Home Brewing 101
The real question is, why not try home brewing?
Why do I prefer to wait four weeks to drink a beer I brewed myself when I can drive five minutes to the beer store and buy a cold 4-pack?
That’s often the first question people ask when I tell them I own a home brew supply shop. And it’s actually a valid question. So I often find myself selling or even defending the virtues of making your own beer at home. Which I’m happy to do.
A Few Reasons
When I give my 60-second pro-home-brew elevator speech, I mention things like: if you can make soup or chili you can make beer, and it’s a really fun, social hobby where you can brew with friends or share your delicious final product with co-workers and family.
I also mention the freshness aspect of brewing beer. How many times have you been burned when you forgot to check the Best By date on a bottle and got home to find the beer didn’t taste as fresh as it should?
Then, if I feel that they’re really interested in home brewing, I’ll mention the accessibility and cost savings of brewing your own beer. Once you’ve made the one-time brewing equipment purchase, the expense for two cases of fresh home brew typically runs between $40 to $65 per batch (that’s for two cases). It’s tough to get out of your local beer distributor without spending $60 for just three 4-packs of craft beer, let alone one case.
Making good home brewed beer is easy and can be accomplished by even the first-time brewer. Much like cooking or baking, home brewing requires attention to time, temperature and process.
With that said, remember that humans have been brewing beer for hundreds of years without access to YouTube how-to videos or modern ingredients and cleaning products. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were known to be home brewers back in the day—that’s way back in the Colonial days.
For under $200 you can get started with a basic home brew equipment kit (reusable) and your first ingredient kit (one-time use) that will yield about two cases of beer. Depending on where you shop, you’ll find different options for the starter equipment kits. But most kits typically have the same basic equipment to get you started: 5-gallon brew kettle, 6-gallon fermenter, bottling bucket, thermometer, hydrometer (measures liquid density), siphon, tubing and usually some cleaning/sanitizing items, too.
Then, like any other hobby, the sky’s the limit for how much you spend on equipment upgrades and all the ancillary toys that go along with home brewing. You can keep it on the cheap by buying used equipment and plastic food grade buckets, or rival a commercial brewery with shiny stainless steel fermenters and an automation brew system.
Sometimes designing your own home brewery is almost as much fun as brewing!
Time to Brew
Once you have your equipment ready to go, it’s time to brew! The standard ingredient kit has all the ingredients needed to brew a 5-gallon batch for your first two cases of home brew. The kits come with malted barley extract, hops, yeast, bottle caps, corn sugar for carbonation, and of course detailed step-by-step instructions.
The brewing timeline is fairly straightforward. The time from brewing the beer to drinking it takes about 4 or 5 weeks, depending on the style of beer. Using the starter kit, the actual brewing process itself takes only about 2.5 to 3 hours. Give yourself closer to 3 hours for your first batch or if you plan to imbibe while you brew.
After you brew the beer and pitch the yeast (add the yeast to the beer wort, but pitching sounds much cooler), fermentation takes from 7 to 10 days. Then, depending on the style of beer you’re making, you can condition the beer a few more days (letting the beer rest to improve clarity) or you can bottle your beer.
Once bottled, the beer needs to condition and finish carbonating in the bottle, which usually takes another two weeks. Like Tom Petty sang, “waiting is the hardest part.” The two weeks when the beer is carbonating in the bottles seems like two months for that first batch. But be patient, grasshopper, it will be worth the wait. I promise.
After the First Batch
With the first batch a success, it’s time to restock ingredients and get that second batch going. We’re lucky that the greater Philadelphia area has quality home brew supply stores for buying the ingredients
The benefit of going into a bricks and mortar store to buy ingredients in person, especially when starting out, is that you can ask questions—or even bring in a sample of your beer to show it off or to see how to make it better.
Another suggestion for newer home brewers who want to improve from batch to batch is to join or attend local home brew clubs. These clubs are a great place to bring samples for feedback or to ask questions of more experienced brewers. Home brewers love to talk about their new passion and are generous with advice. Some very generous.
Words of Wisdom
As I tell customers who come into my shop scouting out equipment and ingredients for their first batch, home brewing will appeal to people with many different interests and backgrounds. There’s definitely an art and science to brewing. Brewers with science degrees will gravitate towards the chemistry of brewing. And, brewers who like to experiment with ingredients will appreciate the artistic side. And beer lovers will enjoy every aspect of the process of brewing.
There’s so much joy in making your own beer and sharing it with friends and family. Cheers!
Corey Ross is the owner of Fancy Camper Home Brew Supply in Malvern. He started his brewing journey in the mid ‘90s working at a brew-on-premise/micro brewery in the area and has continued home brewing ever since. In addition to running his home brew shop, Corey is the brewer/partner at Suburban Brewing Company in Honey Brook.
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