Thursday, April 17, 2008

Getting back Into homebrewing

Homebrewing BeerIt was bound to happen sooner or later to a craft beer enthusiast like myself. I've got the bug again to get back into homebrewing my own beer after a 10 year hiatus.

I was first introduced to homebrewing by a co-worker back in the late 1990's. He had his own kegerator with two taps set up in his basement. One tap poured his favorite Odell's 90 Shilling and the other was a beer that he had brewed himself. I was fascinated with the fact that he made his own beer and asked that he show me how he did it. It didn't take long to realize that I could do this myself.

At the time, my town had it's own homebrew supply store and I was easily able to get a starter kit and all the ingredients I needed to make my first ale. And I was amazed how good my first batch turned out.

A month or two later after most of my first batch was gone, I decided to make another batch with a different recipe. That batch didn't turn out to be as tasty as my first batch but it was still decent beer.

But sadly, soon after that, I became too busy with family and work to homebrew. My wife was also complaining that my brewing made the entire house smell like beer. So, my equipment sat in the basement for a few years and was later sold at a garage sale. I was content to buy craft beers at the local liquor store. That is until now.

I've really got the bug for trying as many craft beers as I can get my hands on these days. I've been writing this beer blog since last October and I've become more and more interested in how local brewers are making their beer. Top that off that I frequent a few online beer forums who constantly discuss homebrewing. I'm itching to get back into it but was concerned about the cost of supplies and ingredients.

With the hop and malt shortages going on these days, a 5-gallon batch of homebrew is probably a lot more expensive to make than it was 10 years ago. Hop prices alone have almost tripled. So, I thought it might be best to check things out a bit first before diving in head first (no pun intended).

I remember my frustration of using an electric stove and a small brew kettle. It took forever for that little stove to bring 5 gallons up to a boil. I had boil overs, my liquid malt extract nearly burnt on the bottom of my kettle, my 5-gallon stainless steel kettle got discolored and the cooling of my wort took a very long time as I did not have a wort chiller.

Despite all that, my cheap plastic fermenter and plastic bottling bucket churned out some decent brew. Only thing was, being plastic, my equipment was difficult to clean and easily got scratched. I knew that the next time would have to be different.

Homebrewing EquipmentSo this got me thinking about buying all new equipment. I want to get something that I know can last me a long time and grow as I grow.

I spent about a good hour and a half last night preparing a list of equipment that I thought I would need. I visited several homebrew supply web sites to help me put together my list. Some of the top of the line equipment looked oh so sweet, but the price tags on some of those modern brew kettles were pricey.

One 15-gallon stainless brew kettle with a false bottom, built in thermometer and ball joint spigots cost upwards of $500. Ouch. I think long term I'd like to get one of those but don't think I could afford to buy top of the line right now.

Yet, I filled out my spreadsheet and put together a list of equipment. For a medium to high-end kit that included a high end 15-gallon brew kettle, outdoor gas burner, propane tank, 2 glass carboys, a wort chiller, test equipment, bottling equipment and hoses - the cost came in at between $600 to $850. Wow, that's a lot of money.

I could simply buy a lot of good craft beer at the store for all that money. I realize that I could buy a deluxe starter kit for much less than that, but then I'd be sacrificing on some quality. I figure I could save a couple of hundred bucks and buy a simple no-frills 10 gallon stainless brew pot, but I feared I would out grow it within a year or so.

I'd be interested in finding out what other homebrewers would recommend. If you had to start all over again, knowing what you know now, what do you think would be the short list of "must have" equipment. Where do you suggest trimming the cost and where do you recommend investing heavily in up front?

I'm still going to start out with extract homebrewing for a few batches and then move up into all-grain and try mashing and sparging after I get my feet used to the water so to speak.

I've picked up two homebrewing video's from Basic Brewing and have been reviewing those. The videos were well made for a restarting homebrewer like myself. The extract video was a good review and the all-grain video was a good overview of what I can expect once I get into that phase.

I'll stick to making 5-gallon batches at first but envision wanting to go up to 10-15 gallon batches at some point. So perhaps I could get away with a 10 gallon pot to start out with and save some money.

I'll update this blog periodically on this endeavor as it progresses. I'm going to buy equipment a bit at a time and target this fall to create my next batch. I plan to brew outside on my back patio this time instead of taking over my wife's kitchen. I've even rejoined the American Homebrewers Association again just for the occasion.

If any of you readers have suggestions as to suppliers, equipment and techniques you've used, please post a comment below or contact me. Thanks!

Related articles you may enjoy:
- Colorado Homebrewing Supply Stores.
- Putting together the home brewery - Part 1.
- First batch of homebrew for the year.

This article came from FermentedlyChallenged.com
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