Homebrewing: Do it. It's easy and rewarding.

I'm sitting here enjoying the fruits of home brewing beer and hard cider, and I'm thinking that anyone who enjoys tasty brews should make their own. Prior to getting into the process myself, I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge. I thought the whole process must be rather involved and require a lot of research and work. It turns out that I was wrong. Beer is fairly easy to brew, and hard cider is ridiculously easy to make. So, to anyone who has ever thought about brewing, here are some reasons to get started and some brief info about what you need to do it.
 
First, the benefits are numerous: 

  • Home brewed beer tastes fantastic and costs much less than comparably tasty beer.
  • You can control the alcohol content of your brew.
  • The process teaches patience, as beer takes a minimum of 3 weeks to brew.
  • The hobby is somewhat unusual and is always a good topic of conversation.
 
Home brewing requires some basic equipment to get started, as well as ingredients for each batch. The equipment is the biggest investment, but it can be reused. Here's the hardware you need: 
  1. A fermenter - the cheap option is a 7-gallon, food-grade bucket and a lid with a small hole cut in the top
  2. A bottling bucket - like the fermenter, but with a spout at the bottom for bottling
  3. An airlock - a simple device that allows gas to leave the fermenter while preventing contamination from outside air
  4. A few feet of vinyl tubing - used for siphoning the brew from the fermenter to the bottling bucket and for bottling
  5. A brew pot - used to boil the brew prior to fermenting
  6. A thermometer - the brew has to be at 70 degrees Fahrenheit prior to adding yeast
  7. Bottle capper - used to cap bottles (of course)
  8. 48+ 12 oz bottles
 
Optional hardware that is nice to have:  
  1.  Wort chiller - used to quickly chill the brew after boiling. This is basically 15 feet of copper tubing and a foot of vinyl tubing that is coiled up and attached to your sink faucet via a standard screw-on attachment.
  2. Auto-siphon - makes siphoning between buckets much easier
  3. Hygrometer - used for getting the specific gravity of the brew before and after fermentation. This allows you to calculate the alcohol content of your brew.
  4. Bottling wand - a plastic instrument that makes bottling much easier.
  5. Second fermentation bucket - saves you an additional siphon transfer if you decide to do secondary fermentation.
 
The ingredients for beer are pretty easy to get at any home brew store, or over the internet. You'll need: 
  1. 7 pounds of grain extract
  2. 2 oz of hops
  3. A packet of yeast
  4. 3/4 cup of sugar
  5. 48+ bottle caps
 
So, now that you have your equipment and ingredients, the process is fairly simple: 
  1. Sanitize your fermenter - You can do this with 2 tablespoons of bleach in 5 gallons of water. Let the solution sit for 30 minutes and then pour it out. You don't have to rinse.
  2. Mix the extract into 2 gallons of water in your brew pot and then bring it to a boil (make sure the extract is completely mixed in or it may burn)
  3. Boil the brew for 60 minutes
  4. Add 1 oz of hops 5 minutes into the boil, and the other oz at the end of the boil
  5. After 60 minutes, chill the brew down to 70 degrees and dump it into the fermenter
  6. Fill the fermenter with water the rest of the way up to 5 gallons
  7. Dump the yeast into the fermenter, put the lid on, and put the airlock in the hole in the lid
  8. Shake the bucket to aerate the brew and get the yeast going, and store the fermenter in a place that is as close to 70 degrees as possible
  9. Let fermentation commence for about a week - you'll know it's going if the airlock is bubbling frequently
  10. Check the brew each day after the first week - you're waiting for the airlock to bubble only 2 or 3 times per minute
  11. When you only see bubbling 2 or 3 times per minute, you're ready to bottle
  12. Sanitize everything that will touch the beer, including bottles and caps (same as you did for the fermenter in step 1)
  13. Put 3/4 of a cup of sugar in a pint of water, boil it, and dump it into your bottling bucket
  14. Siphon your brew into the bottling bucket - you siphon rather than pour because you want to introduce as little oxygen as possible at this stage (otherwise the beer might go stale prematurely)
  15. Attach your vinyl tubing to the spout on your bottling bucket and fill up your bottles
  16. Cap your bottles
  17. Store your bottles for two weeks at 70 degrees - this is how your brew become carbonated
  18. Open a bottle, pour it into a glass, and enjoy (pour it into a glass because there will probably be sediment in the bottom of the bottle)
 
And that's it. Hopefully this will entice some of you into home brewing. 
 
Note: My steps for boiling and adding hops are based on the most common procedure for brewing. There are tons of recipes on the internet and many may suggest adding hops at different intervals. Brew whatever sounds good to you and follow the instructions closely.
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