In this post I want to talk about home brew equipment and what you really need to get started brewing with all grain methods of beer brewing so you can get started making your very own home brew beer.
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Home brew or home brewing is making a come back and is starting to gain popularity thanks to beer festivals, micro breweries and the social aspect of brewing circles. For me, I remember my grandparents teaching me how to make sloe gin, raspberry liquor and seeing a rainbow of colors in glass demijohns bubbling away when I was young and I’ve been home brewing for around 15 years in some way shape or form.
At university brewing wine, beer, mead or making liquor was far cheaper than picking it up at the supermarket. Now I brew to participate in brewing circle competitions, parties or to satisfy the scientific curiosity in what does almond wine or zucchini wine taste like?
What is All Grain Brewing?
In a nutshell, all grain brewing is where you use crushed grains steeping in heated water to create the sugars for the yeast to feed on to make the alcohol. This method of brewing is most economical, particularly if you buy the grain in bulk.
All grain brewing is a bit more labor intensive than the extract kits, which are available in many home brew supply stores online or on the high street. Extract kits are usually of the liquid malts which have been condensed to a syrup or a dry malt extract which is a powdered form. These are easy to use for the new brewer and I have had many successful beers using extract kits over the years.
Don’t let the labor intensive put you off, there are so many more flavors and changes which can be done with all grain recipes and the home brewing equipment isn’t much more than that needed for extract recipes.
So what equipment is really needed? There are many online starter home brewing kits or set ups available which are relatively inexpensive and ideal for the new brewer. The list below are the home brewing equipment for all grain brewing that I couldn’t manage without. Granted I would love to upgrade to some of the fancy gravity systems and sculptures which are advertised so I don’t have to balance hot water tanks or mash tuns on ladders/refrigerators/tables/stairs depending on where I live at the time.
A Large Pot
This can be a large canning pot, stock pot, pressure cooker with out the lid or a special brew pot to hold around 7 gallons or 26.5 litres of water. This is for heating the water to soak the grains in (mash), heating the water to rinse the sugars stuck to the grains/husks and finally to boil the sugar-water and hops (this is the wort). You need one which is not made of thin metal to allow a better, more even distribution of heat.
If you want to buy a specific brew pot, they are slightly different in shape to a catering sized stock pot and you are less likely to suffer from burning on the bottom inside the brew pot and ruin your beer.
There are nice fancy brew pots now with taps or spigots on the bottom to enable you to remove the hot liquid much easier and with thermometers or liquid levels molded into the steel.
At Misfit Gardening, I currently use insulated coolers with a tap/spigot in the bottom and a stainless steel false bottom inside as the mash tun.
Any plastic picnic cooler will work, round or rectangular because they are insulated to keep food or drinks cool, they work exceedingly well at keeping the grains and water at the right temperature. The cooler should have a tap or spigot attached to enable removal of the liquid and a false bottom to prevent the grain from clogging up the tap.
Here is a close up of the spigot/tap:
Inside the mash tun with the false bottom:
Inside the mash tun without the false bottom:
The false bottom:
Mash tuns also come in stainless steel, temperature controlled models to help you maintain the temperature of the mash to get the best efficiency of sugar conversion for your brewing.
A burner and gas/propane is much quicker but cumbersome with the need to brew outside/in an extremely well ventilated area. A large capacity output burner is needed. You can use the hob on the stove but it will take a lot longer to heat up the quantity of liquid.
An extremely important piece of kit for the homebrewer; water temperature for mashing and pitching yeast are very important to get accurate. If mashing water is too hot then the enzymes will denature (inactivate) and you will not get the starches in the grains converted to sugar to make alcohol. If the temperature is too cold, the conversion will be much slower. In terms of the yeast being pitched, too hot will kill the yeast. At Misfit Gardening, I use a digital thermometer which I can set an alarm when the temperature is reached. Fermentation bins with thermometers adhered to the side make it easy to check the temperature during fermentation (lagers for example, need a low temperature).
When the wort has finished the boil, it must be cooled down to enable the yeast to be added. Cold ice baths or placing the pot in a snow drift will do but take longer to cool the wort. A much quicker way is with a wort chiller that attaches to a tap and cold water flows through cooling the wort. There are many models available including counterflow or water efficient and you can make one yourself if you are handy.
Whilst not a necessity, I have found this to be really useful but would like a more water efficient model than the one I currently have.
Long Handled Spoon
Metal is easiest to clean and does not soften or melt when hot like plastic. The spoon is for stirring the wort to distribute the additions and stir up the grain bed when mashing.
Sparging is the rinse step after mashing to wash the grains of the sugars they still have on them. You need to have a method of rinsing which does not disturb the grain bed so fine or slow water addition to cover the bed is ideal. I have used a specific watering can with a nice fine flowing watering rose (the perforated metal or plastic piece that fits on the end which looks like a shower head) to rinse the grains. I now have a flow set up on there with tubing that my friend made for me which sits on top of the mash container.
As with other home brewing equipment, there are expensive and cheaper options available.
A food grade plastic bucket with a lid is an ideal fermentation receptacle if you can drill a hole in the lid and attach a rubber or silicone grommet to hold an airlock. There are many fermentation options for fermenting available to the home brewer, from demijohns or glass carboys to plastic fermentation bins and fancy stainless steel conical models.
Plastic can sometimes impart a taste to the brew and will take on odors or flavors from brews over time. They do however offer some protection if made of thick plastic, to light degradation of the brew. Plastic does degrade over time, particularly if harsh chemical cleaners are used. Plastic is permeable to both oxygen and moisture.
Glass does not affect the taste and will not take on odors or flavors of the brew however, glass is heavy and easily broken and must be kept in the dark to avoid degradation by light. Glass carboys can be difficult to clean when the trub (also known as lees in winemaking and is the dead yeast, bits of hops or other gubbins which settles at the bottom of the fermentation container) from the primary fermentation is in the bottom and the carboy brush just doesn’t quite get all the stuff off. With them being glass, great care must be taken in cleaning as breaks happen with hot water when the glass is cold or cold water when the glass is hot or dropping the container.
At Misfit Gardening, I have a range from small demijohns I inherited from my Grandad for wine making, large fermentation bins made from food grade plastic, large glass carboys and a stainless steel conical fermenter. I will use plastic buckets/bins for primary fermentations and glass carboys for secondary fermentations. I use a stainless steel conical fermenter for competitions or special brews.
The three piece airlocks I have found to be nicer than the S-locks. The S-locks tend to run dry particularly in dry areas and are harder to clean where as the three piece airlocks come apart and can be cleaned easily.
If the brew is particularly volatile and bubbles up through the airlock, you need a blow off tube which is food grade plastic tubing in a large Mason or Kilner jar around 1 quart or 1 litre in volume or conical (Erlenmeyer) flask filled half to three quarters full with water.
To the water in the airlocks, you can add some sanitization fluid or a campden tablet.
Sanitizer and Cleaner
If you ask a home brewer what they use to clean and sanitize their equipment you will get a variety of answers from powdered brewery washes, no rinse cleaners, household bleach, hot soapy water, one step sanitizer…the list goes on. I like to use hot soapy water to give everything an initial clean and remove grime then rinse with hot water and sanitize with Star San.
If you use household bleach, it can leave off notes in your brew so I would not advise using it.
A racking or siphoning cane is how you transfer from primary into secondary fermentation containers. There are some where you need to suck the liquid through the tube into the next container or ones where you can pump the cane to create the siphon for you. I absolutely love the pump racking canes but do still use the sucking method when using my small demijohns.
This is the best racking cane I have ever used and you can get it here.
For a good fermentation in beer brewing you need to aerate the wort before pitching the yeast. You can do this by putting the lid on the fermentation container and rocking it back and forth for 5 to 15 minutes or you can purchase an aeration system from a brewing shop or online supplier. I have heard of people who make small holes in the racking cane to aerate the beer during transfer. I use an air pump for a fish tank or aquarium air pump to aerate the brew.
Bottling and Kegging
I will be covering bottling and kegging the beer in another section but the easiest thing for the new home brewer is to bottle the beer. I find a bucket with a tap or spigot to enable the pour into the bottle to be the easiest method.
One of my favorite go to places for home brew supplies is MoreBeer.com which offers equipment, grain, extracts and bottles at great prices and free shipping on qualifying items.
If you are interested in home brewing why not leave a comment and let me know how I can help you on your journey to some of the best beer you have ever tasted? If you have any tips to share with me or other readers please share them in the comments or join the Misfit Gardening Community Forum I love reading your ideas, tips and tricks!
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