Equipment Required to Brew Beer

If you are a brewer, you probably know everything here.  In truth, its a bit of a selfish post: I always have a difficult time remembering every little thing a new brewer needs to buy.  So, I am bypassing my questionable memory with this list when I introduce friends to home brewing.  Perhaps you too can use this list to help new brewers-to-be.

Extract

I have heard of people brewing with extract by boiling in, fermenting in, and bottling from a single stainless steel kettle.  And if you’re lucky, you might even get good beer sometimes.  If you aren’t so interested in leaving things to providence, you will find the following equipment handy.

brewing equipment

Various brewing equipment.

Need

Fermentor: A food-grade vessel larger than the batch you intend to make to account for foaming.

  • Plastic (HDPE) bucket, 7 gal/ 26.5 L with seals and lid: The cheapest option and is easy to clean.  It is also much safer than dealing with glass.  But, it is prone to scratching and harboring infection.  These infections can be minor and unnoticed, but still be detrimental.  Get buckets without spigots- they can leak and harbor bacteria.  Plastic buckets slowly let oxygen  through.
  • Glass carboy, 6.5 gal/25 L: In terms of ability to sanitize and make the very best beer, glass carboys are they way to go.  But, they are heavy and prone to shattering when dropped, filled with hot wort, or from CO2 buildup if an airlock gets clogged.  You can see the fermentation activity, which has always fascinated me.  Standard and sour beers can be fermented in the same vessels, since they can be thoroughly sanitized.  These are frequently used with carrying straps; do not use the metal handles that fit around the neck.
  • Plastic (PET) carboy, 6.5 gal/24.6 L: These combine the benefits and faults of the bucket and glass, tending to be lighter, harder to clean, slightly less oxygen permeable, and susceptible to scratching.

Airlock: This will keep oxygen and dust out of your fermentor while letting CO2 escape.

  • Bubbler type: A curvey S-shaped single piece airlock, it is very prone to clogging and hard to clean, but fluid cannot get sucked back into the ferment0r if the temperature drops.  This type is probably most useful for secondaries when the risk of clogging is gone.
  • 3-piece type: Just as prone to clogging, but much easier to clean.  Mine frequently dry out on my secondaries if there is a slight temperature swing, as the fluid gets sucked into the ferment0r.
  • Blow-off tube: A tube with an air-tight fit from the fermentor into a small jug of sanitizer, they are less prone to clog.

Boil kettle:  Ideally you’ll want a kettle big enough to do a full batch boil, plus at a few gallons/10+ L of head space for foaming.  But, with extract brewing, you can get away with doing a partial boil and topping up with water in the fermentor.  Aluminum, copper, and stainless steel are best, ideally with a nice thick bottom to distribute the heat and help prevent scorching.  Enamel coated pots will work, but they tend to have thin bottoms and are easily nicked, resulting in a metallic off-flavor from the iron under the enamel.

Plastic tubing: You’ll need about  10 ft/ 3 m food-grade plastic tubing for transferring.

Bottles and caps: You can reuse or buy bottles, but they cannot be twist offs.  PBW removes labels and gunk like magic.  Brown bottles are best to keep light out.  If you use a standard red twin-lever capper, make sure the bottles have the taller flange near the mouth of the bottle or the capper cannot grab on to the bottle properly.  The only brand I have run into with smaller flanges are Founder’s Brewing bottles.  Swing-top bottles also work, so long as the seals are still good.  PET bottles work too, if you don’t plan on extended aging.

Capper: There are a few types available, but most people start with the cheap twin-lever red capper.  I cut bottling time in half using a bench capper instead.

Sanitizer: The key to good beer is sanitation.  I swear by Star-San, an easy, no-rinse sanitizer.  I also have a 1 gal/ 4 L pitcher to mix and use it in.

Cleaning supplies: You’ll need scent-free soap and a soft sponge with no scrubber to prevent scratching of your plastic goods.  I like bleach for cleaning my plastic buckets (at a concentration of about 2 tbsp per gal/ 8 mL per liter in water).  Rinse any bleach-cleaned items very well to prevent nasty plastic off-flavors.

Thermometer: If you’re careful you can make extract beer without one (not recommended).  If you do any sort of mash (all grain or mini-mash), you will need an accurate and properly calibrated thermometer in the range of at least 50-190F/ 10-90C.

Can opener: For canned extract, this will save you some foul-mouthing.

Measuring cup: Large, made of heat resistant glass.

Nice to have

Auto-siphon aka racking cane: To start siphons for transferring without as much oxygen contact, and helps to leave gunk behind when transferring.

Hydrometer: A floating device for measuring the sugar content of the wort (actually, the density of the fluid).  By measuring the original and final gravity, you’ll be able to approximate the alcohol content.  More importantly, you can ensure you met your expectations of the recipe and verify the ferment has finished before bottling.  You can use a refractometer instead, but I find hydrometers to be more useful and cheaper.

Bottling bucket: A bucket with a spigot attached to aid with bottling.  Best with attached bottling wand, this will speed up your bottling day and help keep fermentor gunk out of your bottles.

Bottling wand: A hard plastic tube with a spring-loaded valve at the tip to fill your bottles from the bottom and ensure proper filler level.  It will save a bit of mess, make bottling easier, and help keep oxygen out of your finished beer.

Gram scale: A faster and more accurate way of measuring hops, grain, extract, water, and everything else in your kitchen.  If you get into water chemistry adjustments, you’ll also need a 1/100th gram scale to measure the various salts (or you can appropriate with measuring spoons).

Steeping and mini-mash tun: A 1-2 gal/ 4-8 L container that can hold temperature for a half-hour, or be kept on the stove.

Outdoor propane burner: Turkey friers or other burners are a cheap alternative to put out enough heat to keep a full boil batch rolling, something most stoves struggle to do.

DIY immersion chiller

Hydra: DIY immersion chiller from various angles

Chiller: Your first “chiller” will probably be an ice bath in the kitchen sink.  Better types are:

  • Immersion: a copper coil submerged in the wort through which cold water is run.  This is the easiest type to make yourself.  It chills the entire batch at once, instead of only chilling a small portion at a time like counterflow or plate; you can also leave cold-break behind in your kettle, and they are the easiest to clean.
  • Counterflow: the wort runs through an inner tube, jacketed by a larger tube through which cold water is run.
  • Plate: a series of stainless steel plates separates wort from chill water.  While said to be the most effective, it is also the most difficult to clean and care for, and usually very expensive.

Funnel: A food grade funnel is always nice to have.  I use one to get sanitizer into my bottles faster.

Fermometers: A cheap plastic adhesive strip that will tell you the approximate temperature of the fermentor it is stuck to.

Aeration or oxygenation system: Common aeration systems use an aquarium pump, HEPA filter, and a 2 micron stone.  Pure oxygen systems frequently consist of a small tank from the hardware store, a regulator, and a 0.5 micron stone attached to plastic tubing or a stainless steel wand.

Kettle spoon: Mark with fluid level lines to measure the volume of wort in your kettle.

Strainer: To catch hops and break when pouring wort into the fermentor; works best with Irish moss.

Plastic wrap or aluminum foil: So sanitized items and containers stay that way.

Extras

Secondary fermentor: These are smaller 5 gallon/ 19 L glass carboys which can be mostly filled to limit oxygen exposure.  Older brewing literature (including Palmer’s How to Brew) recommends the use of a secondary with each batch.  They are now seldom used (Palmer and others now warn against them) because of the increased risk of contamination.  Only in special circumstances should you ever need one, like for aging sour beers, wine, or mead.

Hop sock: Some people prefer to put their hops in a little muslin bag (or actual socks) for easy removal from the kettle or fermentor, but this is personal preference.

Kegging system: If you just can’t stand bottling, or want to amaze your friends with beer on tap, a kegging system is for you.

Temperature controlled fermentation chamber: A spare refrigerator or chest freezer with an external temperature controller will do wonders for the quality and repeatability of your brew, and is practically required for a lager.

Yeast starter: You’ll need a large flask or jug.  Many people also like to use stir plates and/or anti-foaming agents.

Finings/ filters: A variety of finings are available to clear your beer, as well as filters (though you’ll need to have at least part of a kegging system set up to filter).

All-Grain

inside of mash lauter tun

DIY mash lauter tun.

Need

Mash tun: Moving from extract to all grain is largely a matter of buying or building a mash tun; setups vary slightly depending on the method of sparging.

Full-size kettle: Partial boils are not an option, so a full kettle with room for foaming is needed.

Propane burner: Full boils make a propane burner practically required.

Nice to have

Refractometer: Can be used to check the gravity of the wort runnings in real time.

Grain mill: To ensure your grain is the freshest it can be and control the crush.

Mash paddle: Use to stir the mash and break up dough balls.

Second kettle: For heating sparge water (ie hot liquor tank); ported is nice.

pH meter: To ensure a proper mash pH.

Brew in a Bag/ No Chill

These are actually two different methods, though many brewers use them together.  Brew in a bag forgoes the separate mash tun, using the boil kettle instead.  All of the grains are added to a huge muslin bag for easy removal from the kettle after mashing is complete.  This is a very useful method for mini-mashes, but I have never been completely happy with my results for a full all-grain batch.

No chill uses a food grade, heat tolerant flexible plastic container which the wort is run into while still hot.  The jug is then capped, gently swirled to heat-sanitize all inner surfaces, and left to cool overnight before pitching.  However, this is a risky practice, as this is the perfect environment for pathogens not killed by the boilespecially botulismto grow.  Many people have used it for years with no problems, just like many people have smoked for years without getting lung cancer.

Did I forget anything?  Let me know in the comments and I’ll add it to the list!

I purposely didn’t go too much into what extract or all-grain brewing is, or detail how to use each itemthis post is long as is.  If you need any help figuring something out or have a question on an item, comment or send me an email.

– Dennis,
Life, Fermented

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About Dennis
Home brewer, home chef, garage tinkerer. Author of Life Fermented blog.

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