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 http://www.homebrewtalk.com (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!

a year in brews

New Year’s Eve 2010 found Sean and myself with one of our great friends, Geof, at a bar in Huntsville called The Nook. This bar prides itself on serving only craft brews and I must admit they do a fine job of it. As we sat there enjoying some tasty libations we pondered some of our favorite beers that we’ve had the chance to sample over the past year. Here’s a run down of our top five.

World Wide Stout
Brewery: Dogfish Head
I don’t even know where to start with this beer other than, Wow! The World Wide Stout is one of those beers that long after you’ve tasted it, the flavors still stick around for you to fondly remember. The nose makes me think of raisins and ports. The taste has roasty chocolate notes with lots of flavors of dried fruit. It’s a complex beer that’s great to share with other friends (at 18% it’s not one that’s easy to get through on your own) and sip as an after dinner drink (or really any time you want to enjoy a great beer).
ABV: 18.0

Older Viscousity
Brewery: Port Brewing Company
The nose on this reminded us of a blend between a whiskey and a port. Once you taste it, though, that’s all forgotten. There are strong coffee and dried cherry notes. The bitter and fruity notes balanced each other out well. The finish is smooth and lingering going back to the way that a good whiskey sits on the tongue. This is a good one to curl up on a cold winter’s night and sip away with.
ABV: 12.5

Cuvee of the Emperor Blue
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker
We had the pleasure of trying this one as part of our New Year’s Eve festivities this year. The beer has the wonderful sweet nose of a Belgian strong ale. The taste, though, we felt was lighter than the typical strong ale. There were wonderful spicy brown sugar notes that lingered on the tongue. It was a very easy beer to drink and enjoy. Sadly, this one is a hard one to get hold of, so if you find it, definitely give it a shot.
ABV: 11.0

Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout
Brewery: Great Divide Brewing Company
How can anything that combines coffee and beer not be fantastic?! At least that’s how we feel. The Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout (yes, it really is a bit of a mouthful) immediately hits the drinker with coffee and oak notes on the nose. As it’s consumed we got the expected imperial stout notes along with nice chocolate notes. The finish is almost like you just finished drinking a cup of coffee. It’s a pretty powerful combination, but amazingly easy to drink. Best part is a recommended food pairing for the beer is a breakfast burrito. Can’t argue with that.
ABV: 9.5

Theobroma
Brewery: Dogfish Head
This one comes with a disclaimer. We had a taste of Theobroma in previous years, but this review is for the draft version. Yes, that’s right. If you’re super lucky, you can find this one on tap. We lucked out at our local Whole Foods Market where there’s a wine and beer tasting bar. The beer has a very clear appearance with a light floral and honey nose. The taste was lighter than the bottled version but still had the wonderful honey and cocoa notes that we love about this beer. The finish isn’t long, but is definitely very refreshing and pleasant. We’re looking forward to hopefully seeing this one on tap again in the future.
ABV: 9.0

sunday relaxation

Sundays tend to be days of relaxation for us around here. We try not to make plans for this day and instead just try to recharge our batteries in preparation for another week. Yesterday, on our errands run we had lunch at Red Robin, which happened to be next to a BevMo. On a whim, we went into the BevMo after lunch and were poking around. I picked up some Label Lifters for some wine labels I’ve been wanting to keep and as we were checking out, Sean saw a special Guinness near the register. This year is the 250th anniversary of Alec Guinness signing the lease on the St James’ Gate brewery. In celebration, they’re releasing a special edition of the beer. Unable to resist a chance to drink more Guinness (the beer of choice in our household), we picked up a 6-pack. It’s a little pricey at $11.99 for a 6-pack, but we figured it was still cheaper than going to a bar and getting a pint.

Today, we decided to try the beer along with one of the bottled versions and one of the canned versions that we already had sitting in our beer fridge.

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A couple of notes about the special edition. It’s yummy for one. Not like that’s a surprise, but I still felt that it needed to be noted. It also doesn’t have the nitrogen widget that all of the other versions do. As a result, it doesn’t have the smooth finish that the other two did. It does have an intense flavor, though, with more of the chocolate and coffee notes that regular Guinness has. Overall, I’m glad we got the 6-pack and we’ll enjoy drinking the other 5 of them still sitting in our fridge, but I’m also perfectly happy with the regular Guinness we had along with the taste testing.