My friend Aaron has been brewing beer in his basement for a few years, and in that time he’s gone from beginner to beer festival competitor. I’m thrilled to introduce him as the first contributor to The Manly Housekeeper. He’ll write about the best way to get started brewing beer at home, and show us some of the advanced techniques and concoctions he’s mixing up now.
So let’s say you like beer. I’m not talking about ‘____ lite’ or ‘generic cerveza’, though. Let’s say you like beer that tastes like someone made it with craft and care. And let’s say halfway through a pint of your favorite brown/stout/ale, you mused, “I could never make something this good.”
I’m here to tell you that you’re absolutely wrong. Humans have been making beer just about as long as we’ve been cultivating starch-bearing grains. With a little bit of care and some basic investments in implements, you, too, can turn water, barley, hops, and yeast into beer that will impress even your most beer-snobbish friends.
My introduction to home brewing was through a former boss of mine. Brewing my own beer had been in the back of my head as something I’d love to try, but I never had the space or the motivation until Tom got me started. Actually, credit should really go to my wife; after noticing my wistful looks each time we passed by our local home brew store, she took me inside and bought me an “ale pail” starter kit and my first set of ingredients for my birthday a few years ago. So it’s all her fault that I am even more of a beer nerd than before, and have pretty much taken over one quarter of our basement for fermentation and aging.
Your initial investment in equipment will feel a little pricey (the basic starter package is generally $50-125, depending on what the store thinks of as “basic”), but it will amortize out pretty quickly. Ingredient kits for beers that aren’t super-experimental will usually run you $30-45, and these kits make 5 gallons of beer! That’s around 52 longneck bottles, or just over two cases, of super-premium and super-fresh beer that has not been subjected to pasteurization or the trauma of being transported hundreds of miles in inconsistent refrigeration. In short, if you’re a fan of beer, it’s absolutely worth it to try your hand at brewing. You never know – you might discover a new passion!
Brewing is easy and rewarding, but you should do a quick survey of your apartment or house before you start planning your first beer.
First, find the nursery. Ale yeast likes an environment that stays between 65 and 75 degrees F, and your beer will be much happier out of the sun. Too hot, and the yeast will work too fast, and do a sloppy job. Too cold, and your yeast will shut down, leaving your beer sweet and alcohol-free. Your beer will need to hang out in the nursery for 3-5 weeks, so make sure it’s in a dedicated space.
Assuming you only do one batch at a time, the bottom half of a coat closet is plenty of space – just make sure you don’t mind things in that closet smelling like fermentation byproducts, and definitely make sure that nothing in there will be damaged if you have a clogged airlock. My pumpkin ale last year managed to blow the lid off the fermentation vessel, spraying yeast and sugar everywhere … I was very glad it was in my basement.
Second, check out your kitchen. Pull out the biggest pot you have, put two or three gallons of water in it, put it on your biggest stove burner, and crank the heat. Does it ever get to a boil? If not, you’re going to need to find an alternate heat source. Give it some time, though – mine takes 20 to 30 minutes to move three gallons from tap temperature to boiling. Then figure out how to plug your sink.
Third, and possibly most crucially, find your local home brewing store. Home brewing stores are probably the best way to get started, and to go from the basics all the way to advanced techniques. To find one simply Google “home brewing” and your city name and see what comes up. Go visit. Smell the malted grains and the hops. Ask questions. Make friends with the staff. Make friends with the customers. If they’re not friendly, you’re in the wrong place. If you’re not near a home brewing store, there are several excellent web-based stores, including More Beer and Northern Brewer. I have ordered from both with great results, but I still prefer actually going to my local store.
When I talk about home brewing with my friends, I tell them that there are two hard parts to it – proper sanitation, and waiting for the darn beer to be ready to drink. Seriously, you can do it.
I hope I’ve inspired you to start thinking about what kind of beer you might want to make in your first batch! I’ll cover necessary and optional equipment tomorrow, and then we’ll talk about actually starting the brewing process.