I love hardware, I can’t get enough of it. When I’m in a hardware store, I’m like a squirrel in a grain silo, I WANT EVERYTHING. The same is true for when I step into a homebrew store, there’s just so much that I want, but I make it a point to only buy things that I know I’m gonna use.
I’m gonna assume that at least one person reading this article is new to brewing and has never set foot into a homebrew store, nor have they any idea what they need to buy or why they would even need it. That’s why I’ve put together a list of items to get you started brewing today:
- Books – The first thing that you should ever buy from a home brew store should be a book on home brewing. I recommend “How to Brew,” by John J. Palmer. The first edition is available free online at www.howtobrew.com. John’s book has an easy step by step process for brewing extract beers as well as all-grain, he explains what kind of hardware to buy and so much more. It’s a useful guide for beginners as well as experienced brewers.
- Large Cooking Pot w/ Lid – If you’re brewing beer, then you’ll need a large pot to cook in. This pot needs to be big enough to hold your first batch of beer and have extra room to expand. I’d say 3 Gallon to 5 Gallon should do the trick. Aluminum heats up pretty well, Stainless Steel is easy to clean, but expensive and doesn’t conduct heat as well as Aluminum. I personally have a Stainless Steel pot with an Aluminum bottom, the best of both worlds! If you’re brewing Cider or Wine, then you probably won’t be needing a Cooking Pot for anything. Home canning and pickling pots are available at any hardware store, but I actually found better quality more bang for your buck pots at a restaurant supply store.
- Stainless Steel Stirring Stick – It says what it is. I go for this and not wood, because wood is porous and can harbor bacteria. You can get these at a restaurant supply store.
- Fermentation Vessel(s) – One is good, but two or more is better. Some day you may want to have multiple batches going. Another reason, is that over time your yeast dies, if left for dead too long their cell walls rupture and you get meat flavored beer. One way of preventing this, is to transfer the beer from one fermentation vessel to another leaving behind the dead yeast gunk. I use a 4 – 7.9 Gallon Bucket or a 3 – 6 Gallon Glass Carboy (Giant Glass Jug). Buckets are easy to clean, but be aware that plastic holds on to smells and tastes whereas glass is inert and doesn’t. You should never reuse a bucket that’s held chemicals unless you like dying. And if someone offers you a pickle bucket from some restaurant that they work at, just say no, buckets are cheap and you can even get them at the hardware store.
- Airlock(s) – Airlocks keep bad stuff from getting into your beer, while allowing Carbon Dioxide gas to escape from your fermentation vessel. There are different types, they all work fine, but for beginners I would recommend the 3 pc. Airlock because it is easy to clean. You can never have too many Airlocks, because they do get dirty or misplaced.
- Vinyl Hose(s) – You’ll need these to siphon your beer to bottles. Also, sometimes you can have a vigorous fermentation where the Airlock will be pushed out of the fermentation vessel. If this happens, you’ll stick one end of the hose into the fermentation vessel and the other into a jug half full of water, this is called a “Blow Off Hose.” You might lose a little beer, but the amount is negligible.
- Racking Cane – Not everyone uses this to siphon beer, but they should. It’s a solid plastic tube designed to prevent yeast gunk on the bottom of the fermentation vessel from being sucked through the vinyl hose.
- Spray Bottle w/ Sanitizing Solution – You can sanitize your equipment with heat or with chemicals. I use Star San because you don’t have to rinse it off, it leaves behind no bad flavors and it only takes 30 seconds to do its job. I usually just spray it on to whatever needs sanitizing.
- Bottles or Growlers – 12 ounce bottles are only good if you plan on giving away your beer. Otherwise, plan on using bigger bottles that can be cleaned and reused. I prefer the Brown 1 Liter bottles w/ Swing Caps or 1/2 gallon Growlers. If you want to reuse commercial beer bottles, the bottle cannot be a screw top otherwise you won’t be able to recap it.
- Thermometer – Brewing beer is a lot like cooking. You use time and temperature for various reasons to brew a perfect beer, just like you would if you were baking bread, poaching a sausage or grilling the perfect steak.
- Wine Thief, Hydrometer and Beaker – (Optional) A wine thief is a plastic tube that’s used to take small samples of your beer/wine from the fermentation vessel without contaminating your beer/wine with foreign material. Combined with a Hydrometer and Beaker, you can do a lot of useful stuff. For example, I can take a gravity reading with the hydrometer and see what my potential alcohol level will be. Later on I can check the gravity and see if my beer is finished fermenting. Not everyone wants to do this, but if you’re serious about brewing, you should consider this trio of tools.
- Journal – (Optional) It’s a good idea to write down ingredients used, equipment used and your whole brewing process. Sometimes things can go horribly wrong, your Journal can point out where it all went wrong. Sometimes things can go great, your Journal can help you to recreate or improve that wonderful brew. The thing is, you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you don’t keep a Journal.
- Digital Scale – (Optional) I make sure I have all of my ingredients, and I measure them out before I begin brewing. I then bag them up and arrange them according to when they need to be added during the brewing process. Weighing and organizing your ingredients makes brew day easier and less problematic. This is called “Mise en Place,” which means everything in its place, and is a technique used in cooking.
- Mesh Bags – (Optional) You can have all of your ingredients floating around doing whatever, or you could have them all contained in a bag that can be easily lifted out. They make clean up a breeze.
Here’s a list of things you DON’T need to Brew:
- Paper PH Test Strips – They’re totally useless. They turn brown when the liquid they come in contact with is beer, paper towels also do this.
- A License – In America, as of 2013, you can brew without a license in any state. You only need a license if you plan to sell your brew, or if you brew more than is legally allowable. Most states allow 100 gallons of beer to be brewed by any individual of at least 18 years of age, but 2 or more individuals can brew no more than 200 gallons per household annually. Funny that you can legally brew before you can legally drink. Check your State laws to find out more.
- Bottling Bucket w/ Bottling Wand – Honestly, they’re just one more thing to clean. All you need to transfer beer from vessel to vessel is a Vinyl hose.
- Bottle Cap Press w/ Bottle Caps – If you’re using Growlers, they come with screw caps. If you’re using bottles with Swing tops, then you don’t need bottle caps. The only time you would ever need Bottle Caps and a Bottle Cap Press would be if you plan on giving away small 12 ounce bottles as gifts.