Projects and Thoughts

HomeBrewing roundtable part 2: Getting down to brewing

This is part two of the homebrewing roundtable covering a series of beginning brewing topics designed to help would be brewers break the ice, and get brewing. It’s a chance to hear some advice from folks with experience, and nothing at stake in the gear you purchase, or the method you chose to brew. I’ve asked home brewers of all experience levels across north america if they had advice for those that want to start brewing but hasn’t. I also asked about what their first brewing setup was, and if they have any of it still. The idea is to give a potential brewer enough advice to be able to take the plunge. As well as provide some info on gear/setups that might be worth buying once right. I plan on one more post in this series. I also plan on continuing to post future conversations about topics that a variety of voices and opinions would be useful to hear. If you wish to know more about the participants please refer to Part 1.

IMAG0050-1.jpgChris Lewis
I used my Mr Beer kit for about a year, then I moved on to extract batches on the stove using a stainless 4 gallon pot. I bought a B3 three tier system, since purchasing it, I’ve added a counterflow chiller, march pump and automatic water filling. Plus some other goodies.
The most important thing is brewing 3 weekends in a row, if you aren’t committed to do that, then don’t start brewing. The lessons you learn with repeating the process and then having multiple batches ready week after week can’t be learned any other way. You need to prove to yourself that you have the passion before investing in more than some bottles and a carboy. I’m sure it will be horrible, but you will learn a lot about yourself and your brewing. I’ve had a couple friends start brewing over the last year. I’m sure their 1st brews are a lot better than mine was with the vast amount of information available today vs ten years ago.

profile-1.jpgJoel Mahaffey
My first setup was a stovetop 5 gallon pot for boiling extract. I still use that as my HLT.
There are many reasons to start brewing, figure out why you want to brew, and ask someone who is more experienced to help you accomplish that goal. If you can be successful in meeting that goal, you’re more likely to stay with the hobby.

Michael Tonsmeire
After two extract batches in college on mostly cobbled together kitchen gear, I moved onto all-grain after graduation. I still use my original 5 gallon round cooler Mike-Sampling.JPGmash tun for moderate gravity batches. The 7.5 gallon pot that came with my original turkey-fryer is still my hot liquor tank, and the 10 gallon aluminum pot is still my boil kettle. Still using my original homemade immersion chiller when I don’t have a good reason to use the plate chiller I got last year. I’m sure a couple of my glass carboys are about that old as well. Otherwise things have been slowly upgraded and swapped out.
I’m a firm believer in spending more effort/money on upgrades to post-boil equipment. If you want to make great beer, proper fermentation, conditioning, and serving are vastly more important than wort production. I’d rather have things like fermentation temperature control, oxygenation system, stir-plate, kegs etc, Than a fancy three tier automated brewing rig any day.
Research and reading are very important, but I’d also find someone who will let you hang out with them for a brew day. Actually seeing the whole process in person makes things much clearer, and gives you one example of how to answer all of the questions that go into brewing a batch. I still pick up little tricks when I brew with friends that I’ve never read in books, magazines, blogs, or message boards.

smeek.jpgShawn Meek
My first setup was a 5-gallon aluminum pot, where I boiled on my stove at a max of about 2.5-3 gallons. I cooled in my laundry sink with water and ice, had no fermentation temperature control. My setup now is a 48 L cooler-converted mashtun, 10-gallon aluminum kettle, propane burner, immersion chiller, and a freezer with a digital temperature controller. I’ve always bottled; it can definitely be a pain, but I love having access to a lot of different styles at once. I buy all of my base grains and a lot of my hops in bulk.
To those thinking of starting out, I’d say don’t be afraid to make the jump into the hobby, but keep yourself informed. I dragged my feet getting into this because it was all quite overwhelming at first. Looking back, that seems crazy, because in general it’s quite simple, really. The more you understand the whole process, the better beer you’ll make, and the more you’ll ENJOY it all. And, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Almost all of the homebrewers I know love talking about the hobby and beer in general, and are more than happy to help someone else get into homebrewing.

bil-herron.jpgBil Herron
My first brew was a partial boil in one of my kitchen pots using extract, fermented in glass carboy in a bucket of water to keep it cool, and bottled from a bucket. These days I’ve got a Blichmann burner, keggles, Better Bottles, a dedicated fermentation fridge, a four tap keg setup, and no interest in adding up how much I’ve spent on all that stuff…
Don’t let the process overwhelm you. Brewing can be ridiculously complex if you want it to be, but it’s pretty easy to make beer and nothing will teach you more than getting your feet wet (and you will definitely get your feet wet).

Michael HansonIMG_1736
My initial set up consisted of a 5 gallon bucket for the primary , a glass carboy, a bottling bucket a wort chiller, and a 6 gallon stainless pot. I actually still use all of that equipment in my current all grain set up. Except the stainless pot is now my HLT and I boil in a converted keg with propane burners. But I still use the plastic buckets as my primaries. I also have a converted cooler for my mash tun.
I guess if I could give advice to someone who is going to start brewing it would be to actually read at least one of the great books on the subject, and to just keep it simple at first. There is plenty of time to complicate things and get frustrated later.

JamesHopsJames Spencer
My first equipment setup was an enamel brewpot that was too small, a plastic bucket fermenter, and a bottling bucket. I still have all of it and use bits and pieces from time to time.
Read a book or two, watch some videos, peruse online forums, but don’t get hung up on the details. Just start brewing and learn from your mistakes. And sanitize. Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.

RyStirringMash.jpgRy Parcell
My first set up was big aluminum pot that most folks use for canning/stews. I fermented in one of the OLD fermentation buckets. I had one of those super old and rickety stand up cappers that I thought was going to break every bottle. I still use the fermentation bucket to store stuff in. The setup is nothing like what I have now in terms of appearance, size, or material but at the end of the day, it’s all the same.
I’d tell them to go for it. It’s one of those great hobbies that you can do without getting super nerdy with. You don’t need a dedicated room in your house with shiny stainless steel glinting in the sunlight in every corner. I would also tell them to not be too intimated by all the stuff out there. There are so many resources about brewing on the interweb now and it is incredibly overwhelming. Find one that is on the same level as you want to be. All these bloggers, for the most part, are super open and will answer questions or clarify anything you need them to. It is a really open scene.
The other piece of advice I would give them is to focus on sanitation and knowing the steps. Without a basic understanding of those two things you can turn out bad beer after bad beer and lose motivation.

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