beginning of the fermentation process because the yeast needs the oxygen, but later on you don’t want to expose your beer to air. A siphoning tube is handy for this.

Note: If you’re on a tight budget you can forget the bottling bucket and the siphoning tube and buy a primary fermenter that has a spigot installed near the bottom. I say “near” the bottom because the process of fermentation will leave a pile of crud (called “trub” but pronounced “troob”) at the bottom of your fermenter. Positioning the spigot “near” the bottom allows the beer to run off while leaving most of the trub behind.

A disadvantage of bottling from your fermenter is that you have to add your priming sugar straight to the bottles, and it’s hard to get that exactly right. If you have a bottling bucket you can dissolve the priming sugar in some boiling water, pour that into the bottling bucket, then siphon your beer from the fermenter into your bottling bucket. Presto, it’s all mixed together. But you can’t add the sugar to your fermenter and then stir things up because you’ll rouse the trub, and then the beer in your bottles will have way too much sediment.

The bottom line is just go ahead and get a bottling bucket.

BOTTLES AND CAPS, OR A KEG. Bottles are the cheapest way to store your beer, but they also involve the most work. You need to clean and sanitize them, and then fill and cap each one individually. Bottles are a bit of a nuisance, but they’re not too bad, especially if you do it with a friend and enjoy a beer while you’re at it.

When my kids were young I made bottling a family event and we’d bottle the beer in the laundry room. The kids enjoyed it, and now they brag to their friends that they were bottling beer before they could ride a bike.

Always use brown bottles for your homebrew because sunlight is another enemy of beer, and the brown glass helps keep it out. Don’t use bottles that had twist-off caps, and it’s usually a good idea to stick to the same size and shape of bottle. You’ll also need to get a bottle capper. Check with your local home brew store.

Kegging is much simpler, but it’s expensive and has its own drawbacks. More about that below.

That was a very quick introduction to the absolute basics of home brewing, with a brief review of the equipment. Obviously there’s more to say, but at this point you know enough to read a step-by-step explanation of how to brew your first batch.

Read on in Beginner’s Guide to Homebrewing

Does bottle color matter for your beer?

It’s “common knowledge” among homebrewers that light can harm beer and give it a skunky flavor. Of course there is little in life more unreliable than “common knowledge,” which is why we have shows like Myth Busters and blogs like The Straight Dope, which recently did humanity a favor by trying to answer the question, Are brown bottles better for beer?.

Any homebrewer could tell you the answer, but — again — any homebrewer could also tell you that different areas of the tongue register different sorts of tastes, which turns out to be mostly baloney.

In this case common knowledge prevailed. Yes, brown bottles are better for beers.

(Ignore this please — ST7ZSHMR2GJK)