If you’ve ever thought you’d enjoy brewing your own beer, I’m here to tell you you would. It may seem like a pursuit that’s too involved or time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be. The onset of fall is like homebrewing season for me. I’m a garage brewer, so the chill in the evening air has its perfect companion in the blue-hot jets of my kettle burner. Not only does the outdoor temperature make brewing a pleasant autumn dusk past time, but the cooler temperatures around the house make for happy fermenting in the darkness of my closets. Not only would you like homebrewing because you’ve been given some extra time to fill outdoors by the slower growing grasses you won’t have to mow so often, but you’ll also love it for the taste and cost benefits. If you brew a partial boil extract kit, you can expect to spend about $40 for 9 six-packs, that’s half what it would cost you anywhere else. If you brew all-grain, you may spend half that amount. In both scenarios the beer will be very good if you do it right. Homebrewing will give you great beer, at half the cost, plus the added joy derived from the process. So how do you get started? (Photo: By Makyo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)
So All-Grain Is A Method For Pros While Kits Are For Amateurs Right?
I’ll admit, when you talk to the purists, the ‘all-grainers’ out there, the homebrewing process sounds difficult. Not only does it sound like mad science (it is), but it sounds like you’d need a full 8-10 hour day to complete a batch, in addition to a welded rack of mash kettles and burner brackets that articulate or offers special quick-connects routed to pumps… and on and on. If you want to buy an all-grain setup it can set you back a grand, easy. So, if you don’t have a grand, room for all the pieces, room for 20 lbs. of grains, or 9 hours to spare on the process, you can do what I do and brew from a partial boil kit.
Brewing from an extract kit maybe for amateurs, but I’ve been doing it for 4 years and have never been more happy in beginnerhood. The real setback for all-grainers when it comes to extract kits is a loss of control. With all-grain brewing, the brewer has more control to explore the margins of her style of beer brewed. But, to me, it was always a negligible benefit. If I want more hops in my extract I can add them. If I want more maltiness, I can get that too. If I want my pumpkin brew to be the testosterone-infused pumpkin drink that’s the antithesis to all things Starbucks, I can make it. If I want my porter to taste more like O’Dell’s profoundly delicious Cutthroat than Deschutes overly smoky, “is this a stout?” Black Butte, I can make that kind of porter. And I can make it inside of 4 hours with specialty grains as compared to an all-grain 9-hour marathon session.
I guess there’s worse things you can do with 9-hours.
What Kind of Gear Do You Need To Get Started Homebrewing?
Most people would probably recommend you get started with an extract brewing kit. I’m not here to persuade you against brewing all-grain, but I am here to tell you it doesn’t take brewing all-grain to have a great time while producing great beer. Who knows, you may graduate to all-grain shortly after mastering extract brewing. The good news is, extract brewing kits have gear you need for both scenarios. You could piece together a kit on your own, but homebrewing kits have things that make the process easier, like bucket spigots, lid gaskets etc. You’d save more time by buying a pre-assembled kit than you’d save money piecing one together. Both Amarillo (Amarillo Brewing Supply) and Lubbock (Yellow House Canyon Brew Works) have good homebrew stores where you can go to get started.
To Keg Or Not To Keg? It’s Really No Question
Will you bottle or keg? That’s a decision you’ll have to make when buying your homebrew kit. It’s definitely cheaper to bottle. You can save and wash your empties, then reuse them when your batch is done fermenting, and that’s how most people start out (myself included), BUT my enjoyment of the process was taken to a whole new level when I started kegging. Bottling a batch takes anywhere from 1-3 hours, it’s messy, and the results will be inconsistent. Some bottles will be fully carbonated, others will not. Plus, you’ll have to wait anywhere from 10-days, usually longer, before a beer carbonates in the bottle. With a keg system, you put the batch in the keg, stick it in the fridge, turn the CO2 up, and wait a week (at the longest). Every beer is the same, plus, if you don’t want a full beer, you don’t have to open one. Wet your whistle with a half-glass if you choose.
Kegging is more money initially, but I’ve never been more confident in saying it’s worth it. It’s faster, cleaner, and the beer is better. Plus, should you decide brewing isn’t for you, you could resale your keg quicker than you could resale your brew kit. It’s worth it.
Brewing beer is a hobby that pays dividends. Unlike, say, golf, where you’ll spend $40 and 5 hours with nothing to show for it, but higher blood-pressure and a farmer’s tan, homebrewing is a hobby that could end up saving you a few bucks. There’s nothing quite like pulling a pint of your own pale ale before the Cowboy’s game or talking to a house full of friends over mugs of a winter warmer made for the holidays. It’s easier than you think. The only really bad beer I’ve ever made was the first one. It was a ‘steam beer’, a lager fermented like an ale. My house got too hot for the yeast strain, and I accidentally dropped a screwdriver in it… Even though I drank all of it, I’ve never made another Scott’s Screwdriving Ale, and I’m glad about it.
Want To Learn More About Homebrewing?
See our previous blog on homebrewing, here. It has some good resources for beginners. Also, head up to your local homebrew store. People there love nothing more than to answer all your questions. Homebrewing has a great community willing to share knowledge. Another great way to learn about homebrewing is through podcasts. The Brewing Network and Basic Brewing are good. Most brewing podcasts are more informative than they are entertaining, but you can definitely learn something from them. Also, this forum, Home Brew Talk, cannot be beat. It’ll answer all your questions… Seriously.