My Ideal Starter Kit

So after having a number of people inquire about starting to homebrew and me saying “well, if I had to do it over again I would have pieced together my own system” I decided to put together that list.

I am including a pot for the wort (unfermented beer) here, but if you have one already you can use that, just don’t use an aluminium one, but you need something big enough to boil 3-4 gallons of liquid. Having more space is best, since the boiling process will foam up on you, and quickly at times so have a bit of a buffer is good. We started with a large Stainless Steel pot and a outdoor turkey fryer burner.

So they have some at Amazon that would work to start, but a bigger pot would be better in the long run, I think ours is about 7-8 Gallons:

5 Gallon Pot
Propane Burner

Now the rest of the items.
I am going to link most of these from Northern Brewer I have gotten a number of kits from them, and they are a pretty good vendor.

    Fermentor- there are two different types here- either a bucket or a plastic carboy. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I like the carboys since you can see your beer, but they are a pain to clean. I might actually start using buckets because they are easier, just don’t use either for long term storage, you will want to use glass for that (the plastic stuck is oxygen permeable, not good for your beer). All types of buckets here or Plastic Carboy (BetterBoy)

    Airlock- You will need one of these to go on either type of fermentor, just make sure you have the appropriate gasket to make it fit- Airlock Here

    Auto Siphon- One of my favorite things to use, forget trying to start a siphon just using tubing, it is not worth it and you can introduce more bugs to the system. This is your tool to move the beer from container to container. Auto Siphon Here

    Big Funnel- Just makes it easier to pour the wort into your fermentation vessel, although if you get the buckets there is not a need for one- Big ol funnel here

    Bottling Bucket- In the links for fermentors, there is an option for a bucket with a hole in the bottom, you can get the one with the spigot to hook up a hose and bottle filler. Buckets again. This makes it easy to fill up your bottles, you will want one that is around 6 gallons.

    Bottling Wand- This thing is great when you do your filling- Bottle Filler Here. You will need a piece of plastic tubing to go between the bottling bucket and this piece. Hardware stores should be a fine source to use, I just get the appropriate clear plastic tubing that I need.

    Bottle Capper- This is the most simple of them, known as a wing capper, currently what we use and it is fine. You will need to buy bottle caps, I get the o2 absorbing ones. Capper Here.

    Sanitation- Extremely important, we have found that Star-San is awesome, it is easy to use, does not stain and we just put some in a spray bottle and use that on everything. We mix it up in the sink when we do bottling and all beer bottles get rinsed in this stuff. It is a no rinse, and supposedly breaks down into yeast nutrient, hooray! Star San Here

    Hydrometer- Very important if you want to know 1.When your beer is finished fermenting and 2. how much alcohol is in your beer. I like having the little tube for it as well, makes it easier to read everything- Hydrometer Here
    Testing Tube Here

    Thermometer- you can get one of the floating ones or a pretty fast instant read one, either should be fine, even a candy thermometer can be fine as long as it can read low enough (you want one that goes down to 65 F or so)

    Bottles- We like to have 50-60 bottles for bottling, generally a 5 gal batch will give you around 45-60 beers of the normal bottle variety. We reuse bottles, but no screw off tops, they will not work with the capper properly.

    Book- While you can find tutorials on YouTube or over at (and I do suggest looking at both) I really like having a reference at hand. I really like John Palmer’s book “How To Brew” I still use it quite a lot- Book at Amazon

    Long Handled Spoon- stainless steel or plastic is fine.

    Scale of some sort, just to weigh out your hops, your grains or extract should come from the store in the right quantity if you buy a kit, you can eyeball it, but it would be better to weigh things out exactly.

If you were to purchase all of this, you total bill should be anywhere form 100-200 bucks for a good setup. You can get all of these things online, or from a local homebrew store if you have one, if you go local, get your ingredients as well, fresh is always better and you will have the opportunity to consult with the people there. Another plus is that most places will do a free lean to brew session about once a month, so you can even see the process before you give it a shot. There is plenty to learn and doing some reading ahead of time will save you on your brew day. I have shown a few people how to brew, and they are always amazed how easy the process actually is, so get out there and give it a try!

Let’s Talk Homebrewing

One year ago Kat and I started homebrewing for the first time the day after Christmas. For a long time we have both been passionate about craft brewing and the interest in trying it ourselves culminated in Kat getting me a good basic/intermediate extract homebrewing kit from a local homebrew shop. Since that time has passed we brewed up 7 beers and one cider each in a 5 gallon size. Yes, it is quite a bit of beer and we have been gladly sharing and giving away quite a bit to friends and family. I have been trying to recruit locally some more folks to the world of homebrewing, and even hosted a session where we brewed up a Pumpkin-Spiced porter. Admittedly that was a really good beer, and I hope that it inspires some of our friends to start playing around with the idea of trying it on their own. I always have told folks that for around 150 bucks I could get them started, much less than most people think.

This year for Christmas we have stepped up our brewing game. We are now the proud owners of a full grain, 15 gallon system. Now this does not mean that every batch is going to be that large, in fact we probably will limit ourselves to 10 gallons just for space and time considerations. We also now have a 5 gallon keg, so that means half of the batches will get kegged, and the other half bottled. It also means now I have to figure out a way to get a draft system going in the house, what a pity and I have already started the research. I am looking forwarding to giving it a shot, and Kat has picked out our next brew, a Chocolate Milk Stout. I know that the both of us are looking forward to the end product.

Anyone who has spent some time with us talking about beer and homebrewing can see the passion that Kat and I share. We have made a pact to try and visit a brewery, either large or small in every state. So far we have knocked off Arizona, Georgia (just a few days ago going to Sweetwater), Boston, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, and New Mexico. Still a bunch out there to get too, but a really fun life goal. You may see me posting more information about homebrewing in the future, it has really become a passion for me and I do lots of reading and researching on the topic and I will do my best to put it into posts here.



The Brewing Cycle

Last year at Christmas my lovely wife was nice enough to get me started in homebrewing beer. We have a couple of local shops so she was able to get me one of their kits and actually thry this out.

Why might you ask?

Well duh, it’s beer.

I guess the better reason is that we have started finding that our palate is getting more sophisticated, and while we do lots (almost all) of our own cooking, we tend to get beer and alcohol from the store. So while distilling spirits is illegal even for home use, brewing is not thanks to President Jimmy Carter. So why not be able to brew your own beverages and allow for some experimentation at the same time.

Our local stores are Brewer’s Connection (which has a really tough site to navigate, but the store is good) and also Brew Your Own Brew (closer to my office, so I have been going there more often). And both stores have been very helpful. I also have ordered from some online sites, as well as getting some stuff locally from other homegbrewers.

Currently we are still doing what is known as extract brewing, which is about the easiest way you can get into brewing your own beer. Most places have a decent kit that can get you started for around a hundred bucks, but the sky’s the limit after that. Eventually we will move in to all-grain brewing, but that requires some equipment that we do not have right now, but soon, possibly by this spring we can start down that path.

So what have we brewed so far?

In order of brewing:

Vanilla Porter
Fat Tire Clone (amber ale)
Hard Cider
Coffee Porter
Wild Wheat Beer (Heffe recipe with lemon zest and a different yeast)

Most of that was brewed in the Spring, during the summers here it is too tough to keep the fermenting temps at a reasonable level. But come the cooler temps we will be starting right back up. Most likely the next recipe is going to be a Roquefort 8 close. Our friends back in Huntsville that go to the Nook will know what we are going for. A dark Belgium beer with about 9% ABV (alcohol by volume, Bud and the like are around 4-5%)

So that we what we do to homebrew, honestly it is one of the best things that we have ever started, and this is a joint operation out here not just me, Kat is involved at every step and appreciates and helps out along the way, it is a great thing. I highly recommend that if you can, you start (Alabama, sorry, it is still illegal to homebrew)

Now I just need to figure out how to be able to do this for a living and sell our beer along side our friends at Truckin’ Good Food, French food and craft beer? Yes Please!!!!

Weekly Menu 2-8-2010

Back to me!

Monday- Eat Out night. I had to work on Monday then go to school, and since Kat hits up Yoga we just decided to take it easy and fend for ourselves.

Tuesday- Taco Soup. This is a recipe that I got from my mom. Basically a meat and bean soup with taco seasonings.
1 lb ground beef (we did stew meat)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
2 cans kidney (or other) beans
1/2 cup onion
1 package taco powder
3 cups water

Saute up the onion, add in the beef. after things look good add in the seasoning and then all the canned goods. Add the water as well and then simmer until ready to serve.

Wednesday- Homemade Pizza. We pick up already made dough from one of our local grocery stores. We add on what ingredients that we want and cook them up. This week we did a clone of toppings that we had at Pizzeria Bianco that had Parmesano reggiano, ricotta cheese, and arugula. Very tasty, made a second with mozzarella cheese, tomato, garlic.

Thursday- Chicken Lettuce Wraps- Cloned from Pf Changs, very nice and tasty.

Friday- Spicy Chicken and Rice- Link right here to the recipe, we have had this one before, very tasty.

Saturday- Eggplant Rollatini- another good one, this time courtesy of Mario Batali- Link again right here

Sunday- Our Valentine’s Night Dinner- Grilled Ribeyes with sauteed mushrooms, whipped potatoes and sauteed green beans. Kat was thinking of some sort of raspberry mousse for dessert. Any way you look at it, tasty.

Weekly Menu 1/25/2010

Another Sean week of meals, and we are going to try putting the recipes in more detail for the folks out there that want to try things out.

Monday- Potato Leek Soup

We ended up going out on Friday last week so this recipe got moved up to tonight. The recipe actually comes out of a William-Sonoma cookbook for Potato-Leek Soup with Fennel and Watercress. We just leave out the fennel and watercress and add in more leek.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 leeks, coarsely chopped
2 baking potatoes, about 1 lb, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper

In a soup pot over medium heat, all olive oil and saute the leeks for about 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes and continue to saute’ for another 10 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a simmer, partially cover and cook the vegetables for about 20 minutes.a
Puree the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tuesday- Shrimp Dinner Salad

Same as before, but with sauteed shrimp on top. Yes, we always do a lot of sauteing, however I might gill them up depending on the weather.

Wednesday- Spaghetti Carbonara

Surprisingly, another recipe out of a set of Williams-Sonoma cookbooks

2 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lb shaghetti
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 lb panchetta cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
Flat leaf parsley

Bring a large pot of water to boil
Break the eggs into a warmed, large bowl, add the cheeses, and whisk to blend well.
Salt the water, add the spaghetti until al dente, 7-9 minutes
While pasta is cooking, warm the olive oil, add the panchetta and saute until just becoming crisp, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute’ for 1 minute. add the white wine and cook until reduced by half.

Drain the pasta, add it to the bowl. Toss quickly (this will heat the eggs). Add the panchetta with all the pan juices. Season with salt and pepper, add parsley and serve immediately.

Thursday- Salmon with Raw Spinach Bacon and Egg Salad with Whole Wheat Rolls

Salmon prepared any way you like it. For the spinach salad we generally boil some eggs, peel and cut them up. Then saute bacon, keeping the fat and adding it to a small bowl and adding in some balsamic vinegar to make up a quick dressing. Crumble the bacon up and add the bacon and eggs to the top of the salad, add the vinaigrette and toss to serve.

We just get some rolls from out local Whole Foods to round everything up.

Friday- Chicken Tacos

Just what it sounds like, but instead of beef we saute’ up some chicken and use that. I made up some salsa to go along with it this week, 1 day ahead so it has time to meld together.

Saturday- Syrah Braised Short Ribs, Creamy Parm. Polenta, Artichokes.

I need to goo look up the recipe for the short ribs, I believe it is in a recent Food and Wine Magazine.
We use a recipe for the polenta that we got from Misty, it has never led us wrong. The artichokes we will do boiled or steamed and then served with melted butter for dipping. Fairly classic approach.

Sunday- Buffalo Bacon Burgers with Waffle Fries and Green Beans

Burgers with ground buffalo, peppered bacon on top, I like mine with Blue Cheese but we can no longer get a blue cheese that Kat likes around here. We used to get one from the Rogue Creamery called smokey blue, it was a smoked blue cheese and just awesome. The waffle fries recipe I am taking out of Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook. We have tried the regular french fries, and we have a mandolin so I will try his recipe for waffle fries since we can actually make the cuts properly. Green beans I usually do up in a fry pan with some garlic, throw in water or white wine and cover to steam them up nicely.

That is it for this week, let us know if you need any more information on the recipes. We have taken a few pictures of the dishes we prepared last week, we will try to get those op shortly, it should entice you to give them a try.