Please, Beer Brewing Advice

My girlfriend recently revealed to me that she is considering buying me a home beer brewing kit. She’s waiting for it to go on sale, I think.

Anyway, I was wondering 1) if brewing my own cerveza is really cost effective, 2) methods of storing (i.e. bottling) and their cost, 3) how easy it is to procure the basic ingredients and their quality, 4) anything else Dopers in the know can share. If it’s good stuff maybe I can bootleg!

Go here.

By the way, bootlegging beer is illegal, and inquiring about such will get your threads locked very quickly.

Thanks. I assure you, I am aware bootlegging is illegal. It was a poor jest. :smack: I appreciate the link.

The best thing I ever did with my beer brewing kit was give it to my brother.
After about 2 years of mess and smell in my house, it was so much nicer going to his house and drinking his homebrew.

If your girlfriend is serious, talk her out of it right now! She is probably looking at something like Mr. Beer or The Beer Machine, both of which are shit. If you really want to get into home-brewing, grab the Yellow Pages and find your nearest homebrew supply store. Then go ask questions. Home brewers are generally very friendly and out-going about their hobby, and you will get more advice than you can possibly use. They will also point you towards the proper equipment. :smiley:

Again, I really appreciate it. Brewing is something I’m definitely interested in, but my main concern was just that: a crappy, cheap home brewing thingie from a company that will try to screw me on buying lousy ingredients from them or someone in bed with them.

Of course, my girlfriend will have to find something else to get…she won’t be happy about that. Oh well. Better to save the aggravation.

TC, there any number of very experienced homebrewers on this Board, and we are all very free with advice. Hell, I’ll even email you recipes! If you don’t mind telling us where (roughly) you are, someone might be able to direct you to a good shop close to you.

As for the girlfriend…if you find a store before your girlfriend gets too peeved, the person behind the counter can show her what to buy you. A basic kit, without ingredients, will set you back around $75. Ingredient prices will vary according to what kind of beer you want to make, but they are reasonable. Be warned…this hobby is like any other: You always want more/better/newer equipment! :smiley:

  1. If you typically drink Bass, it will eventually be cost competitive. If you typically drink Bud, it will be way more expensive. From the start it needs to be viewed as a hobby, not as a cost saving production method.
  2. Bottling is very cheap. 20 gets you a basic capper, drinking a few cases of store bought beer gets you the bottles, and a few bucks gets you the caps. Storing in small kegs is much easier, but it costs a couple hundred to get set up.
  3. Ingredients easy to get. Local shop more fun, but mail order works fine. Quality varies depending on brand.
  4. You need to be prepared to either throw big beer parties every 6 months, or to sadly toss away beer that is past it’s prime. You may find that you brew far more cases of beer than you can drink alone.

If you brew your own beer, plan on becoming a beer snob. Homebrewing is much more fun that way.

I’ve seen brewshops selling startup equipment as a package.

In general, I’d say that homebrewing will get you better beer cheaper than simply buying commercial brews, with the caveat, as BoringDad points out, that it depends on what you normally drink.

My advice to people getting into the hobby is to be wary of snobs and purists. While they often have useful advice, they are often almost superstitious in their beliefs about what methods and ingredients noticably affect the outcome. More importantly, attention to craft is only rewarding to the extent that you enjoy the labor and the end product is worth the effort. Much of the advice out there is highly subjective or requires more extra effort than the purported effect is worth. Don’t let yourself be harrangued by purists and snobs. If what you want is a dirt cheap brew high in alcohol content, you don’t have to apologize to anybody for that.

Even considering that, you will most likely be attracted to the many options available to you. Hops and adjunct grains will have the most obvious effect on your beer, and you can have plenty of fun for years just playing around with those.

I have been brewing for a few years now. I haven’t bought beer since I started brewing and don’t really regret the loss. To begin with look around for someone in your area who brews. I was introduced to brewing several years before I started. I didn’t pick it up because it is a time-consuming hobby. I brew 2-3 times a month. It takes about 4 hours a weekend to brew, rack, bottle. It also takes 5-10 minutes every couple of days to clean bottles.

Part of being a homebrewer involves space and mess. I have 4 6.5 gallon carboys in my closet. They take up space. Then 10 cases of bottles, cleaning vats, brew kettle,…It is not something that I could see an apartment dweller doing.

The cost? I haven’t done a cost comparison, but I spend more money (I used to drink Busch in cans, so I can’t be a snob), but I certainly drink a better class of beer. I figure my monthly costs are ~$70-100; 2-3 batches of beer (~50 bottles each) and a batch of mead every other month, occasional sake and equipment. I give away a fair amount to friends (you can quickly become popular).

One thing that you need to be aware of is that you will most likely be brewing ales rather than lagers. Unless you live in the far north, have a cave handy, your brewing will be at ambient temperatures. This means ale yeast. If you like ales, so much the better. If you are a lager man, you will be unhappy. I like pilsners, but can only do a batch or two a year because it is too hot here in the deep south.

Hopefully this will get you started. There are always people willing to share their hobby. I haven’t met too many jerks in the brew-trade. I’m sure they’re there.

I forgot a few other things.

Brewing gives you the opportunity to explore styles of beer that you would probably not be able to experience otherwise.

There isn;t a brepub in the area. The only exotic beer that I’d be exposed to are the brews in the megamart. The more exotic these are, the more likely they are to be stale and funky. Not a great experience.

Since I have been brewing, I have discovered styles that I’d have never experienced otherwise, like Belgians.

Your beer will be fresh and alive. There is no comparison in the taste IMHO. Those unicellular critters add to the flavor complexity and give good b-complex vitamins.

Happiness is vigorous fermentation.

A starter setup should cost about $80; a good one about $100; a great one, as much as you can afford (I’ve spent about $700 on equipment…).

Once you get past the cost of the equipment, it costs between $4 and $10 a six-pack to make it. The beer I make is about the same quality as what I can buy for $9 a six-pack and up (Summit, Stewart’s, Belgian ales, good German beer), so it’s more cost-effective of me to make it than buy it, provided I have the time…

My local brew supply store: Northern Brewer.
My mail-order brew supply place: Williams Brewing (they have some equipment NB doesn’t carry; see above re: $700 :frowning: ).

I’ve made NB’s British Bitter, Red Ale, Nut Brown Ale, Extra Pale, Alt, Porter, Stout, Oatmeal stout (Partial mash (more equipment…)), Dubbel, Witbier, Saison, Hefe Weizen, Honey Weizen, Dark Cherry Stout, Pilsner lager (more equipment…), Oktoberfest, Bock and Maibock kits. They all came out great. Also some of their mead kits.

I’ll just throw in my two cents.

If you get a basic brew kit (plastic bucket, glass carboy, racking cane etc.) you’re set. Now you’ll likely start off brewing in the kitchen on the stove top. That’s fine. What you’ll do is get a big pot of water boiling, take it off the element add the liquid or dried malt extract to the water, stir it up and place it back on the burner. Get to boil for an hour. After that pop the covered pot into an ice bath wait for it to get cool, dump the contents into the plastic bucket and add the yeast. After 3-4 days move it into the carboy and wait 1-2 week. Bottle. Wait 1 week. Drink.

The first couple of times can be stressful. Don’t worry, you’ll get a rhythm down and just know what comes next, as opposed to rifling through a book.

The thing I’ve noticed is that it’s hard to get a light coloured beer, normally I wind up with anything from a deep golden red to pitch black. Expect that, so you don’t get disappointed with not producing a straw yellow brew.

If you keep at it you can slowly pick up new gadgets. I’ve only just started using a propane burned and big kettle in place of the kitchen stove top. I might, eventually go all grain but I don’t see the need right now. It’s fun to do and interesting. Have fun with it.

Everybody else has pretty much covered what I was going to add.

  1. Won’t be “cost effective”, but will be “value effective”. You’ll get better beer at good beer prices.
  2. Bottling can be almost free. I use Grolsch-type swing-top bottles and plain old 2L plastic 7-up bottles. No more pesky capping. (the worst part of homebrewing)
  3. I get all my stuff from Austin Homebrew “”. Awsome folks, reasonable prices, fast and free shipping. They have everything you need from equipment to ingredients/recipe kits. Tell them I sent you! :wink:

Other misc. thoughts: To me, homebrewing has become about as easy as boiling water. I live in one of the most arid parts of the world and have no problem with mildew/contamination. It is very easy to keep my stuff clean.

I’m pretty lazy and don’t do all the testing that I should. I let the stuff run its coarse, and go by a general “rule of thumb” on fermentation time. 4-7 days primary, 1-5 weeks (depending on temp/type of brew) for secondary and 2-3 weeks in bottles. Always turns out fine.

Having been told numerous times that liquid yeast is the way to go I always used it. Untill I mis-ordered one time and got dry yeast. I used it and have seen the light! It tends to act faster, bubble stronger and longer and seems to work just super. Cheaper by about $6.00 a batch, too! Very easy to re-hydrate. I just take a measuring cup and scoop out about 2 cups just before I add the hops. I let this little broth of grain squeezin’s and extract cool and add the yeast 15 minutes before the end of the boil and its ready to go. It does make the kitchen smell a bit like dirty feet however. :smiley:

I can make a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that will knock you on yer can after 2 glasses! The secret is in dry-hopping in the secondary.

Good luck and have fun! I’ll be celebrating my 200th gallon later this week. Gonna cook up a Sierra Nevada. They don’t stick around too long. :wink:

Once again, thanks, Dopers. You’ve been a tremendous help.

I live in the Nashville, TN area. We’re lucky, we’ve got all kinds of brew-pubs in town. And I do, in fact, have a cave in the neighborhood. Maybe no one would notice the beer cloud hanging over that street corner…

Good point. I got tired of strictly ales and went out and bought a used commercial fridge. It can hold up to 4 carboys for cold fermentation. Now, I cook up a few lagers in quick succession and let them sit in the fridge, then I’ll do an ale a few weeks later and take one Saturday morning and bottle 2-3 batches and in a few weeks I have a good selection of brews to pick from and don’t end up drinking 19 liters of the same stuff all the time.

Right now, in bottles ready to drink, I have 12 different varietys to pick from. Life is pretty good! :wink:

I’m not sure if the local brewpubs would be able to point you towards a homebrew supply store, but they certainly might. I suspect most of those brewers started as homebrewers.

My husband started out trying to homebrew from a Mr. Beer kit, and ended up asking if I wanted to try. A batch later, I decided I should do this “for real” and bought a homebrewing starter kit; now I’ve been at it for a couple years, get a lot of compliments on my beer, and love it.

Miscellaneous advice that hopefully isn’t covering what other people have said -

Resources: How to Brew, a whole homebrewing book online for free; Homebrewing for Dummies (seriously!); Brew Your Own magazine

It’d be easiest to start with “extract-only” brewing first. You take powdered or liquid malt extract, mix it up with water in a big brewpot, add hops as the recipe says, then cool it down, add more water, add yeast, and let it ferment! Expect most ales to take a month (give or take) from mixing through bottling and letting carbonate, before they’re ready to drink. From there, you can easily move on to “extract plus grain”, which just adds a step at the beginning of steeping grains in water like you’re making tea, then using that water to brew with. All-grain brewing is more complicated and requires more equipment.

From the starter equipment, I’ve added more and more gear - I have a 3-gallon carboy with a batch of mead fermenting in it at the moment, plus two 5-gallon carboys in addition to a plastic primary fermenter bucket. I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of my latest order from Northern Brewer. I have a 9% alcohol Belgian honey ale (a Belgian wit with honey in it) bottled and needing at least a couple weeks of aging time, and a mini-keg (Tap-a-Draft) of a hoppy American wheat in my fridge. (The recipe was inaccurate in hop amounts; we’re calling it an “India Pale Wheat,” heh.)

Three more important things:

  1. Sanitation: Being lazy with sanitizing your bottles or equipment is a major cause of beer “going bad” - off tastes, growth of bacteria inside, etc. Check out the brewing supply store’s selection to get a proper cleaner and a proper sanitizer - two different products.
  2. Yeast health: You’ll learn more about this later, but I always mix up a starter the night before for my yeast; about 2 c. boiled water with ~1/4-1/2 c malt extract in it, allowed to cool to 80 F or less, in a sanitized container. Add the yeast and let it get a head start. When you have to pour 5 gallons of wort (the mixed-up stuff that will become beer) down the drain because your yeast failed, you’ll kick yourself over not using a starter - I know I did.
  3. Remember the classic quote from Charles Papazian: “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” This sounds like a lot to remember, but it’ll be second nature before long. Your first batch might not turn out that good. Heck, my first few batches didn’t, but I stuck with it.

Whereas, I’m morally obligated to post to any Homebrewing thread, :D;
Whereas, much good advice has already been given and most important points covered;
Whereas, too few humorous ancedotes have been given
Therefore as now, I am resigned to provide a tale of homebrewing gone noisy.

My very first brew was a Pale Ale brewed in the kitchen from malt extract. When it was done we have a party and drank liberally. There was a bit of the yeast still alive and kicking and was consumed. Yeast found much food in the bowel tract overnight. The next day me and my partner were quite musical, if you get my meaning.

I’ve been brewing for about a year now.

It’s no big mess or hassle. Just be very very very diligent about cleaning.

I’ve got a blackberry/raspberry honey wheat and a Newcastle-esque brown ale in the fridge right now. We’ve put about $300 total into equipment, bottles and ingredients for startup and two batches.

Our next one is going to be a raspberry or cherry chocolate porter.

Definitely go to a homebrew store, and don’t buy a Mr. Beer. You can get a basic setup for between $75 and $100.

Have fun!

So, when I went to my local microbrewery recently and saw one of the beers on tap was “Musical Ale”, you’re saying that wasn’t just one of their whimsical names?
I’m kidding, I’m kidding!