Q's about homebrewing

Being a beer lover, I’ve always been fascinating with the brewing process, and would be interested in making a foray into homebrewing. However, I am a little bit skeptical of the homebrewing kits I see in stores. I know there’s a few homebrewers on the board (Homebrew, I’m looking at you) and am wondering what sort of investment I need to make decent beer. If I do end up homebrewing, I want to make a quality product, not just some swill that tastes close enough to beer. I have friends who make awesome wine in their basements here in Chicago (quite an investment to do properly), but I don’t know anyone who makes their own beer.

So basic questions to start with: Let’s say I want to make a hoppy ale flavored with Amarillo or Cascade hops. What’s the minimal investment I’m looking at for the basic equipment? What books or starter kits would you recommend? Are certain beers more difficult to make than others, or is the process pretty much the same for each? How steep is the learning curve? Is it worthwhile to brew your own, that is, is it possible to make a high-quality product without very expensive or sophisticated equipment?

I’m just hesistant because I’ve seen some disasters of homebrewing which produced vaguely malt-and-hop flavored water, but nothing else. If I can’t produce a quality product, I’m not going to bother doing it at all.

First step is to buy Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. This will give you a good idea of the effort involved. I’m assuming you mean a kit at a homebrew store that includes a 5-gallon bucket, a can of malt extract and some yeast. That’s a fine start for your first brew. It will probably be a little sweeter than your average brew but will be good and better than Budmilloors. Since you know that you are looking at Cascade already, you must already understand a little about hops. Cascade is a good choice for hoppy beers. Eventually you’ll move up to a partial mash when you’ll use grains to added flavor and body to the malt extract. Then you’ll graduate to full grain mash and then you’ll be shocked at how good your beer will be.

Avoid the Mr. Beer shit like the plague. Starting with a kit is easy for first timers and is hard to mess up the first time. One tip: get a liquid yeast and dump the dry yeast packet that comes with the malt can into the boil.

The key to homebrewing is sanitation. Keep everything clean and you’ll be good. Let any bacteria into your brew and you’ll cry as you pour out 5 gallons of beer.

Now specifically for your questions. You’ll spend about $100 to get the basics to make a good basic beer. Each batch afterwards will run you about $30 to $50 depending on whether you’ll full grain (cheaper) or extract brewing.

It is certainly worthwhile. With experience and careful technique, you can brew a beer equal to any commercial brew except perhaps a Duvel or Pilsner Urquell.

Hmm…a hundred bucks ain’t a bad initial investment. Thirty to fifty bucks per batch will give you about how much beer?

Here’s the thing, I’m very much an IPA or ESB kinda guy. I’m not terribly interested in bottom-fermenting beers (well, maybe a bock). Making something better than Budmilloors is not the goal. Heck, if I wanted that, I’d just tap my bladder and bottle that. I want something on the level of, say, a decent brew pub. Sounds to me like that just might be possible.

What about storing the beer when you’re done with it? Or do you just invite all your budies over one night to down 5 gallons at once? :stuck_out_tongue:

Ah. So five gallons for a batch, then? That’s 40 pint bottles. I guess that works out to about a buck a bottle. Hmm…Not amazingly cost-effective, but that’s not the point of homebrewing I guess.

You can bottle (figured into the intial investment) or use old soda kegs for storage. It’ll keep for a several months. Yes it’s very much possible to brew a hoppy beer as good as a Sierra Nevada or an IPA. In fact, I’d say with experience it’s hard not to brew a beer their equal as long as you keep it clean and use good recipes and technique. My Scotch Ale and Porter are as good as or even better than any commerical versions I’ve had. I can bury Sam Adams. Costwise, it’s more expensive than the canned Papst Blue Ribbon but probably a little less expensive than or roughly equal to high-quality imports or micros. Plus you get the satisfaction of customizing it to your taste.

If you try it and like it, you’ll eventually end up with a deep freeze or 'frig converted to a storage container and probably add a tap to it. You really can spend as much or as little as you want once you cross the $100 threshold.

Relax. Have a homebrew.

You’ve just said the magic words. I miss the Sam Adams Scotch Ale, and if you can replicate something of that level in the basement, I’m sold.

Just to confirm Homebrew’s numbers, $100 sounds about right for a starter kit. You can spend hundreds more than that, but you won’t get better beer at start until you get your technique down. It is possible that your first batch or two will taste like a big plastic bucket, but that goes away after the first couple batches (try soaking the bucket in a baking soda solution overnight…).

The beer I make ends up costing me about $5-6 a sixpack, and it’s at least as good as stuff that costs $9 a sixpack (or more–Bell’s Porter, Celis White, and any stout I’ve tried, but I don’t like stout much so that’s probably not a fair comparison).

Oh, and each batch takes up a whole Saturday night (about 4 hours) and a couple evenings (about two hours).

I am also a homebrewer (2 or so batches a month). One advantage of homebrewing is the ability to make styles that you can not buy iin your area. I second reading papazian’s books. There is also a book on line that you can read while you get planning


If your technique is good, you should be able to make high quality beer almost immediately. There is a time component to homebrewing. I will try to grand-slam on one day; brew one batch, rack another from primary to secondary, and bottle a third. This takes about 3.5 hours. The investment is variable. I wish I had a better brewpot; mine is 4.5 gallons stainless. It was cheap ~ $20. I made my own wort chiller (which I suggest you buy or make to save time). I measure temperature with thermocouples (you can use a $20 kitchen thermometer). I like glass carboys; I have 4 6.5 gallon carboys. They have decent head space and you can watch what’s happening.

I use liquid yeast and harvest/recycle. The yeast can run $5 a pop on top of 20-30 for the ingredients.

I also do mead, sake, and kim chee. I want to get into cheese and wine making.


My bi-line --Happiness is vigorous fermentation

I’ve done cheese. It’s actually not at all very difficult. A good place to start is the New England Cheesemaking Company. Start with making some fresh white cheeses (like a chevre, or neufchatel) and work your way up to the harder cheeses. Gouda is a good hard cheese to start with as it only takes a month to ripen. Fresh mozerella is not that difficult either, but it has a tricky “spinning” step to it that can make or break it.

To get started, you can either buy one of the starter kits (duh) or some rennet (I like liquid rennet) and a fine muslin cheesecloth. You don’t need anything else, really. Citric acid might useful, but I don’t like using it too much as it doesn’t impart much flavor to the cheese, and makes it a bit plasticky. Starting cultures you can obtain from buttermilk or yogurt.

Check online. There’s plenty of good sources on cheesemaking. All the better if you have a dairy nearby where you can get fresh milk.

Wine takes quite a bit more time, effort, and equipment.

Here is a link to the place down the road from me where I get my supplies. The website will give you two main things:

  1. you can look through the catalog to get an idea of how much starter kits and equipment costs
    and 2. (which is what I use it for mostly) is the recipes. I couldn’t directly link to it because of the site structure, but on the left hand nav click “Homebrewing” than click “Recipes”. There are enough recipes in there to keep you busy for a while. All the recipes are attached as word documents and usually include Malt extract and all-grain recipes for the more advanced brewer. The beers I’ve made from these recipes have all turned out quite nice.

Good luck.

Relax. Have a homebrew… That made me laugh. (Read Papazian.)

Another homebrewer here (albeit in semi-retirement). Sanitation, and keeping everything clean throughout the process is the key. My batches usually end up costing about $0.50-0.75 per bottle, but I have full control of what goes in and when it comes out. Papzian’s book is very good for a beginner, and it’s what I used to get going.


Damn, people beat me to the usual advice I’d post. Here’s a bit more:

Brew Your Own Magazine is a good source of info for the beginner on up to the expert. The book Homebrewing for Dummies is a decent reference too, and it’s written by a Chicago-area guy.

Northern Brewer is where I mail-order from - they can get stuff to you via UPS Ground in about 2 days. I visit The Brewer’s Coop out in Warrenville for most of my supplies - friendly, helpful staff, plus they’re an offshoot of the lovely microbrewery of Two Brothers Brewing. If you don’t see something, ask - their hops and liquid yeasts are kept in back, for instance.

If you’re a lazy bottler like me, buy pints of Grolsch with the swing-top bottle caps. Larger bottle + easy capping = good thing!

I was just at The Brewer’s Coop yesterday, and picked up ingredients for a Baltic porter, my first lager. (Yes, it can be brewed as an ale too.) I figure I’ll take advantage of my cold basement during the winter months.

I got started with a Mr. Beer kit that my husband had bought for himself but was having issues dealing with. It wasn’t coming out right. After reading the How to Brew website cited above, I figured out there was a lot that the instructions didn’t tell you, and began trying to tweak it to improve it. Soon I made the jump to a full-size real kit and have had a blast.

Besides sanitation, another important thing is giving your yeast a good headstart. Check the How To Brew site for info on a yeast starter, which is basically feeding the yeast some sugary water a day or so in advance, so you have more yeast to work with. The first brewing shop owner that I talked to told me that even if you slip up a tiny bit on sanitation, if your yeast is strong and plentiful, it’ll outproduce anything else that gets in there. Plus it helps my peace of mind - if I do a starter, fermentation is strong within 12 hours. If not, it can take a day or two sometimes.

And finally, to quote Papazian - “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew!”

My E-mail is in my profile if you have more questions of a local. :slight_smile:

$50 bucks a batch is a bit on the high side, don’t you think? Even using just extracts and making a barleywine, I don’t think I ever had a batch cost that much.

If you enjoy the results of your first few batches, look into all-grain brewing. Then the costs plummet. My last batch of all-grain American Pale Ale set me back a whole $11. That’s for 2 cases of the best beer I ever tasted.

The most expensive batch I ever had a hand in making was an Imperial Barleywine that finished at 1.6 SG!!! :eek: We have no idea what the Starting Gravity was…the hydrometer wouldn’t float low enough to read the scale. I think we put @27 lbs. of extract and grains into a 7 gallon batch. Named it Leviathan. It won numerous awards that year.

Like the others, I am available for consultation via email. :smiley:

We got set up with everything we needed (including bottles and our first set of ingredients for $125 or so.

We’ve added bits and bobs since then, but pretty much you can get everything you need for $100.

Wow! I just picked up a used copy of this at the library book sale for a quarter.
I bought it because my husband is interested in homebrewing. Didn’t know it was an important text. Yay.

That’d be the Bible, Bob. Some would disagree, though. Dang purists.

Another cost-saving tip: for the next month or two, buy beer that comes in bottles without screw-tops and save the bottles. Another option is to find a local liquor store that sells beer in reuseable bottles, and see if they’ll sell you a couple cases. My local store sells them to people for the amount the brewery buys them back for, which is $3.50 a case.

Grolsch bottles work, too, if you like Grolsch. I’d get the kind that are brown rather than green, though. Gotta protect them hops from the nasty UV.

You should note that he recently came out with a new edition. The previous one was somewhat out of date (didn’t really cover all grain brewing that well, for example).

And yeah ditto on what Ferret Herder and others provided as resources.

At first, you’ll be thinking economy and value.

Later, you’ll be thinking hmmmm…meads, lambics, cherry porter…

And that stainless steel kettle at the brew store with the spout, along with that copper coil cooling attachment, and the bottle tree would make things so much easier…screw the bottle tree, I’ll get that soda keg with the CO2 cannisters. No more bottling! Hell, while I’m at it, there’s a minifridge over there with a tap…and it’s got a cool looking pump handle…

that’s where the bucks pile up.

Here’s what we’ve done so far towards starting our homebrewing career:

  1. Someone gave my husband a kit for the wdding. Not a kit as in the Mr. Beer type things, but an equipment kit from the Modern Brewer.

  2. Saved up our beer bottles. We drink primarily micros in non-screw-top bottles, so we clean out & save the bottles. Unfortunately we haven’t been having people over much, so it’s just the two of us creating empties - it’s slow going. We’ve saved a few champagne bottles too, because some of them apparently have the right kind of lip to cap.

  3. Gathered & read many homebrewing texts. Well, I have gathered them & Motorboy is reading them. I’m more interested in the final product than the process.

  4. Tried to generate excitement in a couple of friends so they’ll want to come over & help with some of the steps.

We won’t buy any ingredients until we’re ready to start. At that point we’ll probably seek advice from the folks at Modern Brewer - they’re pretty nice, or so I’ve heard.