…I am a deacon in the Diocese of _____. I have recently found your blog and thoroughly enjoy it. I truly appreciate your zeal for the Catholic faith and your blog comments and topics. I also like beer….
My son and I would like to try our hand at making beer but we are intimidated by the process. I can drink it without fear or trepidation yet the thought of making beer is daunting.
I would appreciate your insight on how to proceed in becoming a home brewer.
Your brother in Christ,
It’s great to hear from you and know that you like the blog! You and your son should not feel daunted at all by the prospect of starting out in homebrewing. If you are capable of being ordained in the Holy Catholic Church, you are more than capable of making a drinkable 5 gallon batch of beer.
Part of the fun of the hobby is that there are “levels” of complexity. It’s possible to start out and make very good (i.e., better than a lot of bottled) beer as a beginner, without a huge investment. The one chief rule is to keep everything as clean and sanitary as possible, ESPECIALLY after “the boil”; once you’ve boiled the liquid that later becomes beer, the thing most likely to ruin it or make it taste yucky are bacterias that don’t belong. Keep all of your equipment clean, and use a sanitizer like Star-San or OneStep.
A lot of people get into home brewing by getting one of those “Mr. Beer” kits. That’s how I started; my wife bought me one as a gift. But after the very first batch I realized that it was already holding me back (and, I suspect, you’d realize the same thing). Skip.
My suggestion is that you check out NorthernBrewer.com (if you were on the west coast I would recommend MoreBeer.com because you’d save a couple days on shipping time; I’ve dealt with both companies, they are legit). Also, there’s nothing wrong with locating the nearest friendly homebrew shop in your area, if that’s convenient for you. Most will carry the rough equivalent of the items shown below. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
- The “Essential Brewing Starter Kit” which delivers exactly what it says: the essentials. You get fermentation vessels for both primary and secondary fermentation, brushes for cleaning, an auto-siphon for racking your beer, a bottle-capper and caps, a good cleaner, and some other stuff. $89. They have other, more expanded kits, also. But I wouldn’t buy anything that’s intended for making less than a 5-gallon batch of beer.
- A 5-gallon (minimum) Brewing Kettle. Here is an example of a stainless steel one for $39. You can also pick up an aluminum one from any local restaurant supply store. Aluminum is fine, as long as you boil a pot of water in it first before brewing your first batch of beer. It also doesn’t hurt to get a 6 or 7 gallon kettle to make a 5-gallon batch of beer (in fact, it’s preferable).
- A “beginner” extract recipe kit. There are three primary ways homebrewers make beer: extract, “partial mash” or “all grain”. Extract is the easiest and quickest, and despite that (avoid a kit that includes canned extract; you’re safe with any kit from Northern Brewer or MoreBeer) makes very good beer. Pick one that sounds good to you. Note that the cheaper the kit, the more “simple” or “easy” it is likely to be, since the price difference usually corresponds to more ingredients. And when it comes to beer, there’s nothing wrong with simple. You will receive detailed instructions with the recipe kit, which will deliver you a successful result if you follow them.
- A note of explanation: Partial mash is a combination of mostly extract with some added “specialty grains” that you steep in a “grain bag” like a giant teabag. “All grain” is when you use only grain to make the beer; you either get the grain crushed from the retailer or you crush it yourself, and then you “mash” it with water at the correct temperature, and use the runnings from the mash to make your beer. The most popular recipe kits are available in either extract, partial mash, and all grain. All grain kits tend to be a few dollars less, because there is added cost involved in producing malt extracts. But there are additional steps and equipment involved when you brew an “all grain” beer, so it takes a while to realize any savings. All grain is generally thought to be capable of producing the best beer, and most closely resembles the way that craft brewers make beer. After a few batches or extract, followed by a few batches of partial mash, you’ll be ready to leap into all grain.
- A few notes on YEAST: yeast is one of the *the* most important ingredients, and both Northern Brewer and MoreBeer make it easy by presenting you with a couple of options for each kit they offer. A lot of people love to experiment with the wide array of liquid yeasts, offered by either Wyeast or White Labs. They are good, but especially when you are just starting out and having an on-line order shipped to you, a kit that contains liquid yeast has the added concern of possible spoilage. You will not go wrong making an American Ale, Pale Ale, IPA, Brown Ale, Stout or Porter, and using a dry yeast like “US-05” by Safale. And you’ll save a few dollars versus the liquid yeast too.
- Get busy collecting at least 55 12-ounce beer bottles. You will need them when it is time to bottle your first batch of homebrew, four to eight weeks after brew day. Of course, you can also buy empty bottles, but what’s the fun in that? Instead, get to work! A good trick for removing old labels is to soak the empties in a water solution with a couple tablespoons of ammonia. After 12 hours, the labels should slight right off.
Please, write us back with a report on your success, and fire away with any other questions. And may God bless you and your important ministry in the Church!