As with any home project, preparation is half the key to success in homebrewing. Everything should be clean and well organized so you can carry out the steps with confidence in the final result.
But what is ‘everything’?
Water: You wouldn’t think water could vary so much, but this may well be the most varied chemical substance on earth. Of course, water is nothing but H2O, but the elements dissolved in it make a huge difference to the final product. 22-30 litres (six-eight gallons) of spring water is a good start, but you’ll want to experiment.
Malt: This is the basic material that gets transformed into beer. Usually it’s some kind of barley grain. Obtain online or from a local store.
Yeast: These live organisms turn the sugars into carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and alcohol. Thank them for their fine efforts.
Brew kettle: This container will store unfermented liquid (‘wort’) to be boiled. Often a five-gallon glass carboy (like a large water bottle) is used. Hops and other ingredients are added through the spout at the top.
Fermenter: A container with a lid, it will be used to hold the cooled wort. Yeast will be added to carry-out the fermenting process. Two are required if secondary fermentation is part of the recipe.
Bottling tank: You’ll siphon the fermented beer into a container before bottling. Like all the equipment, it’s essential that this be completely clean.
Beer bottles: You’ll need clean beer bottles for storing the final product (assuming you and your friends don’t drink five gallons of beer right out of the tank). Dark brown bottles are best, to keep beer from being spoiled by light during storage.
Bottle filler: A spring-loaded device used to fill the bottle when the end is pressed. Available, as is the other equipment, from any of dozens of homebrew kit sales sites online.
Capper: Optional, but helpful, to put caps onto the bottles. Corks or screwtops are alternatives, but each has drawbacks. Cork can splinter or introduce mold into the brew. Screwtops need to be seated properly in order to ensure a tight seal to avoid oxygen spoilage.
Miscellaneous: A thermometer is essential to check the temperature at various stages. A hydrometer is helpful, to measure something called ’specific gravity’. SG is a measure of the density of some material relative to water. Not critical but extremely helpful. Various siphon tubes, copper and/or glass and/or hard plastic. A timer with a loud bell or buzzer, so you don’t forget those time critical moments.
Sometimes the copper tubing is formed into a wort chiller. Formed in a spiral around the tank, cold water flows through to draw heat away from the boiled wort. Helpful, not essential for many recipes.
Heat source: You’ll need a method for boiling and cooling. Air will often take care of the cooling need. Heating can be carried out by a dozen different methods, usually some kind of Bunsen burners or electric heating coils.
The equipment should be cleaned, and many recommend sterilization with a dilute bleach followed by rinsing in boiling water. At least part of the environment should be able to be kept cool, below 13∫C (55∫F) for part of the time.
Be prepared to spend a few hours on two different days, with activity off and on. Two people are often helpful to carry out certain steps.
We discuss that in Part II.