You found Ratebeer because you are interested in what constitutes a quality beer. Now you’re asking yourself, “Can I make a quality beer myself?” The answer is that you can―with proper knowledge and diligence. I have written this article in an attempt to point those with an interest in the right direction without misleading them or selling them on a hobby they may not actually want. Too often introductions to hobbies are written by individuals who are very zealous and enthusiastic about their hobby, but unable or unwilling to consider that it may not be for everyone.
First I will give some reasons why you might want to brew your own beer. Here is a list of some of those reasons.
―You are taking a hands-on approach to understanding beer. You learn the basic processes that go into making beer, and because you have actually made beer yourself, you will understand brewing better than most.
―You are taking a scientific approach to understanding beer. By making changes from batch to batch of beer, you begin to gain an understanding of how altering brewing methods or ingredients affects the final product.
―Brewing beer is a genuine creative outlet. You can make delicious and unique beer by yourself.
―Lastly, brewing your own beer may save you some money.
Notice that I have listed saving money last in the list of positives. If you want to homebrew mainly in order to save money, I suggest you read the following list of potential drawbacks to the hobby.
―Brewing beer is time-consuming (anywhere from 3-7 hours for a batch) and can be messy or odorous (some like the smell of boiling beer, some don’t). If you love the process, this will not matter. If you dislike the process, it will quickly become tedious.
―Homebrewing requires some measure of patience. After brewing a beer, the soonest you will be able to drink it is about a month. Some beers take 2 months or longer before they are ready to drink.
―Homebrewing, like many other hobbies, has its own set of gadgets and toys. While the steadfast may continue to crank out batches with the most basic of equipment, you will almost inevitably want to upgrade your equipment at various stages, should you continue brewing. These equipment upgrades take up storage space and cost money. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it is just the nature of hobbies. Compared to most other hobbies, homebrewing is inexpensive, but given the gadget factor and the necessary input of time it usually does not make sense as a purely economic proposition.
In short, you should take up homebrewing because you are interested in brewing beer, not because you are interested in saving money. The time you invest in brewing a batch of beer probably obviates any potential cost savings for most people.
Now, if you are still interested, you are probably wondering what is a good way to get started. I understand that you’re ready to become engrossed in the process and share your first bottles of homemade beer with your family and friends. However, I humbly submit that if you spend just a few hours of your spare time getting an idea of the basics of homebrewing ahead of time, it will save you many future hours of potential confusion. I recommend doing this before buying any equipment, as well. For this purpose I recommend John Palmer’s excellent book, How to Brew. It is available in print and online at <a hrefhttp://www.howtobrew.com>http://www.howtobrew.com. Another basic introduction to homebrewing preferred by some is Charlie Papazian’s Joy of Homebrewing, available in print.
After reading the introductory chapters of sources like these, you should begin to form a basic idea of how the brewing process works, and what tools you will need. Most likely you will begin brewing using malt extract and specialty grains, doing partial boils on your stovetop. If you are unsure what I am referring to with these terms, I again recommend that you study one of the aforementioned texts before proceeding further.
Another useful action would be to find a local homebrewing club, or perhaps a friend that homebrews. Try to find a way to sit in on a brew session and see if you will like it or not. You’ll also probably learn a lot of practical tips from someone who has brewed many times.
You will need a small assortment of gadgets and tools to get started. Fortunately, most of the work of putting all of these together will have been done for you by homebrew shops, in the form of starter kits. After reading up a bit on homebrewing, I recommend paying a visit to your local homebrewing shop, if one exists. This will be listed in the Yellow Pages under “Brewing Supplies” or some similar heading. Having a local homebrew shop (LHBS) is a major boon, and you should take advantage of the convenience, in-person service and the staff’s wisdom. Alternatively, many homebrew shops allow you to order items from them over the internet, and have them shipped to your door. A Google search should quickly lead you to the major players in this arena.
What should you look for in a starter equipment kit? As I mentioned before you will almost certainly start out making beer with malt extract and specialty grains. You should probably expect to supply your own pot (at least 5 gallons) and bottles (save those bottles from the beer you rate!). The kit should include at the very least a plastic bucket fermenter, a racking cane, vinyl tubing, a hydrometer, some type of sanitizer, an airlock, a bottle filler, a bottle capper, a bottle brush and a few other odds and ends. The kit may or may not contain a secondary fermenter (usually a glass carboy). This item is not necessary, but some prefer it. The main advantages are that it will help you achieve clearer beer and it frees up your main fermenter for your next brewing project.
You will also need to purchase ingredients for your first batch of beer. Most homebrew shops have extract-based recipe kits available. These are an excellent choice for the beginning brewer because everything is measured out and ready to go—one less thing to worry about. All told it should cost you about $100 +/-20 US to get started, not including the cost of the 5 gallon kettle or bottles.
If you have any further questions after reading up on homebrewing, please post them on the Ratebeer Homebrewing forum. Many Ratebeer members are homebrewers, and some are expert homebrewers, and would be happy to answer your questions. I hope that this article helped answer some of your most basic questions about homebrewing.